This is a fascinating post by Christopher Martyn, an instrument maker who built a very unconventional violin then recorded it being played:
“I’m not claiming for a moment that the sound made by this Savart violin is the equal of a fine traditional instrument, although I’ve heard many ‘proper’ violins that sound far worse. Nor am I saying that violin makers are wasting their time by paying so much attention to plate thicknessing, plate tuning and arching, although the fact that a flat-topped box-fiddle produces such a violin-like sound does make one wonder whether these things are as important as generally thought. What I am suggesting is that, before offering the opinion that old is better than new or that violins made by Stradivari or Guarneri sound better than those made today, it might be a good idea to ask ourselves if there’s any evidence to justify this view or whether we’re simply repeating a hoary old myth.”
I once attempted to build a violin but ran into difficulty with the fingerboard radius. I left it in frustration (and now have no idea what I did with the thing) but hope to try again some day. Right now I’m working on a little four-string ukulele made from scrap wood and a big old steel mug. The body and neck are done. Now it needs the soundboard sanded thinner, plus the hardware added. I haven’t decided if I’m going to make my own frets from an old clothes hanger or buy proper fretwire and have it shipped in. Work on these things is slow as I have to set up on the porch and the rain stops my work, as does the noise and mess. We rent where multiple other people live and I don’t have the luxury of stepping into a workshop and getting things done when I like. I miss my barn.
Go read the post – I thought the comments on the perceived quality and sound of violins were quite interesting.
*Image at top belongs to Christopher Martyn and pictures the violin mentioned in this post. See his site and other instruments here.
Read the linked article…
I’m a bit surprised that the audience members were so convinced that they could tell new from old instruments. I would guess that none of the people who said this were musicians and/or instrument makers themselves. Blind tests have shown again and and again that a good musician can make any competently made instrument sound good. A lot of the difference comes in on the players side. Many great players really do form intimate relationships with particular instruments. There’s a good book from about 15 years ago about one of the top violin makers slaving away to create an instrument for a (also top level) musician. The musician almost had a nervous breakdown over deciding whether to take the new violin or go with an authentic Guarneri–he chose the latter, solely because of how it sounded under his ear and felt in his hands and how it “felt”. Kind of a depressing result for luthiers but I suppose they can take some solace in the fact that no matter what there are a limited and dwindling supply of those Cremonese fiddles, cellos, etc.
I’m tempted to also dilate at length on the importance of set up and how it can make even a cheapie sound and play well but instead I’ll suggest you try to make a gourd banjo and/or make a banjo uke out of your ukulele.
AND: Surely there’s fretwire in Central America!
That is an amazing story. I have found that some pawn shop guitars have a “soul,” and some expensive instruments do not. I have a $100 electric guitar I tweaked (Lyon, by Washburn!) up as a daily player and it sounds great. I added locking tuners, graphite saddles, fixed a broken pickup and cleaned up the pots and replaced the knobs – and it plays like a monster. It’s beautiful. I’ve also played a middle-of-the-road Martin guitar that sounded like a fruit crate, and played an inexpensive Hohner guitar that sounded great. Sometimes there’s a magic connection between the wood or something that makes particular guitars sing.
I haven’t found fretwire yet. Someone probably has it, but I may just import a roll.
Well there are luthiers in your parts making guitars, I’m sure. They’re using something for frets. They may have to directly import wire themselves, tho’.
There’s a guy named Mike Gregory who uses steel reinforcing strips from old wiper blades for frets
Just an idea…
That is genius – thank you.