A 3/4-Size Violin

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3/4-sized Violin On the Way

Fractional-sized Instruments (Rationale and progress report: pictures below.)

Most luthiers will not invest time in fractional sized instruments, on the (usually correct) assumption that the player using a fractional sized instrument is a child, and will soon outgrow the instrument, so the parent or guardian (person footing the bill) will not be willing to pay for a professionally built instrument, knowing that in a few months or a few years, the child will need a full-sized instrument.

That is valid thinking, and completely understandable. But there are two (fairly rare) exceptions:

  1. The virtuoso player, 10-12 years old who is physically not able to handle a full-sized instrument, but whose skills already exceed the capabilities of most factory-made instruments.
  2. The adult player with very small hands, and/or upper body mass, for whom a full-size instrument is uncomfortable, but for whom a superior 3/4-sized instrument (for example) would be ideal.

It is not terribly difficult to surpass the quality of most factory made instruments, but people usually don’t want to pay the price of a full-size instrument to buy a fractional size of the same quality, by the same maker. That is not a logical response, because:

  • The materials cost exactly the same, and
  • The labor involved is nearly exactly the same.

There may be a few hours less labor to make a fractional sized instrument, but the difference is very slight, and the financial risk in building such an instrument on speculation is much greater because the market is so small.

So…What’s a Luthier to Do?

In my case, I intend to go ahead and make them, and see whether they sell. There must be a few players out there who need (or at least prefer) a good 3/4-size violin, but have trouble finding one. I have a friend who makes a few, knowing that usually the targeted customer will be the child-prodigy player, so he only charges 1/2 the price of his full-sized violins, with the provision that if they bring the fractional size violin back, he will give 100% credit toward the purchase of a full-size instrument. That seems to be a good idea, too.

Earlier this year, at a show I regularly attend (Marlyhurst University Musical Instrument Show), an adult player came looking for a 3/4-sized violin. I did not have one in hand, and she would not give me her contact information, so I could not let her know that one is on the way. I can only hope she turns up at the show again next year. Perhaps she will.

But: that experience alerted me to the fact that there is at least a small demand for such instruments. A “niche-market” perhaps.

Simultaneously, there were several violists who came through and were amazed at the volume and tone quality of a tiny (14-inch) viola I exhibited this year. So, I think there really is a market for smaller instruments, provided they give good response.

I just completed another (better) 14-inch viola (see previous posts), so I hope to arm myself with the fractional violin, the small viola, as well as my usual standard-sized instruments, and then start visiting local teachers, so that they can see what it is I produce.

The Beginning (Progress report for the 3/4-size violin)

I began this fractional-size violin a few months ago, but I have been swamped with other responsibilities, so it has hardly progressed at all.

  • The ribs are bent and installed,
  • The front linings are installed, and
  • The garland has been leveled.
  • The back plate has been book-matched, but not cut to shape.
  • The front plate has been cut to shape, and
  • The work-cradle is complete, to hold the plates securely while I carve the arching (outside) and graduations (inside.)
  • The neck block has been roughly cut out, but not carved.

We’ll see how it goes from this point forward. I still have a lot of other things going. (Home repairs and remodels, repairs for customers, etc.)

3/4 size fiddle beginning.
3/4 size garland on mold with linings, back plate, front plate in work cradle, and rough-cut neck.

I did build a closet to hold my completed instruments, all in cases. 🙂

closet, closed
The closet is 39″ deep by 53″ wide and 90″ tall; it would hold nearly 50 cases, if that is all I store there.


Closet, open
Obviously, instruments are not the only things stored in the closet: patterns, plans, tools, and wood, etc., are there as well.

That makes the room more usable, and it gets the instruments up off the floor. 🙂

Thanks for looking.

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More Fiddle Progress

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Progress on the Small (14-inch) Viola and the “Plowden” Guarneri model violin

Here are some photos of what is happening with these two fiddles. I decided to add a third instrument to the bench, so to speak, a 3/4-size violin (separate notes on separate thread), so it is slowing me down just a little.

Progress Checklist

Both the viola and the violin are moving along:

  • Arching is complete on the front plates of both instruments.
  • F-holes are laid out on both instruments, cut out and complete on the violin.
  • The bass bar has been fitted, installed and trimmed in the viola.
  • Graduation is nearly complete on the viola, complete on the violin.
  • The scrolls are partially carved…still a fair way to go.
  • The back plates are arched, but there is still some work to be done on each before I would call them absolutely complete.
  • The top plate has been installed on the violin, and purfling installed.
  • The violin top plate and rib garland are nearly complete…the edgework is done, but some refining will still happen.
  • You can see that I trimmed a couple of millimeters off the corners of the violin front plate. I will do the same on the other three plates as well.

Here are some photos:

July 3rd status of Guarneri-model violin.
July 3rd status of Guarneri-model violin. (Wood for back, sides and neck is European Maple. Wood for top is European Spruce.)


July 3rd status Guarneri-model violin back
July 3rd status Guarneri-model one-piece violin back. Arching and graduation are nearly complete.


July 3rd status of Oliver 14
July 3rd status of Oliver 14″ Viola.


July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola front plate
July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola front plate. Arching and graduation essentially complete. F-holes laid out and deeply incised. (Wood is Sitka Spruce.)


July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola back plate
July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola back plate. Arching and graduation nearly complete. (Wood is spalted, highly figured Big Leaf Maple, harvested about five miles from my house.)


July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola scroll and neck.
July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola scroll and neck. (Wood is spalted Big leaf maple…from the same log as the back plate.)


So…you can see that progress is happening. Not at a very exciting pace, but I hope the wait will be worthwhile.

My goal is to produce three very good instruments this summer/fall:

  • the 14-inch viola,
  • the Guarneri-model violin, and
  • the 3/4-size violin,

and then show them, along with a larger viola, to orchestra directors and teachers in the Greater Portland Area.

My rationale is that good small violas are hard to find, and so are good fractional sized instruments. If I can demonstrate to the teachers that I can produce very good instruments in smaller sizes, as well as the larger sizes, then perhaps they will recommend their students to me.

All I can do is try….

Thanks for looking.

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