A website for the serious amateur violin maker, restorer and tinkerer. A violin front and back (the plates) can be tuned using tap-tones. Use tap tones to adjust the 2 plates of a violin to get the best sound, the kind of sound you want, or make an instrument that is easy to bow.

This site has something for you if you are either making a violin or you want to improve  a low cost violin or viola.

By tuning the top & back plates you can get a good instrument that responds well to the bow and that can sound like a £1500 instrument.

post-25136-1224022475 Strad back graduation V1.1 smll1
tapping belly 2 sml

All you can ATE!

 A is for Arching,

  T  is for Taptones, &

    E  is for Edgework.

harrison_strad_belly
harrison_strad_back

‘Harrison’ Stradivarius violin plate thicknesses

email: webmaster @platetuning.org

 Last updated:                                        1st. Feb. 2017                  Copyright  (C)                www.platetuning.org

BuiltWithNOF

Articles, Links, Books etc .......:

      Here are some very useful references and books I’ve found over the last few years on tap tones and violin making in general:-

  Firstly there is a fantastic new site called   makingtheviolin.com created and managed by Vojtech Blahout.  He introduces the site by writing ...

    “The purpose of this guide is to give basic information about violin making. The aspiring violin maker will have the opportunity to build an instrument from start to finish with the help of step by step tutorials accompanied by drawn images. 
        To make the best of the electronic format, all the images you will find here are in vector graphic format SVG, drawn to exact real world dimensions. At every step of you building experience you can print out the schematics and plans and use them in direct comparison with what you have at hand. The SVG graphic format is supported by most modern browsers and editable by the free Inkscape
          My goal was to build a site that would give starting points for those interested in building violins. This by no means makes the site complete. More information will be added and I encourage anyone who feel they might be able to contribute to do so, either by commenting on the pages, or sending their contributions to me at vojtech.blahout@gmail.com. All additions will be duly credited. 
            Together, we can make this site a rich, structured information source on violin making.
                   Enjoy your stay,  Vojtech Blahout”

   Vojtech has made available full size drawings you can print out on your printer at full size  (using Scaled Vector Graphics) and provides a great resource for violin maker beginners and more.

   Construction of a violin by Hans Johannsson. The essential sizes and dimensions of violins and violas.  Wikipedia has an article on violin construction.

Have a look at  Fiddletree’s story of just how a violin was made by Otis Thomas.

Acoustics for Violin Makers by Erik Jansson. This is a key reference work on acoustics and the violin: and it’s free! He used to work with Carleen M Hutchins (CAS) and really knows his stuff. He also gives suitable thicknessing patterns for both front and back plates and the key stuff on acoustics.

There are interesting papers by John E. McLennan (of UNSW) where he describes the process of making the violin and taking measurements of Mode 2, 5 and also Mode 1 from the start.

David Langsather violin maker. A remarkable man, and a fascinating website, showing how a violin is made in his workshop in full detail. He uses tuning, but uses mostly his ear, and tunes everything. Some useful hints too on using UV or sun light to raise the tone of a plate.

Patrick Kreit has recently published his book “The Sound of Stradivari.  This book (€ 372 post free) links the Mode 5 frequencies of the 2 plates to the resonant  modes of the violin body step by step. It will enable any violin maker who is prepared to embrace technical measurements of resonant frequencies, wood weights and densities with his skills in violin making to make world-class sounding violins every single time. You will have to buy some very good wood to do it though!

He says that :-

  • You have to know the Moisture Content (MC) of the wood you are working with all the time, and he shows how to keep the wood from acting like a sponge whenever there is moisture about.
  • He shows how to turn a block of spruce or maple into a belly or back that has the absolute minimum weight to give the 340 to 350 Hz  Mode 5 of belly and back plates.
  • He tells us that the sound, dynamics and clarity of a solo-grade violin, Strad or Guarnerius model, is based on the exact frequencies and the ‘deltas’ between the B1+, B1-   and A1 body modes, and also on the frequencies of the A0, and the B0 and CBR (C2) modes. These are derived all from the plates’ Mode 5 frequencies, the volume of air in the violin and the area of the f-holes.
  •  == ==>   So to see if it worked for me I modified a 40-year old, very cheap Chinese ‘Skylark’ violin to put the Mode 5 frequencies of the belly and back plates where Patrick said they should be, and with their Mode 2’s an octave below. This ‘Skylark’ is now the best sounding and easiest to play violin I have among my 12+ violins, which go up to ~$2.5k each.

               So I will use Patrick Kreit’s work, based on his experience of over 36 years of violin making to improve all the violins I work on.

Mode tuning for the violin maker  by by Carleen M. Hutchins and Duane Voskuil. Rather an advanced paper, but if you can understand it, it covers all the basics!

Martin Schleske: Master Studio for Violin making. A, or rather the leading authority on the acoustics of violins and making ‘acoustical copies’.

A Physicist in the World of Violins by William Atwood. A good basic introduction to the awkward relationship of craft and science.Peter Coombe: his workshop, and a very good article on Mandolin plate tuning.

    Showing how Peter visualises the plate modes using tea leaves - well actually sawdust, but I do like the idea of reading  tea leaves. I fully agree with what Peter says about getting the basics - arching, construction and so on right. Plate tuning increases the likelihood of getting a good tone from an instrument that has perhaps taken 100+ hours!  Also have a look at MandoVoodoo ( ! ).

Here’s Dr. Nigel Harris’s article

Nelle Doak O'Neill, Luthier of Carson Valley, Nevada: showing Mode 2 pattern in a belly/top plate.

James Beatley (in Ireland) shows the patterns of both Modes 5 and 2 in a violin back [plate]..

Roche Violins . Making a violin - some pictures and text, but incomplete to date.

Oberlin Acoustics. Here is access to some of the important articles on violin making from the last decade. All free.

Violin Society of America (VSA) has stuff.

Sound Animation: Six Modes of a completed violin animated that can hurt your brain.

“Path through the woods”  Strad Magazine article on the great ‘del Gesł’ violins. Plate thicknesses given.

Bridging the Divide” article by Joseph Curtin (Cambridge). Offering some help on bridge cutting. Have a look at the excellent papers on Joseph Curtin’s website here, which will include 1 on installing bassbars  soon.

Luthiers Library . Important violin dimensions, thicknesses and photos of Strads, Stainers, Amatis, etc. Some stuff available as a ‘guest’, but membership is $45/year to get at it all.

The Pegbox:  online forum(s) that include quite a lot of people being rude about plate tuning.  Have a look here at one discussion thread on Dr. Harris’s work on plate stiffnesses.

Michael Allen near Cork, Ireland shows how to use and make some special tools for a recent violin. The Safe-T-Planer ($50) looks specially good is no longer on sale alas. He uses a Dremel hand-router to cut the purfling groove. Note that ‘music-1982’ used a  ‘dremel +  a fixture’ to cut the purfling groove, with a photo of it to be found here.

Mowry Strings also uses the Safe-T-Planer in a drill press to carve the external contour profiles of a mandolin back, which is very like a violin front or back. This is an alternative to using hand gauges for carving.

Have a look at David Ouvry’s ‘Construction’ page. He’s a fine violin maker near Charlbury, Oxon, UK, and he uses Chladni’s tap / plate resonance methods to improve violin tone. Instruments from £3k ($6k) upwards.

 Simon Stace is also a fine violin maker based near Witney.

There’s also “The Violin Site” which has a violin making page. It’s a site for violin teachers, students and performers.

Doing it by machine

And here is how a front and back plate of violin or viola is carved or rather copied by a machine .....  a violin, and a viola, and a scroll. A plate can be copied in 1 hour to nearly finished for about $3000 for the carver- copier.

Dictionary of Violin Makers - Reference

    Here is part of J.M. Fleming’s  “The Fiddle Fanciers Guide” published 1892, “Classical & Post-Classical Violin Makers Part 1”, and “Classical & Post-Classical Violin Makers Part 2, and also “Bow Makers” of course only up to 1892.

     These are courtesy www.archive.org at  Cornell University Library

Friends, good blokes:

    Becky and Jonathan Springall mend and sell violins at Devon Strings in Exeter, Devon (UK) and their website is here. You can get some idea of their skill with this ‘cello repair!    Quentin Playfair’s contact detailDr. Nigel Harriss in Canada are here. All outstanding craftsmen craftspersons and tutors.

Article on Dr Nigel Harris   from Canterbury, New Zealand.

 Guys who recommend Dr. Harris’s violins:

    Have a look at at the www.violinist.com,  The Enso Quartet plays on a matched set of instruments by London-based luthier, Nigel Harris. I really  like their version of one movement from the Ravel String quartet on MySpace.

Recommended Books:

“The Technique of Violin Making” by Harry Wake: His books are way out of date now (1970’s), but this remarkable man could write in a wonderful way about how to make your first violin: makes you want to go and do it now.

    It has plans (in inches), and all the basic stuff, and is quite keen on measuring the weights of everything (especially the plates) and setting weight targets.  Get it.  Quite hard to find in the UK, but quite a few to be had in the USA. Here is his grandson’s website, where the books and DVDs can be bought. Harry Wake founded the SCAVM 40 years ago: some good stuff here too.

Violin Making: A Guide for the Amateur by Bruce Ossman (2000), and there’s a new second edition out now (2010).

     I like Bruce’s very practical approach (2000 edition) but there are a lot of compromises to keep the cost of special tools to an absolute minimum. In particular, he uses the same arching for belly and back and there’s no need to do so at all.  The belly should have a ‘table’ top shape while the back should have a rounder arch.   He suggests too that the garland (bouts + blocks) is detached from the form or mold before the front or back are glued on: risky. It can easily get damaged and is prone to warping too when on its own. A simple thicknessing gauge is easy to make: I’d suggest making one, and then using it to help when tuning those plates!

    You may need someone with know-how to answer questions that arise as you go along, such as on grain orientation. You can get the book for about £10/$15.

“Violin - Making: as it was and is” by Ed. Heron-Allen. Published 1885-6, some 123 years ago. Can be got in various versions, hard or soft-back for £15 ($30) upwards. Fortunately GoogleBooks have scanned in all of it, and it is available here as a .pdf file etc.

    This classic book on (Victorian) violin making has been in print most of that 123 years. Ed. Heron-Allen studied with one of the Georges Chanot’s, and published much of this material in ‘practical magazine’ form originally.  It has fold-out plans for violins with arching, thicknessing and external and internal moulds, and lots of stuff on history. References are to books of 150 years ago! Written in somewhat verbose and florid late-19C English (with a smattering of Latin), there are some contradictions and mistakes (especially on belly tap tone frequencies), but do get a copy. It is also avail. here

Amazingly, re-reading it the other day I found a reference to Modes 2 and 5 tap tones visualised using sand, and a rosined bow drawn across the edge of the plate to excite the modes. This is on pages 132-133. He refers to Mode 2 as the “normal tone”, and believe it or not, refers to “nodal lines” in the tech. footnote on page 133. As a reality check, this is from 123 years ago. What’s new under the sun?

“You can Make a Stradivarius” by Joseph  V. Reid (1955). Dates from Noah’s time, but fun. A classic: show it to a luthier and watch him* throw toys out of his* cot. Used as a reference by some - someone I feel a kinship with too ......

Henry Strobel’s books on violin, viola and cello making are well known.

    Highly recommended both for starters and the very experienced. They are at the violinman’s store too. In  Violin Making: Step by Step  ($30) he gives good basic info on tap tones, but frustratingly does not give the weights of plates, front and back. It would be particularly interesting to know the weight of the light (low density) Engleman Spruce he used for a belly. Some of this type of spruce can be 0.30 gm/cc rather than European spruces at around 0.45 gm/cc !

Sacconi’s book on Stradivarius’ violins called “The Secrets of Stradivari”. Get the paperback version: a must have. Try here too: about 120 Euro / £90 / $160.

“The Art of Violin Making” by Courtnall and Johnson. Get it. THE reference on everything for me, and it is less than £50 in hardback.

“The Art of Tap Tuning” by Roger H. Siminoff: $25 to $35 for the book with its DVD.  Mr. Siminoff is coming from a quite different direction, but his work is practical and inspirational. He has an enormous amount of experience. He recommends setting up instrument plates in the bouts or with the plate edges held on a frame: this is much more like the conditions found in an actual instrument.  And there’s a chapter on tap tones in his “Ultimate Bluegrass Construction Manual” too.

Violin Making Schools

I’m a real fan of Juliet Barker and her wonderful team at Cambridge Violin Makers, ‘The Violin Workshop’, not surprisingly in Cambridge, UK. I spend a week each summer there (when money allows) trying to make a viola from scratch. What Juliet doesn’t know about fiddle (and viola) making could be written on a postage stamp. She has published a superb book :”Violin Making a Practical Guide”, and “The Violin Explained” by James Beament is a useful handbook on the physics of violins too.

Hardangers ........

The Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, with its 8 strings is a fiddle with its own unique and haunting tone, a leftover from the days of mediaeval instruments with sympathetic strings: have a look here at some hybrids .

* Oh for more hers.

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And finally bit of wittering .......... 

Lastly, I suspect that deep down we all want violin tone to be the result of the knowledge, that touch of a really special secret magic that only the luthier knows, passed down by his father, and his father’s father before him, not to be the result of some new technology or formula. We want living wood fibres not carbon fibre.

In an article in the NY Times (Nov’06) Andrew C. Revkin called “String Theory: New Approaches to Instrument Design”  Joseph Curtin is quoted as saying “There’s a kind of a nervousness that the mystery will go out of it, the bubble will be pricked and it’ll all just be ordinary. It’ll be technology. There’s almost a cultural sense that the violin is the last repository of mystery. The fact that we don’t understand the violin adds to its allure.”

  There was an article of interest too in The Times about ‘online amateurism’:  I really do hope that I’m not contributing. At least most of the weblinks on this site are to other sites!

  So many "experts" with so little expertise!  I quote “ Professor Brabazon’s concerns echo the author Andrew Keen’s criticisms of online amateurism. In his book The Cult of the Amateur, Keen says: “To-day’s media is shattering the world into a billion personalised truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile.”  Lord, keep us from the ordinary.

    Jonathan.        ----------------------

    My friend’s wife left him last Thursday; 

    She said she was going out for a pint of milk and never come back.

    I asked him how he was coping.

    He said   'Not too bad, I've been using that powdered stuff'.

                                                  ----------------------

    Earl and Bubba are quietly sitting in a boat fishing, chewing tobacco and drinking beer when suddenly Bubba says, "Think I'm gonna divorce the wife. She ain't spoke to me in over 2 months."

    Earl spits overboard, takes a long, slow sip of beer and says, "Better think it over.............women like that are hard to find."                                                 ----------------------