Day Three, SCVMW

Day three was the busiest day yet. I started out by rough arching the top plate of my del Gesu. Then I calculated the long arch for the back plate. This arch is defined by a segment of a circle for Cremonese instruments, and I determine this segment by first measuring the “chord” of the circle and finding the elevation of the arch that I want. I can plug those figures into a formula and get the radius of the circle I need to draw.

I drew the circle to scale in Inkscape (it’s a BIG circle!) and intersected it with the chord, which is a line that represents the length of the long arch from one low point in the purfling channel to the other.

Then I set about defining stations along the length of the long arch where I wanted to calculate curtate cycloids. I put a total of five on my line, one at each maximum or minimum width of the plate. Given the width of the plate and the known height of the long arch at each station (which can be discovered in Inkscape), I was able to calculate the cycloid  arches that will be used on this particular instrument.

At this point, there was a bit of a disturbance in the workshop as a gentleman showed up with his genuine Stradivari violin. It was the Halir Strad, made in 1694. That instrument is almost 320 years old! Here is a picture I took of it:

The Halir Strad
The Halir Strad

I was able to handle this instrument (I could only touch it on the neck and chin rest) and examine the workmanship. It has such a long history that it is a little difficult to see the original skill. For example, the corners are nearly rubbed off and some of the edges too. The scroll has been similarly smoothed by time and much use. The instrument has seen many repairs over the years, but in general is in good shape. I did see some of Stradivari’s amazing corner purflings, and I noted that his back joint wasn’t quite perfect. That made me feel better about some of my own joints.

The instrument sounded just fine when I heard it played. The owner complained a little about a squeeling E string, which didn’t manifest itself today. He mentioned having to trade in his Montagnana violin as a down payment on the Strad, which I imagine is worth in the neighborhood of 1-2 million US dollars. I asked Michael Darnton at the time what he thought the violin was worth, but he dismissed the question, perhaps as a matter of tact. 😉

I had three impressions about my experience of handling and listening to the Halir Strad:

1) It is difficult to discern the art of the violin based on worn originals. It’s lucky that there are still some fairly pristine specimens in existence that show just how Strad did his corners, for example. So we try to use those specimens as ideal forms in order to recreate the old, worn out fiddles as if new again. I realized that I shouldn’t be attempting to reproduce the exact outline of the patterns I have, because chances are they represent a good deal of wear and not the instrument as it was originally made.

2) Players really do have to fight with these temperamental old instruments, although they certainly sound fine on their good days, like today. I’m reminded of Michael’s claim that good violins aren’t the ones that automatically sound great in the hands of the 15-year old High School kid. They’re the ones that professionals have learned to coax and persuade until they give up their gold.

3) A Strad has the power to cause quite a stir in a room full of violin makers. We nearly missed lunch hour.

After lunch, I hoofed it over to the Claremont public library. It’s a couple of blocks away from the workshop. I had to get myself a visitors library card:

My Claremont Public Library computer-use card.
My Claremont Public Library computer-use card.

I wanted to print my long arch and the cycloids that I made earlier in the day, so that I could have templates to start my arching.

After the library, I asked Michael to help me refine my del Gesu corners. We looked at the circles on the plan that I used, ignoring the worn looking, rounded corner shapes and imagining what they probably looked like when the violin was new. I spent some time carving those down and getting them just right.

Then it was time for some more sharpening. I spent some time at the grinding wheel, turning my knife blade into metal dust. I must have inhaled half of my d@#4 knife blade today!

My nemesis, the grinding wheel.
My nemesis, the grinding wheel.

Anyway, my knives are sharp if not exactly neat. I made another handle for one of them.

After getting my corners cleaned up, I worked on edge thickness and more rough arching. I think I’m about ready to rout the purfling channel on the top plate, then I’ll need to calculate the top arch and some new cycloids. The top arch is much flatter than the back arch.

Here are some pictures of my day-three hands:

2013-06-12 17-20-44 2013-06-12 17-20-52

Thankfully, my wife packed a bunch of band aids for me. Nobody else seems to need them, but that’s “just how I roll.”

Here is what I got done today:

2013-06-12 20-05-08
Those del Gesu corners are looking really good!

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