The signature aspects of hand made (or Svencino) instruments are all of the details that make them identifiable to the personal style and skill of any instrument maker.
In the case of master made instruments there are a few areas that are mainly used to identify and see the latter mentioned.
- The scroll is particularly personal to any maker. It represents the skill, eye and understanding of the maker; the artistic representation of styling and taste. Is it cut finely with an evenly rounded spiral, deep fluting and chamfers or was it hacked out in a desperate attempt to get the instrument finished?
- The f holes (sound holes) are another aspect that are taken seriously. Like the scroll, they show the finesse, detail and skill of the maker and often where they have drawn their influences from. Often when we talk about instruments that are copies of or attributed of specific old masters it can be seen in the cut of the f holes. The f holes of a Stradivari are very different from those cut by Guarneri or other makers with individual styles and journeys.
- The outline of an instrument also holds a lot of identifiable aspects. Although they are not always easy to see with an untrained eye, the easiest way of knowing and seeing this is by looking at the squar’ish or roundness of the top and lower bouts (the round areas). Often, although not a rule, Italian instruments will have nicely rounded bouts as opposed to German or Czechoslovakian instruments that seem to have ‘corners’ at the ‘shoulders’ of the upper and lower bouts.
- The purfling also has defining features: how well the tracks were cut so that the snugness of the fit is evident and even, if it follows the edges neat and evenly. The big defining factor here is how well the ‘bee stings’ are made (where the purfling meets that the ends of the corners – does a fine line of the outer black line make a neat and well positioned sting looking point?).
- The arching is also a defining factor, although this probably has more to do with how the maker feels about the sonic properties of a high or low cut.
- Type of varnish used, the preparation of the surfaces, how it was applied and colour will, of course, also define the maker’s influence, intent and skill.
- Tool markings are also sometimes the defining piece of the puzzle. Some makers will intentionally leave some tool markings on the instrument for reasons probably unknown to all. In the fine arts world it was sometimes employed to show the nature and properties of the material being worked with as well as the skill needed to work with it… that it was hand made and not a factory reproduction.
These are among the main aspects that are looked at when assessing and valuing an instrument. The individual factors as well as the sum total will often give good clues about the origin, school of thought of an instrument … Often how a copy is identified as that or by an original maker’s mark.