The Complex Task of Crafting a Scroll and its System of Design

The scroll is one piece of over 120 parts of the violin that has absolutely no function. Although it’s entirely dispensable, taking this out from the violin will lose its value for up to 20%.

The pegbox and the volute are the two parts that you can find on violin’s scroll. The volute is a curved knuckle that looks like a seashell which surmounts the scroll. In short, it’s what makes it look like a scroll. Though it’s fair to say that the scroll is not needed to help tune the string and hold it from the top, it, even more, becomes evident as you glance quickly at the truncated stub that puts the peg in place in the carbon fiber instrument.

Let’s consider that as an afterthought as we look at the remarkableness of the scrolls sophisticated design. Looking from the side, you can see the unwinding curves forming an opening spiral correctly. It culminates in the peg box’s long swoop. The two curves form a shape, opening up while playing off each other.

The scroll’s design in itself is covered with mystery. In the mid-1500s, Andrea Amati a Cremonese luthier created the first violins that we know in his workshop. Indeed, over the centuries the instrument had changed to some extent on the design of its body. But nothing has surpassed the first instrument scrolls and even hardly equaled. Their combination comes from the best of the renaissance on its early and late period. The eye’s position on the spiral and the volute’s incredible balance with the pegbox manifests its centered sense of tranquillity, a distinct feature of Donatello, the great sculpture in Florence. But the curve’s interplay displays the energy that you can find in the work of Bernini a master sculpture and an architect. Surprisingly, Amati and Bernini lived in the same era.

Amati’s design is highlighted with perfect balance which allows you to think that he must have used some specific system of design to generate it (including all parts of the instrument). However, any record of Amati’s system of design is non-existent or any note in that matter. Not even from other makers. If you search quickly online, you will find theoretical methods applied to hundreds of models. However, all of them have two devastating defects. The first one is the complexity. Let’s face it; the drawings of patterns that we can find right now are relatively confusing in its intricate features.

If a skillful violin maker can decipher the patterns and apply them accurately, they will discover another bigger problem, and that is it does not work at all. The Golden Section, the most commonly suggested framework is a mathematical division that you can usually and famously see on the Acropolis, particularly at the proportions of Athena’s Temple. Another best example is the Spiral of Vignola and nature’s very own design, the Nautilus shell. They also tried the Fibonacci series’ mathematical proportions. Apparently, none of these patterns and designs can produce the kind of quality that Amati had carved, displaying great beauty and balance. Not even similar to those that were provided by great Italian makers as well as other remarkable luthiers that we have in history like the Austrian Luthier Jacob Stainer.

It could be frustrating for those whose intention is to analyze the violin, but the most significant aspect it reflects is its essential mystery. The most efficient acoustic instrument ever designed was the violin, and the most interesting fact is that the design was formulated 200 years before the invention of the field of acoustics. Everything needed for the design is all there, on the very first creations of these instruments. Known as one of the most unique of human endeavors, it remained unchangeable for five hundred years.

A question was thrown to Norman Pickering, the great acoustician who died in 2015. The question states that if it is possible to create an electric violin that sounds exactly as good as the acoustic? He answered saying, sure! Only if you have all the money, time and resources used in the program for the Apollo project. It could be possible, he said, but he laughed saying that there no need for that, all you have to do is use the money to hire the best musicians.

Indeed there’s no need for such. To look for a system of design is as tremendously enticing as trying to explain other intriguing secrets of the violin. Diving and disappearing into the vortex of fractions on French curves and compasses are easy. However, you will be like the doctors in the medieval period who tried to search for a soul by dissecting a brain: what you’re looking for is not there, and in the long run, there’s a risk that what you already have will be lost and that is the joy of crafting a scroll. The fun of carving those beautiful curves is incomparable.

The process begins with a massive block of maple. Hope you will not drop it on your foot by accident because the required size and weight needed is enough to break a toe. The neck and the scroll must come from a similar block of wood. We can see here the scroll’s unique value because when the neck breaks or wears out, it would require inserting a new neck just to save the original scroll. The process of making a scroll involves different materials such as drills, saws, knives, chisels and gauges, and steel scrapers. It would go through a step by step procedure until its delicate curves emerge.

Rotating your instrument while holding it in the neck, will make you realize that the obsession for the exact system of design is irrelevant. You don’t really look at the profile. What capture your attention are the curves and the way they interplay with each other, moving and changing, winding and unwinding. You might be tempted to think that the scroll is a piece of sculpture, but it’s not. It’s not just an ornamental art piece which is fixed in one place where you can just look at it from different angles. But with the scroll, you can move with it, dance with it or even wave it along with the music.

Thinking about the scroll would bring you to Gershwin’s work rather than one of the fluid sculptures of Bernini. You can imagine Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, dancing cheek to cheek. Though the scroll itself could widely be considered irrelevant, it creates joy as it was in its technical and elegant accomplishments. However, the scroll could not entirely be considered unessential. In fact, its huge purpose is to remind us that in everything including the auditions, practices, rehearsals, audiences, colleagues, even paychecks and all that is said and done, in the end, the violin is indeed a thing of beauty just like the music you create from it.