Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Rehairing a violin bow.

Rehairing bows is something that most violin shops do.  I do a few a month, in addition to violin repairs and making.  It can be challenging, and humbling.  Horse hair is used, which is organic and therefore variable.  It has to be fit to the right length for each individual bow, and the length of hair changes with humidity and temperature.  Not much, but even that can be too much in some situations.  I try not to rehair on really rainy days, if I get the choice.

Another part of rehairing is the replacement of three little pieces of wood that are used to hold the hair in place.  We are seeing more and more student bows done with, how shall we say?, not so much attention paid to these three little plugs.  After all, the customer seldom sees them.

So, here are a few photos of the plugs of a recent rehair.

Here is the tip plug of a student-level violin bow.  When done correctly, the plug is just the right size, held in by geometry.  This one had a little glue to help it stay in place.  Using the traditional invoked cursing 1-10 scale, 1 being none, 10 being the point at which you really need to repent later, this was about a 3.

Here is the ferrule wedge.  It's not the best fitted one I've seen, but it did its job.

This plug holds the hair spread and is typically lightly glued in.  You can see some of the glue that did not get wiped off.  This one actually came apart fairly easy.  Invoked cursing: 1.

For one that was rather loosely fit into the ferrule on the end, someone did take a little time shaping it.  I'm not convinced this sort of shaping does much better than a straight taper, but it's pretty.

Here is a plug in the frog, holding the hair in that end.  The clamp holding the hair out the way is only for the photograph.  This block, when properly cut, stays in place through geometry and tension.  As with many factory bows, this one had a little glue in place for insurance.  It's a little tougher to get out, due to its depth and the nearby edges.  Invoked cursing 4 on this one.  It came out without too much trouble after a bit of digging.

You can also notice the cutter marks showing in the cut-out of the throat.

And at the upper end, particularly the upper right, you can see a bit of roundness in the mortise.  This is from the drill that was originally used to cut the mortise.  The mortise should be rectangular, and it's ok to start with a circular hole, but you want to make it nice.  This one was mostly rectangular, needing only a little cleaning up.

On the cheapest bows, it is a circular hole, with a piece of dowel glued in, instead of a shaped plug; invoked cursing 11.  I try to remember which ones are like that, what they look like from the outside, and simply turn them down on a rehair.  These Chinese bows often wholesale in the US at the $10-$20 dollar range and are sold in some stores at $70-$150.  But, hey, they're real wooden bows.

What kind of wood?  Dunno.  But wood they are.  Yup.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Waiter, there's a hair in my scroll

Cleaning up an old factory fiddle, a "Stainer" copy, and found this varnish-brush hair trapped down in a turn of the scroll. 

It was fairly dirty in there, and I cleaned out a good layer of grime.  For a while I thought the hair might be part of the gunk, but it was in the varnish, a left-over from the making process some hundred years ago.

The fiddle was a decent-sounding student instrument, and quickly went out the door as a rental.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Factory Fiddle Scroll

Nothing special about this.  It's a typical ca. 1900 "factory fiddle", probably from Germany.  Labelled "Antonius Stradiuarius ... 1736".

I liked seeing the facets.  Hastily carved, by someone who had carved a few, and was just trying to make a living.  After that, the scroll itself has seen some use over the years.

Interesting character, I'd say.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Horsehead pochette

Strung it up today.  String length is about 1/4-size violin. I experimented with various soundhole shapes, then finally decided to go modern/archaic. Viking longboat, with the curves being the upper and lower bouts. Top is spruce from near McCall, Idaho.

Back was an abondoned full-size violin back, European tonewood.

Neck is carved from a chunk of maple stock. Fingerboad is salvaged from an older fiddle. Width of the fingerboard is more normally full-sized, though the string length is 1/4.

Detail of horsehead. Inspired by photos I had seen of Norwegian Ale Bowls.


Full-size fiddle at back. "Glasgow ca. 1780" inspired kits on either side of the new horsehead kit. 

More on the Glasgow kit:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Shapes Seen by the Carver.

Transient and pretty.  I think so, and if you're into any sort of wood carving, I suspect you do to.  A little scene that lasts for a moment, then is gone.

This violin back plate is still several millimeters away from its final surface.  The outside shape is not finished, the corners overgrown clumps that will slowly evolve.  In the meantime, I like seeing the steps before the end, before the completion.  At this stage, I am flailing away, taking off as much wood as I dare.  I like seeing the leftovers, the curls of wood that will be swept up, destined for the fireplace, the compost heap, or the trash, depending on my whim at the time.

With luck, it will live a long life as part of a violin, making music, interacting with the human world.  With more luck, someone will really enjoy its shape, its existence.

The scene here is obviously only potential.  What will it look like?  What will it sound like?

 Permance, though, is perhaps nearly as fleeting.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Web-page Revision

I've made a minor, and at the same time, a major, change in my business's web-page.  Focusing more on one-of-a-kind and my own instruments, I've decided to try listing some instruments and prices on my web-page.

This is brand-new today, and you can see it here.

Probably several changes to lay-out and format in the next few weeks.  I am accustomed to making frequent, minor updates to the web-page, but this will probably require a bit more attention.  And I have no idea how it will look on others' browsers.

It's really a guess on my part.  By far, most of my business since 1996 has been local, walk-in, personal referral.  Times change.  It could be interesting.

Tangentially related, and because I like to see images on blog-posts, here's the neck attached to the body of my newest pochette.

I had intended to cut normal f-holes into this one, but no matter how I drew them, I didn't like them.  Seemed busy.  I was suddenly inspired by the Norwegian ale-bowl horsehead scroll to cut soundholes shaped like longboats.  Another guess on my part.  But it's just a fiddle.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Retail World Today.

In our part of the country, we are seeing many stores closing.  I suspect most of these closings are due to internet sales.  I think the rate will accelerate.

We spent our week at Weiser this year a little differently.  We had very little in the way of commonly available retail items, and, for the first time, I had no music books.  In the past, I've spent many hours selling music books there.  I enjoy books, and enjoy talking with folks who enjoy books.  The problem is, there's no money in it now.

I had my handmade instruments, white instruments I had varnished, and vintage instruments.  I offered repairs.  Phil had his bows and offered rehairs and repairs.  It was a much slower week as far as individual sales, but we did survive.

And how have the economics changed?  Here is a cut-out from a flyer I received this morning, advertising a new string being offered by one of my wholesale suppliers.

The list price is the old "manufacturer's suggested retail price." Traditionally, this is what has been used to determine the wholesale price, the price I would pay for the set of strings. In the past, this has been roughly 50%, which in this case would be $35.00.  As a "Special Introductory Sale Pricing," the set is being offered to me at 40%, or $28.26.

So what is the MAP?  It is the Minimum Advertised Price.  That is, it is the lowest price that can be advertised.  Note that in the usual wholesale pricing, this is pretty darn close to the usual wholesale price.

With the sales-flyer email still fresh on my computer screen, I went to, and found this right away.

Note that Amazon's price is right at the MAP.  Also note the "Prime," which means if you are an Amazon-Prime member, you don't have to pay shipping.  I don't get the same deal from my wholesaler unless I buy many, many sets.

Further note the "More Buying Choices" at $31.50, below the MAP.  How is this possible?  Well, it turns out they are not actually the same strings, but similar.  What would the customer choose?  Who knows, but the option is there, 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.

What happens if a seller advertises at a price lower than MAP?  They get in trouble.  What does trouble mean?  I don't know.  I suspect not much.  And note that the MAP is the lowest  price a product can be advertised, not the lowest at which it can be sold.

So, how can I make money selling strings?  I can't.  So, I don't, or at least, not often.  I have strings and will sell them, but mainly they are for my own work.

I am in the fortunate situation that I can make my living from repairs and building, lessons, some income from performances, that sort of thing -- all things that are really hard to do easily over the internet.

But, my income depends on other people making money, making a living, too.  And there is a huge change happening which I suspect many people are not really aware of.  Not a good time to be a brick-and-mortar store or employee.

Lesson: learn how to DO something.