Posted on

Systems Analysis of the Violin

Systems Analysis of the Violin

by A.F. Standing

Originally published as Guild of American Luthiers Data Sheet #173, 1981



My first introduction to the violin was my father’s playing, and I remember, young as I was, a fascination with its strange shape and even stranger sound. From that time to this I had no further contact with the instrument until I met professionally (we are computer programmers) a young lady whose many talents include that of violin making. My interest in old crafts led us into many discussions on the design, construction and adjustment of the violin.

As I borrowed, and read, the articles she had collected, I became more and more astounded as from their arcane depths arose the musty odor of eye of toad and toe of newt. With my curiosity and interest aroused it seemed a good idea to consider each part of the violin, the problem it solved, and its interaction with the remainder of the instrument. In this way, once, the basic operation of the instrument was understood, all the second order effects that make all the difference in the real world could be considered as perturbations from the basic instrument. This article was written in an attempt to see if I could, with no musical knowledge or experience whatever, determine by thought alone the modus operandi of the violin.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.
Posted on

The American Luthier: A New Era

The American Luthier: A New Era

by J.R. Beall

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Newsletter Volume 1 #1, 1973



Guitars of all kinds are currently enjoying an unprecedented popularity in this country and, indeed, throughout the world. People of every sort are playing or enjoying the performance of guitar music and even the ivied halls of American’s most prestigious conservatories are echoing at last with the sounds of the guitar. The upshot of this welcome boom in popularity and attendant dignification of the guitar as a legitimate instrument is that classic guitars of very fine quality are in high demand and very short supply. Although quite good instruments are available at very reasonable prices, really excellent ones are frequently unavailable at any price. Many advanced students, teachers, and budding concert artists would like to own outstanding instruments but are unable to find them. The guitar, unfortunately, does not have the long, rich history of the violin and artists, therefore, are unable to find antique instruments of high quality. As a result, one must conclude at last that the really top quality concert instruments are yet to be made. This, then, brings me to the point of my writing which is that when guitars of outstanding quality are finally made more available, they will come, for the most part, from small shops in the United States.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.
Posted on

Letter: Beam Stiffness vs. Strength

Letter: Beam Stiffness vs. Strength

Originally published in American Lutherie #41, 1994



Dear Sir,

Please allow me to attempt a termination of the continuing misunderstandings originating with Mr. Ervin Somogyi’s interesting but flawed lecture given at the ’92 conference in South Dakota and perpetuated by its subsequent transcription in the GAL Journal and the letter in American Lutherie #39 from Mr. Dave Schwab commenting on the matter.

The issue has to do with using the terms “strength” and “stiffness” interchangeably when discussing the mechanical characteristics of beams used as braces in guitar sounding boards.

Both strength and stiffness of beams are important characteristics and depend on properties of the materials from which the beams are constructed as well as the physical dimensions of the beam. Both stiffness and strength of beams may be calculated using formulas which only require a knowledge of the material properties and physical dimensions. Those so inclined will find a very readable account of these formulas in Understanding Wood by R. Bruce Hoadley, ISBN 0-918804-05-01.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.
Posted on

Dissolving the Mysteries

Dissolving the Mysteries

by Graham Caldersmith

previously published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly Volume 10, #4, 1982 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2001



We live in confusing times where progress in understanding the natural world, and in manipulating nature to our advantage has spawned an ever-changing technological environment that seems beyond our own control, and even beyond our comprehension in its scale and complexity. We are beginning to see organized reaction against technological excess, and movements towards simpler ways of living. Most luthiers are aware that the practical and traditional practice of lutherie is being analyzed and even supplemented by scientific methods, and some feel that the dignity and integrity of the traditions are therefore threatened as we redefine and dissolve the mysteries of lutherie.

I would argue that the greatest system of lutherie to date, the Renaissance-Baroque school of violin making emerged in times of devastating plague and recurring war, when the orthodoxy of creation and nature was being challenged by Galileo and Copernicus in centers not far from Brescia, Cremona, and southern Germany. In fact we know that because the centers of Baroque violin making lay on the trade routes through which the latest news in science, art, and technology flowed with trade merchandise. The great masters of lutherie would have been exposed to new concepts in vibration, pitch, and wave motion which they would find difficult to ignore in their experience of wood vibration at the workbench. How they dealt with it is not recorded, but that they produced unsurpassed masterpieces in bowed instruments is undisputed.

Contemporary luthiers live in times of social upheaval, war, and pollution, but also with a growing body of knowledge about the function of the instruments they make. It remains to be seen how we will react to this environment, but already we have seen a variety of new designs for the guitar, and the vital interaction of luthiers with pioneering guitarists.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.
Posted on

Controlling Strings, Wood, and Air

Controlling Strings, Wood, and Air

from her 1979 GAL Convention lecture

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly Volume 8, #3, 1980 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume 1, 2000



I’d like to take a minute to tell you a story. Imagine the scent in front of a cave some 20,000 years ago. A family has just killed a bear and is skinning it and preparing the meat for food. They’ve given some of the rawhide to their young son who has made some strips to string his first hunting bow. He and his sister are sitting out in front of the cave trying to tie some of the slippery strips to the bow-stick. As they do this the boy puts one end of the stick in his mouth to hold it steady as he tightens and ties the slippery stuff. As he plucks the rawhide to check the pull he suddenly realizes he can get different sounds depending on how he bites the stick and shapes his lips and cheeks around it.

This could have been the origin of the musical bow. When I told this story in Ames, Iowa, a few years ago it created quite a lot of interest. After the lecture they produced a record of someone playing the mouth bow. I now have a mouth bow that a young man made for me which is quite a challenge to try to play.

Actually, we are working with the same three elements that the young cave boy had under his control: strings, wood, and air. He could vary all three of these quite easily to a certain extent. In our modern bowed and plucked strings, however, the wood and the air resonances are more or less set when the instruments are made. For years I have worked to test the effects of variations in the wood and air resonances, but it means taking the instruments apart to thin the plates or slice down the height of the ribs (on expendable instruments, of course!)

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.