Thursday, March 29, 2012

Melina - Author vs. copyist!

There is a certain ambiguity of copying antique instruments that gave me some thoughts. The aim of imitating these old fellows is to obtain a natural look, something that has a story to tell, something fashionable and exciting, and having the pleasure of looking at it and discovering something curious every single time. So how can you get something natural by coping, wouldn’t that be the exact contrary of being natural? "Be an actor," Gregg once said. I think after studying and observing the old instruments, you get a feeling of how they used to work and what their approach was. You observe the tool marks, and try to imagine how they used them. Their methods were certainly not time wasting. Now if you have all this in your mind and reproduce the tools and the shapes they probably used, I believe it flows just naturally... 

Now how far can and do I want to go in copying? When does your personality stroke the other personality?  First of all, you want to have a healthy instrument, so functionality goes over beauty and sometimes beauty goes over copying, that is when your personality comes in. When I was doing the pegbox, we wanted to get the spirit of the shapes, but at the same time the stability and functionality of a new violin so that it can last for hundreds of years.

Another thing I was struggling with was the final shaping and the finishing surface. How much is too much? Which tool marks are a pleasure to see under the varnish and which not, how much smoothing would allow me to get a natural look without loosing my shape? What would look rough? What boring? Trying to follow a logical way of what would be aging over time. And because you are working on several pieces separately, you could sometimes forget that all these pieces will melt together as one in the end and want to match harmonically.
I had the feeling one wrong movement and all the spirit would be lost...but sometimes you just have to take the risk! 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Melina - Coffee and Violins Go Well Together!

Whether it's for violin ground, for retouch, or just for drinking (especially good with the muffins that Walt brings in), our ritual morning coffee is a good excuse to take a break and reflect on what you are doing. After time in the shop working, discussing, and sharing with others, it’s a nice way to get back to the real world after you’ve been in your concentration world; a world were you neglect all but the project on which you’re focused.

I love the smell of coffee and it fits just perfectly with the smell of wood, sometimes sweet, sometimes musty. When I left Italy, it seemed the only thing my friends were worried about was the coffee. "Poor Melina, you’ll miss Italian coffee. You’ll have a big cup of black water instead of an aromatic espresso!" Well, they were right. But it’s not bad at all, it’s just different. Don’t worry, dear friends; I’m doing just fine. Thankfully the shop coffee is great. Probably that is because we are all "buongustai" here and certainly that must help the violinmaking? Oh no... I think I just let slip out one of Alf Studios big shop secrets!!

Today I was going to make the arching templates of the Prince Doria. I thought it would be a fast process, but I was very wrong. I started to check the heights and they just didn’t concidere, so deformation is present....which is nothing really strange after 300 years of being in tension. But what now?

Usually, I would tend to correct the archings, get a symmetrical healthy shape, maintaining its  character. But what if that deformation plays a part in the sound typical for old instruments? Gregg says that everything matters.  Who could know if this instrument sounded good 300 or even 200 years ago? For all we know, such arching 'defects' may help the sound tremendously. Gregg mentioned that when deformation or sagging is removed in the bridge area of an ancient instrument, its characteristic sound is sometimes lost.  Would finding a compromise be a good idea?  Gregg asked me about copying the deformation but in reversed order from side to side. Then maybe that violin would have a perfectly symmetrical arching in 300 years. So much coffee ... so little time.

More later,