Trade Secrets: Making an invisible neck graft

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A procedure that takes a little longer than the standard method, but results in an almost undetectable fitting

Alterations to the neckset on an instrument can be historically seen as the first step in the modernisation of Baroque instruments. The first modern necks may have come from the workshop of the Mantegazza brothers at the end of the 18th century. Since then, different ways of grafting a new neck have been developed, and this has become a standard procedure in violin shops. Nowadays the process is mostly used to replace necks that are worn out, narrow or too thin.

I have always found it strange that when starting a neck graft, some restorers deliberately use wood that does not match the original. This contradicts all other practices in the restoration of stringed instruments, where the commonly accepted rule is ‘the less visible the better’. I am personally fascinated by neck grafts that are hard to detect, especially if a restorer has used deeply flamed wood. However, I have seen some grafts that are hardly visible from the side, but when viewed from the front can be spotted by the artificial, painted-on dirt covering the joint on the pegbox edge.

I recently had to perform a neck graft on a very old violin that still retained its original neck. Because the wood was only lightly flamed, I took it as a challenge to make the graft as invisible as possible. And because the violin had a transparent, light orange varnish, I knew the only way to hide the joint seen from the front would be to put some varnish on it. Then I came up with the idea to hide the joint inside. Here is how I did it…

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