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Our Violin Making
The amount of time to make an instrument is dependent upon a number of factors; the size, the type and the makers speed. To craft a standard modern 14” violin takes approximately 120 – 150 hours. The viola is of similar time as the violin, but the upper end of that time. A violoncello is approximately 300 hours and a double bass is approximately 550 hours, but that is very much dependent upon the style, which can vary widely.
Any timber that is classed as a ‘tonewood’ is suitable for instrument making. The traditional choice of timber is sourced from the Alpine regions of Europe and is typically Bosnian Maple for the back, neck and sides and European Spruce for the belly. The flame and curl of the Maple have a major bearing upon the aesthetic look of the instrument, however un-flamed timber will work just as well. For the Spruce, the tighter and straighter the grain the better. In all cases the Spruce should be quarter sawn. This is demonstrated by the ability to see the grain as straight lines. However, whilst it is ideal to have the backs also quarter sawn, slab sawn or figured timber such as Poplar are also commonly used. Fingerboards are mostly black Ebony and pegs and fittings are Ebony, Rosewood or Boxwood.
Some Australian timbers are excellent tonewoods and there are numerous makers that work exclusively with these timbers. Tasmanian Blackwood is a commonly used timber for the back, neck and sides as is Tasmanian Myrtle or Queensland Maple. The belly plates are predominantly made from King William Pine, but Celery Top Pine is a good second choice. Regrettably, King William Pine is becoming extremely rare and as a consequence its use may be limited to the very best of instruments. Jarrah, Gidgee, or Mulga wood make the best fingerboards and fittings, but not restricted to these. In each case like the European tonewood, quarter sawn timber is best, especially for the belly plates, but slab sawn timber is also used for the backs.
In all cases an instrument is essentially a hollow ‘air box’. The hardwood (back, neck and sides) not only provide the structural integrity of the instrument, but is also designed to act as an amplifier of sound. The center of the instruments back is much thicker than its edges and acts as a ‘reflective’ speaker that pushes the sound back out of the sound holes. The softwood belly is usually of uniform thickness. This plate is usually referred to as the ‘sound board’. By crossing the string with a bow, vibrations are transmitted through the bridge into the belly and then through the sound post to the back plate. It is the resultant vibrations of all components through the air within the instrument that we hear.
In all cases, instruments can be made based upon a pattern that is copied from the past or a new model may be generated. Whilst there is still a significant amount of artistic licence for viola’s, violoncelli and double bass, the 14” pattern was essentially determined by Nicolo Amati in the mid-16th Century and has varied little since that time. At Sophia’s Strings we make instruments to our own pattern or any of the classic instruments, but our most popularly requested pattern is based upon the Giuseppe Guarneri Del Gesu ‘Plowden’.