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How Violins are made
The violin was developed in the fifteen hundreds, evolving from a series of guitar like instruments that musicians played with a bow. While the violin is best known for classical and gypsy music, today you hear it in pop, country, bluegrass, even jazz.
First they cut a piece of maple, then split it in half to expose the grain in mirror image. They melt down glue flakes made from animal hide, then bind the pieces together. Violin makers only use glue, never nails or screws. These pieces of wood will form the back of the violin. After four hours the glue is dry and they can remove the clamps. Using a small plane they even out the surface. Then they trace the violin’s shape and cut it out. They shave the surface, sculpting a downward slope from the middle using an even smaller plane. Then they carve a groove along the circumference. After dabbing it with glue, they insert what’s known as ‘Perfling”, a reinforcement made of hard wood, usually maple. Finally, they carve the reverse side to the right form and thickness. Next they make the sides of the violin, known as the ribs. First, they soak thin strips of maple or sycamore and press them against a heated bending iron to curve them. Then the glue the strips around the form, connecting them at the top and bottom, and at the corners with small blocks of wood.
They clamp everything together and let the glue dry for four hours. Next they glue thin strips of wood called counter ribs onto the edge of the ribs. This enlarges the surface, so that it’s easier to glue the ribs and the back together. They make the violin’s front, or belly, from a solid piece of spruce.
To the underside the glue a spruce support bar called the base bar. Sound escapes through the two curved slots called ‘F’ holes. They cut and carve out the violins neck and scrolled head from a piece of maple. Then they glue it to the body. They sculpt the finger board from ebony, a hard wood that’s durable enough to withstand centuries of violinist’s fingering. Using a tool called a peg hole ramer, they make holes for the ebony or rosewood pegs around which the strings are wound.
They coat the wood with four or five coats of varnish, depending on the colour. Then polish it with several coats of oil over several days, until the finish is shiny and silky smooth. Next they insert the sound post. This little cylinder conducts sound and supports the belly against bowing pressure, so it’s critical to position it in precisely the right spot between the belly and the back. It’s not glued, but rather wedged into place. The bridge isn’t glued either, it’s held in place by the pressure of the four strings, which they feed through the ebony tail-piece and wind onto the pegs. The bridge has little notches in which the strings sit.
The violin is finished.
They make the bow from horse hair and a high quality Brazilian wood called Pernumduko. The hairs are bound at one end with strong sewing thread, then burn them and seal them with wax to prevent fraying. This end goes into the ‘frog’, the wooden box at the bottom, or ‘heel’ of the bow.
They cover the ‘frog’ with a mother of pearl lining, then slip on a ring made of nickel, silver or gold to prevent the hairs from tangling.
Next comes the screw that controls the tension of the hairs. They comb the hairs to make them parallel. Then insert them into the tip of the bow, known as the head. They tighten the screw until the hairs are taught. Finally, they rub on rosin, a sticky pine tree resin that keeps the bow from slipping off the strings.
In the hands of a musician, the violin can produce a variety of sounds, either combined in an orchestra, or as an interesting solo instrument.