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.


Lightning Round Blog Post


This is my favorite picture of all the pictures I've taken in the last few years.


A series of work, exhaustion, and not much happening over the past two weeks have left me without much to write about today. It’s one of those days when everything you write starts out well and goes nowhere because the topic wasn’t that great to begin with. So rather than doing a normal blog post, I’m going to write about a variety of things that have very little to do with each other. Ready? Go.

I’m knitting a pair of socks. My hat, which I just finished, has inspired me to keep knitting, and though it took me one year of sporadic knitting to finish the hat, a more consistent approach will hopefully leave me with a pair of socks much sooner. This is my second time knitting an article of clothing (as opposed to squares that I knitted when I was first learning,) and I’m knitting on five needles. Yes, that’s right: FIVE.

Several days ago, I saw an AWESOME violin. My desire to build a violin has been renewed, and I think I’m going to start building my practice violin this winter after exams. The idea is to build a practice violin out of crap wood so that when I build one with the real stuff, which is expensive compared to the usual Home Depot stuff because it has to be dried for several years, I won’t ruin it. I’m going to plane 2×4’s and then join them with pegs to make the pieces for the front and the back (le fond et la table, whatever those parts are called in English.) I want to build a violin because I love wood working and think it would be fun to learn, I want my violin to be special, and when I “graduate” from my current violin I don’t want to have to pay a minimum of several thousand dollars for it. Not only that, but the book that I’m reading on how to build violins is completely in French, which means that I’m practicing French and learning to build a violin at the same time. Also, I’m learning all the technical terms in French and have no idea what of the English translations are. Some of them are actually quite different. For example, there is a peg wedged in between the front and back (again, table et fond,) which is, in French, called “l’âme,” which translates to soul. In English, however, the same piece is called the soundpost. I prefer the French name; it’s more poetic.

It doesn’t look like kite flight number four is going to happen until the snow thaws. I still have a lot of parts to print, and I’m not going to use my printer until I tune it and build a fume hood of sorts for it, because no matter how ventilated an area I use my Makerbot in, the smell always ends up giving me a headache. This can’t be a good thing, so I’m on a Makerbot hiatus until I can resolve the issue.

There are a few other exciting projects in the works, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get to any of them soon. I’ve got a lot of work to do at school and the semester is almost over! We’ve got only 5 weeks left before exams, which means that I have to start studying… as if I haven’t been studying already. This is the first time I’ve actually been scared about finals this early before taking them. I think I’ll pass, and there are two on which I think I’ll do quite well, but I’m still scared.