This article was published in the Spring 2006 issue of the BVMA newsletter. There are 6 pages.

Control and Spontaneity in the Positioning of f-holes

In the second part of his article on f-holes, Hans Pluhar turns to a method of positioning f-holes that he believes was practised by Stradivari.

Probably the most characteristic feature of a violin's face is the f-holes. Recognition of a particular instrument is to a great part down to their positioning and cut. Rather as a human face is not completely symmetrical, violins look most natural and interesting with this same lack of symmetry. There is no doubt that the old masters were aware of this, otherwise we wouldn't see so many wonderful looking instruments. However, if you deliberately try to make a violin asymmetrical it doesn't feel right, and I think one has to let any asymmetry happen naturally, or with an element of spontaneity. A method and technique are required that allow you to be in control yet permit this dash of spontaneity. I think Stradivari left us an f-hole positioning system that has both.

Since writing part one of this article ('Divide and Rule',Winter newsletter, p.12), and with the aim of finding some answers to questions arising from the study of the drawings, I have made up a new mould using the P-form (a bit slimmer than the G-form) with the G-form corner templates. Since the f-holes are, in my opinion, positioned from the traced rib structure, the way the corner blocks are marked and cut and how the ribs are bent and clamped all have an influence on the final look of the f-holes. To enter into the spirit of the experiment, I followed the Cremonese and tried the system of clamping the ribs to the blocks with a dowel and a piece of string.

This approach had a positive outcome. Having started with a symmetric mould, I ended up with a rib structure that yielded slightly different outlines on the back and front. These resulted from being able to leave ribs a little twisted. With the mould held vertically in a vice, with both the front and back side of the ribs in the 'air', you don't have to have one side of them on a flat plate.

In my opinion Stradivari´s f-hole placing system is not about finding the 'right' location for the eyes based on a geometric formula, but enables the documentation of positions for particular models. It can also allow the easy correction of measurements and help to visualise them. I think it builds up on existing experience. This is the way it has worked for me.

The simple technique behind this system is that once you decide where you want your f-holes, you can easily mark the centres of the eyes out with a pair of dividers on the inside of your roughly hollowed top. But where do you put them? I start by deciding how far apart I want the eyes to be. As I am using the f-hole template of the most recent violin I finished (the inside template without the eyes, i.e. the bar that connects the lower and upper eyes), I will use similar measurements, as they worked well: roughly 41.5 mm for the top eyes and 112 mm for the lower ones. Fig.1 shows a sketch of the steps I use for positioning. This is a tracing of the new rib structure for my