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Sound (or f) Holes

  1. There are many studies, opinions and differences in taste when it comes to the Sound hole (otherwise known ass the f hole) on string instruments. In this post, the objective is to talk about it a bit and open for further discussion, more than offer an opinion.

Stylistically, any well cut and executed f Hole is worthy. If a rat was hired to chew it out in a bad Chinese factory it becomes an unfortunate piece of wood.

Firstly, if the sound box of any string instrument didn’t have a hole or two holes in it for the vibrated and displaced air in it to escape then the sound would be mute and stay inside the box. It seems an obvious thing to say, but I have had people mention it looking better without the hole, a smaller hole or another shape, perhaps.

Arguably, the shape of the hole does change the dynamic of the top’s vibration and responses. In one of the articles that I read before writing this 470 violins were tested (unclear exactly how) but they seem to end with stating that the length of the f hole has an impact on the sound and projectin. Probably because I am somewhat a sceptic and argumentative, there are a few reservations that I hold on to with such a statement:

  1. Each build has its own set of impossible to determine variables that either retard or increase resonance and sound projection. This would include (amongst MANY); the thickness of the wood, the graduated thicknessing, prowess of all the joint cuts, type of varnish, all of the setup variables, the strings – when you add the bow and violinist to this conundrum, it makes Lotto number choice look like an X&O quickie.
  2. The insight, ability, prowess and dexterity of the last luthier to touch any given instrument has everything to do with how well it sounds and projects!
  3. The latter said, a portion of that will also be largely determined by the budget and integrity of the luthier’s choice and purchase of materials ad fittings used.
These three jam packed bullets could be expanded into a 1000 point list with detail in each point to keep any mechanical, sound, electrical or other engineer busy for a lifetime.
 
What matters in the end is how well it was cut, does it suit the general style of the instrument outlines and curves and most importantly that you like it enough to want to own the violin.
 
The predominant f hole styles that are frequently copied  by factories, novice and master makers alike are:
 
  1. Amati – known as the ‘father’ of the violin.
  2. Stradivarius – ‘father’ of the modern violin, where a lot of the modern violin dimensions and reference come from.
  3. Giuseppe Guarnari – a direct competitor to Strad who’s most famed violin is the one played on by Paganini up until the day he died.
  4. There are a few others, mostly from Italian and French origin who’s styles are ‘copied’ but the three above are the most commonly referenced.
Below are a range of different types and styles of f holes that I found with simple image searches. Among it area couple of added extras with some graphs to show differences in projected sound based on the variables they are looking at.

 

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