and repairs stringed instruments. Although a violin may
seem like an assembly of wooden parts that are simple to put
together, it is actually a complicated acoustical instrument.
This challenges the maker to stay within a certain
framework of parameters to achieve great sound while
maintaining comfort and functionality for the musician.
It would take a book or two to describe a complete step-by-step guide about the process of making a violin. With
this article, I hope to pique your interest in this lost art of
violin making and demonstrate the value of a handcrafted
instrument versus a mass-produced instrument.
The violin has fascinated both makers and players for
more than four centuries. Surprisingly, it has had very
few changes in its design during this time period. You
may have heard the name Stradivari or Stradivarius (in
Latin), but history acknowledges Andrea Amati as the first
violin maker. He was from Cremona Italy (c.1500–1577).
Amati’s workmanship set the standard in violin making
for future generations. Three generations in the Amati
family followed him in this trade, which would take us to
the year 1740. As with most trades during this time period,
the sons of the family would continue in the father’s trade.
Noble families and royal courts during the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries commissioned the making of these
instruments. Thus the occupation, craft, and art of violin
making were born. There were many great Cremonese
makers, such as Stradivari, Guarneri, Stainer, and Bergonzi,
who for brevity’s sake will have to go unmentioned.
Countless contemporary makers also produce instruments
that provide superior sound.
The violin has a very wide range, from clear and bright
to rich and powerful. Some have been known to say that
it reflects the range of the human voice with its colorful
tones. With this range ability, the violin can be used by
skillful hands to bring a person into the very presence
The violin does not have its beginnings with a musician,
but rather with its maker. One whose skillful hands create
a violin is called a luthier. A luthier is a person who makes
THE MAKING OF A VIOLIN
Although small exceptions exist, the wood traditionally
used to make a violin is maple for the back, ribs, and
scroll; the top is made of spruce. Good violins are made
with “seasoned” wood that has had time to naturally dry for
many years. I like to use wood that has been seasoned for a
minimum of fifteen years.
Making a violin requires a variety of tools. Most of them
are common hand tools, such as handsaws, planes, files,
chisels, and gouges. A few custom tools also are needed,
such as a bending iron to bend the ribs, a purfling channel
cutter to inlay the purfling, soundpost setters, peghole
reamers, and calipers that measure the front and back plates
and will ensure proper thickness, just to name a few.
Hide glue is another item commonly found in a violin
maker’s shop and is the only acceptable glue for violin
making. Its name suggests its origin; it is made from
proteins found in animal hide, connective tissues, or
bones. Dehydrated granules are warmed in water to make a
consistency to that of honey, although you wouldn’t want to
mistake it for honey. (My children never liked the smell of
it.) Hide glue is used because it allows the maker to have a
remarkably strong bond that can also be carefully removed
when a repair is needed. Regular wood glue would never
be acceptable, because in many cases wood glue becomes
stronger than the wood itself, which would create a whole
new set of problems.
LET’S GET STARTED
First we must decide what model or pattern we will follow.
In this case, a Stradivarius model will provide the blueprint
we need to begin the construction. Using the Stradivarius