1. Origin of
instruments first were recorded in Europe in the medieval ages. By “stringed”
we refer to instruments played with a bow. This instrument was the "fiddle" of
the minne-singers. But it didn’t have much in common with a violin. It
was in the 15th century when, slowly, the family of gambs and violins developed.
In the times of the
renaissance, which had a large impact on all the arts, not least in the construction of
instruments. The violin as it is known nowadays was
built in the early 16th century. In this climate the viola and
the cello also emerged.
Everything that is
explained about the violin and its structures can be referred to the whole
family of stringed instruments. This group of instruments has been developed in order
to satisfy new ideas of sounds that emerged in these times in Italy. Gradually,
it took the place of the gambs and violas that preceded them.
was with the Cremonese makers working in this environment that the violin and
its family reached its zenith, and although technical innovations have been
applied through time, the ground plan and its basic form are still used today.
In Italy, which escaped
the war of thirty years, violin making reached an enormous upswing. Andrea
Amati lived in Cremona between 1535 and 1611; he became the founder of
the world’s most famous school of violin-making. It is not a certain institute,
which is meant but a special local characterisation of all different centres
of violinmaking; the art of painting has known a similar effect. So, there
are for instance the school of Brescia, of Cremona, of Milan, but also
the school of Naples and many more.
making expounded over the whole continent of Europe. But it was Cremona
that was home to the most famous of all violin makers: The families Amati and
Guarneri, Antonio Stradivari, the
families Ruggeri and Bergonzi. For more than 150 years, violins made by
Stradivari and Guarneri have been the most desired concert instruments.
2. Why old master
instruments sound so good
decline of violin making began in the second half of the 18th century.
Caused by a permanent growth of the demand for instruments the violinmakers
were forced to produce more and to produce faster. They used varnishes
that dried more quickly but which could not reach the quality of the elder
ones. Still, every violinmaker and every enthusiast for violins regrets
the disappearance of the old Italian, the so called classical, varnishes.
So, there are some violin makers who try heavily to reconstruct old varnishes;
they invest plenty of time for their experiments.
influences for violin making result from the pollution of our environment.
It is known that in earlier times, rafts
transported all the chopped trees. The river Po 250 years ago - a pure river -
cannot be compared
with the polluted waterway it is nowadays. The same fact is valid also for nearly
all stretches of water. Because of the fact that wood is a material with
high absorbency, all substances dissolved in the water penetrate the wood.
During the process of drying out, all these substances remain in
the wood. In addition during the whole process of later working by the violin
maker, this negative influence cannot be corrected.
But the environment
is an important aspect not only as far as wood is concerned. All substances,
which are used to produce varnishes are natural produce. The so-called pore
filler consists of propolis which is produced by bees. The colouring of
varnishes consist of natural colours, the solvents are natural ethereal
oils. All natural substances that are used in violin making nowadays are
not comparable with the substances of earlier times; unfortunately, they have
lost their purity.
The ideal materials
that were used in classical violin making and the very positive effect of the
aging process resulted in the completeness of all classical instruments made
by Italian masters.
the sound of these instruments nowadays the same as it was in Stradivari’s
times? Certainly not. The majority of musicians would decline instruments
with an original sound of those times. It is absolutely clear that they
wouldn’t be played in concert by a soloist (except in baroque music). The instruments
would not have
such a variety of sounds and they wouldn’t have the ability to reach the
most distant rows of a concert hall with sufficient clarity. The fact that
they can be played in concert today is owed to the violin makers. Much know-how and manual skills and plenty of experience are necessary
in order to restore the tone of an old instrument again and again.
Further, there are repairs which are necessitated due to accidents and damage; the violin
is a very tender instrument with a high tendency to get cracks if it has
been dropped. Moreover, damage can be caused by air that is just too dry, which happens
most often with new instruments;
unfortunately these cracks caused by dryness are more common because
of central heating and air conditioning
4. Making new
the course of the centuries, the workshop has not changed a great deal. There
are still the same tools that were used by the old masters: the carpenter’s
bench, saws, small and large planes as well as chisels made of wood just
like those used for sculpturing. Moreover, blades and stencils, also brushes
for varnishing and above all large knives for woodcarving are still in
use. Still, at Sprenger Geigenbau, there are tools in use that were originally
used by founder Fritz Sprenger.
For the violinmaker,
wood is the most important material; it is only natural that the correct choice
of wood is vital in order to achieve the best quality
of sound. Wood that is too heavy because of its specific weight
cannot be used – although it looks perhaps marvellous. It is also because
of this aspect that mass-production of violins has to fail: these days
even with modern, computer-controlled machines; the works is too mechanical, without any consideration for materials used. Mass-production
will never fulfil the fundamental aspect, because each piece of wood needs to be
treated differently, even when the wood is chopped out of the same trunk, the single pieces
are very different of each other. At the lower end of the trunk, the wood
is generally harder than at the top, also, parts which grew in the sunshine obviously
differ from parts that grew in the shadow.
Two sorts of wood
are the most common in violin making: spruce for the belly and maple for
the back and the scroll. The fingerboard consists of ebony, which is a very
hard wood. The pegs and tailpiece are mostly made of ebony, jacaranda or boxwood.
The finest wood of
maple comes from Bosnia, the most adapted spruce comes from central European
countries; it grows at an altitude of about 1000m above sea level. The wood of the ebony comes
from Africa – it is wood of the date palm.
The most common kind
of construction is the one with the so-called inner form. The ribs are
adjusted to this form. The ribs, which are about 1.2 mm thick, are bent
over the bending iron. Then, they are fixed with some glue at
the top- and bottom-block and at the corner-blocks. The back and belly
of the violin are sawed out with its exact outline. This whole process
happens according to the precise pattern of the stencils. The stencils can be taken from an instrument, so for instance from a violin made by Stradivari
or Guarneri; perhaps, they are changed a little bit with a small, personal
peculiarity. The belly and the back, which have been cut out are arched
nothing except the ribs is bent or pressed, everything is worked out of
a solid piece of wood. When the outer arching has been finished the insides
of the back and belly are gouged out. The thickness of belly and back is not
the same for the whole violin; its wood is between 2.5 and 4.5 mm thick.
The violinmaker has to adjust his work to the character of the wood. This is
an essential advantage over violins that are made by
machines. After carving and preparation, the back is fixed
to the rim of the rib. The f-holes are cut out of the belly and
then the bass-bar is adjusted and fixed. In order to find the form of the
f-holes, the violinmaker focuses on classical examples – perhaps also
on his personal particularities. Next, the inner form has to be detached
from the ribs; afterwards, the belly is fixed on the rim of the rib. Finally,
the back and belly are put in and the edges are rounded. With that, the body of the instrument is finished.
The scroll is cut
out of maple wood, which should - if possible - match the back
and ribs. When the scroll and the so called peg-box has been worked
out, the fingerboard gets adjusted to the neck. Then, the complete neck
is fitted to the body, which obviously is a working process that has to
be carried out with high precision; it has a large impact not only on the
instrument’s technical playing possibilities but also on its sound. Now,
the white instrument is finished. It is now only its varnished dress that
5. The varnish
The three most important
functions of the varnish are the following:
1. It should protect
the instrument from the negative influences of weather and dirt
2. It should raise
the instrument’s possibilities of sound
3. It should emphasise
the wood’s natural beauty
strive for the development of an ideal recipe for varnishes. Indeed,
the varnish has a large impact on the sound. A soft varnish and an insufficient
undercoating have a tendency to deaden heavily the sound of a violin. If
the varnish is too hard or brittle, in contrary, the sound becomes shrill
To sum up, one can
say that an instrument, which is badly or incorrectly built cannot become
a masterpiece just because of an excellent varnish. However, a good instrument
can be ruined because of a miserable varnish.
pictures do not have any relation to the topics.
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