I haven't done a lutherie update in a while. Mostly because I have been distracted from my work of late. Not so much from my work at the store, but my own building. I was warned many years ago by another builder that once you open the door to doing repairs it becomes almost impossible to find time to build, and he was right. As much as I appreciate the work when it comes to paying the bills, most of the time I wish people would simply take better care of their equipment and leave me more time to myself.
For instance, I worked on straightening this cello bridge this weekend:
I'm glad I can do repair work for people and keep their instruments running well, but after not getting much done this summer on the violin I'm supposed to be building (not to mention the one I'm supposed to be helping Aden build) I've decided this week to buckle down and get back to work. So here's a run down for those who are interested in how my current violin is progressing.
First, the scroll. Probably of all the parts of a violin the thing I get the most comments on would be the scroll. I would say I get the most "questions" about it, except that the only real question ever is "How do you do that?" And there isn't a very satisfying answer, other than to say you carve away all the wood that isn't part of the scroll and then there it is.
Carving a scroll is fun, though. It takes a lot of practice and skill to execute all those curves correctly, and the symmetry is tricky, but the scroll is easily the most sculptural part of making a violin so there is a relative element of freedom to it. It's definitely the most portable part of the work. I actually took my scroll and tool bag with me over spring break and worked on a bit of carving in Ohio and New York.
You start by planing a scroll blank (a block of maple) flat, smooth, square, and to a particular thickness, then tracing on the template.
I cut the rough shape out on a band saw and used a drill press to lay out the pilot holes for the pegs, but the rest of it is all done with hand tools. I have about a dozen gouges and a few different chisels specifically for scroll carving. I also use a knife, Japanese saw, finger planes, files, and scrapers for various steps. I do some layout lines, make relief cuts, and then most of it is really just carving away and looking carefully.
Since it's an Amati model I used some of my photos of the Amati
violin I liked so much at the National Music Museum as a reference. I
know to the average person all scrolls look pretty much the same, but
they really aren't, and Amati scrolls are my favorite. There is a charm
and a perfection to them that I will be chasing for the rest
of my life.
Let me back up though. Plates: The top (front) of the instrument is made of spruce. That wood is quarter-sawn and book-matched. (Imagine cutting a wedge out of upright log like you are cutting a slice of pie, then splitting that wedge in half and opening it up like a book to make the left and right sides of the plate.) Here is my spruce right after I glued the center joint:
Purfling is what makes the pair of black lines that run along the
edges of the top and back plates. Many people think those lines are
painted on, but in most cases they are actually an inlay. Purfling helps protect the
instrument from injury (stopping a lot of damage on the edges from
running disastrously farther into the plates)
So that's the update. I am way behind where I expected to be by now, but life is complicated. I'm glad I get to do such fulfilling work whenever I'm lucky enough to get to do it. The goal now is to actively make more time for that to happen. Because there are violins I need to make, regardless of excuses! It's good to be getting back to work.