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Electric Violins: The New Frontier

Electric Violins: The New Frontier

by George Manno

Originally published in American Lutherie #12, 1987



In the past, my contributions to this journal have been of the more traditional subject matter. From repairing cracks to varnish recipes, I lend my knowledge of the violin to all our readers. Although this article is not about the traditional violin, I have the same enthusiasm to share the following information with you.

Twenty years ago, electrifying a violin was a simple matter of attaching a DeArmond pickup clamp to the tailpiece and plugging the cord into an amplifier. Not much attention was given to the quality of sound that came out of the speaker. Players were more concerned that the violin could be heard over the drums and other electric instruments.

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“1704” Varnish Recipe

“1704” Varnish Recipe

by George Manno

Originally published in American Lutherie #12, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



The subject of violin varnish and its making has been the topic of great debate and secrecy for the last hundred years. Many makers still spend a great deal of time chasing the elusive dream of coming up with the perfect varnish. Books and manuscripts are filled with endless recipes from the very basic to the most absurd. I have seen some formulas that call for ingredients such as goat urine, sheep bile, gold, and other even more exotic organic extracts that have to be boiled, dried, and then mixed with many different hazardous chemicals. I showed Dr. James Martin, head chemist for Bradshaw and Praeger Shellac Co., one of these more eccentric recipes. His reply to me was, “If you heat these chemicals, you will probably blow your shop to smithereens.” Needless to say, I took his advice.

The varnish recipe described on the preceding page is known throughout the world as “1704”. The recipe came out of the old Wurlitzer shop in the early ’50s. As you can see, the varnish is a simple mixture of seedlac, gum, resin, and oil mixed with alcohol.

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Violin Top Removal

Violin Top Removal

by George Manno

Originally published in American Lutherie #5, 1986 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



One of the most difficult repairs to perform on a violin is removing its top after it has been glued with a yellow or a polyvinyl white glue, such as Titebond. These glues do exactly what the name implies: Their main objective is to close the separation between the rib and the top or back permanently. Violins are built in such a way that they can be taken apart if necessary. On many occasions, we have seen instruments come into our shop that were repaired by amateurs using whatever glue was available at the local hardware store. Apparently, thoughts of future adjustments to the neck or bass bar are not considered. Efforts to remove the top without damaging it after such glues have been used were, for a time, a cause of great distress to us.

We have found a way to dissolve such a bond without harming the table, ribs, or back. Using a number of thin artist’s spatulas, a syringe, and some warm vinegar, along with a lot of patience, the removal of the top can be done successfully and the repair completed in a few days.

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Violin Q & A: Cost of Opening a Violin Shop

Violin Q & A: Cost of Opening a Violin Shop

by George Manno

Originally published in American Lutherie #10, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



My wife and I are thoroughly fascinated with the violin; we both play professionally in the local orchestra. We have enjoyed all of your repair articles and look forward to meeting you. We have often considered opening our own violin shop but have no idea how costly and, furthermore, how profitable such a venture could be. We wouldn’t want to offer the most expensive instruments, but would like to have a better-than-ordinary inventory. Can you give us a rough estimate of what it might cost us?

Portland, Oregon, needs another violin shop like Hawaii needs another volcano! It seems the Northwest has become an attractive setting for violin shops, and, although competition can help stimulate business, oversaturation of any market can cause all participants to suffer. Your best bet is to find a location where there are no violin shops at all, but where there are people who are interested in playing the violin.

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Violin Q & A: Violin by John Ericson

Violin Q & A: Violin by John Ericson

by George Manno

Originally published in American Lutherie #10, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000

 

We have an old violin that just came into our shop. It is handmade and has a label that states it was made by John Ericson, Hammond, Indiana, in 1929. We cannot find this maker’s name listed in any of our reference books. We have Henley’s & Woodcock’s. Since you live in the Midwest, do you know of such a maker?

Thomas Wenberg’s book, entitled The Violin Makers of the United States, lists the aforementioned maker on page 93. He was born in 1893 in Sweden, and trained with Walter Goss in Boston. Over 400 instruments bear his label. A dealer in New York told me that he recently sold a viola made by Mr. Ericson for $9,500. He died in 1975. Also, I knew Mr. Ericson personally. The instrument should be branded “ERICSON” on the back of the scroll.