Custom Violin #26 136

Completed August, 2014

(click any of the thumbnails for a higher-resolution photo)


This Lutz-spruce topped violin boasts an exceptional one-piece European maple back, and is a commission from a repeat customer for Skipper custom instruments. Perfection planetary tuners and boxwood fittings top off the instrument, all enclosed in a full-suspension case.

Here are some sound clips of this instrument being played by master violinist Richard DiAdamo. At this point, this instrument had been played for less than one hour, and already its voice fills the room. My expectations of a Lutz-topped violin are fully fulfilled.

Construction Photos

Construction of this violin begins with the joining of the master-grade Lutz spruce top with hot hide glue. The sides are sanded to proper thickness and bent over a series of hot pipes of various diameters heated by a light bulb. Corner and end blocks are glued to an internal form with hot glue. The profile is marked onto the blocks,

and they're trimmed to shape. The ribs are glued to the blocks, beginning with the "C" bouts. When the glue is dry, the upper half of the form is removed. Maple linings are bent and glued to the ribs with hot hide glue. The neck blank is squared and the neck profile is marked.

The neck is cut to shape, and the pegbox and fretboard are laid out. Carving begins with the inside of the pegbox. Then the scroll is shaped first with bandsaw and handsaw, then with gouges and chisels.

A washer is used to mark the proper overhang onto the top. The top plate is cut to shape, and the edge thickness is defined on the router table. A homemade dupicating router is used to remove excess wood, and another router jig cuts the recess along the edge. The purfling groove is cut with a Dremel tool.

The corners are cleaned out with a sharp knife. The purfling is bent over a hot pipe, and glued into the recess with hot hide glue. The exterior of the top is refined first with scrapers, then with sandpaper.

Thicknessing holes are drilled, and the profiling begins with the removal of wood from the top. As I gradually approach my target thickness, I begin analyzing the acoustic properties on a laptop computer.

Stiffness, thickness, and weight are the three properties that are juggled to arrive at the proper top for this particular piece of wood. The edge is shaped with sanding blocks. The f-holes are marked and cut with a small carbide bit in a router table, then the holes are refined with knives and sanding forms.

The bass bar is fitted to the top and glued with hot hide glue. The fretboard is cut to final size and the neck is fitted to it. When the f-holes were cut, the top lost all the tonal characteristics; the bass bar is tuned by shaping until the original properties are restored. The upper portions of the corner blocks are trimmed to flow around the points and minimize mass. The top is glued to the ribs with hot hide glue, and the internal form is removed.

The back linings are bent, fitted, notched into the blocks, and glued in with hot hide glue. Meanwhile, further work is done on the scroll and pegbox. Finishing these pretty well empties my tool box.

The neck mortise is cut. A homemade jig assures that the angle and centerline are correct; then the neck is glued into the mortise with hot hide glue. The process for creating the back mirrors that of the top: a washer is used to mark the overhang. I use a power plane to hog off some excess wood before carving begins.

The edge thickness is defined on a router table, and a homemade duplicating router is utilized to remove excess wood and bring me more quickly to a finished profile. The purfling channel is cut. A sharp knife is used to cut the channel behing the "button" and to clean out the corners.

Purfling is bent and fitted into the grooves and glued with hot hide glue. I begin refining the shape of the back with a scraper, then progress to sandpaper for the final finish. As with the top, a post and stop on the drill press is used to drill thicknessing holes.

Wood is removed first with a plane, and as the thicknessing holes begin to disappear, I switch to a scraper. At this point, it's time to fire up the laptop and again bring out the caliper and scales. I have a target frequency, thickness, and weight. By removing wood from the center, the frequency can be changed quickly without dramatically reducing weight; removing wood from the edges will reduce weight without a huge change in frequency. By altering the graduation, or the rate of change in thickness, I can fine tune resonance and harmonics. When all my targets are met and the inside is sanded, hot hide glue is applied to the mating surfaces and allowed to dry. The label is glued in, and I sign and date the back. Card stock protects the edges as I clamp the parts together and reactivate the hide glue with a burst of steam.

The instrument is thoroughly sanded and wetted between sanding grits to raise the grain. The yellow color of the sealer coat will provide an underlying glow to the finished instrument. The first of the color coats of varnish are brushed on.

Color coats are continued until the desired tint is achieved, and then clear varnish is built in very thin coats. Though I'm not a fan of artificial antiquing to make a new violin mimic a hundreds-years-old one, this instrument is given a very small amount of shading and easing of the color on the corners to make it appear to be a not-quite-new, well-cared-for instrument. Once I begin with clear coats, the instrument is lightly sanded between each brushed coat of varnish.

When the final coat of varnish has been applied, the instrument is set aside for 10 days to 2 weeks to cure before the final rubout of the finish and setting up of the instrument. The final rubout begins with a thorough sanding with water and progressively finer grits of Micro Mesh paper. Then it's polished to a soft glow with rottenstone. The saddle and end pin are fitted and installed, along with the Perfection tuners. The ebony nut is shaped, and the nut and saddle are glued to the neck.

The bridge is fitted to the top and shaped. The soundpost is measured and fitted in place. The chinrest is installed, and this one is ready to go.

Thanks for watching this project

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