Always present in orchestras, not to mention string quartets, violins have treated our ears to sweet sounds for centuries. Have you ever wondered how these beautiful instruments are made? Keep reading to find out.
Creating the Back
First a violinmaker takes a piece of wood and splits it carefully in half to expose the grain. The wood will eventually become the back of the instrument. Although maple is a very common type of wood that’s used for violins, spruce is also sometimes chosen for the back. Ideally, the wood should be at least five years old, because the older the wood is, the better the instrument should sound.
Flakes of melted glue made from animal hides are used to hold the two pieces of wood together. The crafters use a clamping system to help the wood bind together, but it takes four hours for the wood to dry.
Once the wood’s surface is evened out with a hand tool called a plane, the creators trace the violin’s shape onto the wood and carefully cut it out. Then, they sculpt the wood’s surface, creating a slight downward slope from the middle of the wood. This is accomplished using a plane that’s smaller than the one used to initially prep the surface. Then, a groove is carved around the perimeter of the wood.
Next, the makers insert reinforcement into the grooves, usually by placing a thin strip of hardwood there. Attention is then turned to the reverse side of the violin, so it’ll have the correct wood thickness and shape.
Making the Sides
The sides of a violin are called ribs, and they’re usually made from sycamore wood. The makers press thin strips of the wood against an iron to bend them. Those curved strips are then glued around a form, connecting them at the corners, top and bottom using small wood blocks.
Again, a clamping system is used for four hours while the glue dries. Then, thin strips of wood are glued onto the ribs’ edges. These additions are called counter ribs, and they increase the surface of the body so it’s easier to glue the back and sides together.
Crafting the Violin’s Front
The front of the violin is called the belly, and it’s usually made from one piece of spruce. It includes the F-holes, from which sound escapes. The violin’s scroll and neck are made of maple, and those parts are slowly cut from a larger piece of wood, and then glued to the body.
Ebony is used for the violin’s fingerboard because it’s very durable and can withstand frequent touch. A peg hole reamer is used to create holes that will eventually accommodate the ebony or rosewood pegs that securely hold the strings taught.
The Finishing Touches of the Violin
Violins need up to five coats of varnish depending on the desired color. Oil is then applied to the varnished s
urface over the course of several days. As a result, the surface is shiny and smooth.
Then, a pine cylinder called a sound post is inserted through one of the F-holes. Though small, it’s very important because it conducts sound and ensures the violin’s front can withstand pressure as the instrument is bowed. The bridge is put in place after that, and held with pressure from the violin’s four strings. The strings fed through an ebony tailpiece and pulled up to wind around the pegs.
Constructing the Bow
The bow is crafted from Brazilian wood and horsehair. There are many factors that go into crafting and choosing bow materials, but Pernambuco wood has been the wood of choice since the 18th century. Unfortunately, it is in short supply, so bow quality has decreased over time.
The horsehair is bound at one end with sewing thread. Then the hair is burnt and sealed with wax to prevent fraying. The bound end will become the part closest to the bottom of the bow and will go into a boxed part called the frog. The frog gets covered with a lining, then a ring is used to keep the hairs from getting tangled. A screw is also applied, which controls the tension of the bow hairs.
Prior to connecting the horsehair strands to the top of the bow or the head, the makers comb them so they’re parallel. After the hairs are inserted into the head, the tension is increased using the aforementioned screw at the opposite end of the bow.
A violin may take up to a month to make, not including the varnishing process. The various woods used to create violins generally get better with age. Therefore, a violin may not reach its peak in sound quality for up to five decades after it’s made.
Now that you know how violins are made, hopefully you have an increased appreciation for the obvious craftsmanship required. A maker may stay dedicated to the task for eight hours a day and a full month. Violins bring years of delight to their owners, and they could eventually become family heirlooms.