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Thread: Another lion's head,but this one was a finished violin I made.

  1. #1
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    Another lion's head,but this one was a finished violin I made.

    This violin is a baroque violin I made for a concert master. He was a specialist in baroque music,and the only violinist I ever heard in person who could make a baroque violin sound the way it should. I wish he could have been selected to play the violin in my 1974 film about making a spinet and a baroque violin. He came along a few years after that,however,and I had no say in choosing the musicians anyway. That was handled by the music adviser for the museum.

    The lion's head I previously posted was made after this one,and I never finished making a violin from it before I became toolmaker,and my interests went in other directions.

    I even made the varnish for this violin. Varnish making was a major research project for me for several years. It is of great importance in the World of violin making. The colors in violins is not stain. It should be in the varnish. These colors here are the result of making the varnish in the presence of iron. When melted and hot,some resins are very chemically active,and attack any iron in their presence,becoming shades of brown. This color can never fade because the oxidized iron is at the end of its chemical chain.

    This,and my other violins,are truly Neanderthal work: Everything was done completely by hand. The tops and backs were hand carved,as were the peg heads. Sides were bent around a hot pipe as they have been done for many centuries.

    The violins of Stradivari,Amati,and the other great old makers so sought after today,all began as baroque instruments. Their string lengths were shorter than those of today,the neck angles were different,and their internal brace under the tops were smaller. These old violins,set up the way they were,had a more flute like,and less strident tone. The pitch of music was lower in those days,A being about 420 cycles. Today,in order to make music louder,A is 440 cycles.

    The necks of the original masterpiece violins have been lengthened,and their original peg heads cleverly grafted onto the new necks. The necks of modern violins angle back more,and the bridges are higher,making the down bearing pressure on the soundboards greater (about 29 #) than it was in past centuries.

    Originally,violins were held differently,and had no chin rests: they were not held under the chin,but rather cradled lower down,like some old time fiddlers do today. The strings were of gut,not ever metal as they are sometimes today,especially the highest (E) string,which is most often steel today. Their tailpieces had no mechanical tuners attached. Tuning was strictly by tuning pegs. Metal strings are more touchy to tune than stretchy gut strings,so mechanical tuners on the tail pieces are often used these days.

    It is not shown in these pictures,but in the 17th. and 18th.C's,the necks of violins were not angled back,but were parallel with the sides,seen from the side view of the violin. Their fingerboards were wedge shaped,and awkward looking,as they made the thickness of their necks much greater as the player played higher on the scale. Today,the necks are angled back,and are much more nearly the same thickness in the higher registers.

    In the earlier music,players did not shift about as much as we do today,so these early necks were not the hinderance we would regard them as today. The early fingerboards were also sometimes bound,and had inlaid lines inside the bindings. This is not seen today: Since the violin is not fretted,and notes are made on the bare wood of the fingerboard,players do not want any inlay which might eventually swell up and cause off-noting. In a sense,modern violin fingerboards are more "pure" to the needs of the music.

    Musical taste has changed greatly over the centuries. Though Strads were valuable in their day,and Stradivari was a very rich man,the violins of Jacob Steiner(or Stainer),an Austrian( who was the only maker outside Italy to use the Cremona varnish),were extremely sought after in their day. They had fatter,fuller arches which gave them a fluty tone which was desired at that time. The violins,like Strads,which were better able to be adapted to modern taste have gained modern preeminence.

    Stainer went insane eventually,and had to be chained to his stone workbench. Stradivari worked until the age of 93,having made about 1200 violins,and some other instruments. No doubt,he had many helpers who did most of the "grunt" work. Stradivari likely chose the wood,and carefully designated the arching patterns of the top and back,and tuned the plates of the top and back. And,just about everyone in Northern Italy used the famous varnish. The varnish is not "the secret".

    You will see that the head of the lion is very similar to the one posted in FAQ section. The rest of the peghead is decorated differently from the other(and nicer) head. After I made this one,I had further thoughts about how to adorn the rest of the peghead. I was somewhat limited anyway,because the concert master wanted his name carved into this peghead.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by george wilson; 12-28-2011 at 12:59 PM.

  2. #2
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    added to the musical instruments section of the FAQs, and thanks for the interesting explanation on the mechanical/manufacturing details.
    The means by which an end is reached must exemplify the value of the end itself.

  3. #3
    George, that's outstanding. Very fine work indeed. The finish looks great, and it was interesting to learn about the varnish details, as well as all the differences between baroque and modern violins.

    Thanks for sharing all the information.

    Joe
    Last edited by Joe Fabbri; 12-28-2011 at 12:08 PM.

  4. #4
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    Another special sharing of information from George - not just a ' I learned something new today ' moment, no,
    ' I learned several new things today ' thanks to George.

    Bravo -

    Dave Beauchesne

  5. #5
    Your description was as educational and enjoyable as seeing the violin itself. Thank you.

  6. #6
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    Here are the pictures of the lion's head that are from the FAQ section,in case it cannot be accessed. This was the 2nd lion head I carved after making the lion head violin. The decoration is more elaborate,and the hair is different.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  7. #7
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    George, do you know of anywhere that we can see what the varnish was made up of (or an approximation)?

    Thanks for posting this, the explanations especially make the whole process and reasoning come to life.

  8. #8
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    I haven't made varnish since about 1986,when I stopped being the musical instrument maker,and became the toolmaker. I made guitars at home,but my real interest was in modern guitars. I had to make 18th.C. instruments before,because that was my job in the museum.

    I made some good varnishes from terpene resins. These can be made by bubbling sir up through GENUINE turpentine FROM THE LIVING PINE. The junk you can buy these days is not the same. It is distilled from ground up stumps and other left over wood from clearing land. Genuine turpentine says " from the living pine" on the can,and is made from the real sap. It has a sharper,different smell than the"turpentine" you can get today. I don't know if the real thing is sold any more. Bubbling air through the turpentine will cause it to begin to get thicker and thicker until air will no longer bubble through it. I used an aquarium pump with PLASTIC hose-NOT LATEX tubing. Then,using guidelines described below,I'd pour the thick,syrupy turpentine into a pan,and slowly heat it until the liquids would evaporate,leaving a solid,clear,plastic looking mass in the pan. This was easily chopped up with the point of a knife,and it is terpene resin. It is the most desirable resin to use IF you can get the real turpentine,and get it to go thick,etc.,etc.. Eventually,I found a source where I could buy terpene resin already made. You should use a VACANT building to attempt to make it your self,because the vapors will permeate your whole house,and is bad to breathe. Turpentine causes arthritis and is bad for your health. So much so that our museum maintenance paint department quit using it years ago.

    I also made varnishes from amber,but amber is hard to get. I managed to get a bag full of chips from the Amber Society(or some such name). It is not exported from the Dominican republic any more,as they protect their resource,and insist upon you buying jewelry that they make from it,rather than the raw material.

    I have made some nice varnish from pine rosin,also called colophony. You may be still able to get it these days. I actually slashed my pine trees and collected some myself at one time. If you do it right,it doesn't kill the tree.

    Having procured rosin,which you can get from Fisher Chemical Co.,break it up into smallish pieces. put the pieces into an enameled or stainless steel pan. DO THIS OUT DOORS!!!! Explosions WILL happen,I assure you,at times. Keep your face LOW,and NOT over the pan. Get some EDIBLE linseed(flax) oil. The stuff you buy in the hardware store has other chemicals and dryers in it. The edible flax oil is as clear as glass all the way to the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil over an ELECTRIC hot plate-NO OPEN FLAMES. Put an inch or 2 in the bottom of a TALL pan. Heat it on LOW HEAT until the oil SIMMERS A LITTLE,not a lot. This simmering is still going to be several hundred degrees compared to simmering water,and it is VERY DANGEROUS. Let the oil simmer about 20 minutes,until it turns a beautiful golden color. That means that the oil has polymerized,and is now capable of drying. Edible linseed oil is not capable of drying until you do this to it(or you would not want to eat it!!!).

    When you have gotten the oil polymerized ,pour it over the broken up rosin pieces until it completely submerges the rosin,then add a bit more. Making varnish is rather an art(unless you are a professional varnish chemist). If you do not add enough oil to the rosin,the varnish will crack and craze in a few years. Add too much,and it may stay gummy,and never get hard.

    I'm telling you things that are from long ago.remember.Now that you have the rosin all covered in oil in a NON CHEMICALLY REACTIVE pan,like an enamel pan,or stainless,if you cook the varnish as it is,you will get clear varnish. If you add nails,or other bits of iron,the abeic(?) acid in the rosin when hot,will eat at the iron very effectively,and make the varnish turn brown. How long you expose it to the iron,and how much iron you add to the pan will determine the color. You do not want to make your varnish opaque.

    When this mixture is SIMMERING SLOWLY,OUT DOORS,you are in the most dangerous part of cooking the varnish. The varnish will get as thin as water when it is hot,and if the simmering is ANYTHING more than SLOW AND GENTLE,the varnish WILL suddenly foam up,I ASSURE YOU,before you can get it off of the burner!!! Lots of experience talking here!! and you will get a 3' diameter FIREBALL that will rise straight up out of the pan and make a black mushroom cloud very high up in the sky. It is embarrassing,and you hope the fire department doesn't arrive!

    I used to use a Mapp gas cylinder with the top sawn off as a very tall vessel. It gave the iron,and I'd only make about a cup full of varnish. It would still foam over sometimes. The printing office in Williamsburg decided they wanted to make their own varnish to make printing ink with. This young guy asked me how to make it. Although I cautioned him several times to only do it OUT DOORS,the stubborn,arrogant young fool did it indoors,and nearly burned down a building in the Historic Area. So,BE WARNED.

    You allow this mix of rosin and oil to simmer. Keep some long sticks handy,and a few glass bottles. dip your stick into the varnish and touch it to a bottle. If it's an oily spot,let the varnish heat some more. When you touch the stick to the glass,and it pulls away with long,gossamer spider web like strands,it means the rosin has combined with the oil,and the varnish will dry. You MUST have those gossamer strands happen.

    Let the varnish COOL!!!! before you thin it with turpentine. Then,pour it through a filter made of 3 or 4 paint filters with FINE mesh stacked up over the container. You don't want iron flakes or other trash in your finished varnish.

    OLD style varnishes take a long time to dry. The iron helps act as a dryer. I made a refrigerator sized black light cabinet to hang instruments in. Sunny Italy was a good place to dry varnish,but in England,until they got better heating and air conditioning,they used to wait until JULY every year to dry oil base varnish finished instruments. Stradivari wrote to the King of Spain to apologize for delays in sending him violins due to" the non-drying of the varnish." And he was in Italy,of course,working in the upper room of a 2 or 3 story building,with a covered roof on top,but without sides on it where he could likely have hung his instruments to dry. The building today is a bar,or restaurant,but it is still there.

    When you thin out the varnish,be sure to not get it too thin. When you go to apply it,I found that regular mineral spirits was a good thinner,and it lubricated the varnish so it wouldn't "pile up",which can,and DOES happen if you brush it too thick,and HAVE used genuine turpentine to thin it when it was bottled.

    I offer this reply ONLY as an explanation of how I made 1 kind of oil varnish,and NOT AS A GUIDE to making your own. If you attempt to do this yourself,which I DO NOT ADVISE,I am not responsible,and cannot control your actions,mistakes,or bad judgement. Amen.
    Last edited by george wilson; 12-28-2011 at 3:45 PM.

  9. #9
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    I am humbled kind sir...

  10. #10
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    Those pictures make the violin have a greenish tinge to it,which it does not have in real life. Glad you are enjoying it.

  11. #11
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    Holy cow George... that is one complicated and dangerous sounding process. Very interesting, thanks for the information.

  12. #12
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    The most complicated thing these days is getting real materials. There are also the spirit varnishes,which are alcohol based,and dry by evaporation. They do not require cooking to make.

    For the benefit of depth of appearance,and tone,oil based varnishes are the only ones I would consider for serious work in violin making.

  13. #13
    That is incredible work for sure. Look the carving of the teeth and the tongue! And look the super detailed carving of every little bit of surface the whole thing shows. That is more than true mastership, that is art in an exceptional way. Please keep those pieces coming, George. That kind of work can't be copied in this perfection, however it's very important to be shown. It gives a ton of inspiration and a target that one should try to achieve. Outstanding in any sense.

    Klaus
    Klaus Kretschmar

  14. #14
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    Klaus,coming from you,I am extra pleased that you are enjoying the work.

    I am thinking I will delay posting more major work until after the new year. I think many people might be on vacation,and not watching SMC as much as they might until things get back to normal. I'll put up some other work meanwhile.

  15. #15
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    Thanks to the rest of you,too!

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