Marquetry in musical instruments

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
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Amr Maamoun
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Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Amr Maamoun » Mon Jan 09, 2017 11:51 pm

Hi guys,

I have a tricky question that I have tried for hours on end to answer on the internet to no avail.

Is there an information source out there on the topic of marquetry/veneer ornaments/complicated geometric inlays in musical instruments (or even in general)?

Here's a picture below of what I mean: you can see beautiful patterns covering the back and neck of an Oud. I have a pretty good idea how the principle works (creating the patterned veneer in several steps and then gluing the segments on the instrument), but it would be great if I can find some material and examples of such wood designs on musical instruments, how did such patterns evolve, techniques and tricks involved.

I am sure that such techniques were also popular in Europe few centuries ago, but for some reason I cannot find any infos. Middle Eastern luthiers are very secretive about their trade and cannot find any material from their side either.

For example one persistent question would be: How would the gluing of such thin veneer on let's say the sides and back of a guitar affect the instrument? I imagine it would produce a thicker and stiffer back and sides, which means that they need to be planed thinner. But perhaps it would be too stiff for the instrument to breath?!

Bottom of line: any infos, books, websites about the topic would be great!

Cheers,
Amr
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Marcus Dominelli
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Marcus Dominelli » Tue Jan 10, 2017 1:10 am

Beautiful Marquetry. I made an oud a few years ago, but it was very plain compared to those ones...

There is a strong tradition of marquetry like this in Egypt. Japan also has some amazing marquetry craftspeople. Someone posted a link recently here on delcamp of a japanese box maker who was doing incredible marquetry work by hand, and the youtube video did a really good job of showing the process of his work. Maybe someone can re-post it. You would enjoy that one...

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Gordon Guttmann
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Gordon Guttmann » Tue Jan 10, 2017 4:26 am

Amazing examples! I've been inspired by Jim Friesen's photos and am building a guitar with some of his decorative binding ideas. It's taken a few days to glue up my binding for this lacewood 3 piece back guitar and am hoping to do a good job. The marquetry in the above photos is beyond what I can understand right now but it is beautiful.

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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby vesa » Tue Jan 10, 2017 8:17 am

Looks or sound (IMO). In classical guitars decorations are only:
rosette, purflings, tie block and headstock veneer.
Those are in the areas that are in the ¨periferium¨of the guitar
- it is where they affect the sound least.
Could be interesting to hear how an IRW back covered with marquetry sounds in taptone compared with a plain IRW back.
Vesa Kuokkanen

David Rubio ws. E. B. Jones 1979
Antonio Marin nr. 813 1995 (Bouchet)
Vesa Kuokkanen 2016

Alan Carruth
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Alan Carruth » Tue Jan 10, 2017 4:13 pm

Extensive marquetry of that sort is not as common in the European tradition these days. One sees some very fancy work of this sort from the 17th and 18th centuries: look up Joachim Tielke of Hamburg for some examples, as well as Voboam and Sellas. Tielke's work was often true marquetry: more or less a jigsaw puzzle of ivory and tortoise shell, with pewter inlays, and no backing, except possibly cloth. These were ornaments for the wealthy: there are also surviving 'player's' instruments from the same period that are far plainer, such as those by Stradivari.

There are as many techniques for making these inlays as there are designs. Tielke's work was pretty much done with jeweler's saws. Hand sawn veneers were often stacked up, glued in a few spots to keep them aligned, and the patterns cut with the saw held at a slight angle to account for the width of the saw slot. The pieces from the top would fit into the ones on the bottom with almost no gap if the cutter was careful. This was a 'primary' inlay: the pieces from the bottom could be glued into the holes in the top veneer, but there would be a gap all around that would be filled with glue and sawdust to make the 'secondary' inlay.

Stradivari used a 'dot and diamond' inlay in ivory on some of his fancy fiddles. The dot and diamonds were made in the form of small rods with the appropriate section, which were cut off to make the inlay pieces. These were set in a channel around the edges of the fiddle in a ground of some sort; often glue and ebony dust. One sees guitars with shell inlays around the edges done this way (although, of course, you could not make the shell in a rod) from, say the mid-19th century until fairly recently. Look at the guitarist in Rick's Bar in 'Casablanca' for an example.

It's possible to set up jigs using a hand plane to make parts for quite intricate geometric inlays. This is often called 'parquetry', to differentiate it from the more pictorial 'marquetry' cut out with a saw. I can't say whether that method was used on the ouds in the pictures.

The typical Spanish style rosette is made by gluing up pieces of colored veneers into a bundle that shows the desired pattern on the end. Normally these are small square section strips cut along the grain from sheets of veneer, so the design shows on the end-grain surface. Shaped pieces can be used, and the show face need not be end grain. The general technique is known to British inlay artists as 'Tunbridge ware'.

That sort of work is extremely time consuming. I use a fairly simple parquetry rosette made with plane jigs, and it takes about two days to make one. A Spanish style rosette would be about the same if you were only making one. I spent over ninety hours just making the leaves to inlay around the top edge on my 'Autumn' guitar. Most of those decorative details these days are made I low-wage countries. Recently there people have been applying high technology to the task: 'Purflex' binding and rosette pieces are made with a computer controlled laser cutter in several patterns.

There are a few books on marquetry available: one I have is 'The Art and Practice of Marquetry' by W.A. Lincoln, 1971, Thames and Hudson press.

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Doug Ingram
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Doug Ingram » Tue Jan 10, 2017 5:18 pm

The Japanese practice of making up patterned blocks and using them for decorative covers is called Yosegi. Extremely thin slices are taken and then glued over the support. Those Ouds probably utilize a similar approach.

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Amr Maamoun
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Amr Maamoun » Tue Jan 10, 2017 10:06 pm

It seems that there's a lack of information about this topic, despite how well spread the art is throughout middle east, in Europe few centuries ago and even in Japan. Someone needs to write a book about this!

Alan Carruth wrote: look up Joachim Tielke of Hamburg for some examples, as well as Voboam and Sellas


Thank you for your input and for these names!!

Alan Carruth wrote: This is often called 'parquetry',


I am still confused what is parquetry and what is marquetry. Googling 'parquetry in musical instruments' does not seem to yield anything useful.

Alan Carruth wrote:'Purflex' binding and rosette pieces are made with a computer controlled laser cutter in several patterns.


Yes, this is really fascinating, yet it's too machine-made for my taste at the moment.

Alan Carruth wrote:That sort of work is extremely time consuming.


But I imagine extremely rewarding. My best part of making a guitar is the rosette :)

Alan Carruth wrote:There are a few books on marquetry available: one I have is 'The Art and Practice of Marquetry' by W.A. Lincoln, 1971, Thames and Hudson press.


Thank you!!

Doug Ingram wrote:The Japanese practice of making up patterned blocks and using them for decorative covers is called Yosegi.


During my search on the internet I managed to watch a lot of videos about Yosegi. What threw me off is that the japanese planes that they usually use are known for the thinnest shaving that they can produce, but how to make it able to produce a veneer of let's say 0.2mm still evades me (is that possible with a normal western style plane?!). I wish if there was a book about the art (e.x. to talk about technique involved but also creative examples of patterns created)..

Marcus Dominelli wrote:There is a strong tradition of marquetry like this in Egypt


Not only in Egypt, but the whole middle east (Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Iran, in addition to countries of north west Africa. I am sure I missed a few additional countries). But again these builders are very secretive about their trade, so one cannot find any useful video about marquetry stemming from the Arabic middle east at least.

I watched videos about 'Khatam', a Persian art of marquetry with bone used in addition to wood...Very insightful on how marquetry is being performed in Iran.

Thank you vesa and Gordon Guttmann for your input!

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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Alan Carruth » Wed Jan 11, 2017 6:17 pm

In the old days veneers were cut with a saw. It was hard to make them much thinner than 1/8" (3mm). You see a fair amount of that sort of veneer on old furniture. Eventually they did figure out how to make thinner veneers by slicing them. A large piece of wood is boiled for several days, and then clamped in a fixture. A large and heavy knife shears off thin layers. The standard thickness these days for veneer is .5mm , although you can get .3mm as well. Thinner veneers have been made. A good veneer mill can make it surprisingly uniform in thickness.

Some violin makers like to produce their own veneers for purfling lines in the way that Strad is assumed to have done. A sharp plane is set for a heavy cut. The surface to be sliced is wet, and then a shaving is immediately taken from it. Wetting the wood prevents the 'chip breaker' of the plane from crushing the fibers and curling up the chip. The white lines in Strad's purfling were about .6mm thick, and you can get a shaving that thickness without undue effort if it's not too wide. He used Italian poplar. The black lines are the same wood, about half as thick, and they were dyed by boiling them in vinegar and iron filings with some tannin added in a copper trough. The copper gives them a slight green cast.

Most trades around the world have traditionally been secretive.

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Amr Maamoun
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Amr Maamoun » Wed Jan 11, 2017 9:52 pm

Alan Carruth wrote:The standard thickness these days for veneer is .5mm , although you can get .3mm as well.


This is mainly the part which remains somehow vague to me in creating these marquetry patterns, i.e. how to make them that thin. I saw the Persian craftsmen making those cuts on a bandsaw to create the veneer (But it looked thicker than 1mm), but I guess a properly tuned bandsaw can make the necessary cut of 0.5 - 0.3mm, although I never managed to have a cut thinner than 1mm on my bandsaw. Otherwise, I might have to try the Yosegi way with that super cool and sharp japanese plane!

Alan Carruth wrote:Wetting the wood prevents the 'chip breaker' of the plane from crushing the fibers and curling up the chip.


I saw the Yosegi craftsmen also wetting the wood before taking the veneer shaving, I guess to facilitate the cut and to allow the veneer to easily uncurl while using some heat directly afterwards.

Thank you for your input!

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Gordon Guttmann
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Gordon Guttmann » Fri Jan 13, 2017 4:16 am

First time trying this kind of binding. I was afraid that it was too fragile to bend but it bent just fine.
It took quite awhile to do all the glue ups.
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Amr Maamoun
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Amr Maamoun » Fri Jan 13, 2017 4:13 pm

Nice job Gordon! It's gonna be a magical moment as always when you put the binding in and scrape it flush! Good luck!

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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Alan Carruth » Fri Jan 13, 2017 7:32 pm

The saw they use to make thin veneer is a large, thin circular saw. It's fussy to sharpen and set up, and probably 2/3 or more of the wood disappears as dust. I think there is still one mill that does that. The only real advantage of it is that the wood does not have to be steamed or boiled and cut when it's hot and wet, as is the case for sliced veneers. Cooking changes the color of some woods, and the wet leaves of veneer warp as they dry. This is paticularly true since much of the wood that's cut for veneer is 'fancy'; with a lot of figure of one sort or another. Some woods also become quite fragile when they've been cooked.

I can usually coax my bandsaw into making veneer around 1mm thick fairly reliably. You need to set up a special fence that can be adjusted for the drift of the blade, and use a hold-down to keep the wood tight against it. I've managed to make .5mm veneer using my old Wagner Safety planer and scrapers, but it's not something I'd recommend.

Iirc, by definition anything less than about 6mm thick is considered 'veneer'.

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Gordon Guttmann
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Gordon Guttmann » Fri Jan 13, 2017 9:41 pm

Amazing thinning veneer with a wagner. I can't imagine it because the veneer is so fragile. I do feel the Wagner is a great tool though. Any advice on sharpening the cutters?

Thanks for the kind words Amr! Alles gut.

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tom0311
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby tom0311 » Fri Jan 13, 2017 10:00 pm

Lovely work Gordon. I'd love to see another pic when it's installed!
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Re: Marquetry in musical instruments

Postby Jim Frieson » Sat Jan 14, 2017 10:13 am

Friends I have had from Iran , and Lebanon , told me much of such parquetry ornament was produced in jails . It can be very intricate and fine .
Parquetry can be made up into blocks or logs , the end of the log revealing the design , as in the guitar mosaic log , and slices cut off of it assembled .
It can also be assembled of thin prepared pieces on a flat surface like a jigsaw puzzle .
I have several thin Sheffield dinner knives , teeth filed into them with a Japanese saw file , and they will cut very finely . The ivory parquetry below , all done with piano ivory and using such a saw . For sawing strips , I can get down to 0.5 mm easily , on a bandsaw with 12 TPI thin blade - it takes about 30 minutes to sharpen such a blade but it makes a difference in cutting ability .
Sometimes I will use a Japanese plane to make strips - the shaving is the veneer and I can get up to 1mm thick - but the wood must be smooth planing not complex grain and the blade very sharp . Many of my mosaic strips are cut by a plane , not sawn . No waste .
Marquetry can be single copy which is done with an angled cut and a thin jeweller's blade , such that the piece to be inlaid fits exactly in the piece to receive it , both cut at once . Or more commonly it can be multiple copies cut at once with the blade perpendicular .
Marquetry reached a zenith in France during the later 1700s , and again in Paris Art Deco shortly after 1900 ; there is an excellent book by Pierre Ramond , called Marquetry , dealing with techniques and materials . Some of my work , in parquetry and single copy marquetry below .
I enjoy to do it , but there is not much call for such ornament in modern taste in the Spanish guitar .
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