Purfling - Another factor when looking at double basses

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by MostlyBass, Dec 19, 2012.


  1. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

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    String instruments have black lines around them but they are not just decorative. It is called purfling and it is actually strips of wood put into the instrument to help the structure. That is one characteristic of a quality instrument. Painted on lines can be a tell-tale sign of a less than desirable instrument.

    Although the function on a plywood / laminate bass may be debated, the purfling is often skipped or faked on cheap instrument.

    Not all basses have purfling, and this isn't a make-or-break item, but this is another attribute to notice.

    Here are some pictures of purfling on a violin.
     

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  2. mjt0229

    mjt0229

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    Purfling is not just decorative. It helps stop cracks from propagating from the edges of the instrument.
     
  3. Bin Son of Bin

    Bin Son of Bin

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    A good point. I have noticed this as well.

    Are there other such reference points on other instruments to look after? Ie: A painted on Purfling vs a proper (routed/carved?) purfling? Is there such a thing as a faked scroll or edges or neck that indicates a good or bad job?

    Jason
     
  4. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

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    duh! missed the 'not' (decorative)!!!!! fixed. thank you!!
     
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  6. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

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  7. crowsmengegus

    crowsmengegus

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    I talked once with a VSA award winning violin maker, and asked him what he thought about purfling on double basses. He said basically that he thought the top plate is too large/thick for purfling to have a noticeable effect on the flexibility of the top, as it supposedly does on violins. This was of course his anecdotal experience, but he was formerly an engineer so I imagine he had some more substantial reasons for believing it.

    Either way, I've owned one and seen many old German/Tyrolean factory basses with fake purfling that would make professional level instruments. I don't really think it makes a bit of difference, it's just an indicator of price bracket in new instruments.
     
  8. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC Supporting Member

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    I don't agree. I believe properly crafted purfling can arrest the progression of a crack that starts at the edge that, for example, may be caused by a bump or knock of the instrument. It's not about the overall flexibility of the top.

    Luthiers?
     
  9. josiah goldfish

    josiah goldfish

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    Purfling is a very important part of violin-family instruments. My double bass has very chipped up edges, and they would have cracked past the ribs if it weren't for the purfling.

    Purfling is also a display of the luthier's skill:
    There's a part of the purfling called the bee-sting, this is where the ends of purflling meet up to form a point on the corners. The sharper/higher-quality this joint, the higher the chances that the luthier is highly competent (though this is just an observation, bad purfling by no means means a bad bass).

    Also, inlaying the purfling is quite tricky, so this is another reason it's used to identify the luthier's skill. I don't know whether it improves sound (it seems too close to the ribs to make a difference to the way the top vibrates) but it's been done for 100's of years, so there's obviously a good reason for it.

    Also, painted purfling often looks cheap IME
     
  10. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC Supporting Member

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    Josiah-- you're preaching to the converted! :)

    Talk about precision purfling! Here are examples of Eric Roy's double-purfling work on my bass:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  11. crowsmengegus

    crowsmengegus

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    I don't claim that it wouldn't stop a crack from progressing, though it would be interesting to hear from a luthier about how often they see this sort of thing in practice.

    Do you have any sources to say that it wouldn't affect the top flexiblity? I'd be interested to know if there have been any real studies done on whether there are acoustical effects attributed to purfling. I've seen opinions either way, and various non-scientific reasons for those opinions. A couple fairly convincing ones are: 1. the binding on the inside of the top often protrudes past the purfling line, thus it would seem to counteract any extra flexibility in the top, 2. stiffness is a desirable property for a back, so why purfle it if it increases flexibility?
     
  12. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC Supporting Member

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    The information you got from the violin-maker seems to make sense. Given the size of the top, purfling would not seem to affect its overall flexibility in any practically meaningful fashion. As soon as I read your post, I considered where the linings and hide glue contact the top and you mentioned that as well. I just don't understand how purfling could have any acoustical effect worth considering. As you mentioned about the award-winning violin maker:

    Exactly. When you originally said you didn't think purfling makes any difference, I thought you were referring to the avoidance of cracks. That was with what I disagreed. Maybe that's not what you meant. So, to be clear, I think purfling on a DB does help to prevent the continuation of edge cracks and I can't see how it would effect the flexibility of the top in any manner that would have meaningful acoustic consequences.
     
  13. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member

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    In addition to the aforementioned functional purpose of purfling, the decorative aspect should not be overlooked. From what I've read, pre industrial age craftsmen often included what I would call non-functional ornamentation to products. The idea was that a customer could judge their skill and attention to detail based on those ornaments (e.g., scroll, purfling) that are visible on inspection, and assume that a similar level of skill was applied to invisible and highly functional features such as the fit of the neck block.

    During the industrial revolution, it was interesting to see that kind of ornamentation gradually vanish from manufactured products.
     
  14. PaulCannon

    PaulCannon

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  15. Champagne

    Champagne

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    I went to pepboys for purfling decals. Much nicer and you don't have to gouge up the wood to put them on. O:)
     
  16. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

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    Excellent! Do they have any with flames? :)
     
  17. Champagne

    Champagne

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    They sure did. :) I'm thinking of doing mine in chrome lick and stick. I now want a $500 clunker to dress up. How cool would it be to have hood scoops instead of f-holes. With flames coming from them.

    Oops.... don't mean to derail the thread :)
     

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