Book Review: How To Make A Violin

How To Make A Violin, by John Broadhouse, with Violin notes by Ole Bull

Being a person whose skills in mechanical crafts is so modest as to be practically nonexistent, I think it unlikely that I will ever achieve to the level of excellence in woodcrafting that is required to make a good violin. On the other hand, this is a book that gives the lie to those who would think that woodcrafting would be an art lacking in intelligence, as the reader of this book who desires to make profit from this book in his own instrument making would also require enough knowledge of Euclid’s geometry to appreciate the sound design principles present in this book as well. It is a practical book, but it is a work that indicates a subtle understanding of the material factors that influence acoustics and also in the material properties of wood and varnish, for example. Published originally by Lowe and Brydone Printers in London in 1900, this book discussed what was likely a rare art in its times, and is even more so now, but is still of profit not merely for antiquarian means but for its attention to quality and to the tools and expertise needed to make by hand a beautiful and elegant violin (or viola, although it would have to be somewhat larger, and this book does not discuss violas specifically at all).

In terms of its contents, this book runs about 150 pages or so, and is organized in a very practical way. After a short introduction, the author discusses the parts of a violin, the selection of wood (maple and pine among the several types of wood chosen for different parts of the instrument), the hand tools required, the models to be found from Stradavarius, Guarnerius, Amati, and Maggini, as well as the mold (mould in the book’s British English) that is used to connect the various parts of the violin together. Afterwards the author discusses, in turn, the construction of the side-pieces and side-linings, the back, the belly, the thickness of the back and the belly, the bass bar, the purfling, the neck, the fingerboard, the nut and the tail-piece nut, several chapters on varnishing and polishing and the material of varnish to be used to best imitate the master. The author strongly condemns those who try to make a new instrument look old by fraudulently tampering with the varnish, but advises the ambitious amateur violin-maker to seek to mimic the way that the best Italian violins were made to better create a lasting instrument of value. At the end of the book there is a mathematical outline of constructing the outline for the instrument as well as remaining accessories of the violin by Ole Bull, which include a discussion on creating excellent heavy bows, which seem to be a matter often neglected by contemporary instrument makers, as they require greater strength to play but allow for more passionate and precise playing.

So, what kind of person would read this book? A book like this, rescued from oblivion, is of interest primarily to two audiences. One is the sort of audience made of those who are skilled in working with wood, and who have an interest in creating beautiful musical instruments for themselves or for others, or even for occasional sale. I once had a friend who made nylon-stringed acoustic guitars with the same end in mind that a maker of violins according to the author’s method would possess, namely a skill for quality, and a love of working with wood and creating practical objects of beauty that created glorious music. These readers would likely gain the most practical insight from this book and the obvious technical expertise of the author as they possess the skills to follow the author’s instructions or supplement them with their own insights gained from reading and practice. The other audience of this book consists of people who play such instruments and have an eye for quality as musicians [1], as a way of appreciating the work of a master given their own mastery of string instruments. For such an audience as this, this book is likely too technical to be of immediate and practical benefit, but is still of interest because those who desire to play the best instruments possible ought to have at least some knowledge of how such glorious instruments are beautifully and skillfully made, even if such people may lack those skills to make such instruments by their own hand.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Music History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: How To Make A Violin

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Robinson Method Of Breeding Squabs | Edge Induced Cohesion

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