Dueling violins

Jascha HeifetzIn 1917, the sixteen-year-old violin prodigy Jascha Heifetz made his American debut at Carnegie Hall. Among the luminaries in attendance were fellow violinist Mischa Elman and the pianist Leopold Godowsky.


Hindsight is a perfect science....

Violin store cartoonHere is a wonderful cartoon about hindsight and missed opportunities...

It was done by Gary Larson of The Far Side fame.


Descriptive terms relating to sound

SoundwaveOne of the problems that violinmakers and violinists face is how to describe the sound characteristics of an instrument accurately. I often come across clients that want a 'dark' sounding violin. Or they complain that their violin is too 'nasal' or 'tinny'. What does that actually mean? Do we all understand the same thing if a violin is described as 'boxy' or 'bright'? Here is a list compiled by audiophiles to describe the sound of hi-fi equipment. I think it was written by Bob Neidorff of Texas Instruments and it was posted by Michael Darnton on Maestronet years ago.


Airy: Spacious. Open. Instruments sound like they are surrounded by a large reflective space full of air. Good reproduction of high-frequency reflections. High-frequency response extends to 15 or 20 kHz.

Bassy: Emphasized low frequencies below about 200 Hz.

Blanketed: Weak highs, as if a blanket were put over the speakers.


Drying oils or mediums used in oil painting

One of the key ingedients in any oil varnish is a drying oil. Current thinking is that the Cremonese used either linseed oil or walnut oil on their creations. But it is not that simple - you can buy several types of linseed oil and they all have different properties that might be desirable or problematic, depending on your varnishing strategy. I found the article below, written by Marion Boddy-Evanson, on www.about.com.


Nice picture of a violinmaker at work

Old violinmakerHere is a nice picture of a luthier at work. I have no idea who it is or when it was taken. Maybe somebody can help?





Mineral preservatives in the wood of Stradivari and Guarneri

Here is an article that is hot off the press. One of the authors is Joseph Nagyvary, a scientist/violinmaker from Texas that has written a lot on the theory that the Cremonese masters used a special wood treatment on their violins. In the past he has put forward several theories, including soaking the wood in water, urine, borax, shrimp shells, etc etc. All these theories and some sensationalist coverage by the press have not done his reputation in the violinmaking community much good. Nevertheless, he is an experienced scientist and his work and results are some of the best available. This paper contains some very interesting stuff. It seems more and more likely that there was a 'silver bullet' wood treatment that makes the Cremonese instruments different. The article was published in a scientific journal and it is not light reading, but well worth the effort.

The article is also available to registered users in PDF format here

Joseph Nagyvary1*, Renald N. Guillemette2, Clifford H. Spiegelman3


The truth about spruce

I came across this article on the internet years ago. I don't know who wrote it and neither do I know if 'the truth' is actually true. But nevertheless, it is an interesting read...


Here is more than you perhaps ever cared to know about European spruce ... or what to think when someone proclaims they have a top of German (or Italian, or Swiss, or French, or Jugoslavian or Italian) spruce.

My little search for 'The truth about spruce' has been ongoing for many years, but recently took a turn when someone insisted that Picea abies and Picea excelsa were two names for the same species. I had always understood they were separate, as the woods associated with the two names were certainly (I thought) quite different. I got busy with the web, some books and spoke at length with a couple of experts. I have a better idea of what's what now, and here's what I found out.

First of all, the guy who lumped them together was right and I was out of date.

These are the three ranges of Picea abies, a tree commonly known in the US as Norway spruce.

Spruce tree distribution
The three ranges of Picea abies


Cello scr*tum? It’s a load of . . . nonsense, admits Baroness Murphy

Until this week cellists worldwide had reason to fear a terrible malady. Worse than fiddler’s neck, flautist’s chin or even the dreaded guitarist’s n*pple was the condition known as “cello scr*tum”.

Never mind that this dermatalogical ailment seemed unlikely, given the posture of the average male cellist, the condition was named in the British Medical Journal, and thereafter in an array of reviews of musician’s aches and pains.

Nearly all such reviews referred to a letter to the journal in 1974 from John Murphy, husband of Dr Elaine Murphy, who noted that he had once come across a case of cello scr*tum. But Dr Elaine Murphy, now Baroness Murphy, has now admitted that the letter she drafted with her husband was a hoax, a practical joke that the couple have been “dining out on” ever since.


Heifetz plays Tchaikovsky

Here is a video of Heifetz playing the first movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto. He is often criticised for playing 'unmusically', but I think that is ludicrous. He was not the world's most expressive player in terms of facial expressions and body movements, but there is an intensity there that defies belief. Enjoy!


Cello building photo essay

I came across the website of luthier John Osnes. He has a very nice photo essay on a cello that he recently built. Lots of pictures and information - especially the section on varnishing. Enjoy!

John Osnes

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