Viol Fronts

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Viol Fronts

Postby Roderick Jenkins » Mon Dec 24, 2012 8:28 am

Ever since Dietrich Kessler's seminal paper on the Richard Meares viol everybody now seems to make multi-piece all bent fronts. Considering that there are several other ways to make a multi-piece front, how much other evidence, apart from the Meares viol, is there that this method is the only true way to make a good viol.

Happy Christmas
Rod
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Tue Dec 25, 2012 8:03 am

Edward Lewis, another English viol maker made some with carved bellies. My conjecture is that the multipiece bent stave belly probably started out as an economy practice that proved to be advantageous to the strength and sound of the English viol. According to some, the bending of the staves allows the grain to run long and not be cut through as in a carved top instrument. This allows the bellies to be worked thinner. How important this is to the sound of the instrument is probably mostly in the mind of the maker and buyer. At best, these instruments sound pretty viol. <g>
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Douglas Ingram » Thu Dec 27, 2012 2:46 pm

I am carving my first bent stave viol table now. I have the surface carved and mostly refined, ready for purfling. It was actually much easier to do than I had anticipated! Actually, quite easy to carve as the shape was basically determined.

Soon I will have to carve the back side and establish the thicknesses. That part has not much information available.

Are you making your first? Or just exploring other options?
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Roderick Jenkins » Thu Dec 27, 2012 4:41 pm

Thanks for the replies. I've made a couple of bass viols. The first front was made with 5 pieces of varying thickness and the second with a bent central stave - both of which seemed to work OK. There are no native softwoods in the UK suitable for instrument fronts so timber would have to be imported and there was a considerable trade with the Baltic states for other purposes so I guess it would be much easier for a maker to find 5 staves of quarter sawn timber than a book matched pair. I can also see that 5 thin staves suitable for bending would be cheaper than any other option. While I'm happy to agree that some English viols were made with all bent staves, the fact that the scorch marks are still visible suggests that little carving was done on the inside. To me this points to such an instrument being aimed at the cheaper end of the market. The fact that Christopher Simpson preferred his bellies to be digged out of a plank tends to reinforce this view. However, we know that English viols were prized on the continent. So, while the current fashion is for bent stave built bellies, I just question whether this the best way to make a prized viol. Which leads to the question: is there evidence of scorching on many other historical viols apart from the Meares?

Douglas, what timber are you using? I used Sitka for both of mine since, even in England, it was easier to obtain than european spruce. Even in the 21st century it's much easier to get hold of a european spruce cello wedge than 5 staves - which is what prompted my original questioning of the current orthodoxy.
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Douglas Ingram » Thu Dec 27, 2012 6:27 pm

I used Lutz which was cut to spec by Shane at High Mountain Tonewoods in Terrace BC. Beautiful wood! I have enough for one more top but I'm not sure if I'll make another viol for awhile. This one has been so much work, I'm making this for my wife, so I'm making it for love. Next one is for cash! The carved scroll and inlaid back are killers.

I think that the scorch marks on the inside are more indicative of period attitudes rather than the value placed upon the instrument. Interior work from the time tended to be fairly rough in all instruments.

Any photos of your work? Would love to see. Here are a few of mine. The scroll photo is from before I finished it.
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Chet Bishop » Fri Dec 28, 2012 1:24 am

WOW!!

What gorgeous work! I don't think I could manage that sort of perfection.

Is the scroll (and back) design copied from some earlier work? That's another fault of mine-- I have no idea how to generate that sort of decorative designs. If I don't have something to look at (over and over, continually) I simply can't do it...it would essentially just be random lines.
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Steve Senseney » Fri Dec 28, 2012 12:12 pm

Nice work!
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Douglas Ingram » Fri Dec 28, 2012 2:59 pm

Chet, I had some celtic cat drawings which I adapted to the space. Don't worry, there isn't much perfection here! I don't fuss too much about perfect, I just try and do my best.

For anyone who knows me as a guitar maker, THIS is why I haven't been showing guitars recently.

I hope that I'm not hikacking!
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Chet Bishop » Sat Dec 29, 2012 12:53 am

Well...now I can see the cat-- I couldn't have figured out what it was. :-) Pretty fancy, though.

Your wife will love it.
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Douglas Ingram » Sat Dec 29, 2012 7:28 pm

She already does, but it scares me at the price range for bows that she's looking at! Makes me wish that I made bows...well.
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Roderick Jenkins » Sun Dec 30, 2012 11:01 am

Douglas, no hijack - it's great to see your work. Although I made my viols a frightening number of years ago, my first one has just come back into my possession so I've taken a few pictures. It's based on the large John Rose bass in the Victoria and Albert museum in London. Sitka spruce 5 piece carved front, sycamore back and sides, fingerboard and tailpiece veneered with ebony and bound with boxwood.
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Roderick Jenkins » Sun Dec 30, 2012 11:08 am

As you can see, I favoured a fairly plain style with double purfling. I truly admire your tenacity with the purfling patterns - love is a wonderful thing (Mrs J is still waiting for her virginalls). I did persevere once for a copy of the A&H Amati viola in the Ashmolean museum. Here's a scan from a photo I took before giving it to my customer.

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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Roderick Jenkins » Sun Dec 30, 2012 11:19 am

Since you mentioned bows, it's not too difficult to make a serviceable one. This is made from partridgewood and has a screwed frog. Bows seem to need to be as stiff as possible which means using dense wood. Snakewood is favoured but I reckon any fine grained timber with a specific gravity greater than 1 will do. Planing the wood was difficult and I ended up sanding mine on a shooting board. I had a look at a few professional makers sites to get an idea of the finished length and weight. It's not a great looking bow but it works well enough for me (who can't play the viol).
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Douglas Ingram » Mon Dec 31, 2012 7:55 pm

Roderick, your work looks great! I'm up to making a bow, but my wife doesn't seem to have the same confidence in me to make a good bow as she does for the viol...I have done a fair bit of research, though.

I checked the provenance of my plans. They were drawn by Robert Payn, and if I remember correctly, they were drawn for as student luthier plans for an English school. The instrument is fairly generic but looks a lot like your John Rose. Any thoughts on table thickness? My drawings seem to indicate a uniform 4.5mm thickness, its not specified, I'm measuring the drawing itself.

Bent the front purflings today. They are wider than standard to get a bold look. Now I can score and incise the trough for them.
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Roderick Jenkins » Tue Jan 01, 2013 6:20 am

Douglas, I've got the Payn drawing but decided to copy an extant instrument. I've had a look at the Rose drawing (drawn by John Pringle in 1978) and there are spot thicknesses indicated. The drawing shows the central spine stave 3.5mm thick going to 3.0mm under the tailpiece. The rest of the belly is shown as either 3.0 or 2.5 but I can't see any pattern in the variation. Bearing in mind that the instrument is 400 years old, there may have been some shrinkage. I think (it was quite a long time ago) that I aimed for 3mm overall and 4mm in the middle. The distinctive sound of a viol is, I think, partly due to the lightness of build so 4.5-5mm (Payn) is probably a bit thick. I made mine without corner blocks and back linings (these are reinforced with cotton tape glued with HHG). I did use thin spruce linings to double the thickness of the ribs on the belly joint. I didn't use any bracing on the back, just a sound-post plate. I'm really looking forward to seeing your finished instrument. Hope this helps and happy new year to one and all.
Rod
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Douglas Ingram » Tue Jan 01, 2013 4:34 pm

Thanks a lot for the added information! That helps a lot and gives me confidence as I approach that critical stage.

It also helps that you have the same drawings as I have. These were given to me some years ago by a luthier friend of mine, and before I had any idea about where to look for more detailed info. I felt so fortunate at the time! I was well into this project before I knew half of what I know now. Sometimes I wish that I could start over to correct for my earlier ignorance. Nothing critical, just learning what the traditional practices were and discovering that they are also the easiest and most pragmatic. Funny how that is...
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby craig cowing » Fri Oct 26, 2018 6:04 pm

I'm starting work on my first viol. It will be a tenor viola da gamba, based on one in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It dates from ca. 1600 and was made by a Richard Blount in England. I'm going to change a few things, though. The fittings will be ipe, or Brazilian ironwood. It's as hard and dense as ebony, and will be a nice rich brown. The top will be sitka spruce and the back and sides curly maple. The back will be two pieces that are book matched.

I've played the cello forever, and have wanted a viola da gamba for a long time. I thought about buying a Chinese one on eBay but decided that for much less money and a lot of time I could have something much better. I'll post pics as I begin to make progress.

https://www.mfa.org/collections/object/ ... amba-50251
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Fred Battershell » Mon Nov 12, 2018 5:16 pm

First, I'd like to thank Charlie for all of his help getting me back on here!! Now about the question of "authenticity" of stave bent viol fronts vs.carved fronts, I would like to mention an interesting article which appeared in the British journal Early Music(Oct 78) in this article, the authors Ian Harwood & Martin Edmunds explore bent Venetian viol fronts which relied on arched cross-bracing of the front. Certainly some food for thought.
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Fred Battershell » Mon Nov 12, 2018 5:17 pm

First, I'd like to thank Charlie for all of his help getting me back on here!! Now about the question of "authenticity" of stave bent viol fronts vs.carved fronts, I would like to mention an interesting article which appeared in the British journal Early Music(Oct 78) in this article, the authors Ian Harwood & Martin Edmunds explore bent Venetian viol fronts which relied on arched cross-bracing of the front. Certainly some food for thought.
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Re: Viol Fronts

Postby Fred Battershell » Mon Nov 12, 2018 5:18 pm

Oops!! Sorry for the double post!
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