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Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

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Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby Bryan Bear » Tue Sep 15, 2015 10:32 am

Hey all, you don’t really ever see me in this section (I do occasionally lurk and am blown away by some of the stuff I see) because I have never tackled an arched topped instrument let alone a bowed instrument. I am a hobbyist in the instrument making craft but have made guitars, ukuleles and flat top mandos. I have a working understanding of some of the skills required but obviously there are many I do not have. I have held a secret desire for one of my daughters to grow up and want to play violin because I have always wanted to make one.
This morning while waiting for the bus, my eight year old told me that next year in school they get/have to play either violin or cello for their music class. Now may be my chance! Naturally she had a bigger twinkle in her eye when she talked about the cello, so I may be biting off even more than I can chew here. I know my daughter well enough to have serious doubts that she will continue with either instrument beyond next year’s music requirement, but who knows. With that in mind, I have no delusions of me making anything beyond a functional student grade instrument to hopefully inspire her a bit further. I don’t see myself chasing greatness in violin making, I’d prefer to continue to get better making guitars. Am I asking for disappointment? Is this the sort of thing that will take 10/20 or more instruments before I have something usable? With guitars there is a lot more leeway with timbre. There are many, many different styles of guitar and ergo, tones that still qualify as a guitar tone. A not so great sounding guitar can still be accepted. My impression of violins is that the expected tone is much narrower; I could be wrong though. . .
With these questions, I mean no disrespect to your craft by attempting to dabble. I just hope to be able to make an instrument that will be violin enough in tone and playability to not annoy the 3rd grade string teacher and be something special for my daughter. Also, am I correct that a cello would be even further out of my reach?
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Re: Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby David King » Tue Sep 15, 2015 12:49 pm

I'll paraphrase the timeless quote attributed to a Frenchman: "Making a violin isn't hard, it's just 1000 small things you have to get right."

Figure about 250 hours for a violin and 500 hours for a cello if all goes well. The last set of cello wood I bought 15 years ago cost me about $650. You can pickup a violin kit for a fraction of that.

The next question is what size violin? Would you want to spend months making something that your daughter will outgrow in a year or two?

I see cellos at yard sales for under $100 with some frequency. I'd start with a beater that needs work and fix it up. You'll learn a lot in a hurry which you can use when you start in on your own.
Another option would be to buy a Chinese cello "in-the-white" and varnish it.
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Re: Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby Bryan Bear » Tue Sep 15, 2015 1:28 pm

Actually, I would be happy if she outgrew a violin that I made for her because that would mean she kept at it. I'm hoping an instrument made by me would get her excited enough to get over the hump of tedium learning a new instrument can be. Besides, I have another daughter 5 years behind her :). I really would view this project as a starter violin. Part of me thinks about the droves of inexpensive student violins out there and think that surely I could compete with those standards. But. . . I'm old enough to have learned that anytime something seems straightforward it usually means you don't know enough about what you are getting ready to do.

I'm not sure about the cello thing. If she chooses that rout, I would probably just rent one and take my chances like everyone else. Maybe make one for practicing at home with a flat/bent back, no scroll, quick wipe-on finish and other corners cut, hoping to just save her from carting the real cello back and forth to school.
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Re: Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby Charlie Schultz » Tue Sep 15, 2015 4:29 pm

Another option might be to start with a violin kit (e.g. from StewMac). If you make something one way or another, please consider putting up a build thread here- it'd be fun to watch.
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Re: Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby Jim McConkey » Wed Sep 16, 2015 12:12 am

There is no shame in trying anything as a hobbyist. I had the same doubts with every new type of instrument I have built, and I have been more than pleased with the results every time. As with all projects, take your time, do good work, and you will be happy with the result. A fiddle takes a few new skills and tools, but it isn't all that much harder than any other instrument if you have any luthier experience at all. Plan on a size that is the right size or maybe just a little too big for her as of the time you anticipate finishing the project. International Violin is another good source for kits and in-the-white instruments, if you don't want to tackle every aspect of the job. If you are really afraid of the plate carving, look for my electric violin thread that was part of the $100 Challenge. No top or back at all!

If you want to tackle a cello, yet another option is to look for a broken one to fix up. My other half likes to buy me orphan and misfit instruments for Christmas, and somehow found a cello that was a prop in movie. As part of its short-lived acting career, the poor thing got thrown off a bridge! I got it in a box of pieces, with the neck fully snapped in half, just for starters. I had the opportunity to take a cello class, so I finally got off my rear and fixed it all up, and it plays and sounds great. There is a thread in the Library. My guess is that it didn't cost more than $50-100.
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Re: Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby Michael Lewis » Wed Sep 16, 2015 5:29 am

Bryan, most kids are rather concerned with appearance, as you probably well know. Shiny is good, and as long as it looks like what everyone else has is also good.

If you tackle this you can probably do well, but there is sooooo much to learn to master bowed instruments, and much is subtle. Make a violin however long it takes, and rent or buy a cello in the mean time.
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Re: Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby Chet Bishop » Mon Sep 21, 2015 12:58 pm

I built my very first instrument (of any kind) under similar circumstances. My youngest son needed a viola, so I built one. He quit playing about that time, but has since returned, and, in the interim, he learned to play and build guitars. He now builds guitars for a living. I went on to build 10 violas, 10 violins, five 5-string fiddles, two cellos, and one double bass (so far). My wife wants a cello, and I am getting ready to begin another double bass.

The caution, here, is that it could be a life-changing event. :-) These things are seriously addictive.

Yes, you can build your daughter a violin, but it may take you 200+ hours to do so, and you may, therefore, be wise to build the next size up, so that she grows into it, rather than building the size she now needs, as she may otherwise outgrow it before you complete it. And, yes, 8-year-olds are known for being flighty.

A cello is more challenging, naturally, but I have known folks who made a cello for their first instrument, too, so...as your heart leads you.
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Re: Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby Bryan Bear » Mon Sep 21, 2015 1:59 pm

Thanks Chet, your sun isn't Max by chance is it?
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Re: Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby Chet Bishop » Mon Sep 21, 2015 2:11 pm

My son's name?
Brian Bishop.
https://www.facebook.com/Bishop-Guitars ... /timeline/
Not much of a web-presence, yet. We are trying to convince him, but it has been slow in coming. He would rather be building guitars than websites. (I can relate...)
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Re: Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby Chet Bishop » Mon Sep 21, 2015 2:18 pm

The few people who I have personally coached through their first instruments all came up with an instrument that far exceeded anything they could have afforded to buy. You can do this if you choose to...and the results will be great, if you follow directions well, and do careful work.
This fellow dinked around at it for years, but it was his first woodworking project of ANY kind, let alone his first instrument. http://www.bluefiddles.com/2014/05/stud ... alo-viola/
The result was a very good viola. (It looks a little odd, because it was a fairly faithful copy of a very odd-looking old master instrument...still in professional use after 435 years.)
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Re: Chances for success on a first bowed instrument

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Sat Nov 28, 2015 12:06 pm

"Naturally she had a bigger twinkle in her eye when she talked about the cello"

"Bryan, most kids are rather concerned with appearance, as you probably well know.
Shiny is good, and as long as it looks like what everyone else has is also good."

"If you want to tackle a cello, yet another option is to look for a broken one to fix up."

To the first point, giving the kid their first choice of instrument is probably the best chance they may stick with it. As Michael mentioned, having an instrument that LOOKS like what the other kids are playing is important to young beginners. Jim's suggestion of finding a broken instrument is not a bad idea, and that is what I did when my kids wanted to play the cello. I found a couple of them on ebay (a 1/2 size and a 3/4 size) which needed- minor- work (a broken edge and purfling- easy repair and touch up) . They went pretty cheap - most people buying student level instruments don't want to do even minor repairs to them. Both kids eventually gave up on cello and I resold the 3/4 size for about what I paid for it. The 1/2 size is still kicking around here somewhere. Since I didn't have a lot invested in either time or money, I'm not too bummed out that they didn't stick with it.
At some point in the future I may build a fiddle, maybe a Savart style box fiddle or a small viol type thing.Something I will have fun doing with no pressure to get results.
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