The rise and fall of the curves of the arching are truly some of the most enchanting and mystifying elements of violin family instruments. I believe that the foundation for the character of the sound of an instrument is laid when the arches are created. It could be argued that the archings may be the single most important factor in creating the character of the sound of an instrument. Naturally, it is not realistic to pursue that very far because of course, the selection of the wood, the choice of the outline, the thickness graduations of the back and top and the entire finish setup with the adjustment are also all very important factors. The success of an instrument is entangled in every great and small feature, none can singled out as “the” most important.
What might be a safe statement is to say that the making of the carved arching is pretty much only in the purview of violinmakers and those who make viols. Many other crafts and disciplines utilize skills and methods in common with violinmaking but the arching is singularly relegated to violin family instruments.
To make the arching for this composite Bros. Amati viola, I had to refer to the documented examples in the materials provided by the great British violinmaker, restorer, and expert, John Dilworth. It was necessary to make arching cross section templates in order to try to imbue this project with authentic Amati concepts. The tracings that were made available to me included three Brothers Amati violas of varying sizes: One was quite large at 17 3/4″ body length, another was too small, a gorgeous uncut 15 7/8″, one was almost exactly the right size at 16 3/8″. From this tracing, I was able to get most of the cross sections for the back but only two for the top. I recreated the shape for the remaining top cross sections by comparing the ones from the larger and smaller violas and finding a middle line version, which did look quite authentic comparing it to the ones on the other size violas.
At first I had wondered if, as the outline had done, the reduced cross section arching contours of the full-size cello might make appropriate templates but again, it appeared that the proportions of the reduction did not produce the right shapes for a viola.
In the first photo of this series, the arching of the back is being carved with fingerplanes. Next to the back, lying on the bench, some cross section arching templates can be seen. These are held up to the arching at specific locations to check for accuracy and maintain the correct shape in going for a Brothers Amati arching, as they guide and dictate the process.
The following photo images show the finished archings, after they have been shaped with the finger planes and scraped smooth. As is typical for me, although I considered them “finished”, after these photos were taken, I did a fair amount more of necessary refinement with the escrapers on the archings.