The #violin I am converting from Baroque was modeled after one made by Nicolo Amati (1595–1684) in 1666. We makers spend a lot of our time studying and copying the work of Antonio Stradivari¹ (1644–1737), and with good reason: his violins are amazing. But it’s important to remember that he was building off of an approximately 150 year old tradition. That’s why, to better understand Strad I copied an instrument he would have been looking up to, i.e. a baroque style Amati. My aim was to get as close as possible, in both design and working method, to what Strad might have taken as his starting point². This was not to uncover the teleological inevitably of Strad’s “perfection”, but precisely to explore—through the experience of making a copy—the contingent choices and influences that may have gone into Strad’s making. Making a copy is not an “exact science”, though it is often referenced as though it means something well defined. First, differences in wood and changes in modern set-up make an exact replica impossible. Second, because of the Craft—as opposed to Techno-Industrial—nature of #violinmaking ‘copy’ doesn’t mean the same here as a photocopy. Instead, very roughly & abbreviated, it means something more like: trying to channel, through the material and the work of our hands, what the original maker might have done were they here now. This also helps explain why we are hung up on Strad and not some #violinmaker who came after him. It’s not that he reached the pinnacle of making and no further changes were possible (though again, he was exceptional). I think it has more to do with the growing influence of the Industrial Revolution. Changing economic conditions meant that the craft mode of production was being supplanted by the putting-out system. The evolution of our collective craft knowledge took a backseat for a while as more techno-industrial ways of making and thinking came to the fore. --  And also sometimes his contemporary Giuseppe “del Gesu” Guarnari (1698–1744).  The extent of Strad’s access to the specifics of Amati’s working method is unknown, but was likely, at best, incomplete…not dissimilar to mine!
varnish colors. #violinmaking #violinmaker #violin #viola
A puck of congealed hide glue. I feel like I should be able to see the future in it. #violin #violinmaking #violinmaking #hideglue #woodworking
No mini-essay today, just some wood and varnish shimmer. #violin #viola #varnish #volinmaker #violinmaking
Because I am converting this baroque #violin to a modern set up I will no longer need this baroque fingerboard that I had made for it. The most obvious difference with a modern fingerboard is the wedge-and-notch side profile, which has to do with the changes in how the neck is set into the body of the instrument. But, what I actually want to talk about are the materials it's made of. Instead of solid ebony¹ this was made with a willow core, maple veneer on the side, and ebony veneer on the top. The usual explanation given is that this keeps the weight down, even as the wedge shape adds a lot of material, and that’s definitely true. It’s also very easy to construct and shape, which is helpful because the final adjustments on a baroque violin are done to the fingerboard itself, instead of to the neck as we do now. But, I suspect two more things are at play. First, we use ebony because it is very hard and and able to withstand wear, such as that of metal wound strings repeatedly being pressed against it. Back when plain gut strings were the norm veneer over a soft core was probably enough. Second (and this what I actually care about!), ebony is a tropical hardwood that doesn’t grow anywhere near Cremona. It would only have been available to European makers via colonial extraction. My hunch is that because of colonial trade patterns Vuillaume had easier/cheaper access to Ebony than Strad. I would love to do a deep dive into the history of Ebony to see how it lines up with changes in fingerboard construction and confirm this, but I haven't had time yet. (So stay tuned!) More broadly, we think of the violin as a quintessential example of High European Culture. But, both because of despite this, its history is tied to and embedded in a global story. This can also been seen with bows (the role of pernambuco wood has a similar colonial history), changes in varnish (hello Indian shellac!), and even musical styles (e.g. the chaconne’s roots in Latin America). --  Actually, I use a synthetic alternative to Ebony for my fingerboards because of conservation issues. #violinmaking #violinmaker #history #colonialism
You might have to be a #violinmaker to appreciate how weird this photo is. This is not usually how a #violin neck looks. I am converting a baroque style fiddle I had made to a modern set up. You can still see the remannents of the nails I used for the original neck set. There is also the wood I added to the end of the neck; not because the effective neck / string length will be change but because instead of a butt joint there needs to be some extra material for the sort of half-blind dovetail we use today. And lastly, there's that weird cut out bit because I decided to preserve the top entirely as I had made it—without cutting into the edge like one usually would—as was done, for example, with the Lady Blunt Strad. None of this was necessarily the easiest path, but sometimes #violinmaking is a little bit about the story too.
Spinoza the Cat has strong opions on when it's time to take a break, eat some food, rest your eyes, and come back fresh. Which is always important, but especially today. With the #viola ready for varnish I am turning my attention back to an old (and slightly neglected) project of converting a baroque style #fiddle I had made to a modern set up. Long story short, the job at hand (setting the neck) is a lot more akin to a tricky restoration than a regular new build. It reminds me of what my violin making teacher would answer when someone asked If I mess up here, how would I fix it?”: just don't mess up. — Oh, and maybe I'll explain some stuff about baroque vs. modern after this is a little bit further along and I can illustrate some things more clearly, so stay tuned I guess! #violin #violinmaking #violinmaker #catsofinstagram
I guess I should follow up yesterday's shot of the back with a photo of the front of the #viola. This angle and lighting show off the figure in the wood nicely, but distort the outline a bit. It's difficult to take an “accurate” photo of an instrument. Of course, in person, we never really take in all parts of an instrument at the same time. Turning it in your hand or moving to a different light will suddenly change everything. The kaleidoscope of our perception as it mingles with the environment—amplified by the curves and shimmers of the instrument—is part of their beauty. But it also reminds me that there isn't one singular representation of an instrument (or of beauty), despite what Instagram often tries to imply. #violinmaking #violinmaker #violin #prevarnish
I'm not sure I ever really shared a photo of this one piece American maple #viola back. Ok, now back to getting the surface 100% ready for varnishing. #violin #violinmaker #viokinmaking
Neck update! So the neck is a complex curve that must satisfy multiple interdependent constraints in 3D. To carve this I have to be able to think it, and there are three different ways I could do that: Techno-industrial, Artistic, Craft. By the Techno-industrial Mode I mean something that gives a complete & precise description of the final shape. This could be a mathematical description of the curves, a computer model, or even a physical template. It’s how we build/think of most things in our industrial mechanized world. By the Artistic Mode I mean the romantic image of an artist working from their innate genius or creativity. Instead of matching/following an existing outside model you would go about carving according to an “inner” model. A lot of folks think this is how violins are made, but actually… It’s all about the Craft Mode, which often goes unrecognized because we’re not used to seeing it much anymore. It looks a little bit like a mix of the previous two. Some amount of templates or prescriptive measurements are usually used as the basis for the construction but, these don’t set a complete and precise specification. The design is adjusted and filled in. This isn't a creative act but one of craft. That is, it's an expression—in the act of making itself—of the embodied knowledge of the maker combining with the piece being worked on. Going back to the neck: There are one or two points I measure *relative to other points*, some straights I check, and some curves I check against templates, which I may not end up following exactly. The rest I have to fill in, guided by my tools & how they cut the wood, by my eye, and by how my hand feels the neck. The neck is a critical coupling in the playing-system-as-a-whole so at the end of the day that’s what ultimately matters. But I can only get there by combining the different kinds of knowing and seeing that go into working by Craft. #violinmaking #violinmaker #violin #viola #woodworking #craft
Now comes the most critical step of building an instrument: shaping the neck. Folks think that most of the work goes into getting the right sound, and this is true to an extent. But remember that for most of the construction all I have on my bench is wood, not something playable. Sound is in design, in materials, in the embodied knowledge of craft, etc. Even when it's all done, though, what actually makes the music is the system as a whole. Which is why the neck, as a key interface between components in that system, is so very very critical. #violinmaking #violin #viola #music #violinmaker #design
What's on your bench? #viola #violin #violinmaking #volinmaker #catsofinstagram #onmybench
Excavating peg holes is just fun. #violin #viola #violinmaking #violinmaker #woodcarving
Look ma, no bandsaw! #violin #viola #violinmaking #violinmaker #handtools #woodworking — saw by @toolsforworkingwood and sweatshirt by @nbssboston
Sometimes I get to use the best tools. #viola #violin #violinmaking #violinmaker #woodworking #antiquetools
The thing about double purfling, is that at the point you would normally be done and ready to move on, you get to go back and do it all again! #viola #violin #inlay #violinmaker #violinmaking
I'm not sure if most folks realize that the purfling is actually three pieces of wood (with the outside ones dyed black, and the inside left white) inlaid into a thin careful cut groove. Hopefully the photo gives a sense of what's going on. #violin #viola #violinmaking #violinmaker
It's always satisfying to close the box on an instrument, even if Spinoza is more interested in the squirrel outside. #viola #violin #violinmaking #violinmaker
I don't know if I have ever shared how I make my labels using my trusty K & E Leroy Lettering Set, but here it is in all its “vintage” glory. #violin #viola #violinmaker #violinmaking #lettering #caligraphy #vintagetools
It's always satisfying to fit and glue a bass bar (once it's done). #viola #violin #violinmaking #violinmaker
My workshop window has a great view, apparently. #violinmaker #violinmaking #violin #catsofinstagram
I write this on the inside of all my instruments as a reminder of the power of music as we face these difficult times. #woodyguthrie #violin #viola #violinmaking #violinmaker
Onward! To more ff-hole carving. #violin #viola #violinmaking #violinmaker
I'm visiting my brother, so I am borrowing my niece and nephew's tools today. #violin #violinmaking #viokinmaker not #lienielsen
My new #violin bridge stamp arrived today from @stampyours! With a special thank you to W. & X. from the @thomasmetzlerviolinshop for the perfect going away present. #violinmaking #violinmaker
Settling into DC has been good for #violinmaking, or in this case #viola making. The Maggini is getting its guts scooped out today. #violinmaking #violin.
Once upon a time I made a #violin with a baroque set-up (square nails, wedged fingerboard, gut strings, and all) as a learning exercise for myself. I figured we spend all our time staring at and aspiring to Strad so I want to make what he might have been ogling: A Nicolo Amati grand pattern made in the historical/baroque fashion. I hung onto that violin for a while and today the lesson continues as I channel the spirit of Vuillaume to convert it to a proper modern fiddle with a new bass bar, reset neck, and more. #violinmaking #violinmaker #baroque
I've been working hard on getting the new workshop set up, and I think I'm almost there. So hello DC, it's time to get your #violinmaking on! (I even have one of my Rons from @nbssboston on display. #nbss) #violinmaker #violin
Moving as a #violinmaker means moving a whole bunch of #violin (and #viola) wood for future #violinmaking too! Onward to DC!
Packing for the move (to DC for a year and then on to Barcelona) has begun. It turns out I have a lot of #violin, music, acoustics, history of music and violins, craftsmanship, Italian baroque etc. books.