Friday, January 5, 2018
Out with the old
This is a violin top I made a couple years ago. It was on a Guarneri del Gesu inspired violin I was making, and in the spirit of Paganini's del Gesu, "il Cannone", I left the plates thick. An experiment.
As I was carving it, I uncovered a small branch in the lower bout, treble side. Very frustrating to find it at that point in the process. I did learn to look for the tell-tale sign, the cross-section of a branch on the outer edge.
Flustered but not defeated, I continued carving, being careful around the rapidly changing grain. I managed to get under it, without much distortion to the arching. The weird grain was still there, and I grew to like it somewhat. It did bother me, wondering what sort of sonic impact it would have.
So then I went on. Here it is at the point in time we'll call "X" with my Brothers Amati plate underneath. I like to build two at a time.
So I finished both of them, strung them up. The Brothers Amati I liked. The del Gesu I hated. Give it a couple weeks to stretch and compress. Still hated it. No volume, unpleasant tone. Ok, it was an experiment, heavy plates. And there was that weird branch grain. Maybe it was to blame. So I pulled the top and thinned it down. Put it back together. Now it was louder, but still an unpleasant tone. Matters were worse.
Took it to a show in Portland, Oregon. Folks played it. Other makers played it. Most didn't mind it too much, but generally a polite bunch. It didn't sell, but not many violins sell there in a good year.
Moved the soundpost around a bit. Made a new soundpost. Still hated it.
I pulled the top again. Thinned the top more. Thinned the back. Put it together and strung it up. Now it was even louder, still hated the tone. Nasal, maybe, though with a head cold or bad allergy. Bad diction. Like listening to someone with a loud, sloppy voice, telling boring, long-winded stories.
Was it the branch grain? Nothing I did seemed to help.
Took it to Weiser. Folks played it. Some were complimentary. It didn't sell. Not much did that year at Weiser, either. Still, I hated it.
Brad Holst, a fellow violin repairer from Medford, Oregon, was there, had put a few of his violins on the table at my temporary shop at the Weiser Fiddle Contest. He said: "What's the spacing between your upper eyes?" 42 mm, I answered. "Hmm, " he said. "I'd be curious to see what it measures to."
So I pulled out a tape measure, and it came out at 39 mm.
Back to "X" point in time. I laid-out the terminal holes incorrectly on that plate. Distracted by the branch, perhaps. Well, shoot. I kept the fiddle around for a couple months after that, then finally said "no" to myself. I wouldn't sell something like that. Pulled the top off, made a new one.
I still am not crazy about the tone with the new top, but I don't hate it now. I could even play it for a few weeks and maybe learn how to handle it.
I thought about keeping the old top, with its too-close eyes, in the shop as a reminder of my mistake. Then, I realized, I make new mistakes every day, so don't need some reminder hanging on the wall. I'd rather have something nice to look at.
Last night's contra band rehearsal was at my place, a cold night, snow on the ground, so we had a nice fire in the fireplace, and cleared out some old debris, including not just that top, but a top from an old factory fiddle that had been badly cracked and put back together with Gorilla (TM) Glue. That was not my repair. I tried to clean it up and put it back together, but it was too far gone, and frankly not that good of a top to begin with. So I made a new one for that old fiddle, strung it up, and it sold within a week.
Here's the old top, also on its way to the afterlife.
Life goes on. Things are created, exist for a while, then are gone, elements to be recycled into something else. Here's a photo of some bread I pulled out of the oven while writing this blog post.