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Violinmaking: Measuring And Fitting The Neck Piece

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When crafting  fine violins, as opposed to cheap, mass-produced ones, placing the neck onto the violin body is the most complex procedure, as the exact size, fit and angle will determine the symmetry of all the fittings and the ease at which the instrument is played. Precise measurements ultimately make or break the musician’s physical relationship with the instrument. Each measurement and cut influences all the others, and all variables must be paid close attention at each stage to achieve a perfect neck set.

Before measuring and fitting the neck, the violinmaker must carve the mortise on the violin body. When it is complete, the mortise should be undersized so that the neck can’t yet fit into the body. The mortise is then enlarged just enough for a tight fit with the neck.

The neck length should be 130mm from the upper end of the board to the top edge on the E-string side next to the heel. There should be about 6mm over stand between the crest at the top and the board’s underside. 27mm should be the top center height of the board at the bridge position.

A 158-degree angle is optimal in fitting the neck. Although, better than a specific number, to achieve the best neck angle, an angle gauge can be used. It anticipates the string height over the board, predicting the neck angle early in the fitting process.

The luthier knows that no violin body is going to be absolutely perfect. Variations on neck length can be made, for instance, to make up for a shorter stop with a slightly longer neck. The placing of strings will be essential on a crooked violin body. Ultimately, a nominal centerline should be chosen so the violin neck does not appear crooked to a casual viewer.

Like any high-end craft, the successful creation of fine violins, violas and fine cellos are all in the small but important details.

Studio City Music was the vision of Paul Toenniges, born in De Kalb, Illinois in 1908. Paul began his studies of instrument making under the promptings of Carl Becker Sr., his brother-in-law. He worked alongside some of the greatest names in American violinmakers and restorers while working at William Lewis & Son in Chicago from 1926 to 1940. While there, Paul established himself as an excellent repairman and fine bass maker. He moved to Los Angeles in 1945, where he worked at the Rudolf Wurlitzer branch from 1946 to 1950. Finally, in 1950, Paul opened his own shop, which he named Studio City Music.

Paul ran a simple family-owned and operated business along with his wife, Ruth, and two daughters, Nancy and Jane. Nancy Toenniges showed a remarkable talent in restoration at an early age and it was decided that she should attend the Violinmaking School in Mittenwald, Germany to further her education.

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