Different building techniques:

   Carved soundboard

    Bent soundboard

    On a mould
     Without mould

    Neck through
     Neck attached to a block



    On musical instruments the soundboard is of vital importance at the time of creating the sound generated by the string.

According to the building method used, we will create an instrument with a distinct sound.

    On viols the soundboard can be made using different methods.

    Carved soundboard

    This building technique works well for solo playing  instruments, to play thorough bass or to play along with other kind of instruments.

It usually gives quite a "character" to the instrument and this kind of instrument is not advised for playing in a viol consort.


Two adjacent pieces of spruce are glued together.

Then the outline of the instrument is drawn up and the shape of the soundboard cut.

  Then, this piece is carved.The arching is shaped on the outside and

afterwards in the inside, as we can see on this image.

Already in  the Ordinances for the craft of violeros of of Lisbon of 1572,

mention is made to this way of making the soundboards:

Item faraa huma viola darco tipre ou contrabaxa qual quiserem laurada
de fogo e do tampaõ cauado de muito boa grossura toda igoal e da regra
que venha conforme ao caualete que naõ seia muito alto nem muito
baixo. (1)

...of digged soundboard of very good thickness all equal... (underlining and
 translation are mine)


Bent soundboard

    This type of instrument is recommended for those who want to play in the most varied ways. They work well for solo playing,

to play thorough bass or in a viol consort.

    The soundboard can be made of five or seven pieces like English (Jaye, Rose, Meares...) and French instruments (Collichon).


    Soundboard is built bending and glueing wood strips, the same way a lute back is built.

    First the central strip is bent and then the rest are bent following the arching and joined at the sides .

    The strips are cut so that they follow as closelly as possible the fiber of the wood.

    Having the fibers of the wood all along the strip gives strength to it so the soundboard can be made fairly thin, therefore light, without loosing the strength .

    It also can be built in three pieces, like in the English, French and German instruments. In the same way as above, first the central piece is

 bent and afterwards the two lateral pieces, previously bent, are glued.



 It is well known how in the examinations to become master instrument maker in Spain one was requested to make an instrument using only

a paper template, designed "in situ",in the home of the examiner, using for that, compass, ruler, square and a knife.

    Lo primero tres ynstrumentos que son una biguela llana de seis ordenes con sus tamaños reglas y conpases y se entiende que para açer la a de hacer primero el molde
de papel y lo ha de açer en presencia de los
vehedores y exsaminadores y para averio de açer no a de tener sino un
cuchillo *delante* y conpas y regla y un cartabon y
no a de usar de patrón
sino por lo que supiere y entendiere del dicho arte.[...]

    Yten que a de açer un biolin tiple de los que se usan y a de dar traçados los demas que faltan para el juego entero que son tiple tenor conttraalto y conttravaxo.

    Yten que para azer los tres ynstrumeníos se le a de dar de termino seis meses y los a de açer en casa del exsaminador y no de otra manera. (2)

    The first [of the] three instruments is a plain, six-course vihuela with its [due] proportions, rules and [due musical] range and it is understood that first of all [he]
must make a paper témplate, which must be done in the presence of the overseers and examiners so that [they] can see it being made and it must be done only
using a knife, *in front of him* a pair of compasses, a ruler and a set-square without recourse to any other pattern, but only drawing on his experience and understanding
of the said craft [...]

    ítem: that [he] has to make a violin like those in use, and to give the plans already drawn for the others that are required to make up the complete set, which are:
 a viola, a cello and a double bass.

    ítem: that for the making of the three instruments [he] must be given period of six months and that [he] has to make them in the home of the examiner and not in
any other way.(2)


 On a mould

    The use of a mold to bend the ribs comes from the lute making tradition. We can found them in the "Inventory and valuation of the workshop contents of the violero Mateo de Arratia of Toledo" from 1575.

    Diez y seys moldes tres de zer citolas y los otros de guitarras hi viguelas
    Sixteen moulds, three to make citoles and the others for guitar and vihuelas (3)

    On bowed instruments the use of the mold can be found on many of

the XVII-XVIII century violin making traditions.

    This method asures that all instruments made on the same mold

are identical  (at least the soundbox proportions).

   Anyway, there is no evidence that this way of building was used 

for viols nor have survived any mold.

   Even in the Encyclopédie, they show molds for cello

but for viols there are just "false soundboards" (?) (perhaps used as "soleras" ?).


     Planche XII.
   Outils propes á la facture des instruments à archet.
   Fig. 11. Moule de violon.
  12. Autre moule de violon.
  13. Moule de violon monté d`´eclisses.
  14 & 15. Fausses tables (4)

    Without mould

   The sides or ribs of the instrument can be built without a mold, as it was probably done by the instrument makers when making viols. This building method avoids creating tensions when glueing the ribs.

        Making the instrument this way, it is very difficult to get it totally symmetrical (as it can be done using a mold) but gives much more freedom at the time of innovating or making variations in the design (so much as to improve the sound or to answer to the needs of the player). This lack of symmetry and the variations in the models of a same maker has been studied by Dr. Michael Fleming in his doctoral thesis (5)     

     In this case the corners are not joined on a block but mitred and reinforced on the inside with cloth strips


    Neck through


  Here we can see the
Hanns Ruod Schaffer violone being built.
It is an instrument from the Alemanische Schule (6) and shows the features of this school.

   The top block is part of  the neck and two grooves are cut for the ribs.

This method was used on many instruments, plucked and bowed. Nowadays

we can see it on classical guitars.


   On this case  we do not use a mold, but neither are the ribs built "in the air".

   We first make the back of the instrument and cut a groove to glue the ribs in.

These are inserted in the groove on the back and in the neck.

   It has no corner blocks, and the corners are very long to have enough glueing

surface for the ribs.

   Strips of linen are used as reinforcement.

    The instrument before being varnished.

    We can see the long corners and inlay/purfling decoration tipical of the Alemanische Schule



   Neck attached to a block


(1) Livro dos Regimentos dos offiçiaes mecanicos da mui excelente e Sempre leal Cidade de lixbona refromados per ordenança do Illustrissimo Senado della pello Licenciado Duarte nunez do liam Anno MDLxxij
A Viola de Mão em Portugal (c. 1450-c.1789). Manuel Morais
Nassarre. Revista Aragonesa de Musicología XXII

(2) Ordenanzas del ofizio de Bigoleros o Vihueleros [Toledo] 1617.
The Vihuela de Mano and the Spanish Guitar
A dictionary of the makers of plucked and bowed musical instruments of Spain (1200-2002)
José Luis Romanillos Vega & Marian Harris Winspear
The Sanguino Press. Guijosa.2002

(3) José Luis Romanillos Vega & Marian Harris Winspear
Op.cit: P.481

(4) L'encyclopédie.
Diderot & D'Alembert

 Department of Music. Faculty of Arts. The Open University.

(6) "Die Alemanische Schule. Geigenbau im 17.Jahrhundert im südlichen Schwartzwald und in der Schweitz".
Addelmann and Otterstedt.
Staatliches institut fúr Musikforschung Preussischer Kulturbestz, Berlin, 1997.