Friday, October 25, 2013

Soundposts and craftsmanship

Cheap fiddles have been sold as long as fiddles have been sold.  The customers are the poor or uneducated.  It looks like a violin.  I want to see if I like it before I spend much.  The usual story we've all repeated when trying to save some money on something.

One came into the shop the other day.  "Doesn't sound so good," was the complaint.  Actually, "sounds really bad" was the complaint.  The e-string was unbearable.  Starting off with bad equipment is an easy way to answer the question "will I like it?", but that's part of the education angle.

Here's what the soundpost looked like.

This was how it was sold by a music store in the area -- a starter fiddle -- and at least implied that it was a product ready-to-go.  It was not.  Note the minor contact of the soundpost with the back.  Not only will this prove less than optimal in tone, it is also dangerous for the instrument.  Over time, this can create a crack in the back.  Once a back-crack occurs on an instrument like this, it's all over.  Out it goes with last week's garbage.

This factory-installed soundpost had badly cut bevels -- I actually doubt much thought was given to them at all -- and the post overall was too short.

We put a new one in.

We replaced the strings as well, the factory strings being only decorative.  I probably shouldn't use the word 'decorative' that way.

It sounds much better now.  Never going to be great, but at least it is essentially firing on all cylinders  The owner might actually grow to like playing the fiddle.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Student cello repair

This time of year, I see instruments from the local schools that need repair.  This is a cello from a middle school.  It's been around for years.  The label is a photocopy of a Juzek label, and I never know what to think of these.  They are common, and I don't know if the Juzek factory did this, or if it's a knock-off.  It's not a bad little cello, but it's seen a lot of abuse from middle-school students, which, of course, is one way these students learn.

This cello has had many repairs, including having the top off.  This is a fitted patch for a rib crack.  Reasonable, if a little thick.  I left well-enough alone.

Here is a soundpost patch, nicely done, though with some later damage due to improper soundpost position, and a diamond-shaped cleat to help hold the crack.  I suspect the diamond cleat was added without taking the top off, with a clamp through the f-hole, and whoever did it didn't realize there was already a soundpost patch in place.

Here are pyramidal cleats put in on a rib crack, done through the outside.  The little 'doughnuts' actually serve to hold a thread.  In this method of repair, a hole is drilled through the ribs for each cleat, a wire or thread run through the hole and wiggled out the f-hole, the cleat is then run through it, with the ring to hold it tight.  Glue applied to the rib-side surface, it is then pulled back into place against the rib and tied into place until the glue dries.  Not recommended.  All of these cleats were loose.  I removed them and recleated with linen.

So, is this cello worth this amount of repair?  Probably not, but I am not charging full rate.  I hope it is some contribution to the orchestra program in my area, and that some student will perhaps learn to love playing the cello.  At the very least, we will get a few more years out of this little (3/4) cello, and it is actually far nicer than many of the newer 3/4 cellos I've seen in recent years.  Many of those are complete junk.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Adolph Spicker

Pulled the top off a violin today, and found this little repair label glued to the rib near the end-block.  It's about 3/4" by 3/8", and came loose from the rib, being photographed here against the inside back.  After getting my work done, I glued it back in place.

It reads: ADOLPH SPICKER, Dealer in and Repairer of Musical Instruments, Cincinnati, O.

I hadn't heard of Adolph Spicker, but did a quick internet search.  I found this news story from March 17, 1928.

  Friends of Adolph Spicker, aged 60, of Cincinnati, Ohio, last week were shocked to hear of his death, which occurred at his home on Friday.  He was proprietor of a violin store and repair shop in Cincinnati and numbered among his clients Ysaye, Kriesler, and MacMillen.  He received his musical education in Germany.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Glasgow Kit Fiddle

For some time, I've wanted to build a kit fiddle, aka pochette or dance master's fiddle.  Just never got around to it.  A kit fiddle, as I understood it, was primarily used by dance masters as they gave instruction in the homes of the well-off.  This was the way people learned the dances, in order to show proper education at those formal public events. The National Music Museum has a nice photo display of pochettes, including this of one in action.

These things are tiny, say 15 inches or so, and not meant to put out much volume -- a tool for a job, one that isn't done much these days.

Last month, Rachel Barton Pine put on a concert of Vivaldi's Four Seasons with the Boise Baroque Orchestra.  In conjunction with that, she gave a talk on Baroque performance techniques, which I also attended.  During the talk she made two points regarding kit fiddles that caught my ear.  First, these were also used as traveling fiddles.  Most taverns had a violin for use by customers, and since it was hard enough to travel in those days, it would be an additional chore to carry along a full-size instrument.  But travelers might want to play a few tunes, so these pochettes, with their small bows and small cases, could be taken along to while away the idle time.

This also struck me, having just returned from a trip where I took my full-sized fiddle, case, and bow, and then ended up putting a heavy practice mute on it to while away the random spare time in the motel room, learning a few new tunes with my iPhone headphones on.  I'm traveling to see things, and the violin is nice to have along, but I'm not performing.  Something smaller to carry, particularly when flying, would be convenient.

The second thing Mrs Pine mentioned that caught my ear was that while idling away the hours, these travelers developed, or improved, their strathspey bowing.  I'm still not sure how, but since I am involved with Scottish Country Dance, that was interesting to me.

So, I started looking through my collected materials and that on the web.  I wanted a simple design, as this was a concept to be tried, and I didn't want to get bogged down in decorative details.  I settlled on the Glasgow Kit Fiddle --

I had no dimensions for this instrument, but decided to go with a 3/4 violin string length and scale from that to the size of the photo.  I drew out a pattern and cut a simple plywood form.

I should add that since I was being simple, I decided also to be cheap.  All the material I used, except the fingerboard and the ribs, were scrap I had lying about the shop -- discarded other projects.

The neck I cut from a block of local maple, roughly at the right orientation.

The ribs I bent in one piece.  Not sure that was a great idea, but that's what I did this time.

When I was done, I had a kit fiddle with a total length of just under 20 inches.  Here it is next to a 1/4-size violin bow.

Still learning how to play the thing, and plan to put up a video soon.  If you'd like to see more details of the construction, you can go to my Flickr set (assuming the new format allows such a thing).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Peg-box crack

Here's a view of the treble side of a more-or-less typical early-20th-century factory fiddle.

When looking at a used/vintage fiddle with the idea of purchase, this is a good area to examine closely.

Note the little bent "line" near the far-right peg hole.  Look closer.

This is a crack, and it's a crack that would put me off purchasing the instrument unless there were some other highly attractive parts that would make the cost of repair worth it.  This type of crack needs serious repair, not just a simple glueing.

It's probably the most common location for a peg-box crack, on the A-peg of a violin (or the D-peg of a viola or cello), because often the grain runs out towards the carved edge.  This one is a bit unusual, in that the grain is twisty here and the crack follows that twisty grain.  Often, it is a straight crack, following the straight-grain of the pegbox.

I'll have to talk to the customer to see what they want to do with this.  It can be repaired.  Simply a matter of worth and value, which needs some thought.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lutherie Tip of the Day

When drilling string-holes in pegs, the pegbox makes an excellent holder.
Follow-through with the drill bit is crucial!

Clarity for the humor-impaired: this is not a good idea.
And is not something I would do (I hope!).

The instrument came into the shop with this previously
done work.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Top arching.

Just an in-progress shot, complete with messy bench; I'm waiting for a customer to show up with a bass that's lost its neck and another with a couple fiddles that need some tending-to.

The top is at the point I really need to finish the outline, get the corners into shape, and get the purfling installed.  This spruce is really chippy, so I have the wet-stone at the ready for sharpening touch-ups.  I'm using an Bros. Amati outline and Strad "Titian" arching.