Neck setting: Adjustment to change

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The method of connecting an instrument’s neck to its body has undergone seismic changes since the Baroque era. Joseph Curtin analyses the ancient and modern procedures, and examines the benefits offered by fixing an adjustable neck

Unlike the rest of a violin, the neck and fingerboard are designed to be touched. Players are exquisitely sensitive to their contours, and for the violin maker, getting these right is both technically challenging and aesthetically satisfying. This article focuses on how the neck connects with the body – which may seem to be the least interesting thing about it. Yet this intricate joint has played a surprisingly important role in the violin’s development, as Roger Hargrave has persuasively argued (‘Evolutionary Road’, The Strad, February 2013). This article revisits the Baroque and modern necksets, considers the problems that are solved and created by each, and then explores the possibilities for an altogether different approach: the adjustable neck.

With the modern neckset, the heel is mortised into the assembled instrument body (figure 1). Considerable skill is required to chalk-fit the four gluing surfaces while keeping the fingerboard centred and at the correct projection – ‘projection’ being the upward tilt of the fingerboard, which determines bridge height. The mortise itself is a variation on the dovetail, a strong, reliable joint used by woodworkers since antiquity. Cremonese makers, who were certainly familiar with the dovetail, chose a different way of doing things.

Where the modern neckset is a single operation, the Baroque version divides it into several smaller steps distributed throughout the making process. Once the rib garland is off the form, the neck heel is fitted to the ribs above the top-block, then nailed and glued in place. The outline of the ribs is then traced on to the back wood, at which point any deviation from centredness can be remedied by swivelling the neck a little. Doing so creates slight asymmetries in the body outline…

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