Once upon a time there were some pieces of wood... Paraphrasing Carlo Collodi you maight start in such a way the story of a violin making but also of a viola rather than a cello. In a certain sense, a reference to the fairytale of Pinocchio can be fitting if you think about the final result deriving from working the raw wood when the able hands of the craftsman put his just completed work into the same expert hands of a musician. A real magic seems to be happened.

The concerned pieces of wood are not ordinary pieces of wood. Their names sound like titles:

"Spruce from Val di Fiemme"

"Balkan Mountainous Maple"

"Black Ebony from Madagascar"

That's quite enough to get impressed facing such a blazon!

Actually, the black ebony from Madagascar would be really the best for a luthier. But, on the other hand, it is not easy to get it, so the most common ebony from Africa is really the most used.

Now, let's have a brief look on how a violin, the symbol of the string instruments by definition, is made according to the canons of classical violin making. The pictures below may help to do that by highlighting the main components of the instrument.

First of all we should watch two components in particular: those ones having not so obvious a specific functionality unlike the others. These components are the "bass bar" and the "sound post".

The bass bar is a strip of fir wood appropriately shaped placed under the soundboard parallel to the strings in correspondence of the thicker low tone ones (third and fourth). These ones, through the left foot of the bridge, exert a considerable force on the board itself and so the most evident function is that of a reinforcement of the structure. Moreover, it also spreads low tone string’s vibrations across the soundboard.
In a similar way the sound post, a small fir cylinder interlocking between the soundboard and the back and symmetrically positioned to the bass bar near the right foot of the bridge, performs two functions: the main one is acoustic since it transmits vibrations from the soundboard to the back of the instrument allowing the resonance of the whole sound box; the other function, like for the bass bar, is spreading the force exerted on the soundboard by the strings unloading it to the back.

The acoustic success or failure of the whole instrument may depend on a more or less positioning of these components by the luthier to confirm that very often what you can't see is what makes the difference. It means mastery of technique acquired after years of intense learning and enthusiastic experimentation.

Marco Cioni who, since he was a teenager, called himself "aggeggione", a Tuscan term identifying a person who knows no statements such as "I cannot", "I am not able" because he tries and tries until he succeeds, found many writings by ancient master luthiers around the world, such as Domenico Angeloni, Simone F. Sacconi, Antoine Vidal and, judging by the results, he studied them very carefully.
He says: "To make my first violins I followed the directions stated in the book "The Secrets of Stradivari" by S. Sacconi. As a first result I got a too small violin of 34 cm and a half. The second one turned out to be too large, just over 36 cm".
Well, things happen you would say.... if you think that the standard size is 35.6 cm ...!
Now, after more than ten years of learning and experience, Marco makes string instruments by manufacturing one by one all the necessary parts and using woods of the classical tradition but not only.
"A string quartet (typical set of a luthier's manufacture which consists in a viola, a cello and two violins) should be get from wood taken from the same plant", explains Marco. "Usually I employ traditional wood but sometimes I like to experiment". And he continues: "To make the linings, for instance, I use a timber that spontaneously grows in Torbecchia (the place where he lives). My uncle, a carpenter, used to call it Salia but it is a type of willow, actually. Even Stradivari sometimes used the willow", he smugly says. Marco continues: "Even here, around the house, it grows another type of plant that surprisingly revealed unexpected acoustic qualities: the Robinia or Locust-tree. I have a client, a friend of mine as well, who is a concertmaster of the Sanremo Symphonic Orchestra", he says with a touch of pride, "that honored me by testing my instruments. He really likes this wood, as he has pointed out more than once.
One of the first times I used that wood, I remember I had prepared a tailpiece made with Robinia and sent it to him by mail without any particular expectation, actually. Well, he phoned me, surprised by the peculiar characterization of the sound achieved using that tailpiece". A great satisfaction, let's face it!

Here is one of Marco's instruments made with some no traditional wooden components. It is a violin, a part of a string quartet. The chinrest is made with Robinia; tailpin, tailpiece and pegs are made with Erica, another kind of wood revealing interesting acoustic qualities.
Another particular feature concerns the upper nut. In this case wood is not used (usually ebony is used as well as for the lower nut). In fact it is obtained by an ox bone which is previously treated with sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and boiling water. It is not so unusual to find some instruments from Marco's manufacture showing both upper and lower nuts made of this material. Some examples of this are given by the violins displayed further on in this section.
Furthermore note also the gold trim on the pegs and the inlay on the fingerboard made of gold as well and showing the Author's brand name.
From the beginning of his apprenticeship Marco kept a diary of his own experiences like an explorer in distant lands that minutely updates his travel notebook at every rest. With the patience of an amanuensis monk, Marco wrote down everything in great detail and accurate pictures, everything in a calligraphy as they used in the past.
Read from Marco's notebook
Marco slowly does all this just for pure passion, in the quiet of his laboratory. Free of constraint and deadlines of any kind he does not use semi-finished parts but, as already mentioned, he makes his own everything he needs.

To complete the real violin making manufacturing process, that is, bringing the violin into a state called "in pajamas", as the jargon has it, - which means unpainted - , it may takes until a month. The adjoining photo shows just a "still-to-be-dressed-up" violin, a procedure that, we must not forget, may take even a longer time.
Note that Marco spends part of his time also to convey his art to other people. It is not so unusual, if you come to his lab, to find him chiseling a soundboard and, at the same time, keeping up with one or more apprentices who get the teachings of the master.
It is Marco that tirelessly strives to show them the various techniques, wood modelling, natural glue preparation,component assembling and finishing operations.
In the pictures on the side and below we can see Marco teaching Alessandro how to remove the internal shape on which ribs and linings have been assembled after they have been glued to the back of the violin.
Afterwards, the squareness of the blocks to the horizontal plane is checked.

At the end of this section let's get back for a while to the Robinia wood so that we can speak about a sort of "experiment" that Marco successfully completed some time ago and that made him assume, at that time, the role of heretic - metaphorically speaking - against the orthodoxy of violin making.
As mentioned above, Marco gets the Robinia wood around his house. Many years ago, a significant number of cut down plants were abandoned on the ground. He says: "There were several huge nearly century-old trees torn down and left in the woods. They had never been cut to make firewood. About ten years ago I collected those trunks which, in the meantime, had lost bark and sapwood, devoured by termites and elements. I had some of those logs sawed to tables”, continues Marco, "to make a cutting board". For more information about the peculiarity of this cutting board, click on the image at right to directly read from Marco's notebook. Read from Marco's notebook
After discovering again this "essence", - like a tree species and the wood you can get are defined within forestry -, Marco began manufacturing some tailpieces made of Robinia with excellent results. Among them, regarding one in particular, we have already talked about. It was a really short step from there to find himself wondering why not to manufacture a violin that were almost completely made in Robinia. Said and done!
From one of the best preserved logs, with a tangential cut from the trunk area known as "heartwood" but however as close as possible to the rind or bark, Marco got the necessary pieces for the back, ribs and neck of the violin. Even the tailpiece, chinrest and pegs were made using the Robinia but, like the different color of them suggests, they were got from a different log. On the other hand, Marco used some willow wood for linings and blocks. Finally he used, with a certain relief for purists, the classic spruce wood for the soundboard, sound post and bass bar.
The result is the instrument you can see in the pictures below. Those who tested it say that you only need to lightly touch the strings to realize that this violin has an excellent music performance.
Congratulations, Marco!