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Violin repair: Advice and opinions sought

 
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Benedict White
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Joined: 27 Jan 2011
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 6:09 am    Post subject: Violin repair: Advice and opinions sought Reply with quote

I asked my son and I's violin teacher (who also has a violin shop which does repairs) if he had any violins which were damaged beyond economic repair, as I wanted to be able to have a few trial runs at fixing violins in the hope if learning a thing or two.

For this purpose he gave me a violin, and this is it:


Now there are some interesting and odd things about this violin. It has a single piece flamed maple back, which seems well carved inside and out:

Though there is a small amount of woodworm damage.


The ribs are also flamed, see here:

There is a hand written note inside which I initially thought said "Repaired Sept 27th 1873 W.G. Black though now I am not so sure it says "repaired" but can't think what else it may say.


You can also see that it has had a repair to the back, which I think looks bad and may interfere with the sound post.

The scroll and peg box seem well carved:
Though the neck is not flamed.

So it's a nice looking instrument made of expensive bits of wood... and now it gets odd.

It has a two piece front, however it is not made from two pieces cut from the same wedge.

I have added a small black line where the join is. Note the grain density with side of the join. 31 to the inch in the bass side and 17 on the treble. This can't come from wood from the same forest grown at anything like the same time and same distance from the centre of the trunk.

There are no corner blocks and the inside of the ribs have a very odd "finish" to them, with regular gauges cut out of them:

The inside of the top is nothing like as well carved as the back:
and has already had one repair (which looks much better than the one on the back):
The bass bar seems carved in as its grain matches where it meets the table at either end. The inside of the top is covered in some kind of varnish/glue.

The neck is of through neck construction: but it does have an ebony fingerboard and saddle.

The end block is made of two pieces glued together.

All the pictures are also here:http://www.flickr.com/photos/58870275@N05/sets/72157625802232509/

So the questions:

Can anyone tell me anything about the violin, like where and when it was made?

Is there any explanation for why the top is in two pieces from different wedges?

What should I do about the repair to the back that has lumps of glue sticking out of it? (I can't sue W.G. Black, I suspect he is no longer with us).

Should I check and correct the thickness of the front as well as making it smooth?

Any recommendations as to how to deal with either the whole drilled in the top or the wood worm damage at the back (which does not go all the way through)?
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rs
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Location: Holland, Michigan

PostPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

19th century German that was mass produced. Three typical aspects of this sort. No corner blocks (some put a false corner over the lower corners to simulate blocks when viewed through the ff's). This was because the rib garland was assembled to an OUTSIDE form. In this way, all the ribs were glued at once and a lot of steps were omitted. Looking at the outside of the corners, when done this way the corners tend to look blunt-nosed. No neck block but an integrated neck. Again, this eliminated the steps of blocking and cutting a mortise. Finally, the integrated bass bar. The top is carved with the bass bar in situ and again, a lot of steps are eliminated. The wavy cuts in the inside of the ribs are from toothed planes that are common to many types of violins and some makers got a little lax not scraping those out even on fine instruments.

The irony is, the outside of these instruments are often fairly nice. The scroll and wood, the varnish and the patina. Some of them have nice purfling. This kind of violin was to the industry in the 19th century what the Chinese instruments are to today's market.

I am not knocking the instrument by what I wrote, it is just a phase that violin making introduced in days gone by. It also is truly an excellent way to learn some fundamental violin repair and in the end, you might have a fair instrument.

In answering your questions, the two pieces of different sorts do not mean a lot as even some fine instruments do this as makers at times would just match some would as so inclined. In this instance, it is from an "assembly line" pile. The repaired crack is a soundpost crack and needs to be scooped and patched. I would definately recommend smoothing the top and fitting another bar as this would be great practice and will definately raise your appreciation for new wood in the future as 100 year old spruce is tough to work with and splinters a lot. I would also whack off that neck block and fit a neck block as you will learn a lot about neck fit up that way. I wouldn't worry about the worm holes if they don't go through.

I hope you have fun. (Incidently, my very first violin "repair"/"reconstruction"/"restoration" was exactly like this one when I was a very young man 33 years ago! I took it apart piece by piece on my dining room table.)
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Benedict White
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 12:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Many thanks for your reply.

The corners are sharp as far as I can tell. It seems to me that almost everything that could be done to make this look a good instrument was, bar the false blocks.

Not sure about fidling with the neck though, looks fine as it is, even if it is wrong.

As well as smoothing the top, I take it I should make some attempt to regraduate it then?
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rs
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 2:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would definitely re-work the top the best I could if I chose to re-work it. This would mean graduation, fitting a bar, etc. My reason is simple: I find the most joy and satisfaction when I do my best. If I "half-way" a job, it doesn't make me happy. If you read some very fine counsel from experienced makers, you will start noticing this common trait. Even if there are many approaches, they simply do their best on the approaches they use. Notice for example some of the advice from say Michael Darnton (who, I think, does work equal to any that has ever been done). He takes no shortcuts to the end result even when he is trying to expedite and innovate a more feasible way to do something. He is just one person, but I notice this trait in many successful makers and restorers. This has nothing to do with one way or the "right way" approach. It is simply they have determination to take their work to the best level they can.

This has nothing to do with marketability, nor the worth of the instrument. It is simply this: If I want to work an instrument, I want to work that phase of it to my best, or do something else, period. I never want to just "get by". I want to improve.
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Benedict White
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

rs wrote:
I would definitely re-work the top the best I could if I chose to re-work it.


What would govern whether you would re work it or not?

Not only that, but I presume I am going to make some sort of thickness measuring device as well as some small planes with curved blades. (Any chance someone could post some pictures of the underside of the thumb planes?)
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Janito
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 30, 2011 10:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

rs wrote:
... Michael Darnton (who, I think, does work equal to any that has ever been done)...


This sort of comment forces me to ask whether you have seen, heard or played a number of Michael Darnton's instruments to be able to make this claim.

My comment has nothing to do with Michael's wisdom and making prowess, but is simply intended to point out that statements made on a forum should have some basis in prior knowledge.

Otherwise, how do I know when I am not being told about fairies.


Last edited by Janito on Sun Jan 30, 2011 2:31 pm; edited 1 time in total
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rs
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 30, 2011 1:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Benedict, if your question is about the decision making process I would follow, here it is: I would play the instrument and listen to its strengths and weaknesses. I would assess it this way and determine before opening what I would anticipate "correcting". Generally (and this is a generalization) tops of that nature have a wild array of sounds. This is because the tops are so irregular, that the sheer probability is that some notes will sound pretty fair, and "generally" this is the case. I have found that these types of tops have a few tolerable sounds. As tone is subjective, each player will find one or two he likes on this type of violin, that is, that sound okay to him. If this satisfies me, I would leave it alone. This would not satisfy me, however, and so I would re-work the top, fit a bar and finally re-work the back. Personally at this time in my life I would not bother with this instrument, which is why your friend gave it to you, because having a business, I would not tie-up my time accordingly. But for SCHOOLING, which is your purpose as stated initially, an instrument like this is perfect as there is SO much to do, and it is impossible, virtually, to ruin it.

I currently am not re-working instruments for resale. My work is making and this occupies my efforts. However, I am also realistic and therefore must take on repair and re-work from clients to generate cash-flow. I currently have a few clients who have instruments that THEY want improved to a level they are searching for. I listen to what they want, and then basically re-work their instruments to meet this need for them, be it playability, tone or the like. What helped me to accomplish this was years of taking instruments apart and re-working them, getting counsel from other makers, and learning from their different approaches. As the instruments I was re-working in those days were mine, I could do anything I wished. Today I cannot approach violins this way as they are someone else's instruments. I must respect the propriety of the owner. Some clients totally turn the decision making over to me, and I am always careful not to take undue liberty. Most, however, prefer I offer an assessment, suggestion, explanation and so forth, and they decide which course to follow. I totally respect that also, and again, work hard to take no undue liberty.

Janito, my comment you quoted was clearly stated as both parenthetical and subjective. I cannot possiby understand, therefore, how you could take exception to it for it still remains both parenthetical and subjective.
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Randall Shenefelt
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Janito
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 30, 2011 2:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

rs wrote:
Janito, my comment you quoted was clearly stated as both parenthetical and subjective. I cannot possiby understand, therefore, how you could take exception to it for it still remains both parenthetical and subjective.


It may be parenthetical and subjective, but I am asking if it is evidential.

Incidentally, I edited my earlier post because it was ambiguous (I changed 'This comment' to 'My comment').
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Benedict White
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 30, 2011 3:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

RS, as the violin was apart, and was not in a playable condition when I took it apart, I could not start by trying it out.

You are right, this is just the perfect instrument to learn on though!

I will regraduate. Now all I need to do is get hold of the right steel to make the planes, chisels and scrapers I need.
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rs
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 30, 2011 4:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually, Janito, subjective statements lack evidence by nature or they would be objective. But, if this helps to answer the question, I also have never played an AS or a dG. I have heard Strads and seen Strads. I value them as work that helps me get a better grasp on what I wish to do and can say with confidence, "I think these to be among the best work ever." I can say this without playing them, and no one argues with me, mostly because they also hold this opinion.

I compare all work I see to the work I just mentioned. Mostly, to AS, but others as well.

When I see a Becker, I can use the above visual comparisons and say that among modern makers he is equal to the best, and again this without playing one, and infact, without ever hearing one to my knowledge. Therefore, my statement is, "Becker is among the best I have seen." Being among the best of the moderns makes Carl Becker among the best of all time, again, according to my opinion. But, few would argue that, I believe. Because I believe it, it is subjective, and I will continue to believe it with little regard to rebuttals.

By simply applying this same approach, I compare contempary work to all of the above. Some of it is very, very good. When I make the comparison to Darnton it is visual, this is true, but the execution of form of Michael Darnton's work is virtually flawless. This again, without playing or ever hearing one. I know this sounds abstract, but it is evidential, for I can compare side by side photographs, much the same way I could compare side by side pohotographs of say Rembrandt and Vermeer or Becker and Sacconi. None of this is to be mistaken for adoration, it is just an appraisal of what I see.

I simply will conclude that the criterion most important to me when I look at others' work is, "What does it motivate ME to want to accomplish?" Seeing Michael Darnton's work does this for me equally to all of the other makers I just mentioned. This to me means a lot.

All the best.
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Randall Shenefelt
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Janito
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

rs wrote:
I compare all work I see to the work I just mentioned. Mostly, to AS, but others as well.


From the post above I cannot tell whether you have had a Strad, Del Gesu, Darnton or Becker violin in your hands for these comparisons.

If the comparisons have been made from photos or other abstract media, it would be helpful to know.
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