The Grafted Neck
A grafted neck can be evidence of an old instrument. During the 19th century, as musical style and context changed, it became necessary for the violin to evolve. Soloists who depended on filling public concert halls to earn a living, required a more powerful voice to stand out against the full orchestra. This was accomplished by changing the violin's setup to lengthen the string and raise the height of the bridge, with a corresponding lengthening of the bass bar to stand up to the increased tension placed on the instrument. To facilitate longer string length, neck grafts were performed on many instruments.
Grafting the neck is one delicate procedure in the violin restorer's repertoire. This operation replaces the flamed or striped maple of the neck under the fingerboard, including the heel which joins the neck to the body of the violin. In order to preserve the integrity of the instrument, the original scroll and peg-box are removed and rejoined to the new wood chosen for the neck. The styling and shape of the sculpted scroll are a unique and personal expression of the maker and this operation respects his or her intention and artistic execution. A scarfed joint extends about 1 3/4" along the inside of each wall and for the full depth of the peg-box, giving a maximum of gluing surface. This insures sufficient strength to accommodate the considerable tension it will endure. Care is taken, first to match the figure of the original wood with the replacement piece, and also to revarnish the heel and under-end of the pegbox. Thus, when the operation is complete, very little evidence is visible of the repair. Close examination should reveal the glue line at the beginning of the peg-box on each side, and across the end.
Of course a replaced or grafted neck does not in itself verify the age of a violin. Fakery was and still is a highly developed art, and the practice of copying or antiquing instruments extends to every minute detail; the choice of wood, the replication of varnish and, yes, including the making of new violins with grafted scrolls. Many late 19th and the early 20th century German and French factory instruments were made to look as though the neck had been grafted, but careful examination will invariably detect this often clumsy feature. In conclusion, an expertly crafted neck graft is indeed a marvelous sight to behold.
David Papazian papazianviolins@ yahoo.ca
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last upddate 11/14/99