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How A Violin Maker Creates the Instrument | Part 2: Assembly and Finishing

Putting the Pieces Together

Once the plates are ready, the mold is removed from the ribs, and they are glued to the top and back pieces.

The neck and scroll (headstock of the violin) are shaped, generally from a single piece of maple. Then the fingerboard, made of ebony, is shaped and attached to the neck. At this point, the entire neck assembly is dovetailed into the body. (A dovetail is a trapezoidally-cut joint that provides greatly improved strength and security.)

Critical in Violin Making: The Varnish Process

Violin makers will “‘suntan’ the instrument for three months to oxidize (darken) the wood before it’s varnished,” Dailey shares. “They use a specially-made UV light box. This brings out the flame [grain pattern], texture, and color of the wood, and makes it richer.”

Actually, “the key to violin varnish is transparency,” Dailey expands, meaning that the look of the wood shows through the varnish. This is not accomplished with one application, but many. The process starts with a ground coat, and continues with several color coats. All-in-all, three to five coats of varnish will be applied to each violin.

The preparation of the varnish is also important, he says. “One varnish recipe -- Russian fir tree -- has the sap cooking for 250 hours.” That’s more than 10 days!

A Question of Taste: “Antiquing” the Violin

The violin is an instrument with centuries of tradition, and a brand new instrument is not aesthetically pleasing to many musicians. Thus the violin maker may choose to “distress” the instrument, incorporating features that normally come with age: staining, cracking, and similar touches.

Producing and Delivering a Finished Violin

Once the neck and body are finished, the luthier adds the tuning pegs, sound post, bridge, and the nut, then strings the violin. However, the violin is not yet ready to be sold.

Created from organic materials (principally wood), violins are precision instruments that react to age and environment. They are stored for at least 6 months (and sometimes for years), before being set up and offered to discerning players.

As a high-level violin shop, Johnson String then offers a 1-year warranty for setup after the violin is sold, knowing that individual players and situations will continue to affect the instruments. As that happens, Johnson’s top-level luthiers will set up the instruments to best fit each player’s individual needs and playing style.

Levels of Violin Quality and Construction

Completely custom-built violins like the one described here are delicately crafted, high-end instruments. They offer the ideal marriage of top-of-the-line woods and materials with superb luthiers who exploit those materials’ visual and tonal characteristics to the utmost

As instruments become more moderately priced, portions of the handwork are done by machine, such as cutting the plates or shaping the neck and fingerboard. The materials will be less remarkable, and the sound of the instruments -- while still excellent-- will not be as unique; nor will the appearance.

However, not every violinist requires or is capable of utilizing the highest-level instruments. As players progress, so will their instruments needs. That is why Johnson String offers several options for the growing player: a flexible rental program, the ability to “trade up” at a future date, and the option to try an instrument before deciding to purchase it.

Additional Resources

Carriage House Violins

Carriage House Violins

Located in Newton, Massachusetts, Carriage House Violins is the instrument sales division of Johnson String Instrument.

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The Johnson String Project

Johnson String Project

A charitable foundation whose goal is to provide high-quality instruments to children who live in underserved communities and who are participating in El-Sistema-inspired programs in Massachusetts.

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The Johnson String Blog

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