Making the Baroque style neck joint on the violin (and some other things of importance)
The essential differences between the modern and Baroque way of making the neck joint are that in the Baroque style
1) the neck joint is made before cutting out the back and belly plates
2) instead of cutting a slot for the neck to the rib structure at the top block, the neck is glued on top of the rib and then the joint is secured by one or more metal nails or some similar technique
3) the Baroque neck is not at an angle in relation to the body of the instrument but rather in straight line with it
4) the neck is thicker throughout than the modern one
Begin with preparing the top, bottom and corner blocks and making the rib structure in the normal way. Linings for the lower edge of the ribs (where the ribs are joined with the back plate) can also be made at this stage.
Also cut out the neck and carve the scroll. The scroll needs to be pretty much finished before starting to make the neck joint, because working on it later would be too difficult. (The underside of the neck can be left a bit thicker than necessary, it can be easily worked on later.
For a typical Baroque neck’s side profile, see the attached pictures of a Stainer violin.) The top surface of the neck should be finished straight at this point. The neck root should have a height of more than 35 mm (for the violin; for the viola more, depending on the rib height). The excess height will be cut away later.
When the rib structure and the neck/scroll are ready, a straight and flat surface of the shape of the neck root is prepared to the rib and the top block: (see picture 1)
Similarly, the root of the neck should have a perfectly flat surface for seamless gluing. (See picture 2.) This surface is at perfect 90 degrees angle both horizontally in relation to the center line of the neck and vertically in relation to the upper surface of the neck.
The neck is glued onto the rib so that the upper surface of the neck extends ca. 4 mm above the upper edge of the ribs: (picture 3)
The lower part of the neck joint, which has previously been left a bit longer than necessary, is now cut to level with the rib structure: (picture 4)
At this point the rib structure is removed from the mould.
Next, the neck joint has to be secured so that the seam doesn’t come open when the instrument is strung. There are
several possible ways of doing this. The most common techniques historically were driving metal nails or a wooden block through the upper block and into the root of the neck, joining them together.
However, I suggest using one or two wooden pegs made of maple or similar hard wood, in a similar fashion as the tuning pegs and holes for the pegs are made. This is easier to accomplish with the usual violin maker’s tools.
So, drill a hole (or two) into the top block (see picture 5), deep enough that it will penetrate ca. 1 cm into the root of the neck, and just big enough in diameter so that your peg hole cutter will fit into the opening. If only one hole is made, it’s probably better to use a cello peg hole cutter even on the violin and viola. (When making a Baroque neck on the cello, it is better to make several holes.)
Next, prepare the hole with the peg hole cutter just as is normally done when making holes for the tuning pegs, and make a wooden peg which fits exactly into the hole.
Put some glue into the hole and insert the peg, until it fits well. Leave this to dry. If you made two holes, fit an another peg in a similar fashion.
Cut away any extra length from the peg(s) and smoothen the surface.
Now a slot (recess) of ca. 3 mm is cut into the top part of the neck root: (pictures 6 and 7) This is necessary so that the belly plate fits into this slot.
Proceed with making the upper linings and cutting out the back and belly plates as usual.
When spot-gluing the back and belly plates to the ribs, make sure that the neck is well centered in relation to the rib cage. This can be done by marking the exact center points on two places on the upper side of the neck – at the pegbox and at the root of the neck - and at the lower block, and inserting a small metal pin to the outer two center points, at the pegbox and at the lower block. (See picture 8.) Attach a string to the pins, pulling it tight. When the string exactly meets the center point at the root of the neck, the neck is well centered. If is isn’t, you can slightly twist the rib cage at the C bouts to the left
or right to get the neck centered. Getting the neck well centered is more important than getting a perfectly symmetrical outline for the instrument.
When spot-gluing the belly plate on, make sure it fits the slot (recess) previously cut into the root of the neck.
Proceed with working the back and belly as usual. The purfling on the belly of the instrument runs all the way under the fingerboard.
When the back and belly plates are detached from the rib cage for working the inside of the back and belly, glue the rib cage to a piece of plywood to prevent the rib cage from getting deformed.
It is important to know that on a Baroque instrument the bassbar is shorter and slimmer than a modern one. There are no standard measurements, but for general guidelines here are some measurements of original Baroque bassbars:
instrument: length (mm) height (mm) thickness
Jacob Stainer violin, 1656 250 6,7 4,9
Nicola Amati violin, 1665 235 5,0 4,4
Nicola Amati violin, 1671 217 6,2 5,0
A.Stradivari violin, 1719 241 6,6 4,7
Jacob Stainer viola, 1660 320 8,1 6,0
M.Albani viola, 1688 268 5,4 5,5
A.Catini cello, 1660-68 544 13,3 14,8
A.Stradivari cello, 1667 533 18,3 10,7
A.Gagliano cello, 1725 554 12,9 9,5
When the back and belly plates are ready, with purflings and the bassbar in place, the body of the instrument is assembled. Care must be taken that the rib cage again fits the outline of the back and belly.
Finally, it is also important to know that on a Baroque violin (or viola, or cello) the saddle doesn’t raise above the level of the edge of the belly plate as it does on a modern instrument. On the other hand, for maximum stability, the saddle is often embedded into the rib structure; see picture 12.
Attached are pictures of a Jacob Stainer violin from 1679, with original neck and fingerboard. It can be used as a reference in making Baroque style necks on a violin or a viola, in particular regarding the side profile of the neck. Note that the neck is at a straight line in relation to the body of the instrument.
Making a Baroque neck is basically similar in procedure, except that it became usual already in the late 17th century to make the neck’s side profile more like a modern neck would be. This was so that the bridge could be made higher than before. See attached pictures of a Baroque cello neck of this type.
One website to be recommended: www.vanzandtviolins.com. There are several pictures of instruments with Baroque,
Classical and Modern necks.
Source of article: my friend Petri from Finland.
***I will be making this violin with him together. :) If you have some suggestions or recommendations to this article, please write me an email. I get excited with such things! --jehpin
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