The Cheapest Violin Ever Made, Part 1

It’s night time at the Basilica of San Domenico in Cremona, Italy. The grave keeper has just turned out the lights in his house and slowly shuffled up the creaky stairs to bed. A storm is brewing outside, but at the moment the clouds are content to rumble and flash, pausing occasionally to spit a few drops of rain down from the heavens. In the middle of the cemetery, a rumbling begins; it starts as a low vibration, and then the Earth starts to tremble. The large tombstone in the center of the graveyard falls backward, splitting in half when it hits the ground with a loud “thud-CRACK!” and a hand shoots up from the grass in front of the grave – something is emerging.

The grave keeper turns on a lantern (because that’s what you do when you hear something scary outside, even in the 21st century,) and peers out the window. He’s wearing a white nightcap and a white nightgown like they used to wear in the old days, because that’s his style, and they don’t just make you the grave keeper of an ancient Italian cemetery just because you’re looking for work, after all: you have to fit the part. Lightening flashes, thunder rolls, and he thinks he sees a figure outside, but he can’t be sure. He puts on his raincoat, grabs a shotgun, and walks outside, the lantern on his arm, bunny slippers on his feet.

It’s immediately apparent what has happened: the grave of Antonio Stradivari has fallen over. Determined to find the pranksters who knocked it down, he cocks his shotgun, dims his lantern, and creeps around the cemetery, checking behind each of the graves for someone who might be hiding there. He hears a loud moan. And again, but closer by. And again, this time right behind him. He turns around, and as he’s lifted up in the air by his neck, he drops his shotgun and lantern. “Do you know what they’re doing?!” exclaims a somewhat disfigured, horribly discolored, but in otherwise good shape Antonio Stradivari, “Someone – someone is building a violin – out of TWO BY FOURS!!!”

Meanwhile, in Montreal…

I’ve just started a project I’ve wanted to work on for a while now: I’m building a violin! This one’s just for practice, and I don’t want to spend money on wood that I know I’ll probably end up ruining, so I’m building my first few practice violins out of two by fours. (Did anyone here that grumble? No? Oh well, never mind.) Will it work? No, probably not. The pegs I used to join the two by fours together were shorter than I expected, the wood is knotted (thanks, Home Depot, your wood is crap,) and I’m expecting to run into holes while I’m carving. However, I hope it’ll be good practice for the real thing, and at the very least I’ll know what working delicately with truly terrible wood feels like. It should be an interesting experience at the very least, and I hope to update my blog with details as I go along.

Here are the two slabs for the back and belly in all their ugliness. They're quite solid, quite heavy, and positively riddled with knots and holes.

Note: I took a LOT of creative license for the Antonio Stradivari bit at the beginning. 1) Stradivari is not buried in a cemetery, but outside the Basilica of San Domenico, 2) I don’t believe there is a grave keeper as such, and 3) Stradivari has quite a subtle and unobtrusive tombstone which, to my knowledge, is not in the center of the “cemetery.” So basically, I lied. A lot. It was for effect: deal with it.