Fancy Rib Inlays Are a Satisfying Bit of Extra Work in the Violin-Making Process

Carving fancy rib inlays on a violin isn’t a sound requirement. It is extra work. It has little bearing on the functionality of the violin. But it is artistically satisfying.

By Pauline Dawson | From the September-October 2022 issue of Strings magazine

Strings asked violin maker Pauline Dawson: What’s your favorite part of the process of making a violin—what day do you most look forward to?


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My absolute favorite is the day devoted to carving fancy rib inlays for special violins of my own design. It isn’t a sound requirement. It is extra work. It will not be to everyone’s taste. It has little bearing on the functionality of the violin. Despite all that, I sometimes take the opportunity to satisfy my artistic bent for the chance that some magic will occur in the process of carving. Many hours of solitary sketching with precise attention to proportion and pleasing ratios will have ensued prior to picking up my tiny, freshly sharpened 0.5 mm gouge. I take my time in a peaceful micro-world of sunlight and intentional cuts; it is soon to be followed by the absolute worst day of sweating bullets while bending the crisply carved ribs. However, it’s all worth it to see the patterns that originally swirled in my head come alive with the gentle curves of the maple and blackening of delicate details.  

Photo courtesy of Pauline Dawson

Many people think making violins is incredibly creative, but I sometimes find it quite the opposite. Rigid parameters are dictated by your wood, violin model, customer preference, and sound qualities, all informed by centuries of violin-making convention. To relax into a strictly esthetic process that pleases me first and others second is a wonderfully fulfilling way to flex artistically. If others enjoy the result as well, then that is the ultimate satisfaction—as long as it also sounds good!