StringWorks Blog

Notes from the founder of StringWorks, Todd French. Please feel free to email me with your questions or comments, or even suggestions on blog topics I might tackle.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A return to America for instrument making?

The recent economic turmoil has brought back the concept of 'made in America' in a rather significant and legitimate way. A reliance on other nations to produce our consumer products seemed the right idea at the time, but over the last few years, we have seen the collective disadvantage of it, and much discussion has been made about again producing our own goods, at least in part - a much larger part than what we do currently.

StringWorks is committed to follow this model as well, and I have been in discussions with several of my colleagues and my head luthier about creating some American made instrument lines. We plan to offer the first such line in the start of next year, and a higher level line sometime in that same year, but much later. These instruments will be of higher quality than our Kallo Bartok line, and since we will be making them ourselves, we will have greater control over the consistency of the overall quality and appearance.

We're quite excited about the project, and hope that you are able to follow along with us.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bows - try as many as you can...

This thread - Bow Trial - on the StringWorks Discussion Forum prompted me to explore why more string players don't take advantage of the relative simplicity that trying out bows is afforded due to their size, weight, and subsequent ease of shipping.

Each instrument responds differently to each bow, and each player has unique preferences based on their skill level and technique that make a 'match' something entirely subjective. Trying out 3-4 bows at a time is not terribly difficult, as the cost to ship one is essentially the same as to ship multiple bows, and it gives one the opportunity to try each on the instrument he/she is comfortable playing, in a familiar atmosphere.

In a time where the economy is perhaps not allowing everyone to upgrade his/her instrument, take the time to upgrade the overall performance of your instrument by sampling a few bows! You'll be surprised how varied your familiar instrument can sound when new and different bows are pulling sound from it!

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Watch the upcoming issues of Strings magazine

Heather Scott (editor of Strings magazine) is writing an article about buying instruments over the internet, and it is an article long overdue. Far too many teachers and students are scared about 'buying on the web', and for no good reason. Because of a few unscrupulous and/or unprofessional retailers selling stringed instruments, the whole, which contains many of the world's most fantastic dealers and retailers, are often placed in the same category alongside them.

I don't want to give away any content of the article, but know that I am incredibly excited that it is finally being written and distributed among the greater string community. This education is sorely needed, and the fact that it is coming from such a reputable source as Strings magazine gives me hope that it will be taken seriously.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tales from Texas - Bravo on a truly grand scale!

I recently returned from the TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association) 2008 Convention, and it was truly an enlightening event. The United States is notorious for cutting music programs nationwide, and here we have a state with so many individuals involved in music that 35,000 of which show up for one event. I took note even of one trio that ended up chatting with me at our booth, all of whom were cellists and cello teachers. What was amazing was that they were all from one very small town in the southernmost part of Texas. A tiny town with (at least) three cello teachers (elementary, middle, and high schools)!

I heard of countless stories of not only existing strong music programs, but adding and improving music programs throughout the state.

I applaud Texas for its musical growth, and proving the trend wrong.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Oh, how important setup really is - walk away from 'factory setup'

One bit of information that is unfortunately not known by many purchasing violin family instruments is the importance (cannot stress enough just how important it is) of a quality, qualified setup. Many inexpensive instruments are sold with 'factory setup' - this means a bridge-shaped object, and poorly fitted soundpost, untrimmed nut and saddle, and a fingerboard that could serve as a washboard in a pinch. To make such an instrument playable, expect on paying a qualified local luthier $100-up, and be sure that you consider it when you are looking at the potential purchase, as it is a real part of the cost, and absolutely necessary. Feel free to contact me for tips or recommendations for your local luthier if you have trouble finding one.

Budget-restricted? Don't buy cheap, rent...

This is a topic that I find coming up often - it is rather timeless, and likely even more prevalent now because of the current state of consumer economy due to borrowing and credit concerns nationwide. It is natural for players to desire the best instrument they can get - it's healthy. Unfortunately for all of us in the bowed string instrument world, our tools are not as affordable as a flute or guitar on the 'acceptable' student end.

Don't force yourself to purchase an instrument that is not being sold by a qualified retailer, and is not made of acceptable materials, which likely will require several hundred dollars in proper setup (another blog post) to be playable. Many violin shops offer excellent instruments in a rental program - take advantage of this. Save up for the instrument you CAN afford WHEN you can afford it - purchasing an inferior instrument just for the sake of owning it can actually hold your performance back.

It's been a while, but I'm back...

I can't believe how long it has been since I last posted here, but last night while driving, I thought of a good topic for the StringWorks blog, but now I cannot remember it. Still, posting even this alone gives me the chance to renew my activity with it, and if I ever recall the topic I wanted to write about, I can come back and post.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Graphite plus Spruce = ?

Many of you likely read the recent article in the New York Times about new technologies in instrument construction (guitars and violins) marrying graphite and spruce for the instrument tops, as well as other innovations that explore the marriage of technology with natural materials and/or traditional design.

I'm intrigued by the possibilities of the graphite and spruce laminate for instrument tops, yet admittedly I do not have much knowledge in this area. I have already contacted a friend of mine (also in the industry) who has expertise in composites, and perhaps one day we can sit down and compare notes, putting the two heads together and try to come up with an idea. Unfortunately, when we get together, it's not often about productivity, but we could perhaps make a very concerted effort for the good of all.

The concept makes sense to me, as spruce is so inconsistent even in the high quality blanks. I can imagine a very thin piece of spruce used for the top that is reinforced in all the key areas by a variable sheet of graphite - sort of a swiss cheese or honeycomb design but with irregular hole shapes and spacing, as the impact of tone on the top of an instrument varies, hence the irregular graduation of every violin top. Since graphite/composites can be so highly tuned to do exactly what you need them to do, and then so easily replicated as exact models of one another, you could introduce a level of consistency and constance to a rather irregular and highly varied construction task.

While graphite/composite creates a very consistent and tunable part of the equation, it cannot - in my opinion - recreate the intricacies of what a natural substance can in a stringed musical instrument. This is where the spruce will shine. The inherent tonal qualities of spruce will keep this instrument sounding natural and will allow it to improve with age, just as an all wooden instrument would. The absence of the natural products and magic that comes in tonal development of an instrument performed on for many years could still exist, yet the advantages of the composite reinforcements mean that the instrument could start out at a higher level of tonal development.

It's an interesting concept, as I said earlier, and definitely one I'd like to pursue when the time allows it. I certainly invite anyone else to share their thoughts with me.

Mass Market Music

I know it has been quite some time since my last Blog entry - either I have been too busy, or too lazy. I received some feedback from someone who reads this Blog and was urged to get back to writing, so as testament to my promise to take your advice into consideration, I'm back at the keyboard...

Today I'd like to touch again on the Mass Market of Music, specifically musical instruments, and even more specifically, that of a certain firm who has aligned themselves with a car manufacturer to offer a free guitar with purchase of a particular vehicle. Unfortunately, this is the same company that is responsible for the vast downgrading of the low end of the market in musical instruments through - by their own admission on their website - mass marketing.

One could argue, perhaps, that mass marketing of musical instruments brings down the price and therefore puts music in the hands of those who may not otherwise have been able to. Extremely low cost instruments make them affordable through major retailers, but what is gravely missing in this theory is that we are not talking about VCR's or skateboards - we are talking about a 'product' that requires at least some acceptable level of build quality, attention to detail, and expertise in construction, setup, and tuning (no pun intended).

I find myself continually frustrated by the leadership of this company, where not a single person seems to have been involved in music at any time in their life, other than one who was with Sony Music in a PR role. How can you run a specialized product line with zero expertise? A better question might be how can you run such a specialized product line with zero expertise and have it not only be a huge success but change the market in which you have no real business being in? It is frustrating for all the many thousands of experienced and educated retailers, manufacturers, and distributors out there who suffer the results of this 'Mass Market' campaign that has become so successful, and the greater disappointment is with the products themselves and the inevitable loss of quality which negatively affects the market as a whole for more than just the immediate future, but the long term.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Violins and Costco - A Rant.

I noticed today that the 'Costco Effect' has gone to new levels, much to my chagrin and ultimate frustration. The 'Costco Effect' is known in the musical instrument trade as essentially the raping of the marketplace with poorly constructed, mass produced, readily available musical instruments of all types, priced so low as to singlehandedly adjust the marketplace pricing of the low end instruments to new lows. In all, bad news for the entire market - lower threshholds for pricing, poor quality instruments (which can encourage or develop frustration in the player), uneducated sellers, poor fitment and/or setup, and lack of support.

Previously, I noticed that only ultra-low end, ultra-low priced stringed instruments were offered, complete with "factory setup" (read: not setup to even the most remedial playing standards). Even from the photos you can see poorly fitted pegs, maligned bridges, cheap thin steel strings, and low quality wood, all finished off with a layer of lacquer. Frankly, I don't see any need for such low quality instruments in the marketplace and they do more harm than good - those looking at a budget can find used instruments of quality priced similarly or rent their instruments to stay budget-conscious. There is no need to have your child (or adult student) suffer through a poorly made, and extremely poorly setup instrument. Little does the uneducated consumer know that a stringed instrument (or just about any musical instrument) is NOT a commodity that is given a UPC code, put on the shelf, bought from a box, taken home and used - at least it shouldn't be. Unfortunately, the Costco Effect (also known as the Wal-Mart Effect - same issue) doesn't reveal this to the consumer, likely since it remains unknown to them as well.

Today I noticed that Costco is selling some sort of limited edition, special violin priced at roughly $2,000.00. To me, this goes from frustrating to ridiculous, and now Costco enters a whole new world of incompetence and ignorance. When you are talking about a $150 violin outfit, some leeway can be granted for general lack of quality, setup, and support. When you move to this pricing level, where there exists any number of fantastic, handmade instrument sporting fantastic tone, beautifully done individual setup and play testing, and generations of tradition, it is ludicrous to assume that spending this amount of money on an instrument from the warehouses of Costco is worthwhile. Still, I'm sure that many violin shops and music stores will lose customers, albeit uneducated ones, who will not realize what a serious, tactile, educated framework surrounds a purchase of such an instrument.

Costco is a friend to many of us - their warehouse pricing of products with brand names saves families a lot of money year after year, and it has proven its worth many times over with electronics, food products, and even lawn furniture. Musical instruments are not electronics (in most cases, mind you), food products, or lawn furniture. Stringed instruments in particular require expert development, execution, setup, and distribution - I wish Costco would recognize this, and stop robbing the hard-working violin shops and music stores of the business they SHOULD be getting.

I'm stepping off my soapbox now. Probably have to shop at Costco this weekend anyway...hope they don't read my blog or my membership may be revoked.