Well: I just lost all the content of this page, in an attempt to upgrade to a “better” WordPress Theme. So: Here I am, re-constructing.
Violinmaking is a pretty old art. The first known violin that fully “looks like a violin,” I am told, is attributed to Andrea Amati, and dates back to the early 1500’s. Everyone since then has either been attempting to improve it (seldom really happens) or attempting 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…I do use modern strings, and I use the “modern” (post-1850) neck-angle, etc., so I am not making “baroque instruments” (yet…). But the only change I am aware of that is definitely not in the old master instruments nor in most modern instruments, is the round corners on the footprint of my saddles. The old master instruments saddles are uniformly square-cornered, and I am convinced that at least part of the pervasive problem of “saddle-cracks” is due to the ninety-degree “notches” cut into the spruce top plates. Notches make “stress-risers” and encourage cracking. Could it just be caused by shrinkage of the spruce against the unyielding ebony, when the spruce responds to changes in humidity? Absolutely, it could! And it is! But the reason it breaks there, is that there is a notch there. So I simply eliminate the notches, and leave a little slack, so that the spruce can move a little without stress.
Other than that single, small “divergence from the norm,” I do my best to emulate the Old Masters. I make classical, orchestral instruments using European Maple and European Spruce, and follow the example of models made by the Old Masters:
In Violins, I try to emulate either the 1715 “Titian,” by Stradivari, or the 1735 “Plowden,” by Guarneri del Gesu.
In Violas, I have experimented with several models, including a 1580 amall viola by Gasparo da Salo, and the Conte Vitale, by Andrea Guarneri. I have also 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.
In Cellos, so far, I have only emulated the 1712 “Davidov,” by Stradivari. I have patterns for others but have not used them.
In Double Basses, 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. The next one I made was a smaller bass of entirely my own design, called the “Oliver Soloist.” (Pictures of both are on the Chronology page.)
On all my instruments, I try to employ a concept called “Hypocycloid” or “Curtate Cycloid” arching. This concept was definitely known in the times of the Old Master makers, and it looks as though at least the ones 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.
When I make “Five-String Fiddles“, I am no longer under the constraints of “what is deemed appropriate” for orchestral use, so, if a customer wants a Myrtle-wood five-string fiddle, or Koa, or some other unusual wood, 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.