Saturday, May 16, 2015
Violin Maker -- David Beard

Starting a blog today about my violin making and research.

This journey actually began a while ago.

I've always played the violin, and loved violins.  As a kid I put together a little violin repair shop in my basement, but didn't really have any proper tools.  My little store of knowledge had come from two much pawed books:

Bachmann's Encyclopedia of the Violin and Heron Allen's Violin Making

At the time, I was learning to play violin, and living two blocks from a violin shop in Portland, Oregon.  Downtown, I could get a copy of the latest Strad magazine, and these often included amazing pictures of old Italian instruments.

But after this initial enthusiasm, I came to the conclusion that the old instruments and the new instruments I could see were somehow very very different in character and style.  Something wonderfully warm and complex in the 18th century and earlier instruments contrasts hugely with the 19th century and later instruments.  These later instruments tended toward a comparatively very hard and bright character.

1924 Fagnola

1710 Peter of Mantua

I could have chosen from countless 20th century examples where the contrast would be more stark, or grotesque. In the general run of things, this 1924 Fagnola is a truly excellent instrument, even wonderful in its way.  But even as a kid, the contrast of character between even the best modern work compared to something magnificently human and glorious like the 1710 Peter of Mantua seemed striking.  

I considered studying violin making for a while.  But I couldn't see a road that led to making instruments of a character like the old Italians.  As far as I could tell, it seemed that all existing paths led to making hard instruments of a modern character, even if sometimes dressed up to outwardly look like the old stuff.  Unfortunately, at the time I didn't realize that some people were actually making progress in recovering knowledge of the old making methods.   Not seeing this, I accepted that the old making was lost to the world, and I focused on learning to play.


In 2009, a couple of things came together for me.  First, I'd finally read Sacconi's 1979 book: Secrets of Stradivari.

The secrets of Stradivari: With the catalogue of the Stradivarian relics

Also, I'd spent a lot of effort over the prior two years researching issues of music theory, harmony, intonation, and acoustics.  I was goofing around with a plastic ruler, twanging it while holding the ruler tight against a table top.   Suddenly, I had one of those moments in life where ideas click together.  I had the begins of an intuition about how the parts of a violin work together making sound, and an inkling of the physical mechanisms behind some of the different tonal colors I hear and experience in violin playing.

Somehow these things were enough to get me suspecting that making the kind of violins that excite me might actually be possible now.

I dove in.  Soon I found and read a book on the geometry of the old instruments by Kevin Coates:

Geometry, Proportion, and the Art of Lutherie: A Study of the Use and Aesthetic Significance of Geometry and Numerical Proportion in the Design of European Bowed and Plucked String Instruments in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries

Lastly, I found Roger Hargrave's website and read the many articles he's written and shared.  Particularly, he's written about the old Cremona working methods of the Guarneri and Amati families.

These things provided a great starting point.   I was now convinced that it would be possible to make in an entirely historically consistent style.

There were some large gaps that still required considerable historical investigation and research, but that has been my work of these last six years.

I can now build and design violin family instruments from scratch in a 'revival' style.  Of course we can't know everything they thought and did, but we can build without using any steps which we understand to be historically inconsistent with the old making.

I'm starting this blog to document my research results and continuing journey.

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