One of the most admired aspects of classical Italian violin making is the high mean sound quality of their instruments. This is the more startling when we look at them from the maker’s point of view. The work ranges from the almost uncanny precision of Stradivari to the wildly idiomatic of Guarneri del Gesu. Both are equally coveted by professional musicians. Which teaches us a first lesson: flawless execution and technical proficiency is not at the heart of their inimitable sound.
This said, and thoughtfully digested, the idea that they finished their instruments, varnished them, strung them, and got everything under control by tweaking the set-up, is more than improbable. Instead, I can only come up with the suggestion that they played the instruments in the white, and doing so reached their tonal goals by adjusting the thickness distribution of the plates. Plainly stated: they scraped the outside until they were satisfied with the tonal result. Quite a few of them old Amati’s and Guarneri’s have been reported professional violinists too, so they could do it themselves.
Exactly this way of working leaves one with a reasonable amount of freedom. The occasional tenth of a, or whole, mm does not make the difference between success and failure. And it is exactly this kind of freedom we can perceive in the classical Italian work. The basic model is clearly recognizable, but they couldn’t care less about making exact copies. Also the thickness patterns of their plates, typically erratic, a-symmetric and per instrument seemingly unique, suggest the outcome of the maker having been preoccupied by something else than geometric exactitude. To the diligent reader it will come as no surprise that we try to adopt this method to the best of our abilities. We do it with pleasure, for it is exactly this reasonable amount of freedom that transforms teaching as well as making into a relatively relaxed and relaxing occupation, at the same time allowing for a firm and creative grip on the tonal results.