Handcrafting Violin-family Instruments in Oregon
This is Where it All Began!
I have been ‘handcrafting violin-family instruments’ since 1999. I’m truly grateful to have changed over to WordPress. With WordPress, I have been able to build and maintain my own websites. There has been a “learning curve,” but the web-hosting staff has helped me over the hurdles.
This website has been my “flagship” site, but I have others as well.
Archaic Artisanry In Handcrafting Violin-family Instruments
Violinmaking is a pretty old art. They tell me that the first known violin that fully “looks like a violin,” is attributed to Andrea Amati. That violin dates back to the early 1500’s. Everyone since then, who was “handcrafting violin-family instruments,” has fit into one of two groups. Some attempt to improve the design ( which seldom really happens.) The rest attempt to emulate “the old masters” to one degree or another.
Mostly, I’m in the latter group. I do not hope to “improve” anything major. It is true that I do use modern strings. I also use the “modern” (post-1850) neck-angle, etc. (I am not making “baroque instruments”…yet.) But I have only made one change that I am aware of. (This change is definitely not in the old master instruments nor in most modern instruments.) The round corners on the footprint of my saddles are at least unusual. So why do I do it?
Handcrafting Violin-family instruments is an art…not just copying
The old master instruments saddles are uniformly square-cornered. I believe that at least part of the pervasive problem of “saddle-cracks” is due to “notches.” Notches are those ninety-degree “corners” cut into the spruce top plates. Notches make “stress-risers” and always encourage cracking. (“Notches” just like those have proven fatal in many structures, from highway bridges to jet aircraft!)
Could the saddle cracks be caused by shrinkage of the spruce against the unyielding ebony, when the spruce responds to changes in humidity? Absolutely, they could! And they are! But the reason the spruce cracks there, is that there is a notch there. So I simply eliminated the notches, and I leave a little slack, so that the spruce can move a little without stress.
I try to emulate the Old Masters, as a rule. Other than that single, small “divergence from the norm,” I try to copy their style. I make classical, orchestral instruments using European Maple and European Spruce, and follow the example of models made by the Old Masters:
Which “Old Master,” Violin-family Instruments to Emulate?
I usually emulate either the 1715 “Titian,” by Stradivari, or the 1735 “Plowden,” by Guarneri del Gesu.
I have experimented with several models. I have loosely emulated a 1580 small viola by Gasparo da Salo, and (more accurately) the Conte Vitale, by Andrea Guarneri. Also, I have used a few of my own designs, in order to build a wide range of sizes. My smallest viola, a 14″, is actually built on the same mold as my Guarneri violins, that of the 1735 “Plowden.” But except for the mold form, it is strictly a viola, in rib height, graduations and arching.
So far, I have only emulated the 1712 “Davidov,” by Stradivari. I have patterns for others but have not used them.
I have used one model, credited to William Tarr, but I modified it to be a carved-back bass, as the original was a flatback, and that was not what I wanted. The result was a very good 7/8-size bass. I made the next one as a smaller bass of entirely my own design. It is called the “Oliver Soloist.” (Pictures of both are on the Chronology page.)
I try to employ a concept )on all my instruments) called “Hypocycloid” or “Curtate Cycloid” arching. The Old Masters of Cremona definitely knew this concept. It looks as though at least the makers in and around Cremona were probably employing the idea. Can I prove it? Nope! But, when I began using the concept, I immediately began getting much better reviews on my instruments.
About “Fiddles” as part of “handcrafting violin-family instruments”
When I make “Five-String Fiddles,” I am no longer under the constraints of “what is deemed appropriate wood” for orchestral use. So, if a customer wants a Myrtle-wood five-string fiddle, or Koa, or some other unusual wood, that is fine! I am happy to build it! (I have done so with both of those woods, and it worked very well…the customers were very happy!)
Usually, any instrument suitable for the orchestra would be also very well suited for Country fiddling, Celtic, Bluegrass, etc., but the set-up desired by Orchestral players is usually not what fiddlers want. So I make the needed changes to satisfy the needs of the players, and everyone is happy.