MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!

This is it. The Quartet was finally done, perfected and finished about three weeks ago and Yonatan presented it at the VSA (Violin Society of America) Competition in Cleveland, Ohio. Yes, that was our pressing deadline, although we didn’t want to say anything specific so as not to jinx it…. It was all done in time, but at the very last moment. The instruments were finished only days before the competition, and Yonatan gave them to some terrific young Israeli musicians that he knows, who played them intensively before they were sent to the competition. Actually “sent” is not the right verb here, because Yonatan flew to the US carrying the four instruments with him – on one shoulder he carried a special case in which the two violins fit together, on the other shoulder he carried a case with the viola, and he also carried the cello with him on the plane, paying an additional full ticket so the cello could literally sit next to him throughout the cross-Atlantic flight.

Here is the Quartet packed and ready to go:

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Anyway – as you can imagine the last few weeks were hectic to say the least, and in fact we were so busy with freeing up as much time as possible for Yonatan to work, to make sure the instruments are ready and perfect on time, that only during the last couple of days before he left we started to actually get excited over the fact that the competition has arrived… And then it really hit us – a full year of intensive, painstaking work has come to an end, and this challenging, almost impossible Quartet project was actually realized.

So Yonatan went to the competition. To make a long story short (and to save you the tension that we went through until that entire week was done and the competition was over), he didn’t bring back any medals…apparently the VSA Competition is an extremely complex and intricate business and you really have to participate at least once to even understand what the rules of the game are and what you need to do to in the future. However, as disappointing as this initially was, the Quartet received good grades, got a lot of attention and compliments, and then the cello of the Quartet was sold on the spot – which as we all know is the ultimate compliment for a violin maker!

And that’s it. Yonatan came home with the three smaller instruments and they will probably soon also go their separate ways…

But before this happened we took one last picture of our “four kids”, and here they are:

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What an amazing, unforgettable year this has been! In parallel to the Quartet Project we bought a house for the first time in our life, renovated it and moved to a new community, put three kids into a new school and two new kindergartens… and wrote this blog:)

So now we go back to a calmer, more ordinary routine – although knowing us, I’m sure we’ll come up with a new challenge. Personally, writing this blog was a truly terrific experience. I wrote my first entry almost exactly 11 months ago. I just reread it, and it seems to me as if it was more like a decade ago that I wrote those words. So much has happened since! Between the pressures and pleasures of life – two jobs, three kids, varying number of animals in the house, family, friends, Israeli politics, house renovations, moving and, you know, LIFE – it was at times a real challenge finding the time, the energy and the peace-of-mind to write. But I truly enjoyed it and maybe I’ll still write from time to time. But this project is over for me too, and following the construction of Yonatan’s stringed Quartet is now done.

I hope you enjoyed this at least as much as I did. And don’t worry – Yonatan already started to work on a brand new violin… you can check it all out in his website!

So long, and thanks for following (and for all the fish)!!!

Avivit Hai

Kiryat Tivon, Israel

Finishing Touches – a picture post

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We spent the entire day yesterday in Yonatan’s workshop, with our kids, my sister’s family and various friends dropping by, watching with fascination as the last violin of the quartet was being finalized and fitted with the setup. YES, things have moved very quickly and three out of the four instruments – the viola first, then the cello and then one violin – are already playing! (read through the end of this post for a special surprise…).

While the kids ran around, played and generally made as much noise, mess and joy as kids can, Yonatan worked all day on the finishing touches for the last violin. This included polishing the varnish, fitting and gluing the finger board, and fitting the setup (or Montatura in Italian). The montatura is the final phase of construction, when the instrument’s body is finished and varnished and the violin maker needs to add the “accessories” that will make this a playing instrument – the bridge, the sound post and the strings.

So as I have done before, instead of tediously describing this phase for you, here is a picture post to show you how much work goes into the so-called “finishing touches”.

First, Yonatan put a lot of work into polishing the violin, by pouring special oil over it and then, gently and thoroughly, going over every facet, cranny and nook in its entire surface with a soft cloth in order to smooth away the tiny brush strokes and arrive at an even more uniform, glowing, radiant polish:

Then came the fingerboard, which Yonatan already worked on earlier in the process, but removed to varnish the violin. Now, it had to be fitted exactly to the neck of the instrument, and since it’s made of ebony, it produces very special blackish trucioli (wood shavings, remember?) that look like little slivers of dark chocolate.

Once the fingerboard was glued and Yonatan had his mandatory espresso coffee🙂, he moved on to fitting the holes for the pegs:

I don’t know about you, but watching him turn that special “sharpener” in the holes and take out more wood after the entire instrument is already perfect and varnished, made me hold my breath – what if anything went wrong NOW?

But Yonatan’s hands never wavered and he then moved to another delicate step – inserting and fitting the violin’s sound post (or anima – meaning soul). He shaved this small wooden post one miniscule layer at a time, until it fit exactly between the instrument’s front and back, holding upright with no glue but also without too much pressure. Since the violin is already closed at this phase, inserting the “anima” is done by using a special metal instrument and peeking through the “f” hole:

Then the bridge of the violin – which comes in rough form – was cut, shaped and fitted to the instrument….

… and the last phase is putting the strings on the instrument. This was already done on the other three instruments, but Yonatan couldn’t finish the last violin yesterday with our three kids, my sister’s three kids, and our friends’ multiple kids running around, wanting to use his special brushes to glue together the little scraps of wood that he keeps in a special box for them, wanting to eat, drink, paint, show him the little kitten they found in the yard etc etc…(the good news is that my sister’s talented husband Eyal was also there, and you therefore got these really professional pictures – check out his website for more: http://www.eyalg.com/gallery/index.php?showimage=85 ).

AND NOW – in a special unplanned premier – here is a link to a video of the Maayan Trio playing Beethoven Piano Trio , op.70 nr.2 Allegretto, with Yonatan’s instruments. What happened was that he came to hear them recording and brought the new quartet cello with him, and on a whim they decided to make a recording with this brand new cello.  Enjoy!

Varnishing – between science, artisanship and myth

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By now all four instruments are complete – all bodies are closed, all scrolls have been carved and inserted, and Yonatan went through all of them once more, applying final touches with his most precise instruments where needed. Now comes another important and magical stage – varnishing!

The varnish plays an extremely important role in the final outcome of the stringed instrument, as it provides necessary protection for the wood over the many years the instrument will be playing. Of course the varnish also gives the violin special colors and adds that beautiful, shiny glow. As was the case with other crucial steps, varnishing is where the violin maker’s artisanship – knowledge, sure hand, sensitive eye, and patience … that illusive quality once again – really shine. And I mean literally SHINE.

For the Quartet Yonatan decided to use an oil varnish which of course he makes himself. In fact, looking at him making that varnish, and even hearing him talk about it, make me think of a combination between a science project – – and a type of witchcraft…. He uses materials produced by far-away trees, dyes extracted from snails and beetles, and boils turpentine or alcohol to incredibly high temperatures, making them bubble, fume and change their colors… you get my drift🙂

Here, for example, is what his workbench looks like when he varnishes:

Anyway, as he explained it to me, oil varnishes are harder to control when applying on the instruments, but they have the advantage of being extremely beautiful if properly prepared and applied. As is true for much about hand-made instruments, and true for Yonatan’s Quartet, the varnish is still prepared much in the same way as it has been for the last 350 years – from natural rosins, turpentine and dyes. You know how some violins are yellowish, some reddish-brown, others are orangey or even almost cherry-red? Well, usually these are the dyes that make the difference, but it can also be the type of varnish used. Yonatan especially likes to use oil varnish as it allows him to varnish the instruments without using dyes at all (!) Varnishing without dyes may sound as impossible as painting without colors, but that’s not the case at all. What he does is use a combination of very dark rosins, and then he boils them for a very long time so that they become darker still. This way he uses but a few coats of varnish, and with the preparations the wood went through – tanning in the ultra violet light as well as a few other steps that we’ll keep as a professional secret – the instruments become yellowish, then golden, and finally a rich, deep, beautiful golden-brown. The really cool thing about the oil varnish is that at the end of the process the color it produces is at once rich and potent, while also being transparent to allow the play of the wood’s natural grain to clearly show:

As you can see from the pictures, Yonatan is now working on all four instruments simultaneously, varnishing one, and while the varnish is drying, varnishing the others. Making the varnish from scratch on his own and working with natural substances only, Yonatan can only control the final shade of the varnish to a certain extent. As with Nature more generally – much is out of his hands as the varnish takes a life of its own (especially since, if you Constant Reader remember, the sound boards of the four instruments are made from different pieces of spruce tree, although the rest of them is from that famous single maple trunk).

Is it a wonder that so many myths exist around varnishes in general and those of Stradivari more specifically? There are just so many variables here – the rosins, the temperature, the dyes, the quantities, the boiling time, the number of varnish coats (“mani“, meaning “hands” in Italian) used, etc. etc. etc., that it almost begs a myth of the perfect, secret, untold receipt that would make the perfect violin.

Unfortunately, we don’t believe in myths.

We have come a really long way and are in the final stretch of this amazingly ambitious – and inspiring – project (well, inspiring to me at least…). Here they are, all four “kids” as we have come to call them:

but wait! Because we are also at the end of our rope as far as time goes. Mere weeks away from the deadline, Yonatan still has a lot of work to accomplish before the instruments are actually played. Stay with us and keep your fingers crossed🙂

The Magical Chiocciola (scroll)

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As promised last time, I am moving backwards in time from the “incastro” phase… to describe one of my favorite sections of the violin making process – the scroll, which in Italian is called “chiocciola“, (pronounced kyo-cho-la)meaning “snail”.

This is maybe the most obviously impractical part of the stringed instruments – it has nothing to do with the instrument’s strength, sound or playability. However, in addition to becoming one of the violin’s trademarks, the scroll is the place where the violin maker can really express her or himself. I’m sure that for most of you, like for me, most of those curly “snails” at the end of the instruments’ neck look about the same. Oh how wrong you are!

There are endless intricacies, variations, proportional differences and three-dimensional improvisations that go way beyond what we mortals are able to see – scrolls can be delicate or heavy, protruding or relatively flat, with a big or small “eye” (center), flowing downwards or upwards…. And these oh-so-subtle differences make the scrolls of each violin maker uniquely his. Not only that – the scrolls are one of the places that experts in violin evaluation look to decide whether this particular instrument is, in fact, a really valuable antique or whether it’s just the old, used instrument you happened to find in your grandparents’ attic, and wildly hoped that maybe, just maybe, you had stumbled across a long-lost Stradivari….

Since I am far from being one of those experts, I want to share with you what I find so magical about the scrolls: it’s Yonatan’s ability to three-dimensionally-imagine the perfect curve of the snail figure, and then to actually take a block of raw maple wood and turn it into that perfect, totally symmetrical, completely flawless, flowing form. Honestly – I still have trouble drawing a good two-dimensional circle… so seeing this process amazes me time and again. And thus, without further ado, I turn the stage over to pictures that will much better describe this amazing process:

Cutting the raw block of wood into the initial scroll form:

Further cutting it with a saw:

…and using a chisel to begin the three-dimensional work:

Then cutting again with a saw:

And beginning to slowly, patiently, sculpture the scroll, based on nothing but the eye’s perception and evaluation:

Then going round and round to deepen the curves and perfect them:

Then gently shaving and smoothing the edges:

Then working on the back side of the scroll:

Until finally there’s a perfect, flowing, almost sensuous, curvy chiocciola:

Need I say more? Pure Violin-Making Magic🙂

Inserting the instruments’ necks – backwards….

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Remember how in my last post, two weeks ago, I wrote about the instruments tanning in the special UV closet? Well, by now they are all nice and tan (lucky them – no sticky sun lotion, no sand in their hair, no worries about skin cancer …. just an air-conditioned studio with their very-own UV closet!). All four are ready for the final phase of construction – inserting the necks into the bodies.

But wait – first the neck of each instrument needs to be created – that is sculptured from a new piece of maple wood, taken from the very same huge, old maple tree from which the sides and backs of the four instruments were created. That same maple tree that tickled my romantic glands and got me to start writing this blog to begin with…

Unfortunately, Yonatan was so immersed in preparing the neck of the cello, that he forgot to photograph the process for me, and by the time I realized this nearly-unforgivable sin, the neck of the cello was all but finished, the fingerboard already glued and ready to be inserted into the body. But – not to worry! As with all the other phases before, we have three more instruments to go, and three more times that this process will repeat itself. So what I’ll do, if you don’t mind (and even if you do, actually), is to describe the process backwards, starting from the insertion process, and next time going back to show how the neck and fingerboard were created. OK?

So first, here is a picture of the cello neck already prepared, with the necks of the three smaller instruments following it like little ducklings after their mother :) You can see how the smaller necks were only cut in rough form the block of maple wood.

Apparently, inserting the neck into the body of the instrument –a process which as always has a much better name in Italian: “incastro” (with accent on the “ca“) – may seem like a technical step. However,  it’s actually one of the more decisive factors that influence the sound of the complete instrument. Way back when Stradivari and other 17th century builders built their violins, they used to connect the neck with nails to the instrument, in a way that created a very wide, almost flat angle between the neck and the body. Gradually, as the violin progressed and modernized, this changed: the neck now connects to the body via a combination of physics and glue (more below) and the angle has become sharper. In fact, as Yonatan explained it to me, numerous variables must be considered by the violin maker when implementing the “incastro” so as to make sure that, when the strings are placed along the neck and on the bridge of the instrument, the right balance will be struck. What balance? You may ask, as I did. Well, it’s a balance between the quality of the sound and the volume of the sound; between a “muddy”, impotent sound, and a sound that’s too tightly wound, lacking harmony and warmth, and-so-on-and-so-forth…

Wow. So now that we got all our history straight, we can follow the process by which the neck was inserted into the body. As with other processes before (such as when the two parts of the soundboard were glued together) the neck must fit exactly, perfectly, into the body. So again, Yonatan tried to fit it, then shaved off another miniscule layer of wood, tried again, checked if the fit is really perfect, and shaved off yet another sliver – – until it was really, absolutely, uncompromisingly perfect. The neck’s part that must enter the body is trapezoid shaped, becoming narrower towards the end (left hand side in this picture), but also trapezoid shaped in its other dimension – wider towards the instrument and becoming narrower on the outside. Like so:

Get it??? It’s what carpenters call “dove-tail”, or more simply put – it looks like a wedge.

Apparently, this “double trapezoid” shape creates a very tight, perfect and strong fit, so that once it’s glued into place, the shape itself helps keep the neck in place.

Alas, that’s not all there is too it. Now enters the variable of the angle of the neck and fingerboard vis-à-vis the bridge. To make sure the angle is right, and also that the fingerboard is exactly straight and doesn’t tilt to one direction, Yonatan connected the bridge to the cello with rubber bands, just to keep it in place, and then positioned the neck in exactly the right angle, right tilt, right height, right distance…. You get my point: this is a very difficult phase that again relies heavily on the eye and intuition of the violin maker.

Finally, here they are: neck and bridge perfectly aligned with each other, the neck can finally be glued into place – incastro completed.

What will happen in the next couple of weeks is that as soon as one instrument is finished, Yonatan will begin to varnish it, while working in parallel to finish the incastro on the next instrument and so forth.

Hopefully next week I can show you the process by which the rough neck of the viola becomes the beautiful, curvy spiral (or chiocciola, meaning “snail”) that to me is one of the most fascinating, impressive and, yes, mysterious steps in the violin making process.

Till then – have a great weekend!

Of Tanning in the Israeli Summer

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There are lots of things I didn’t know about violins before my husband became a violin maker. One of the most bizarre of them is that sometimes violins, violas and cellos get tanned before they are varnished. Yes – tanned as in a tanning salon.

But let me take a step back and give you an update on where we are with the Quartet: the bodies (or “casse” in Italian) of all four instruments have been closed, which is an important and exciting step. But as Yonatan explained to me yesterday over dinner, “there are phases in the violin-making process, in which it’s hard to see that real progress is made, but nonetheless a lot of work is required”.

“OK”, I thought to myself, “now he’s beginning to sound like a Zen-Buddhist…” out loud I looked at him and said “say WHAT?”.

“Well”, he said, “for example, after I close the body of an instrument, it would seem that work on it is finished. But actually there is still a lot of work to be done on the finishing touches that really create the perfectly-flowing, curvy lines of the hand-made instrument. I redo the “sguscia” (the indented line above the purfling all around the instrument’s contour), and shave very fine slivers off the instrument’s borders, rounding them further and making them more symmetrical and perfect still”. This, by the way, is not done with sandpaper – oh NO!! As I mentioned in an earlier post, sanding would scratch the surface of the instrument. So the entire, exact work of finishing the last details is done with a special, extremely sharp, gauge and with the scraper – one tenth of a millimeter (or less) at a time.

When the final touches on each instrument were completed, it went into the tanning closet. It’s like this – Yonatan had built a special, perfectly light-proof closet in his workshop, and placed extremely powerful ultra-violet lights in it. He hangs each instrument perfectly in mid-air, so that the lights can tan it evenly all around. It takes a number of days, but after tanning like this, the instruments’ wood acquires a beautiful golden color. This color will then serve as the background (or “ground“) for the varnishing process.

The instruments were placed in the tanning closet one after the other from mid-August onwards – first the cello, then the viola, then the first-violin, and finally, today, the second-violin. If you have ever had the misfortune to be in Israel during that time of year, you know it’s over 35 degrees Celsius most of the day, maybe dropping to a low of 30 at night (for all you Americans, that’s between 100 and 85 Fahrenheit…) with the sun beating on you like a hammer. So when I was tanning in the summer heat with the kids on the beach, the instruments had the ultra-violet light to tan them :)  Actually, this is exactly why the ultra-violet closet is used in the climate-controlled studio – the real sun around here is just too damn hot for the instruments. Boy, do I sympathize…

Here are a few pictures of the instruments tanning in Yonatan’s special closet:

Cello and viola ready:

Viola tanning:

Cello tanning:

All four instruments prepared:

Lights on!

Pretty cool, ha?

From Violin Maker to Carpenter – – and Back Again

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Almost two-and-a-half months. That’s how long I didn’t write. That’s how long I haven’t posted a new entry in this Violin Maker’s Wife blog. Where should I start now? I guess some explaining is in order, but also – it feels like I’m starting to blog all over again. Is such a hiatus even allowed in the blog world?

Anyway – what happened was this – we moved to a new house, finally our very own, at the beginning of August. That’s all. It’s really as mundane and as boring as that… Only it didn’t feel mundane nor boring. It felt like one of the most stressful and hectic periods of our life. And my blog is what fell through the cracks. Actually that’s not even true. What fell through the cracks was Yonatan’s poor quartet, which was almost put on hold for almost three months, while Yonatan used all his considerable talent and experience to oversee the construction of the house, and if that’s not enough, he also decided to do much of the woodwork himself. So instead of using the saws, scrapers and varnishes in his workshop for violin making purposes, he used them to restore, renovate and build some major wood-elements of our new home. Here you can see two of the six (!!) doors that he renovated, but he also prepared the butcher block that makes up half of our kitchen, built our son Itamar a new bed etc. etc.

It all came out extremely beautiful, and obviously much more exact and refined than doors or beds were ever intended to be, but I guess now you understand why there was basically no time to advance the quartet, and thus basically nothing for me to write about.

So – now our life has finally calmed down, the new house feels like a home, kids are all back to school and kindergartens, and work on the quartet has resumed, as has my blog…. I hope some of you have missed it at least half as much as I missed writing it🙂

So as a teaser for next week’s post, (which will deal with tanning, if you can believe it), here’s a picture from this week of the four instruments together. Looking at this picture I see that what I wrote was too pessimistic since Yonatan has actually managed to make quite a lot of progress during these past weeks: three of the instruments are closed and ready, while the last violin will be closed in the coming few days.

But now, we will begin the really hectic period: we have exactly one month to finish the entire quartet, so that it will be ready in time. The four necks have still to be prepared and fitted, all instruments need to be varnished, and all four setups need to be fitted as well.  It’s true that most of the work is behind us, but wow – doing all that in a single month will be one hell of a challenge!!

As a side remark, tomorrow is the Hebrew New Year.  So keep your fingers crossed and continue to follow us as we embark on the final stage of what is now already a 10-month process of Yonatan turning blocks of wood into four beautifully-hand-made, playing instruments, while I turn this amazing process of creativity  into…well… words!

One More Tale of a Double Bass

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This is my 20th post and I have to say I’m pretty satisfied with myself for having continued this far. I’ve never written before just for the pleasure of writing – it was always for work-related papers – and I’m having a great time writing this blog, and especially getting feedback from my readers (that’s YOU!).

Quartet newsflash – in addition to the cello and the viola, work on the soundboard and “f‘s” of one of the violins has been completed and Yonatan fitted the bass-bar and closed it a couple of days ago. As he is now doing the same thing, for the fourth time, on the last violin, I decided to dedicate this post to a story about a-hundred-years-old, run-down, broken double-bass Yonatan restored and brought back to life a couple of years ago.

It all started with Guy, an artists whose workshop is located behind that of Yonatan’s, and who creates furniture, home decorations and even showers from various pieces of… well…junk, that he collects. One day he came into Yonatan’s workshop and said he had found an old cello, and was thinking of turning it into a lamp. They often consult with each other – Yonatan and the other artisans – about woodwork, tools, varnish etc. So Yonatan said “sure, bring the cello over”. However, when Guy came back, it turned out that he was in possession not of a cello but of a double-bass… well, something that once upon a time, probably around the time the T-Rex walked the earth, was a double-bass…. What it really was at that point was junk – a wrecked, worm-eaten, moldy, broken, cracked piece of wood that had the general shape of an instrument.

I personally thought that even a lamp is a way-too-optimistic outlook for this piece of wood, and that it would best serve as bonfire material…. But Yonatan immediately saw the potential of this instrument, and convinced Guy to sell (!!) it to him.

The bass then remained in a corner of the workshop, until there was a slow period and, as Yonatan said “one day I looked at it and it looked at me… and I decided to see what could be done here”.

Let me tell you, for the next few months, whenever Yonatan had a quiet moment – between building a viola and a cello and doing various restoration jobs – he invested dozens, and dozens….and dozens… of hours to turn this wreck back into a playing instrument. Upon opening it he found a label that said the bass was produced around 1900 by Karl Hoffner, a company that still exists and is mostly known for its bass guitars, but still to this day produces serially made stringed instruments. The bass, as it turned out, was of a decent quality, better than those being serially made today.

So Yonatan started working on it, both to restore it and, in the process, to upgrade the instrument’s qualities, by working on the thicknesses of the sound board, creating and fitting a new bass bar and so forth.

To make a really, really long process short, Yonatan found that he was implementing every single restoration process, methodology and step he had ever learned or heard of. The soundboard required the greatest amount of work: first of all the contours of the instruments, where the purfling should be, were all rotten and eaten away, and had to be redone. This was amazing to watch as Yonatan has a special method of inserting new pieces of wood into the old ones as you can see here:

Then, on the inside, numerous cracks had to be fixed and closed – including two massive ones under the bass-bar and where the sound post (anima) should have been located. Normally, the existence of such cracks basically erases most of the value of a new instrument, but here they were just part of numerous problems…. Then a new bass-bar was put into place and a lot of extra wood was shaven off:

Many of the same processes had to be implemented on the sides and on the back, and then the entire instrument was glued back together. If you think that was it – well, forget it!

The neck of the double bass was broken in numerous places and apparently was fixed in the past by an amateur who caused even more harm to the peg box (where the tuning machine with which you tune the instrument is located). The easiest thing would probably have been for Yonatan to make a brand new peg box, but if you have been following this blog you know that’s not who he is. He worked for ten years in restoration of old buildings in Tel-Aviv and medieval castles in Italy – remember? So he took this broken, rotten, mutilated neck and peg box, inserted new wood – and new life – into them, and wrapped it up by performing one of the more labor-intensive procedures in violin restoration called “neck graft” in which a new neck is perfectly implanted into the old peg box.

Then, after he inserted the new neck into the closed instrument, he had to varnish the double bass as all the old varnish was long gone. Wait, not so fast. The new varnish needed to be put in a way that would completely hide the differences between the old, spotted, brown wood and the new, much lighter one. This meant that on each area of the instrument, a different color was used and a different number of layers of varnish was painted… until the entire instrument had the same tonality and you really couldn’t tell old from new.

Believe it or not, at the end of this amazingly laborious process, based as much on Yonatan’s faith as on his violin-building abilities, the double bass looked and played like a king. As Yonatan said, “it was sheer satisfaction to hear the instrument has come back to life and, when it played, it seemed to thank me for the work I invested and trust I had in it”. No wonder – the double bass now was way more Hai than Hoffner😉

If you want to see the entire documentation of this restoration process just click here and scroll down a bit.

To end this 20th post, as one of my readers wrote to me, I never actually introduced myself… so maybe now’s the time to do so: My name is Avivit – nice to meet you!!

Here’s the time also to ask you, what d’you think so far? Anything you especially like? Anything missing or annoying so far? I’ll be more than happy to know. Honestly🙂

Closing Two of Four Instruments

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By now it’s time to finalize a meaningful phase in the Quartet construction process – and finally close the “body” of each instrument. As you may remember, at the beginning of the process, Yonatan started with a wooden mold, on which he glued first the ribs and then the back of each instrument. Meanwhile, as I have told you, the sound boards of the cello and the viola have been constructed – including cutting the “f‘s” and reaching the exact “spessori” (thicknesses). But one step remains before the “body” of each instrument is closed. It’s an extremely important and very technical step – fitting in place and shaping the bass-bar (catena in Italian, read ka-tè-na).

What the hell is the bass-bar? Well, bear with me for a minute and imagine a violin…. you know how the strings all “sit” on a wooden bridge? So this bridge has two legs, each of which is supported from underneath (that is to say, from inside the violin – or from underground if you wish). The side of the bridge where the high strings are located is supported by the sound-post (anima), which I’ll get to at a later stage. The second leg of the bridge, where the bass strings are located, is supported – – you got it – – by the bass-bar.

This bar is actually a long, thin, curvy piece of wood that needs to be glued to the inside of the sound-board. Sounds simple? Well, it ain’t necessarily so… the bass bar needs to fit in a most exact manner to the arched underside of the sound board. It also needs to have exactly the right tension, be connected at exactly the right location, at exactly the right angle and about a dozen additional “exactlies” that are related to the properties of the wood, the model you picked, the violin-making school you follow and the-angle-of-sunlight-on-the-longest-day-of-the-year-in-the-equator… no, I guess everything but that last one.

So here is the bass bar of the cello being shaped:

Isn’t this last picture just great? This soon-to-be the interior of the instrument is by now so very smooth that it feels more like silk than wood…

When the bass-bar of the cello was glued into place and finally, patiently, perfectly fitted, Yonatan removed the wooden mold from inside the ribs and back (actually, he told me that he likes to keep the back of an instrument separate from the mold until the sound-board is finished so that he can flex both pieces of wood – one maple, one spruce, remember? – simultaneously, to feel if their thicknesses are perfect together. That someone can actually feel this by flexing pieces of wood is beyond my technologically-challenged imagination…)

Anyway – once the mold was removed and a few additional finishing touches were made (I’ve decided to spare you at least some of the technicalities…) the cello was ready to be closed, looking like this:

As I wrote a few weeks ago, the process of working on the sound-board, cutting the “f‘s”, fitting and gluing the “catena“, gluing the back into place, removing the mold and finally, finally closing the body was all completed first for the cello. This is important for Yonatan, as it allows him to concentrate on finishing the body of one instrument before moving on to the next.

Over the past two weeks Yonatan repeated the entire process with the viola – here is its bass-bar glued into place:

…and here is the entire Quartet, with the viola newly-glued (kinda’ like newlywed…) so still with the special clamps all around it, and the cello already closed and dry behind it.

Pretty cool how they are actually starting to look like instruments, right?

Now I have a question for you – what could be better than going to a concert and seeing Yonatan’s sister play one of his instruments on stage? I thought nothing could surpass that experience… until last night we went again to the same Rita concert where Galia plays a major part on the “Golden Viola” he had made especially for her. Apparently, one of the other musicians that has a major role – he plays a special Persian violin called Kamancheh – couldn’t come to that concert. Galia had to play his part too, and she did this on Yonatan’s violin.

Here’s a picture Galia took of both instruments just before the concert began…

As we summed up what was a truly breathtaking concert: Yonatan had two instruments and a sister on stage!!

Cutting the “f’s” Step By Step – A Picture Blog

As I wrote last time, we spent last Saturday at the Open Shabbat in the Artisans’ Compound at Kibbutz Ein Carmel, where Yonatan’s workshop is located.  There were not that many people, which was surprising  on such a beautiful summer day, but thanks to this Yonatan had some time to actually work. So while the kids kept busy – Itamar building a sword and shield from scrap pieces of wood with a friend of his who came along, Yaara creating “a vase” out of clay that our friend Michael gave her and Alona making as much mess as humanly (or rather “babily”) possible – he started cutting the “f’s” on the viola.

Instead of explaining the process in numerous words, I decided to show you the pictures I took while he worked. I think they tell the story more eloquently than I ever could …

First, he drilled a tiny hole to open the first “f“:

Then, he cut the general shape of the “f‘s” with a special, very think, hacksaw:

With extreme precision he cut around the edges of the “f“, leaving just a bit of wood on the inside of the line he initially drew:

…and then he repeated the entire process in the second “f“:

Then began the really challenging part – Yonatan went over the outline of both “f‘s” with a special, razor-sharp knife, until they became perfectly smooth:

…and that’s it!

One last word of advice – don’t try this at home, it’s not at all as easy as he makes it look🙂.

Have a great weekend!