Viotar/Background information: Interview with Hendrik Zick

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Background information: Interview with Hendrik Zick

William Schattevoet
David Duwaer
Eric Backx
Arjan de Visser


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Background information: Interview with Hendrick Zick



Because we were not certain what the real violin sound means for a violin player or violin builder, we had to do some research on this subject. For this research, and to ask for advice, we interviewed a Dutch violin builder called Hendrick Zick. We talked about his profession and about what makes a violin, a couple of questions we asked are listed below so everybody can get a bit background information on the topic. This part is meanly for our own benefits, but can also be interesting for someone that is not familiar with the violin.


Background information: Interview with Hendrik Zick

Figure 1: The violin as we know it today.

History of the Violin

It is believed that the violin originated from Italy in the early 1500s. It evolved from the fiddle and rebec, both were bowed string instruments from the Medieval period. The violin also emerged from the lira da braccio, a violin-like instrument of the Renaissance period. The viol, which came before the violin, is also closely related. It is Andrea Amati who is the known developer of the violin. Amati apprenticed as a lute maker and in 1525, he became a master instrument maker.
The earliest noted violin makers were Gasparo da Salò and Giovanni Maggini, both Italians, but it is during the 17th and early 18th centuries that the art of violin making reached its peak. The Italians Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri as well as the Austrian Jacob Stainer are most noted during this period. Stradivari was an apprentice to Nicolo Amati, Andrea Amati's grandson.
The earliest form of the violin is very different from that of today. The early violins had a neck that was shorter, thicker and less angled. The fingerboard was likewise shorter, the bridge was flatter and the strings were made of gut.
At first the violin wasn't popular, in fact, it was considered a musical instrument of low status. But by the 1600s such well-known composers as Claudio Monteverdi used the violin in his operas, thus the violins' status grew. The violins' prestige continued to rise during the Baroque period, made more notable by such celebrated figures in music as Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach.
By the mid-18th century, the violin enjoyed a vital place in instrumental music ensembles. In the 19th century, the violins' rise to fame continued in the hands of virtuoso violinists such as Nicolò Paganini and Pablo de Sarasate. In the 20th century the violin reached new heights both in technical and artistic aspects. Isaac Stern and Fritz Kreisler are some of the well-known icons of this time. Truly, the violin has come a long way.

About the bow

The wooden part of the bow is made out of Brasilwood, which has proven its effectiveness by means of stability and elasticity. When selecting the wood for a bow the bow builder looks at the structure of the wood, from the structure of the wood the builder can obtain whether the wood is easy to work with. After selecting the wood it is abraded until it has the correct shape and bended while heated above a fire. Research has been done with bows made of carbon, but for now the results were never as good as a wooden bow.

About the hair on the bow

The hair used for a bow is horsehair, horsehair has a very fine structure. The hair of Mongolian horses is the best suitable hair to use for a bow. The finer the structure of the hair that is used, the better the sound that is produced. There is only a downside to that, when the hair gets finer it also becomes thinner and weaker. Therefore more hair is needed when it is finer. Finer hair means more crooks and more crooks mean that the resin that is used sticks to the hair better. The horsehairs on the bow are also artificially made, but this also gave a result that wasn’t satisfying. The resin that is used on the bow also determines the sound of the bow on the string.

About building a violin

Tuning the sound of a violin is mostly done by varying the thickness of the front and back side of the violin. Even the smallest change in thickness on a small part of the body can lead to a change in the sound. The cheaper violins, which are made by machines instead of by hand, are milled. The sound is never as good as the sound of a handmade violin because the sound of a violin cannot be tuned by these machines, they just make standard shape instead of the best shape suitable for the piece of wood. This is important because every piece of wood sounds different, therefore every piece of wood needs its one treatment in order to make a violin that sounds good. A good violin consists of 80 to 85 % handwork, only a very small part can be miller by machines, all of the rest is done by hand.
When making a violin it is important to do what the wood tells you, not to try to make the wood do what you want it to do. If there is the opportunity to gain a goo frequency from a certain part of the body, you should take advantage of that possibility. When making a violin it is not possible to work by a fixed pattern because the wood wont adapt to your plan. A violin typically consists of a spruce top (the soundboard, also known as the top plate, table, or belly), maple ribs and back, two endblocks, a neck, a bridge, a soundpost, four strings, and various fittings, optionally including a chinrest, which may attach directly over, or to the left of, the tailpiece. A distinctive feature of a violin body is its hourglass-like shape and the arching of its top and back. The hourglass shape comprises two upper bouts, two lower bouts, and two concave C-bouts at the waist, providing clearance for the bow. In figure 1 a picture of the violin can be seen.
The voice of a violin depends on its shape, the wood it is made from, the graduation (the thickness profile) of both the top and back, and the varnish that coats its outside surface. The varnish and especially the wood continue to improve with age, making the fixed supply of old violins much sought-after.

What could Zick do to improve the design of the violin?

Zick doesn’t think he could change anything to improve the design. The size of the violin determines the tone reach. When the size changes it isn’t a violin anymore, but an alt ore a base. The shape also determines the sound of the violin, therefore the shape cannot be changed when making a violin. So when you want to make a violin there aren’t any things that can be changed. Still there are a lot of tests done with different materials and shapes but the sound didn’t improve. Therefore these different designs never lead to an improvement of the traditional violin and never became popular. The reason that the violin sounds ‘good’ is the fact that a lot of higher tones are generated due to the in homogeneity of the wood. The tones are not duplicable when a different material is used.

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