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ANSWERED on Fri 5 Oct 2012 - 8:16 pm UTC by q21

Question: Who designed the first f-hole in violins?

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Sat 22 Sep 2012 - 1:09 am UTC

Question

brudenell
Customer

from Wikipedia : A sound hole is an opening in the upper sound board of a stringed musical instrument. The sound holes can have different shapes: round in flat-top guitars; F-holes in instruments from the violin, mandolin or viol families and in arched-top guitars; and rosettes in lutes. Bowed Lyras have D-holes and Mandolins may have F-holes, round or oval holes. A round or oval hole is usually a single one, under the strings. F-holes and D-holes are usually made in pairs placed symmetrically on both sides of the strings.

I would like to know who came up with the f-hole design and why is it in a stylized "f" shape? Does the shape really matter?

Thank you

.

 
 

Sat 22 Sep 2012 - 12:41 pm UTC

Comment

myoarin
User

Here ares some pics from the early 1500s with S and revers S shaped holes.
http://www.orpheon.org/oldsite/seiten/education/OldestViolin.htm

Wikipedia says this was the period when violins first appeared,  The F shaped hole is called that because it resembles a lower case F in old handwriting.

Here is an article that I cannot understand about the function of f-holes:
http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/music/publications/mclennan/fholes.pdf

Apparently the shape does matter, as all the scientific talk seems to explain.  Makes one wonder that 500 years ago makers got it right by trial and error,  ("Geez, that sounds better than mine; I'll make one with holes like that.")

Cheers, Myo

 

Sun 23 Sep 2012 - 12:41 pm UTC

Comment

brudenell
Customer

Great stuff Myo. Thank you.

My thoughts exactly about trial and error and thus ending up with an unusual shape. Who did this? Imagine someone deliberately altering multiple, probably hundreds, of instruments!

Your post is appreciated.

Cheers!

B

.

 

Sun 23 Sep 2012 - 5:02 pm UTC

Comment

myoarin
User

My pleasure, but not the answer.  A violin from maybe 1556 (Wiki) shows perfected F-holes.  Why the earlier S-holes got a cross to make the F seems most puzzling. Maybe a master violin maker could explain.
I could speculate that it might have something to do with the difficulty of carving the long curves without the wood splintering where the cut runs parallel with the grain.

The perfection of musical instruments is just one of many wonders prior to modern science:  the discovery of dye plants and how to fix the dye stuff so it doesn't fade; the great refinements of Greek architecture; astronomical calculations to predict eclipses; the pyramids, whereby the existing ones show development by trial and error; Gothic cathedrals, a couple of which collapsed; Viking ships; etc.

All very interesting.

Regards, Myo

 

Sun 23 Sep 2012 - 8:50 pm UTC

Uclue Researcher Comment

q21
Researcher

brudenell,

The details mentioned in this paper:
http://www.fiddleheadstrings.com/microsoft_word___for_the_strad_part_1_8_sept.pdf

will not explain why F-holes came into use. But you'll find additional information regarding the question how and why specific locations for F-holes were chosen (the reasons not directly related to a method of "trial and error").

This is just a comment as I won't be able to continue with the speciifc research required before October.

Regards,
q21

 

Tue 25 Sep 2012 - 5:23 am UTC

Comment

brudenell
Customer

q21 - most interesting paper. I thank you. I have a feeling we are getting closer. Your search and subsequent information is appreciated.

B

.

 

Tue 25 Sep 2012 - 9:06 am UTC

Comment

myoarin
User

Yes, that was indeed very interesting, especially since it points out that the positioning of the holes has been based on visual/mathematical aesthetics, rather than on recognizably better acoustic properties, always allowing the bridge to swing.

Here is a master maker who invites questions and looks like he would know, if anyone does: 
http://www.heyligerscremona.com/

Regards, Myo

 

Tue 25 Sep 2012 - 10:10 am UTC

Comment

ribuck
User

I find it interesting that the mandolin comes in two types: one with f-holes, and one with a circular or elliptical hole. According to Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandolin
the "brighter tone" of the f-hole mandolin "cuts through the sonic clutter of a pub", but the single-hole mandolins are "greatly preferred for formal performance".

The f-shape permits a slit to be cut in the general direction of the grain, without the complications that would arise from trying to cut directly along the grain. Also, the little circle at the end of the f is an easy way to start the cut. Then, if desired, the middle of the f can be enlarged with a notch or a cut to allow a little more sound out. So perhaps the shape was arrived at as a combination of the practicalities of woodworking and aesthetic considerations.

 

Wed 26 Sep 2012 - 8:18 am UTC

Comment

brudenell
Customer

Thank you myo and ribuck.

 

Wed 26 Sep 2012 - 4:04 pm UTC

Uclue Researcher Request for clarification

David Sarokin
Researcher

I'd have to go with Amati, at least in violins.

This article on the history of violins:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_violin

dates them only back to the 1550's or so, and includes a picture of an Amati with f-holes that possibly dates to 1558. So, if he wasn't the first, he was pretty darned close.

David

 

Wed 26 Sep 2012 - 7:00 pm UTC

Comment

ribuck
User

The Wikipedia page cited by David Sarokin lists the Lira da Braccio as one of the influences affecting the design of the violin. Indeed, it's "almost" a violin.

Here is a picture of a Lira de Braccio from 1525 that has fully-developed f-holes:

Wikipedia - Giovanni Daria Lira da Braccio
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Giovanni_Daria_Lira_da_Braccio.jpg

The Lira de Braccio was in turn influenced by an earlier instrument, the Vielle (also called the fidel or viuola). Here's a reconstruction of a Vielle depicted in a painting by the artist Hans Memling (who died in 1494, to put an upper limit on the date of the painting):

Wikipedia - Viella2.jpg
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Viella2.jpg

In the vielle we have "e-holes" rather than "f-holes", and I haven't found f-holes on any instrument older than the Lira de Braccio.

Take a look now at this picture, drawn in 1620. It shows a range of bowed instruments:

Wikipedia - Syntagma12
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Syntagma12.png

Notice how all of the "de braccio" instruments have f-holes, and all the "de gamba" instruments have d-holes? The difference, of course, is that "de braccio" instruments are held in the arm, and "de gamba" instruments are held between the knees.

And the following "Lira da Gamba" is fairly similar to the "Lira de Braccio" shown earlier, except for the d-holes:

Wikipedia - Lira da gamba
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lira_da_gamba_stamp.jpg

Perhaps the f-hole arose out of the specialization of the Lira family into the arm-held instruments and the knee-held instruments.

Now here's an interesting twist. The f-holes have multiple purposes. They allow the sound to get out, and they allow for a sponge to be inserted to humidify the wood. But a vital function is to enable maintenance and repairs to the inside of the instrument, particularly the sound post.

The sound post is not glued in place; it is held by the pressure between the top plate and the bottom plate. And it needs to be adjusted carefully:

"The position of the sound post inside a violin is critical, and moving it by very small amounts (as little as 0.5mm or 0.25mm, or less) can make a big difference in the sound quality and loudness of an instrument..."

Wikipedia - Sound post
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_post

To move the sound post around, the violin maker or repairer uses a sound post setter. This is a metal tool that is inserted through the f-hole to manipulate the sound post into the optimum position. And guess what? It has a shape suspiciously like an "f":

Leif L Luscombe Luthier - How to Set a Sound Post
http://www.violins.on.ca/luthier/soundpost1.html

I wonder which came first - the f-hole, or the f-shaped sound setter?

Oh, and the little notch in the middle of the f-hole is not there for acoustic or aesthetic purposes. The bridge of a violin is not attached; it is held in position by the pressure of the strings. And the notches denote the correct position of the bridge.

 

Fri 28 Sep 2012 - 11:04 am UTC

Question clarification

brudenell
Customer

David... We may almost be there.

 

Fri 28 Sep 2012 - 11:09 am UTC

Comment

brudenell
Customer

ribuck- This has been a most informative and well composed post. Thank you very much. I am sure in the families of instrument makers of the day there must have been some lively discussions about the use of the various style & shape of hole. If only someone had documented the evolution of what I am is sure was generations of debates.

I sincerely appreciate your contribution to this question.

B

.

 

Fri 5 Oct 2012 - 11:37 am UTC

Uclue Researcher Request for clarification

q21
Researcher

brudenell,

Regarding your three questions I found these further details:

1) Who came up with the f-hole design?

The pdf-file of the 2010 publication "Acoustic function of sound hole design in musical instruments" by Hadi Tavakoli Nia, is accessible from here:
http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/61924

On page 59 of this pdf-file
http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/61924/707340180.pdf?sequence=1
you'll find a short description of the development of sound-holes in violins.

Apparently, therefore, there was a development from c-holes to f-holes.

Here is a page where you'll find an explanation how "the violone C-holes started to develop into F-holes", thereby referring to "transitional type instruments":
http://www.contrabass.co.uk/2790.htm

Additional information can be found on the pages accessible from the book "The Lira Da Braccio" by Sterling Scott Jones:
http://books.google.de/books?id=BjBllk5fVDMC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

I assume that it currently has not been established which particular person first designed f-holes.

2) Why is it in a stylized "f" shape?
and
3) Does the shape really matter?

According to the abstract on page 3 (pdf-file) of the 2010 publication "Acoustic function of sound hole design in musical instruments", as mentioned above:
http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/61924

"the evolution of sound holes in violin family" is "consistent with a drive decreasing the void area and increasing the resonance bandwidth for a fixed resonance frequency".

Please let me know which additional information you hope to find.

Regards,
q21

 

Fri 5 Oct 2012 - 12:04 pm UTC

Question clarification

brudenell
Customer

Hello q21

Thank you for continuing investigating my three questions. I accept we may never know who in particular can be titled the creator of the "f" hole as it was an evolutionary trial and error process. David Sarokin came as close as I could reasonably expect to naming an individual from circumstantial evidence.

The link you have cited describes the analysis that resulted in the present day design.. from the MIT information:

 "Investigating the evolution of sound-holes in violin family from circular geometry in at least 10th century to the present-day f-hole geometry..."

I believe I now have all the information that I can expect to learn from this question. Please post your information as the answer. I will owe David for his contribution :)

B

.

 

Fri 5 Oct 2012 - 8:16 pm UTC

Uclue Researcher Answer

q21
Researcher

brudenell,

Thank you for accepting the results of my research as an answer to your question. Here are some additional details I would like to mention as well.

In the article "How, when and where the specific technological features of the violin family appeared" by Christian Rault (2007):
http://prolyra.free.fr/Christian_Rault_luthier/pages/30publpag/art17technofeatures.htm

you'll find a "Chronology of technical features on western bowed instruments".
Regarding "ff soundholes" the author refers to the painting by Gaudenzio Ferrari, The Madonna of the Orange Trees, 1529–30 (San Cristoforo Church, Vercelli), as shown in Fig. 11.

Another page claims to present "The Oldest Violin in History":
http://www.orpheon.org/oldsite/seiten/education/OldestViolin.htm

namely a painting by Gaudenzio Ferrari (d. 1546)
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4d/Gaudenzio_Ferrari_002.jpg
displaying "protoviolins" of various sizes, i.e. according to the description, in Italian, here:
http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storia_del_violino

Ribuck already mentioned "Lira da braccio" by Giovanni Daria (around 1525):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Giovanni_Daria_Lira_da_Braccio.jpg

Finally, here is a "Comparison of Soundhole Views" of "Four Stringed Instruments by Andrea Amati":
http://orgs.usd.edu/nmm/Violins/AmatiQuartet/SoundholeComparisons.html

Please let me know should you require any further clarification.

Regards,
q21

 
 

Sun 7 Oct 2012 - 7:22 am UTC

Accepted and rated

brudenell
Customer

A thorough examination of my question. Very well done! Thank you very much for this research. I have learned a great deal with this "violino" history lesson.

 

Sun 7 Oct 2012 - 7:37 pm UTC

Uclue Researcher Comment

q21
Researcher

This was a very interesting topic I hardly knew something about. Thank you, brudenell, for the tip.

 

Fri 17 Jan 2014 - 10:53 am UTC

Comment

reguz
User

Hi Brudennell
The F-holes have a complex technical function.
Primary the F-hole is a slit in the belly. This slit makes it possoble for the structure in between to move downward while the structue on the bouts on each end move in other direction.
The compression on the end blocks of the instrument make the arching of the bouts to buckle outward while the bridge with the support of the sound post is forced to bend downward.
The slit line is moved side way in order to increase the ridgidness of the structure between the F-holes. In one direction (length) the shape is flat while cross wise is has arc shape (vault) with no abutment.
This give th structe a specific ridgidness and can be brought in a corrolated stiffness the bout bending structures. Look at the animation on my internet site under "controlling the dynamic"
http://www.zuger.se/Improving_the_dynamic.html
and you will understand some of the function.
The other function is of course having a sound hole and the reason why the re must be a specifiv areas to be able to produce good sound.
I hope this explanation helps you understanding the function of the sound hole on the violin.

 

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