Violin rib construction methods
The sides or “ribs” of the violin are most commonly constructed of six thin strips of wood, reinforced where they meet at the corners and ends by small blocks of wood. The problem during construction is how to hold those blocks and sides in place while they are being shaped and assembled. There have been several solutions to this problem, the most popular these days being the “inside mold” as used by the major classic Cremonese makers. Other methods include the “outside mold”, “building on the back” and “spanish guitar style”.
Each method has its own advantages and demerits depending on what the maker’s aim is, the outside mold for instance gives a high degree of control over outline and has been favored by copyists looking to reproduce the non-matching outlines of the back and top of an individual old instrument. It is also favored, by odd contrast, by makers seeking extreme symmetry and reproducibility, it is famously used by 19th century French production manufacturers and is partly responsible for the uniformity and relatively stiff look of some of those instruments.
One method that is rarely mentioned is a “skeleton mold”. I came to the idea a couple of years back when I wanted to make a Guadagnini model violin but was too impatient to go through the process of constructing a new inside mold. I decided to make a mold that had just enough structure to hold the blocks in place but carried no information about the outline of the finished instrument. My skeleton mold was born partly from laziness and partly from the enjoyment of trying new techniques and seeing what they will reveal.
What I found surprised me, a rib construction method that is simple to set up and which allows a broad range of control or improvisation depending on the maker’s personal inclination. I don’t think that this method is new, since adopting it several years ago I have heard passing reference to some older German makers using it (and I would be grateful for any further references to it’s use), but it is not mentioned in most reviews of construction techniques that I have seen. The skeleton mold has some significant advantages over other rib construction techniques which I list here and will demonstrate in contrast to the popular Cremonese style, inside mold.
Advantages of the skeleton mold
- Quick set up: one mold serves for an infinite variety of rib outlines.
- Adaptability: improvements to an outline can be made simply by producing new templates rather than by correcting imperfect molds. On-the-fly adjustments and improvisations can be made with easy reference to a baseline.
- Control: I was surprised to find how easy it is to bend ribs to fit a drawn line.
- Access to inside of rib/block and rib/lining joints. Joints can be checked and cleaned up during construction rather than having to correct any errors after glue has dried and the mold is removed.
- The inside line of the rib structure can be directly traced onto the top and back plates removing any guesswork about how far the internal hollowing can be taken.
- Light weight and easy handling: particularly significant on cello molds.
- Storage: store only drawings and templates for each new model of instrument.
- The work board provides a cheap, disposable surface for cutting and trimming on, it also allows the job to be easily and safely clamped to the bench. This is particularly handy when chopping in the C-bout lining mortices.
- Every construction technique leaves some tell tale signs (beloved of connoisseurs) on the finished instrument. If capturing every detail of a given instrument is your aim then adopting the identical construction technique might be a more fruitful path to follow.
Using the skeleton mold
[I’ve stopped using the wood screws, its easy enough to bend to the line. Jan 2015]
The linings can either be trimmed now or after the ribs are removed from the mold.
A skeleton mold for cello. I was nervous that the larger ribs would be uncontrollable but my worries proved to be unfounded. In this case I cut the shape of the C-bouts into the mold so this mold is not as universal as the violin and viola molds – you can easily vary the upper and lower but shapes but the C-bout is fixed. This mold was an absolute joy to use: light (only 1Kg compared to 3.2 Kg for my traditional mold) and with many convenient hand holds. When I recently made a double bass I balked at using a skeleton mold; the ribs were just too big for me though I would imagine that an experienced bass maker could do it fairly easily.
Making a copy of a smaller Guadagnini cello was an ideal application for the skeleton mold. I wasn’t sure how many of these I would be making, but by using a skeleton mold the setup investment was small and the turn around quick.
Copy of the Kochanski Del Gesu made for Robertsons and Sons Violins, constructed on a skeleton mold. In order to capture the feel of the looser outline on the original instrument I made a full body template of the rib line for the back incorporating some of its asymmetries.
The skeleton mold became the basis of my journey into the wild world of Freestyle Violinmaking
Is it possible to attach belly to finished ribs before removing finished ribs from mold.john dublin Ireland
Sure, If you want to. You’ll be cutting down into the plate when you are shaping your blocks, but with a little care you could do it.
This is great! And in re. further references to use of this kind of mould – there’s some really nice writing about it on Marc Soubeyran’s website (http://www.soubeyranviolins.co.uk/construction.php) as well as pictures of a viola under construction on a skeleton mould (http://www.soubeyranviolins.co.uk/onthebench.php)!
Thanks for the links. Mr Soubeys mold is even more skeleton than mine, I may have to adopt it. I like his diagonal corner block interface, a nice solution to the clamping-the-C-bout problem.
Hi, Andrew! I just came across this method, and I love it!!! I have built three violins and one “teeny-tiny violin” (1/16 size), and have just decided to try my hand at building a cello. I have been researching different kinds of molds, and your idea seems so simple and makes so much sense — even for a cello! (It also would make the difficulty of removing the mold after you’ve glued the linings SO SO much less of a pain.) Do you have any measurements for your cello skeleton mold? (I am considering building a 7/8 size instead of a 4/4 size cello, but could probably easily adapt the measurements to the slightly smaller size, if what you have are measurements for a 4/4.). Thanks for your wonderful work!
I am on my second violin using a skeleton mold. It is a Guadagnini so I had to make a new one, its really easy just draw where the blocks should be and cut out a new skeleton to make them connect.
Can the skeleton be reused for different violins or you need to make a new one each time
It absolutely can be reused and for any violin model – within certain size limits. That is really the whole point of it. Instead of making a new mold for each new model of violin you need only make a new thin template for each model
Hi Andrew, for a hobbyist violin maker like me your website is really great. When I began the making of my 2nd violin, I was not enthousiast with the necessity to build a new mold so I looked for other solutions. I was very happy to find your squeleton mold concept. So, I tried the method and I describe this work on my website: http://violons.jsld.fr/index.php/la-lutherie-au-jour-le-jour/le-moule-squelette.
I can, now, confirm all the advantages you list in your article and I think that some negative comments I read on maestronet forum about this method are not seriously founded.
So, thanks again for all the amazing content you provide on your website
Hi, I have come across a reference to a ‘violin skeleton” in my research on the attack on the Four Courts in Dublin 28th to 30th June 1922. One of the men who was there at the time says that … “Chancery Courts, found a violin skeleton of very hard wood.” That’s all I’m afraid but the observer obviously knew what it was.
Thank you very much for this method. For a long time I used internal molds, I was wandering how to do a violin without any molds. But there were a lot of problems I didnt’ know how to resolve, and I found your post. So I began one violin with the skeleton mold and it’s very easy, quick and free! It’s a great idea
Thank you for your speedy reply! =)
Mr. Carruthers, I am wondering what technique you prefer for flattening the garland. Im an amateur maker and use a full thickness inside mold and a sanding board, as this gives me peace of mind – I know it is very unlikely I will crack my ribs because of how well supported they are. The skeleton intrigues me and I intend to try it, but would love a little guidance on how to proceed from the bending stage. In the photos it looks like you’ve already cut the ribs to their final height before bending, eliminating the need for flattening with a board or plane?
Yes, the ribs are cut close to finished hight but the will still need to be leveled and smoothed before taking them off the mold ready for closing the box. I usually use a plane but have used a sanding board followed by a plane, in either case the skeleton mold gives adequate support to the ribs. Just be sure to use plenty of glue when you attach the blocks to the mold in the first place.
hello andrew, what youve build looks very close like the doublecross f. rusch is using. very interessting. the best if you are drawing your outlines freehands. greetings matthias
Great! Is there a link to any info on this?
Awesome way to prototype. Looks like the Swiss army knife of molds, although Rebecca called it the batmobile of molds. Great idea!!!!!
Is there any chance of obtaining the measurements for your form? By the way I directed Geoffrey Daugherty to your site and he said that he knew you and he was very pleased to visit your site. I also think that your form could dramatically change the way violins, cellos, and basses are made. I would also like to inquire about how much your violins are, my son is a violinist in San Francisco and we are hoping to someday be able to afford a professional violin for him.
Jodie, I’ve added a list of prices and some answers to FAQs. You and your son are most welcome visit my shop and see how violins are made
I think you convinced me to try this skeleton mold. It’s way easier than making an traditional mold, especially if you don’t have a router.
Thank you !
The sides are simply bent and eyeballed to the lines laid out on the work board,