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.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Marriage Marks

One thing we often see on vintage factory violin bows are Roman numerals on the underneath portion of the slide as well as on the stick.  I've heard all sorts of explanations for these things, from price to maker's mark, and so on.  But the most reasonable explanation, I think, is this:  VII frog goes with VII stick, VIII frog goes with VIII stick.  A maker in a factory would have several on his bench at one time, or even a partial assembly line set-up, with it moving along to another maker for the next step in production.

And today I ran across this --

Timber Frame "Marriage" Marks, found in the on-line publication "18th Century Material Culture: The Carpenter and his Tools - Framing."

A traditional technique, it turns out.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Weiser 2014

For more than a dozen years now, Phil Stanley and I have run the repair shop at the National Old-time Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, Idaho.  We cram our little cars full of shop goods, tools, parts, and such, and make the hour-plus drive up to Weiser.  We set-up in the shop room, out behind the warm-up area at the Contest.  Good years and not-so-good in sales, but we always have fun.  Lots of good friends new and old.

Here are a few iPhone snapshots of our set-up.  This first one shows the debut of my wife's "Juniperberry" bags -- for music books, shoulder rests and general musical needs.  She thinks of them as "Useful handmade bags with a touch of historic fantasy."

Here are is Phil, helping a customer with some bow trials.

Looking down the tables with instruments and bows on display. We have no music books this year for the first time in probably a dozen years; it's one thing that we just can't compete with Internet sales, so we're focusing on handmade and restored vintage instruments, one-of-a-kind items.

The blue towel covers my 'workbench' for the week. Actually end up doing a fair number of diverse repairs here. Keeps one on one's toes. 
The three instruments in stands are violins I have made. The rest are whites that I have reworked and finished or vintage instruments I have restored.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Latest fiddle strung up.

A few quick snapshots of my latest completed violin.  This one is based on the Amati Brothers form I drew following Francois Denis' techniques.  I tried to add some interesting color to the instrument, to give it some sort of illusion of age (or, in other words, grime).  Not sure how well it worked.  I'll see how many eyes land on it at Weiser next week.

A back shot, showing the diagnonal stripe in the two-piece back.

I strung it up last night, played it a half-hour or so, and again for 15 minutes or so this morning.  Having heard the arguments pooh-poohing the concept of playing in, I believe it is a real effect.  I can already hear a difference in it this morning.  The last coat of varnish went on last week, and is not completely hard by any means.  Being under tension, aging & curing, and (I believe) playing all help the fiddle learn how to be a fiddle.

A couple views of the scroll -- not to be confused with a machine-carved scroll!  :-)

As we've done for the past dozen years or so, we'll be the repair shop at the National Oldtime Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, Idaho, which starts Monday (today being Thursday).  I really need to get other things done before we're ready to go, including getting a few more instruments set-up, packed, signs made, and all the other nonsense that goes along with hauling a repair shop to another site.

But we have fun there.

If you're in the area, you can come in and see this fiddle, as well as others I've made.  We'll be set-up in a classroom out behind the warm-up area in the high school.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Orchestral Soloist (for a full 30 seconds)

I am now an experienced orchestral soloist!  :-)

Being a fiddle player who has always enjoyed classical music, I long ago thought that once the kids were grown and out of the house, I'd maybe find a community orchestra to join. See what it's like.  As the kids and I got older, I realized that I probably just couldn't cut it in an orchestra -- all that bowing the same way, not haphazard like I do, for example.

It turned out, though, that last January, a few months after my youngest left home, the new director for the Serenata Chamber Orchestra, Jen Drake, invited me to participate.  I couldn't let it pass.

This is my second concert with them, and it was a "Downton Abbey" themed event.  One of the pieces was a couple tunes from the movie "The Titanic" (because in one of the early episodes of Downton Abbey, the Titanic sunk).  And Jen asked me to play a fiddle break between the two orchestrated fiddle tunes in the piece.  I played "The Rose in the Heather" -- all 32 bars, or effectively about 30 seconds.  Really different for me, trying to figure out how to fit it in, and I'm not sure I did it the best way, but people had fun.

My wife managed to snap this photo during my solo.

From the concert's program, a bio-page of the soloists, including yours truly.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

New and old, progress at least.

With the semester of college teaching over, and Weiser on the near horizon, I'm actually getting a few things done.  These 3 are essentially cured, and next to polish up the varnish a bit, then fit them up.

A stubby little fingerboard for a pochette.

Suddenly realized I hadn't fluted the back of the pochette scroll, so quickly dug in.  Forgot to chamfer the sides first, so the outside edge will be lower than the center.  Not my plan, but a common feature.

New bassbar in one of the old fiddles I'm fixing up for Weiser.

This is a customer instrument, typical of many student instruments of the late 1800s, early 1900s.  Integral bassbar, false corner blocks (lower), Strad label, hair ball, horse hair, and strings ends floating around inside.  Unusual round cleats holding the center seam.  Some of these old horses work fine.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bench Hook.

Earlier this year, I read a blog-post that made think -- "That is a marvelous idea. Why have I not thought of this or even heard about it before?"
Here is the link to that blog-post .
Finally with a little time to get something done, I threw one together with scrap I had around the shop. I made the main holding area wider than in the original post, because I want to use it for violin plates.

It's great.
I don't know that I have the optimal size -- this is literally from scarp around the shop. I had a piece of plywood that size next to the bench. I used a section of old 2x4 for the part that hooks over the bench, and a small piece of pine for the stop at the far end.
Here is the bench hook unhooked.  Try it; you'll like it.

On the another front, I have a couple fiddles with their final coat of varnish on.  My latest (left) and an earlier one which I have stripped and revarnished.  Out catching some morning sun.