Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Breaking the Stradivari Code.


A System of Geometry and Simple Ratios.

As it turns out, there is a system of geometry and simple ratios behind the shapes of classical violin making.

This geometry can be cracked and deciphered -- once we find a few starting keys into the code.  And, like the DNA codes that shape life, classical violin making's codes of geometry and proportion not only determine the form of single instruments, but also play the central role governing changes and development of instruments across the generations of classical making.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Designing and Making a Violin From Scratch, 17th Century Italian Style


How can we make what is seen in the old Italian violins?

From scratch so to say, rather than copying. And how can we proceed avoiding any methods inconsistent with the time of classical violin making?

To sketch the broad strokes of an answer, we'll lay aside all modern approaches and the now standard common practices that mostly arose out of 19th the century commercialization of violin making.  Using only resources appropriate to the time and  place of 16th and 17th century Northern  Italy, we will re-imagine designing and making a violin from start to finish.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A three centuries old mystery: The Secret of Stradivari

It's a favorite media story: The Secret of Stradivari Discovered!   It seems every six months or so for the last hundred years we get a round of stories about the secret of Stradivari.  It's romantic and fun.  Seems it never ends.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How Was the Old Making Different?

It's one thing to revere the great old instruments, but if we want to revive the old methods of making we need to understand their culture of making in greater detail.  How can we begin?  Perhaps it will help to bring out some contrasts between modern and old approaches to making things.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Glossary of old Italian arts and materia


Some sources for special materials:
  • Zecchi of Florence produces a full range of traditional materials of the Italian renaissance arts, pointedly using Cennini's handbook circa 1400 as a starting point.
  • Natural Pigments is based in Northern California, but provides a very thorough range of Renaissance, medieval, and Byzantine art materials.  They also provide educational information and forums to support the modern practitioner of these old art techniques. 
  • Talas is focused on book craft and calligraphy.  As part of this, they carry many traditional materials, like parchments and gold leaf.
  • Kremer Pigments of NYC provides a wide range of hard to find materials, including many of the ancient and traditional materials.
  • Wood Finishing Enterprises in Wisconsin caters to the violin maker.  While not particularly focused on historical materials, still they provide many of the most traditional items.  

Information and Sources for understanding the old art materials and practices:

The books listed above all have some historical significance. Besides these, there were many other relevant books published.

As can be seen by the odd mix of recipes in old texts, the beautician, colorist, and pharmacist work from the same collection of special natural ingredients.   Thus recipes for varnish, pigment, hand cream, and cough medicine occur side by side.   Since roman times, the knowledge of these special natural materials and their applications were collected in books called Materia Medica.

There was also a long tradition of books of secrets and recipes.

We can see echos of this heritage continuing all the way up until around the time of world war I:


A glossary of sources, materia, and methods from the arts culture surrounding the early Italian violin makers.



Monday, April 25, 2016

Going Back to the Methods of the Old Masters...

I'm advocating for a new approach to making violins -- the revival of the old methods of design and build.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Curves of a Different Kind...

Violins, violas, and cellos share a wonderful curvy shape we all know.

And it's somewhat reminiscent of an even more sensuous shape:


But how can a maker draw those iconic violin curves?

Monday, April 18, 2016

A range of sizes

The classical Cremona makers produced violin family instruments in a wide range of sizes:



Sunday, April 17, 2016

Founding a Violin Family

Andrea Amati.  circa 1505 to 1577

Much begins with this founding member of the Amati violin making family.

Andrea Amati's instruments begin generations of violin making in Cremona.  His work refined and established the violin family we know today.  And, Andrea handed down the principles of construction and design that carried Cremona violin making to a pinnacle that still stands an unmatched height today, nearly 500 years later.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A beastiary of early bowed strings

Famously, Nero fiddled while Rome burned.   It makes for good theater, but probably didn't happen.  Bowed stringed instruments in Europe don't go back to ancient times!

China, India, and Mongolia might have had bowed strings in ancient times, but as far as is known, Rome, Greece, and Egypt did not.

The first evidence of bowed strings in Europe appears in the late medieval times, apparently from Arabic sources entering through Spain.

One of earliest European images of bowed string instruments. 
This is an illumination from a manuscript circa 950 A.D

Monday, April 11, 2016

A quick tour of some very special early violin family instruments:

The exact origins of the violin remain debatable and murky.

But most experts would agree that Andrea Amati played a central role in founding the violin family we now know.

The 'King' cello made by Andrea Amati in the town of Cremona:

King cello by Andrea Amati  -- made in 1500s

This cello has often been claimed to be the oldest existing violin family instrument.  The cello is believed to have been made sometime between 1538 and 1564.   That's approaching 500 years ago!

Remarkably, we can hear this cello played today.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Where can I see the old instruments online?

Thanks to the internet, we can all take a close look at the classic old Italian instruments.   This wasn't so easy in the past.

Detailed pictures of classical Italian instruments abound on the web.    Some are only published for a time, for example instruments up for auction.  Others are in permanent collections.   Some images can be seen for free, while others sources charge a fee for access.

Here's a quick guide to great instruments on the web: