Building a Balsa Violin, pt 0

I know. I’m certifiably insane. The guy who came up with this idea and implemented it has a) roughly 45 years experience building violins b) has roughly 45 years experience building performance rowboats of similar design and c) comes from a family who has been building wooden boats for 60+ years. I, on the other hand, have a) a pile of balsa b) a couple of saws and c) far too few clamps (you can never have enough clamps).

Ok so with that out of the way, let’s get cracking. Let’s look at how violins are put together. Here’s the anatomy of a traditional violin:

What you have there is a fancy looking box, with a convex top and convex bottom. The main structural elements are the (from the bottom, clockwise) lower block, the four corner blocks (one in each corner), and upper block. This provides the bulk of the gluing surface and vertical strength. The top and bottom are carved from blocks of wood, and the top is ventilated with two f-holes, which provide flexibility to the soundboard. The bass bar provides reinforcement against the pressure of the strings, and also helps transmit vibrations to the outer reaches of the soundboard. The sound post provides reinforcement on the treble side of the bridge from the string’s pressure. It also dramatically effects tone, especially when your tonewood is balsa. Strangely, after coming from guitars, where people claim huge differences between mahogany and maple in the neck, apparently the violin neck, it’s materials, and how it’s attached has almost no bearing on sound quality. Shorter neck, higher pitch, shorter scale length might have something to do with that. A stratocaster neck weighs as much as an entire balsa wood violin.

So, the flat parts are easy, the ribs are just flat pieces bent from corner block to end pin to corner block. The trick to the tops is to make them curved, typically with compound curves. So we start off with a block of foam, shape it in the general size of a violin, and add convex curves:

And then we’re going to wrap the top half with planks of 2mm balsa (or in my case, 0.8mm, ridiculously expensive birch plywood) and clamp it down so it assumes the shape of the foam. Next up we take strips of balsa wood (which I was able to find at my local hobby shop) and glue them in place over the sheet of balsa. Imagine the structural support for a satellite¬†dish. Same idea here.

You should be able to see some pink foam peeking through the modified f-hole there. After that you laminate three pieces of wood (hopefully in alternating color for artistic merit) in roughly the shape of a violin neck blank. Obviously there’s more to it than that, but that should give you a body in white in far less than a week. Forming and fitting a neck is pretty basic, and you don’t have to carve out a careful 3d design from a rather large block of wood, which is the biggest hurdle to building a violin. By simplifying the shape of the body you can make bending the strips of wood for the ribs much easier on yourself.

The F-holes as you can see have been converted in to a much simplier C slot that looks a lot more like a vent. A slit is still cut at the B measurement to facilitate flexing and to meet the basic measurement criteria of a violin. Oh, by the way, here’s a handy set of schematics for two rather famous violins. They’re actually a bit small compared to the modern violin, but it’s a proven set of schematics.

Make sure you click that for the full size version. Anyways, if you look at the picture next to the satellite, you’ll note that the c-rib is a single piece of wood, carved from a block of balsa (which can be had cheap if you look for the balsa wood derby car 9 pack at Hobby Lobby). If you play your cards right you can turn this carved c-rib into your corner block. There’s a lot of room for interpetation of the violin design here so feel free to square things out a bit. If you have a particularly long block of balsa you might be able to connect it to the pin block at the bottom/end.

That’s about it for this post, instructions/ideas/thoughts continue on the next post.

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2 Responses to Building a Balsa Violin, pt 0

  1. goran losic says:

    please contact me .. and pls, visit
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwfc-6XrurA
    http://www.clearcarbon.com/portfolio.php

    kind regards from Greece
    Goran

  2. Chris says:

    Cool! I want to build my own violin too. Thank you for this

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