Today I got to spend about 45 minutes with Michael Darnton. I had him teach me about his cycloid technique, and how to make and use the templates. Will taught me to “just wing it” when doing violin arching, which I like; but these cycloid arches are just so pretty that I felt I had to learn how to do them.
Michael believes that the perfect arching is responsible for a violin’s response. If the arching is good, then the response will be good. If it is poor, the response will be poor. He also believes that the graduations are not as important as the arching, or rather, that imprecise graduations are important! He does not go for exactness in that area. Modern makers use calipers to try and reproduce the exact graduations found in famous violins, believing that these varying thicknesses of the wood are responsible for the violin’s excellent sound. However, Michael pointed out that the old makers had no such tools as calipers and that it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that people started measuring and quantifying everything, including violins. And from that point on, Michael believes, the art of violin making has gone downhill. When violins became things that demanded analysis instead of Art, that’s when the art was lost.
We looked at some response charts of modern violins that frequently win the VSA competitions and compared these to the response graph of a Strad. These days, makers are so intent on measuring and tuning every little part of the violin, that they produce instruments that are very responsive in a few predictable frequencies. So there are frequencies that naturally respond to that tuning, and of course there are frequencies that fight against it. Those violins sound incredible in some rather limited contexts, but don’t listen for too long! They are awfully inflexible in what they can do. Michael seeks to build instruments that the musician must coax the sound from. You have to drive it and find the many sweet spots that produce excellent tone across the board. A violin is something that the player must discover and push to its limits, not a measured thing that is predictable and limiting.
That’s a pretty good philosophy, and I think similar to Bartruff’s; although their ideas diverge in some areas.
It’s been fun getting to know some of the people who are improving their violin making along with me. Here are some photographs that I took of various work benches of those who work near me:
Well, I could go on about the doctor who owns a Strad and a del Gesu, or the violinist from Reno whose arching is so beautiful that it makes me want to cry or something; or the man from Australia who flew up to California just to attend this workshop. There are even a few women makers who are doing simply stunning work. What a crowd.
Well, more to come. Here is what I accomplished today: