In any case, here is the progress I've made on the violin body I'm working on:
When last I posted about this instrument I'd finished carving the scroll, and had gotten as far as the purfling on the body.
Next up was to rough graduate the top plate, then do the f-holes.
Carving f-holes is tricky. They are one of those elements of violin making where there is nowhere to hide. You can tell a lot about a luthier's skill level by how he or she carves their f-holes. F-holes by different makers have different characteristics, and this was my first time carving in the Amati style, so that was fun.
You begin by laying the f-holes out in pencil on the front of top using a template. The f-holes are positioned based on the eventual placement of the bridge, and the predetermined distance between the upper eyes.
After the rough work has been accomplished with the saw, you do the rest of the carving with an f-hole knife, which is very long and sharp. The challenge of carving spruce is that the summer grain is soft, and the winter grain is hard, so keeping all the cuts even and avoiding chatter takes practice.
We strive for symmetry with the f-holes, but recently I've adopted an attitude about them based on a piece of advice I read online about shaping your eyebrows: Remember they are sisters, not twins. I think as long as they look like they balance each other appropriately I'm not going to keep chasing every cut to try to make them exact mirror images. I've altered f-holes in the past that I liked just because I felt I had to match something that got away from me on the other one. Unless there is a glaring imbalance to address I don't plan on doing that anymore.
The plate is also tuned to specific pitches, which are referred to as "tap tones." You hold the plate a particular way and tap the wood in spots to make it resonate. You can adjust the pitch you hear by removing more wood. I did not get the tap tones I was originally aiming for because the electronic tuner I was using to hum the pitches into had a low battery, and I didn't realize it wasn't giving me an accurate reading until the tap tones had gotten lower than I intended. It should be fine, though. The plate feels good and rings well, and my teacher back in school was always adamant that you "don't hang on tap tones." It will be interesting to note any acoustical differences between this instrument and my previous ones.
After the graduation is complete you cut the wings on the f-holes free. (This usually drops the tap tones but then they go up the same amount again once the bass bar is in.)
You chalk fit the bar, which means you put down a layer of chalk along where it sits, place the bar there, and see where the chalk has touched it so you know where the high spots are that need to be cut. Temporary cleats help you put the bar in exactly the same spot. Getting a perfect fit on the bar doesn't actually take that long. The part that always slows me up is adding "spring" to it, which means removing an extra amount of material evenly from each end so that the whole length of it rolls. I made a "bass bar ring" to help keep the plate from flexing while pressing the bar into the chalk.
Usually you let it sit overnight to dry. If the fit isn't exact you end up with bulges and ridges on the outside of the plate, so it pays to take the time to fit the bar well. After it's dry you shape it until it flexes properly and the tap tones are where you expect them.
|lots of tiny clamps for gluing in linings.|
And it feels thankless because it takes forever and nobody (but other makers) notice it. Well, it's not true people don't notice it, but they don't know they notice it. It defines the finished outline of the instrument, but not in a manner the average person could point to. The same way someone in well-tailored clothes looks polished and put together, but if you had to say why you would be distracted by style or material or color, and less likely to give credit to good hems and seams. The purfling channel is essential for a clean and finished appearance, but it takes forever, and when you're done it just gets taken for granted.
So that's where I am. And I'm cheating a little with this photo because the saddle (the ebony piece at the bottom of the plate) isn't finished or glued in yet, and the corners still need to be rounded. But I'm almost ready to set the neck! Once that's done I will do final touch ups (including more work on the purfling channel) and I can start thinking about varnish. Can't wait! I've really enjoyed working on this model and look forward to doing it again. (Probably for Quinn, since I'm doing a Strad model for Aden, and plan on a Guarneri for Mona.) Violin making is the best.