The Violin Maker’s Notebook

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The Violin Maker’s Notebook is a hand written reference on violin making written by an unknown author around 1987.   The author references Peter Prier and may have been an apprentice of Peter’s or a student of the Violin Making School of America (which Peter founded).

The document is wide reaching, touching quite a variety of topics and is a great reference for those starting out.  It could be a nice complement to other more through works like “The Art of Violin Making” by Johnson and Courtnall.

I have a page dedicated to the notebook here in my Reference section.  You can download the notebook there.  If you use it and find it useful, please consider donating to the VSA’s Scholarship Fund, a link is provided on the notebook’s page.

‘The Strad’ Posters Index

The Strad posters are an invaluable source of pictures, outlines and dimensions for those looking to make instruments inspired by great historically relevant instruments or simply those made by the great violin makers.  The Strad has published 62 posters to date.  I’ve complied a list of the posters, they’re now listed here, in my Reference section.  Collecting them all is a feat, given that these are normally published with The Strad periodical, and while you can order them from The Strad’s poster website, most are out of print.  A pity.

Update: As of Feb 2016, The Strad no longer publishes posters twice a year with its periodical.  They are still available on their website when in stock.

Power efficiency in the Violin

Researchers found most of the sound produced from the violin and its ancestors flows through a sound hole's perimeter, not its interior.Check out very this recent article from MIT on the evolution of the shape of the F-Hole.  A link to the MIT news post is here, and the research paper is here.

“Researchers found most of the sound produced from the violin and its ancestors flows through a sound hole’s perimeter, not its interior.”

Some interesting conclusions from the paper:

  • The researchers found that a key feature affecting a violin’s sound is the shape and length of its “f-holes,” the f-shaped openings through which air escapes: The more elongated these are, the more sound a violin can produce.
  • The thickness of a violin’s back plate also contributes to its acoustic power…. A thicker back plate, they found, would boost a violin’s sound.
  • Throughout the 800-year period the researchers examined, they noted an evolution in sound-hole shape — from a simple round hole to a semicircle, which eventually morphed into a c-shape that grew more elongated, ultimately assuming the f-shape of the violin. The perimeter of these shapes steadily grew, while the area of the interior void gradually decreased.

Very interesting research which will no doubt create a series of new experimental violins with further elongated sound holes.

Bending Iron: Redux

Commercially available bending irons are acceptable but leave plenty of room for improvement.  After having the heating element fail in my unit, I decided to give the whole unit an upgrade to produce more consistent bending with less chances of burning ribs.

I kept the aluminum ‘iron’ and discarded the rest.  I rebuilt the base from maple in a similar fashion to the original.  The cartridge heater was replaced with a 250 Watt unit.   A PID controller and thermocouple replaced the old-fashioned stove element controller.  This allows for accurate temperature setting, with a clear digital display.  The PID controller keeps the temperature on target.

The aluminum ‘iron’ was hollow, meaning that the outer surface of the ‘iron’ would cool if it was bending wood, particularly when using a wet cloth for steam.  By filling the head with lead free solder, the amount of heat held by the head increased significantly.  The temperature stability improves but the initial time to heat-up to bending temperature is increased.

I’ve very happy with the performance of the rebuilt bending iron.  I’ve found bending temperatures of 160ºC (320ºF) to 170ºC (340ºF) sufficient.

The Violin Makers Journal

The Violin Makers Association of British Colombia is a violin making club located in Vancouver, Canada.  The club has a long history dating back to its founding in March 1957.

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I’ve recently become involved with the club and discovered the 60 issues its journal published from November 1957 to August 1964.  The Journal covers topics from editorials on violin making, violin making techniques and science, as well as the usual discussions on plate graduations and violin finishing.  The journal even includes direct correspondence from notables such as Carleen M. Hutchins.

I’ve begun digitizing and placing the editions on the club’s website, located here.  The remaining editions will become available as they are scanned.

This is a fascinating look into the recent history of violin making.  I’ll also be placing interesting articles from the journals here in the future.

VSA Competition Results

VSA Competition Results

Check out a summary of the latest Violin Society of America Convention/Competition, including winners of the many competitions.  Jeff Philips won a rare Gold Medal for both tone and Workmanship!  Overall  8 Gold medals, 17 silver medals and many certificates were awarded.

The VSA newsletter is here, and here are some nice pics of Jeff’s double-gold winning violin!

Resource Section Added!

Resource Section Added!

I’ve added a resource section which contains summaries and synopsis of a number of commonly referenced books on violin history, research and making.  Check it out!

Please let me know if you have any requests for information, or if you have suggestions of books to be added.

For each book I’ve included a WorldCat lookup.  Many of these books cost in the hundreds of dollars, but can be borrowed at local libraries or through inter-library loans.

Titian Update

The ‘Titian Inspired’ violin has now entered the assembly stage!

What’s in a colour

I’ve begun looking at pigments to colour the ‘Titian’ Strad I’m making.  From the ‘Pigments through the ages’ website, we can see that brown, yellow, and red pigments used in the 1650-1750’s included:

  • Lead-Tin Yellow 15th-18th Centuries.  Lead stannate (Type I), Lead tin oxide silicate (Type II).
  • Indian Yellow  15th-19th Centuries, Magnesium euxanthate.
  • Vermilion (aka cinnabar) 8th Century on.  Used by the painter Titian, the color of whose paintings inpsired the naming of the Titian Strad. Mercuric sulfide.
  • Red Lead (aka minum) Lead(II,IV)-oxide.
  • Orpiment (aka King’s Yellow), Arsenic sulfide.  Used in Asia and Persian, but not Northern Europe.
  • Realgar, Toxic Arsenic sulfide.
  • Madder Lake (Natural: garanza lake, Synthetic: Alizarin), most widely used in the 18th and 19th Centuries.   Often refered to as the colour used most often by the Cremonese makers.
  • Yellow Ochre, Iron oxyhydroxide.
  • Red Ochre, Anhydrous iron(III)-oxide  (Aka Cinabrese, Synthetic: Mars Red).
  • Umber, comes in Raw Earth and Burnt varieties.  A natural mixture of iron and manganese oxides and hydroxides.
  • Carbon black, (aka Charcoal black, vine black, lamp black).
  • Bone Black (aka ivory black, bone charcoal) It contains about 10% carbon, 84% calcium phosphate and 6 % calcium carbonate. It is made from charring of bones or waste ivory and has a black-blue hue.

These are period pigments and all are very light-fast.  Other organic dyes can be extracted from a variety of plants, etc, but in those cases you have to weary of fading.

Note that some of the above are opaque pigments and some are translucent.  Opaque’s are good for touching up blemishes, but should be avoided for varnishing new instruments.

For the current instrument, I’m exploring Vermilion, and Alizarin (Madder Lake).  Here are some colour samples.  I’m using synthetic pigments based in linseed oil.