Violin Information

  Violin Making Picture Diary

 The following pictures are just a sampling of what is involved in making a fine quality instrument. 

 The materials are collected. Wood for violins must be air dried, not kiln dried like the vast majority of woods available from hardware stores and general wood suppliers, or like the materials used in low grade student instruments. The wood is aged for a minimum of 3 years and many makers like wood that is over 20 years old. The wood species used today in instrument making are the same ones that were used 500 years ago when Amati (the maker who is attributed to making the first modern violin) started making violins. The top is fine-grain spruce, the back ribs and neck are maple.  

The tools that are used, for the most part, are the same types that have been used for hundreds of years. Although we have electricity and thus power tools, the vast majority of the best violins are still almost entirely made with hand tools like those pictured above.

The top is always made from quarter cut fine-grain spruce while the back can be made from either slab or quarter-cut maple.  

 The top is almost always made from 2 pieces while the back can be either one or two pieces. The material is book matched when made from two pieces.

The plates are flattened using a plane

The edges are made perfectly square to the flattened surface and "joined" to a perfect fit  

The Plates are glued together along the joined edge using animal hide glue. This glue surface must have a perfect fit with no wobble or twist. The seam must be perfect as it will need to remain glued together for hundreds of years. The final thickness along this edge will be less than 1/4" and will be required to withstand over 50 pounds of constant downward pressure.  

 Blocks of spruce or willow are glued onto a form which will serve as a frame while the instrument is constructed. This form will be removed before the final assembly of the body of the instrument.

 The center blocks are trimmed to fit the "C" rib.  The other blocks will be trimmed to size after the these ribs are glued on. 

 The ribs, made from maple that matches the back, are thinned with a plane and scraped smooth with a scraper to a final thickness of 1 - 1.3mm. A scraper is made from a piece of spring steel that is sharpened. When properly sharpened the scraper can produce shavings of wood that leave the ribs as smooth as glass and require no additional sanding.

 The ribs are bent to the proper outline, following the form, and must be perfectly square so that both sides and both halves are the same. A bending iron made from a pipe or other metal shape is used. It can be electrically heated or heated by a flame. The wood is made slightly wet so that the heat creates steam which makes it easier to bend the wood. The figured maple that is used for violins can be very brittle so great care must be taken to not crack the wood in the bending process.

 Once bent, the ribs are glued to the blocks. The C ribs are glued first, then the outer portions of the C rib blocks are trimmed as are the end blocks. The other 4 ribs are glued on.

 Linings made from Spruce or Willow are added to the inside of the ribs to add strength and extra gluing surface for the plates. 

 The linings are inlaid into the ribs to prevent them from coming loose as they are made from a different wood than the ribs. They are trimmed on the inside for a smooth curve feathering out where they meet the ribs. 

 The plane is used to surface the ribs and linings flat.

 With the ribs completed, they are traced onto the plates, and then an even overhang is traced all around. 

 The outline of the plates are cut out.  This is often done with a band saw, one of the few power tools many makers use.

 A line is drawn on the edge of the plates to create an even thickness all around, The plate edges are first trimmed to thickness and then the rough shape is carved.  

 Small planes called finger planes are used to carve the shape to a smoother shape. 

 The planes can be used to get the shape very close to the end curve.

 Thin extra sharp scrapers with different shapes are used to get the final curve and create a smooth finish.

 The overhang is adjusted to be even all around. Then a purfling marker is used to scribe on 2 parallel lines close to the edge. Purfling is a decoration that is inlaid around the edge.  It also helps protect the instruments edges from cracks going past the purfling.   

 Using a thin knife, the two lines are deepened to about half the thickness of the edge. 

 The space between the two lines is picked out to make a groove all around. 

 The purfling material is made up of three pieces, two black and one white. Originally, many makers used whalebone, today it is ebony and a light colored wood such as maple or beech. Some makers also use purfling made from a high density fiber. The corners meet at a sharp point in what is referred to as the "bee sting".

 A groove is carved into the plates near the edge and above the purfling, then the plates are again finger-planed so that the inner edge of the channel is blended into the plates curve. 

 With the outside shape finalized, the inside is roughly carved out. Holes can be drilled with a drill press to use as a depth gauge.   

 The sound "f" holes are located and cut out. First holes are drilled and then the rough shape is cut out with a thin saw blade.  Then a knife and files are used to cut the final shape. 

 A special thickness caliper is used to measure the thickness of the plates. Different thicknesses are used in different areas and the plates are "tuned" to specific pitches.  Finger planes and scrapers are used to make the small adjustments until the proper thicknesses and tone are achieved and the plates are smooth.

 Inside the surface of the top plate, a long strip of wood called a bass bar is fit and glued in. This bar sits under the bass side of the strings and assists in transferring the bass sound to the top. The bar is carved for the proper effect it has on the tone.

 The inside edges of the plates are rounded over and the top and back plates are glued on.  Prior to the top plate being attached, the form is removed and the inside of the body is cleaned up.

 A piece of maple that matches the back is used for the scroll. A pattern  is used to trace the outline on the block that has been planed  smooth and square.

 The outline is cut out using the band saw. 

 The sides of the neck are measured, marked and cut all the way to the scroll. 

 Using a back saw, cuts are made around the scrolls first turn and then the pieces are cut off. 

 With one of a number of curved gouges of different widths and curvatures, the sawed cuts are rounded. The second and third turns of the scroll are laid out and trimmed the same way.

 The scroll is scraped smooth and the edges are chamfered at a 45-degree angle.The front and back of the scroll are carved with a two-part channel. 

 The heel of the neck is trimmed to width, the fingerboard (made from ebony) is fit and glued on, The body of the instrument is cut with a mortise to receive the heel of the neck. A number of different angles must be obtained to get the proper location: Height at the end of the fingerboard, centering on the body, the fingerboard distance above the instruments top where it projects to the bridge, and the depth into the body.

  Once the neck it fit to the body, the shape of the heel is laid out, cut and shaped. The neck is glued into the body.

 The outside edges of the instrument are filled and smoothed.  The entire instrument is gone over to make sure no glue residue remains. 

 The instrument is varnished. First the wood is aged using sunlight or artificially with a UV light. Then a sealer coat or two are applied so that the varnish does not penetrate too deeply into the wood. Then a number of coats of spirit or oil varnish are applied.  The varnish color is dissolved into the varnish and built up over several layers.  This makes for the 3D effect that the best instruments have which is very different from the way that furniture is finished.

 When dry, pegs are fit, and a sound post is made to fit on the inside of the instrument. It is a spruce dowel set up between the top and back plates approximately under the treble bridge foot position. A bridge is fit and strings, tailpiece, tailgut, nut, fine tuners and chinrest are all attached and the instrument is set up.  The soundpost and bridge are tuned as necessary to adjust the sound.


If you want to see a talk I did on Violin Making at a luncheon of non-musicians (except for a few), you can click on these links to You-Tube Videos I've uploaded, it's about 75 minutes long all together.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 

NOW AVAILABLE - Violin Making Book - Over the last 37 years, I have kept copious notes on instrument making and repair.  In addition, once photography went digital, I have taken thousands of pictures of those processes.  The above pictures are only a small portion of that digital archive.   For over 10 years, I have been writing a book for the beginning violin maker and repairman - Violin Making and Repair for the Novice.   The book has 300 pages and over 450 pictures, it is being published as an E-Book, on CD and in Print Form.