In Praise of the Humble Medio Fino

FullSizeRender(7) The following is quoted and roughly translated by me from http://www.luthiers-mirecourt.com/marques_generiques.htm,  which is a fantastic website devoted to all things violin from Mirecourt, France:

“Medio-Fino or Mi-Fin was used in unpurfled instruments by the Thibouville Company and marketed by other firms such as Ullmann.  Although found in catalogs from Laberte and Couesnon as Demi-Fin, in reality, the affixed labels were the same as the Thibouville Company.  The Medio-Fino instruments produced in the 19th century by Thibouville, with lemon yellow or burgundy varnish, have an exceptional sound.  They have sometimes been revarnished, purfled, and have had Italian labels placed in them by unscrupulous dealers.  Increasingly rare are those that have retained their little labels of origin.  These products are sometimes very basic and contrary to the honor of Mirecourt violin making.  The reason is that there was a desire to continue to democratize music through the ‘Violin at Five Francs’ of the 19th century, but inflation made it impossible to make them without sacrificing quality.  Please do not put all Medio-Finos in the same bag, otherwise we would be deprived of excellent violins!”

FullSizeRender(4)The top here is made of a single piece of spruce, with a reddish-brown spirit varnish.  Classic Jerome Thibouville Lamy (JTL) modelling and finishing.

FullSizeRender(3)The inside of the top with a respectable bassbar, not carved from the back. Very cleanly graduated and finished.

FullSizeRender(5)In this photo we can see a decent corner with the etched purfling.

FullSizeRender(2)The back is a single piece of relatively plain poplar.  However, some figure can be seen in the lower right bout.  I have heard many stories that these backs were not carved, but somehow thinned and pressed to final arching.  True?  No idea.

FullSizeRender(6)And here is a somewhat primitive, but not horrible scroll.

As quoted from www.luthiers-mirecourt.com not all Medio-Finos are created equal.  Some are very primitive and poorly made, while older examples are actually very nice and finished cleanly with full blocking and correctly installed linings.  However, even these show evidence of fast production, such as interior tooth-plane marks on the ribs and rasp imprints on the table platforms, which is part of their charm.  It is also true that the best examples have a wonderful sound.  It must be remembered that these instruments were at the very bottom of Thibouville-Lamy’s extensive line of instruments. I know many folks in the business who have a fondness for Medio-Finos and its easy to see why.   A nice example should be pretty inexpensive and a great alternative to new Chinese violins.

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Calculating Balance Point Shift

Note:  This post was written by Elizabeth Freeland, a local physicist, professor, and amateur violinist, as a result of a number of conversations we had in the shop concerning bows, tip material, and balance points.  In an earlier post about silver head plates, I pointed out that balance points changed only very sightly despite the addition of heavier tip material at the head of the bow.  Elizabeth thought it would be interesting to come up with some math to calculate exactly how much the balance point would shift on a violin bow given the addition of a given amount of weight to the head.

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Follow up:  Elizabeth’s last point concerning the actual method of measuring balance on a bow is interesting.  While testing and exploring her equations, we realized that balancing the bow on one’s finger was rather too crude to be scientifically accurate.  I clamped a piece of 2mm thick wood in a vice and attempted to balance bows on this thin strip, but it proved to be almost impossible to get the stick to balance smoothly.  I’m sure an inventive bow-maker out there has created some kind of clever bow balancing contraption – if so, please share!

Even if one uses something thinner than a finger, but thicker than 2mm, like say, a pencil, and uses a ruler, we believe that the error rate in reading the balance point will still be in the +/- 2mm range.  Seeing as this is about how much the balance point was seen to move with the addition of a heavier silver headplate, one has to wonder if such small balance shift really matters to the majority of players.  The truth is that most bow makers and repair folks are making somewhat approximate changes when working on balance issues with bows due to their standard practices, so arguing over a 2.5mm balance shift seems silly.

Do I believe that some players can sense such a small shift?  Without a doubt, yes, but it will only matter to a minority from a functional perspective.  Remember, one can always add more weight to the end of the bow to equalize the stick if a player has a problem with the extra tip weight, but if we as bow-makers want to work at such a level of detail, we need to develop more scientifically accurate measuring methods.

Thanks Elizabeth!!!!