Monday, June 27, 2016


I finished the violin I've been working on!
There is really nothing quite like stringing up a an instrument for the first time that you've spent so many hours creating and finally getting to hear its voice.

I mean, it started like this:
Spruce, maple, and neck block
And now, all by my own hands, it is this:

Most days lutherie is just a fun job that feels fairly ordinary, but on days like today where I come to the end of the long process and can kind of step back I am momentarily awed that I am capable of such a thing.  I go from "I make violins" to "Oh my god look I actually made this violin!"

I'm really pleased with it.  I spent about half an hour playing it after I got the bridge finished (the first thing I am compelled to play on my new instruments is "Happy Birthday") and it has more power than I was expecting.  It's comfortable to play, but when I get it into the new player's hands this weekend I'll find out if there is any further tweaking I need to do to customize it.

It needs to be played in to warm it up, because right now it has that slightly hyper sound of a violin under tension for the first time and it's not sure about the whole idea yet.  Despite that, it sounds well balanced and clear, and I know with time it will warm up and the edges of the sound will soften.

In the past few weeks I had one frustrating setback that literally gave me nightmares, but it turned out to be a useful learning moment.  After I got the instrument to color I put on the final coat of clear varnish that is used to polish through, but compared to the conditions I originally did all my varnishing in, the combination of AC and sunlight in my shop were problematic.  The scroll burst out into the varnish equivalent of a rash and I freaked out.
I had never had a problem like this before, but thankfully I have a varnish guru I can consult, and Joe always makes things better.  He explained the problem and walked me through all the steps I needed to get it under control again, and it all worked out:
All better.
I now have much improved varnish doctor skills, but that was still not fun.

Speaking of varnish, check out how beautiful it looked after the final polishing when I held it outside at sunset:

I would normally describe the color of this instrument as a "warm caramel" but varnish is different in different light, and here you can see all the lovely ways the sunlight can dance through the wood and the ground and bring out many colors at once.  (I love to varnish. I can't wait until I get to do it again.)

Anyway, welcome to the world new violin!  I hope you get to play wonderful things.


  1. That's awesome!

    And, apropos of fiddles/violins, I just saw Riverdance live. The fiddler was incredible. I mean, I could not believe the sounds he was making with his instrument. I can only assume he made a deal with the devil.

  2. Wow, that's really beautiful! Hope to see it in person when we visit. Andrew has a question - he wants to know if the scroll is necessary, or just decorative?

    1. Excellent question. Everything on a violin vibrates, and therefore contributes to the overall sound, so you do need a certain amount of mass beyond the pegbox in order for an instrument to sound the way you expect it to. Players also anticipate a certain amount of weight when they are holding an instrument and it would feel strange without a scroll. Being able to cup the scroll in your palm also helps when tuning (depending on how the pegs have become oriented over time and if they are slipping at all), which is probably why nobody ever carves anything spiky on certain areas.

      In terms of the shape, that spiral is really hard to do symmetrically and well. It's a point of pride among makers to be able to carve a scroll and tells a lot about a maker's skill level. In the VSA competition the scroll is a whole category unto itself for scoring.

      You can carve something other than a spiral (and some makers do variations with spirals with more or fewer turns), but many times when you see something fanciful it's usually a sign that they couldn't do a spiral well. In many ways an animal head or something would be a lot easier to carve. The craziest I ever got with a scroll was on my own viola where I added a small flower to the back of it. (VSA judges did NOT like that. Not at all.) Someday on the right instrument it would be fun to do a bunny head or something, if I can keep the mass about the same and maintain the proper balance.

  3. Can't wait to see it--and play it!

  4. I am in awe. That is a gorgeous instrument.

  5. Alguém para fazer uma doação de 2 violinos de 3\4 para crianças da minha igreja que não tem como comprar?!

  6. Alguém para fazer uma doação de 2 violinos de 3\4 para crianças da minha igreja que não tem como comprar?!

  7. Fantastic! Congratulations!!!

  8. I'd be curious to know what "playing" traits you attribute to its "building" traits. Accidentally high tap-tones and surprisingly powerful sound? Could you reliably duplicate the sound by duplicating your process? Or do the violin gods have their way no matter? -M

    1. There are so many variables it's hard to say. The arching is higher than I've ever done, which is why I was frustrated when the tap tones got away from me because I wanted to try and judge the impact of the arching alone. But the post is the tallest I've ever made for one of my violins (an average post is usually around 52mm high, this one is about 54mm), and that combined with the top being a couple of tenths thinner than I usually go could be part of it. Normally the flatter arching is more responsive, but this is responding just as quickly as the last violin I made so maybe the graduation counter balanced that effect? I'll know more as it settles. But it's a good sign that I liked it right away, because in my experience it can only get better.

  9. Wow!!!! That is beautiful!!! And amazing!! All from a block of wood! Your job is pretty freakin cool!!