If you’ve ever wondered how a luthier manages to put together all of the elements that go into creating a perfect violin, then wonder no more. We’re going to tell you.
First, you’ll need some aged wood: maple for the violin’s back, ribs and neck, and spruce for the top of the violin. As a soft wood, spruce vibrates more easily. Ideally the wood should have been aged twenty years but five is cheaper and will do fine.
The luthier will cut the wood into two triangular sections and glue them together so that the grain is mirrored on each side.
The surface is evened with a small plane and the violin-maker traces the shape of the violin onto the wood before cutting it out. The wood is shaped with a plane no larger than a thumb so that it slopes evenly down from the center.
The violin-maker than cuts a groove around the circumference of the wood and fills it with purfling, a thin sandwich of hardwood that adds to the look but which also stops any cracks in the edges of the violin from spreading.
The front of the violin is formed in a similar way and production moves onto the ribs. The luthier soaks thin strips of sycamore or maple then uses a heated iron to bend them into shape before gluing them around a mold. Luthiers typically use violin molds based on Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati violins. If you’re going to create something new, you may as well model it after the best!
A Big Stack Of Violin Wood
The glue is left to dry for four hours then removed from the mold and glued to the back of the violin. A support bar is attached to the underside of the front of the violin, and this too is glued to the frame with the entire body clamped into place until the glue has dried.
The neck and the scroll of the violin are hand-carved from a solid piece of maple, then they too are glued to the body.
The fingerboard is a strip of ebony, and is attached to the violin before holes for the tuning pegs are drilled. The luthier will then add four or five coats of varnish and polish to create a shiny finish, and only then insert the soundpost, a small wooden stick that conducts sound and helps to support the structure of the violin. The soundpost is wedged into place, the strings are strung and finally, the bridge is inserted, held in place by the pressure of the strings.
Altogether, including the bow, the luthier will use about 70 pieces of wood to make the violin.
To unmake it, you can just leave the violin exposed to changes in heat and humidity. The wood will shrink or buckle, the glue will crack and the violin will come apart. It’s a lot easier and a lot faster than making one.