Nelle Doak O'Neill, Luthier
Carson Valley, Nevada

From Tree . . . to Concert Hall . . .

Graduating and Tuning the Plates

No matter how fine the craftsmanship, a violin without good tone quality and projection will never find a home with a fine violinist! The steps shown on this page will determine, to a great degree, the future of this instrument.

The approximate depth of plate graduation is marked by drilling a series of carefully measured holes.

Then, using a very sharp gouge, the rough graduating is completed.

The final arching and graduation is accomplished with the use of a variety of "thumb planes" and scrapers.

Hand in hand with the graduating process goes the carving of the "f" holes and fitting of the bass bar . . . necessary at this stage because any wood added or taken away will have an effect on the plate's tone quality.

The nearly finished plates are shown here with photos of the "Betts" Strad of 1704, after which it was modeled. It should be noted that this is not a copy . . . if it were, all the "hickies" the original instrument acquired over the past 298 years would be faithfully duplicated (shades of "The Red Violin"!).

Another process that is integrally related to graduation is the tuning of the plates. It has long been recognized that plate thickness and gradation play an important role in determining the tone quality of a given instrument. With the development of technology, it is now possible to produce "pictures" of the Cremona luthiers' plate tuning . . . and use these "pictures" as models in the construction of modern instruments.

The "pictures" are produced by suspending the plate over a loudspeaker connected to an amplifer and tone generator. Tiny particles, in this instance, tea leaves, are sprinkled randomly on the plate which is then exposed to high volume sound at different frequencies. The resulting sympathetic vibration of the plate causes the particles to form definite patterns . . . and we then have a "picture" than can be compared to that from an instrument of an old master.

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