Monthly archives: December 2014

Violin f – Holes – Do They Make a Difference?

If you look at the f holes of the generations of the Amati family there is a general trend towards a narrower and more elegant f hole. Stradivarius learned his trade in the workshop of Nicola Amatif-Hole - Messiah by Strad. By the time Stradivarius was working in the Amati shop, the Amati f holes had become very round, flowing and reflective of the curves of the instrument. They had become an integral part of the artistic presentation of the instrument.

Over the generations, violin makers have experimented with various lengths and widths of f holes, and the positioning of the f holes on the top. Of course, there are limitations. Some of the limitations you would expect, others are more subtle. If the f holes are placed too wide apart, the sound tends to become rough. Too close together and the vibrating part of the top becomes too narrow with a resulting “pinched” sound.  Too wide of an f hole (more than 8mm at the notches for violins) and the violin loses projection. Too narrow (6mm or less for violins) and a luthier might have trouble getting the sound post in to the instrument. The treble f hole gets banged up quite a bit if the width is too narrow. Do the f holes make much difference?  Sing a scale into the f hole. Feel a certain note vibrate? Now cover up one of the f holes with a soft cloth and repeat the scale singing. Feel and hear a difference? – f holes matter.   Air is flowing back and forth through the f holes as you play your instrument. How that air flows, how smoothly it flows, and how fast it flows are all characteristics of your instrument’s tone.

The little triangular notches are on the inside and outside of each f hole – The inside notches denote an imaginary line across the top that designates the ‘stop’ or ‘stop line’. The bridge usually is placed on the stop line and centred on the instrument. For violins, the distance from the edge to the stop has been standardized at 195mm. However, many great instruments have shorter or longer stops. This doesn’t make them “wrong”, just different. A good violin maker/repairer with a good set of ears can help you determine the best place for the bridge if the stop is not 195mm.

Sanding or drilling Abelone



Grinding your own or bought abalone can be harmful and precautions should be taken.

Abalone 1Nowhere is it mentioned that the dust from abalone shells is TOXIC and the only safety instructions were to wear a mask and do the grinding outdoors

This is from wikipedia The dust created through the grinding and cutting of abalone shell is dangerous; appropriate safeguards should be taken to protect a person from inhaling these particles.

Abalone 2





A dust respirator that is NIOSH-approved N95, made for fine particles, using a ventilation system and wet grinding are requirements to working the shell safely. The calcium carbonate is a respiratory irritant and the particles can penetrate into the lower respiratory tree and cause irritant bronchitis and other respiratory irritation responses. The usual symptoms are cough and sputum production, and secondary infections can occur. If there are proteins left in the shell matrix, it is also possible that they can trigger an allergic (asthmatic) attack. In general, the more someone is exposed to something that triggers their asthma reaction, the larger the reaction. Allergic skin reactions can also occur.

Abalne 3

How does a Guitar produce a sound

There are numerous theories as to how and why and how a guitar produces its sound. DSCF8892In all types of guitars the sound is produced by the vibration of the strings. However, because the strings can only displace a small amount of air, the volume of the sound needs to be increased in order to be heard. In an acoustic guitar, this is accomplished by using a soundboard and a resonant cavity, the sound box. The body of the guitar is hollow. The vibrating strings drive the soundboard through the bridge, making it vibrate. The soundboard has a larger surface area and thus displaces a larger volume of air, producing a much louder sound than the strings alone. As the soundboard vibrates, sound waves are produced from both the front and back faces.

The sound box provides both a support for the sound board and a resonant cavity and reflector for the sound waves produced on the back face of the soundboard. The air in this cavity resonates with the vibrational modes of the string (see Helmholtz resonance), increasing the volume of the sound again. How you shape the soundboard braces, which play a major role in stabilising the top, will also have an effect on the sound. The back of the guitar will also vibrate to a lesser extent, driven by the air in the cavity. Some sound is ultimately projected through the sound hole (some variants of the acoustic guitar omit this hole, or have f holes, like a violin family instrument). This sound mixes with the sound produced by the front face of the soundboard. The resultant sound is a complex mixture ofharmonics that give the guitar its distinctive sound.

The “Red Special” – Built by Brian May of Queen

Brian May pic 2

Brian May in his younger years, left school and went to university and went four years into a PhD into what is now known as Astrophysics. Unlike the primary instruments of most musicians, the Red Special was built by May along with his father. They began to work on the guitar in August 1963, with the project taking two years to complete. The neck was constructed from wood from an approx. 100 year old fireplace mantel, that a friend of the family was about to throw away. The neck was hand-shaped into the desired form, a job that was made more difficult by the age and quality of the wood. According to May, there are two wormholes in the neck of the guitar.


The neck was finished with a 24-fret oak fingerboard. Each of the position inlays was hand shaped from a mother of pearl button. May decided to position them in a personal way: two dots at the 7th and 19th fret and three at the 12th and 24th.

The body was made from oak from an old table, block board (strips of softwood sandwiched between two plywood skins) and mahogany veneer; the final result was technically a semi acoustic guitar – the central block is glued to the sides and covered with two mahogany sheets to give it the appearance of a solid-body guitar. White shelf edging was then applied as binding. It was then completed with three pick-ups and a custom-made bridge. May purchased a set of Burns tri sonic pick-ups but re-wound them with reverse wound/reverse polarity and “potted” the coils with Araldite epoxy resin to reduce micro phonics. He originally wound his own pick-ups, as he had for his first guitar, but he did not like the resulting sound because of the polarity of these pick-ups: alternating North-South instead of all North.

The tremolo system is made from an old hardened-steel knife-edge shaped into a V and two motorbike valve springs to counter the string tension. The tension of the springs can be adjusted by screwing the bolts, which run through the middle of the springs, in or out via two small access holes next to the rear strap button. To reduce friction, the bridge was completed with rollers to allow the strings to return perfectly in tune after using the tremolo arm. The arm itself was from a bicycle saddlebag holder with a plastic knitting needle tip.  For the same reason, at the other end of the neck the strings pass over a zero fret and through a  bakalite string guide.

Originally the guitar had a built-in distortion circuit, adapted from a mid-1960s Vox distortion effects. The switch for this was in front of the phase switches. May soon discovered that he preferred the sound of a Vox AC30 distorting at full power, so the circuit was removed. The switch hole is now covered by a mother-of-pearl star inlay, but was originally covered by insulation tape.

Luthiers – Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Jesu

Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737)

The maker of the “Stradivarius” or “Strad” stringed instruments is the most famous luthier of all times. During his long life he made at least 1,116 instruments. It is assumed that only around half of his instruments survived until today, but the exact number is not known.

Strad Label

His instruments were regarded to be the best stringed instruments ever created already during his life. They are highly prized for their superb tonal qualities

and excellent playing characteristics.

Stradivari was a perfectionist and his instruments are perfectly executed. He sold them often to the royalty and laid the foundations of stringed instrument-as-an-investment. His instruments were always highly valued.

Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (1698-1744)


The most prominent luthier after Antonio Stradivari was Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù. The term “del Gesù” originates from the Greek abbreviation for Jesus (IHS) (Jesu Hominum Salvator) and a Roman cross that Guarneri used on the labels inside his instruments. It indicates veneration for the Holy Name.

Del Jesu label

Contrary to Stradivari, Guarneri del Gesù made his instruments quickly and sold them for a low price. Despite of this also his instruments are exceptional and highly valued.

Only around 135 violins, none viola and one cello build by Guarneri survived until our time.

Why Are The Instruments By Stradivari And Guarneri So Special?

The master stringed instruments made by Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù excel in a supreme powerful, rich and colourful tone that is ideal for a solo instrument.

A Stradivarius in a good condition emits high-frequency sounds in a range where human hearing is the most sensitive. These frequencies become more audible in larger rooms. That makes the Stradivarius ideal for concerts in spacious concert halls and for performances together with big philharmonic orchestras.

The sound of these sublime instruments is so very characteristic that an observant listener can distinguish their superior tone when hearing the same artist playing on different instruments.

The sound of the old master instruments is not only superior in the vivacity of the tone; it is also insistent and captivatingly beautiful. The lustre and beauty of the instrument’s tone is as close you can come to the immaculate voice of a great opera diva.

Science has not invented an instrument that could measure or quantify the beauty of a sound yet. Only the metaphysical investigation could possibly tackle the phenomenon.

Thousands of hours and millions of dollars were spent in the search for the secret formula of the old master stringed instruments made by Stradivari and Guarneri, but no clear all-explaining answer was found. Neither using x-rays or the wood of specially grown trees nor anything else has helped to re-create their excellent characteristics.

Tip to spot a fake Strad label

This is the most commonly copied Stradivarius label of all ‘Antonius Stradiuarius Cremonenfis Faciebat Anno 1…’ with the last digits of the year of manufacture written by hand. The clue which reveals the fake is that from 1700 to 1730 a cursive ‘u’ was used in place of a ‘v’. After 1730 the Roman ‘v’ was used. Hence, Stradiuarius, Stradivarius.