A Change of Plans:
No oversize Violas, no Violoncellos da Spalla…Just a couple of violins.
I visited with a well-established luthier recently, and he pointed out several small changes that I could adopt in my making, in order to improve my “serve”, so to speak. All of them were relatively small things, but with potential to make my instruments sound more powerful and to look more professional. I had been getting fairly discouraged, as, though I had been selling sporadically, for a number of years earlier, I had sold no new instruments for the last few years, and, with many other demands on my time, I was begining to feel like abandoning the making of instruments altogether. I was aware that part of the issue was due to the very unstable and depressed economy (several luthiers had told me their sales were extremely slow, too), and I tried to keep telling myself that things would turn around.
The economy has been improving, I think. I am not so much reading the stock-market reports as watching to see how many freight-cars are sitting idle on sidings: no shipping means no manufacturing, and the manufacture of durable goods, the building of homes, and shipping of lumber, oil, coal, and other things needed in a growing economy are things I can see. I don’t have to take some journalist’s or politician’s word for it. In the last year or so, I have seen the sidings which were full of empty freight-cars disappearing, and moving, full loads of lumber and shipping containers seem to be taking their place. But I am afraid it may take time for people to regain confidence, and regain the conviction that music is important, and, perhaps, that good, handmade instruments are a good value. Visiting with my friend made me decide to push harder to improve what I have to offer, so that, hopefully, when the consumer confidence returns, I will be there, waiting, with top-quality instruments.
So: the idea is simple: I will make two violins, side-by-side: one a copy of the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri del Gesu violin, and the other a copy of the 1715 “Titian” Antonio Stradivari violin, and attempt to put into practice the tips he gave me. I have good photographs of each original master instrument, along with accurate drawings, and measurements, courtesy of the “The Strad” posters. Also, I already have templates and forms made for each, although I will want to double-check my arching templates. Some people can trust their eyes to get it right, but when I use the templates, the arching always turns out better.
I have made “Plowden” copies before, with good results, so I feel pretty good about that one. I have never tried the “Titian,” technically, but, years ago, someone had given me a set of templates and measurements for the 1715 “Dolphin” Stradivari violin. At the time, I simply took it at face value, but later, when I discovered that there were no published dimensions, and very few good photographs of the “Dolphin,” I began to suspect that the information they had provided might not really be accurate. Still, about that time, I was told by the late Rene Morel that, in his opinion, the 1715 “Soil” Stradivari (currently played by Itzhak Perlman) was “the best violin in the world,” and that “the ‘Dolphin’ is exactly like it.” So; I looked for photographs of each, and, though there were not many available, I could see that the grain on the back was very similar, as if they had been made from billets side-by-side from the same tree. But there were no published dimensions for the “Soil”, either.
However: when I bought the “The Strad” poster of the 1715 “Titian” Stradivari violin, I saw that the grain on this instrument, too, was very similar, and that all three seemed to have been made on the same form. I guessed, then, that, with three instruments made by the same man, the same year, of the same wood, and on the same form, there is a good chance that the measurements will be similar. So: I took the templates I had been given years ago, and the measurements, and checked them carefully against the “Titian” poster: they matched quite well! So, though I have no idea how or when someone lifted those values and patterns, so long ago, I am satisfied that they are relatively accurate. So accurate, in fact, that I will be using the old form, and templates, to make the new design, with the exception that, this time, I have better data to accompany the figures, and a great set of photographs to look at as I attempt to emulate the old masters.
New Violins on the Way
So, today, after double-checking all my forms, measurements, etc., I book-matched the European spruce tops for both violins, and the heavily-flamed, two-piece European Maple back for the “Titian” copy. The “Plowden” copy will have a heavily-flamed one-piece European Maple back; so, no book-matching necessary. Next, I cut corner-blocks, neck-blocks and end-blocks for both forms, and glued them in place. In the next few days I will shape the blocks, thin the ribs appropriately, and begin bending the ribs to install them on the two garlands.
The last violin I made, I completed about six months ago. I am glad to be “moving” again. Six months in the doldrums is a long time. This feels a lot more encouraging. 🙂
I will post pictures later.
Thanks for looking.