Friday, August 27, 2021

Hardanger fiddle bridge, modified


One of the benefits of the pandemic, closed borders, and such is the proliferation of on-line workshops.  I've attended many.  And, for example, tonight I will begin my time with the Heart of Valley of the Moon, a workshop of Alasdair Fraser's with many other instructors.  I've long wanted to attend, but time, money, and a limited attendance have not been in my favor.  Now I can join in, from home, at a modest cost.

Another workshop I have long wanted to attend is the annual Hardanger Fiddle Association of America workshop.  Time, money, etc.  But this year I did.  And got to sit in on a luthier's workshop as well.  

In that, I got to ask questions of bridge design.  I have an idea of what to do when shaping a normal violin bridge, but the Hardanger is a different beast.  For one thing, the understrings ride across a saddle/nut in the middle of the bridge.

When I built my Hardanger, I used a blank from Howard Core.  The luthiers at the HFAA convention didn't think much of those blanks, but it is a place to start.

I had seen a few Hardangers in the past couple months, just chance meetings here at my shop, and by then I was interested in seeing their bridges.  Significantly bigger cutouts than I had in mine, which makes sense.  With a blank, you start with under-sized cutouts and enlarge them.

So, with some ideas, and a little time this morning to work on it.  The understrings are a pain to undo and then thread through again, but it's not that bad if you're careful.

I don't have a good before photo, but here's an idea of what it looked like.

Rather solid and clunky.

And here's the after.  

A bit more interesting.  I can't tell yet that it makes much difference, though I think I am getting a bit more sustain in my understring ring.  I also think these sort of changes can take a little time to settle in.  Or maybe me getting used to playing what is, in part, a new instrument.  They do talk back to you.

It's a work in progress.  As is my learning of Hardanger fiddle tunes.  

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Violin strings


The strings currently on my fiddle.  I have a slight preference for Obligatos. Here, the D-string and the e-string are Obligatos.  A few months back, the A-string shredded at the 2nd-finger in 1st-position spot.  I didn't have Obligatos on hand at the time, but did have a broken-up, partial set of Evah Pirrazi strings, so that's what the A has been since then.

The G was starting to shred at the nut, in part because I've been doing some alternate tunings lately -- ADAD and FDAE. I now have a new set of Obligatos on hand.  But the D, A, and e still seem ok to me.  I have an in-person gig on Sunday.  And I also had this busted-up, partial set of Kaplan Amos on hand, which had a G still, so that's what's there now.

Because I'm cheap.  Just like everyone else.  

I used to order in sets in bulk, stock them in the store, because customers would come to me for strings.  I'd give them a discount on the suggested retail and install them for no extra charge.  

Then internet sales came along.  Now I don't order so many sets.  

By the way, 'suggested retail' now means 'this is the price the manufacturer uses to calculate your wholesale price, but it has no bearing on any price offered anywhere online'.

I break up sets, selling individual strings to customers who want a single string, but not a whole set.  It's something of a service I can offer.  So I have incomplete sets around, and, as above, use them to fill in on my own fiddles as needed, as I feel the need to conserve.  It's been a tough year-plus.

Had a customer in today.  They had purchased a fiddle from me 15 months ago, for their child.  The child's teacher was telling them there was a wolf on the instrument.  Where, I asked?  Because I couldn't hear one.  On the G and D strings.  Which notes?  No, both of those strings.

Well, that's not a wolf, but it was something to look into.  The teacher had heard something. The bridge was tipped forward.  I straightened it so the feet were again making contact with the top.  The strings were caked in rosin.  I cleaned that off.  I thought it was an improvement in tone.  Cleaned the rosin off the instrument as well, just to be tidy.

How long since the strings were replaced?  We haven't.  And you play a lot?  Yes.  Getting ready for the big contest now.  Well, new strings would be a big improvement, and you'd want to do that soon, so they're settled in before the contest.

Well, we could go to <local music store> and get some strings.  Yes, but I do have strings here, too.  Oh, how much?  Well $_______.  Oh, that's too much. We can get them a lot cheaper on line.  Yes, you probably can.  I can't compete with big online merchants that sell at near wholesale.

They then looked up the string set on their smart phone.  Do we want light, medium, or heavies?  Well, I'd say medium.  Ok, thanks.  And they ordered the strings right there, standing in my retail area, three feet away from me.

We talked about the possible need for a bow rehair, but they don't have a second bow and can't be without it right now.  I was not interested in pushing the point.

They left.  Didn't ask if they owed anything for the adjustments and cleaning, my time.  I would have said no, but it is nice to be asked.

I just passed my Beatles birthday.  One more and I'm at the traditional retirement age.  Of course, as an independent business owner, I don't have a pension.  I have saved up some money.  I will qualify for Social Security.  I'm still in decent health.

After they left, I looked up the price of the strings at the site they had been on.  Looked at the price through my wholesaler.  Exactly the same, to the cent.  The manufacturers have no concern about small businesses these days.  That's not a complaint, just an observation.  A reality.

I want to keep making fiddles.  I like playing and giving lessons.  

Pretty sure I'm about done with sales of retail objects like strings, shoulder rests and the like.  Not terribly interested in rehairing bows sold by music stores or online, bows that have circular mortises which need to be cut properly before the bow can be rehaired, and at no additional charge.  It's interesting to contemplate what life might be like, what changes I can make, need to make, to survive.

Still thinking it over.

All this sounds like a rant, a complaint, and I suppose in part it is.  My customers are great; they value what I do and know, and that adds value to my life.  

I, however, still need to buy groceries and pay the mortgage.

I cannot fault someone for finding a better price on a commercially manufactured object, such as a set of strings or a toaster.  I do the same thing.  Brick-and-mortar merchants who insist on selling commercially manufactured objects at X% off the suggested retail price are going to fail, in the most part.  We will see more stores, more malls, folding. 

The future for small businesses such as mine, if there is a future, is to make that which is not easily done by factory workers.  I have known that for some time.  I am slowly beginning to realize more of what that means.  Maybe it's like being on the Oregon Trail, where one has to pitch the cast-iron stove out the back in order to be able to finish the trip.  

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Weiser Signal American

 Phil Janquart of the Weiser Signal American interviewed me a week or two ago, and the story appeared in yesterday's "The Fiddle 2021" supplement.

Every year since 1953,  Weiser, Idaho, has been the location of the National Old-time Fiddler's Contest and Festival.  Except last year, due to the plague, and this year, the contestants are live, on-stage, but the audience is at home or elsewhere, viewing on line.  Folks will be camping in Stickerville, up by the Institute buildings, playing tunes and having fun.  

We, Phil Stanley and I, weren't there last year (no one was) nor this year.  We have had the repair shop on-site at the contest since about 2001.  Phil is a bow maker, and does rehairs for folks.  We don't know what next year will bring.

Here's a screenshot of the story --

I don't know if you'll be able to read it from the image.  You can go to the Signal American's site and see it and other stories about the fiddle contest.  The link is here

Friday, May 28, 2021

Jacobus Stainer in Absam prope Oenipontum 16, pt 4

 Having neglected the blog for some time now, a brief continuation.

Chalk-fitting the bass-bar blank.  The temporary studs help in placing the bar, so that each time it goes back to the same position.  They also provide support, to keep the bar vertical, when gluing.

Once the trimming to fit is done, the bar is glued in with fresh hide glue.  I don't have a very sophisticated clamping system, but it seems to work.

Letting the glue set overnight, I then remove the clamps, clean away the temporary studs, and then lay-out heights.

Sketch in the curve of the bass bar and start removing overhead.

Once I get close to the line, I switch from the gouge to finger-planes.  I try to make it smooth, somewhat even, and so that the top is still flexible.  Again, not terribly sophisticated, but seems to work.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Some varnish progress, 15-1/2" viola


I think I'm about to call it good on the color for this one.  Never really happy with my varnish, but at least by changing things every time, I get a spectrum of instrument colors.

And I change the scroll a bit each time as well.  

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Jacobus Stainer in Absam prope Oenipontum 16, pt 3

 With the cracks glued and cleated as I thought needed, time to fit the new bass bar.

First, layout in pencil.  We want the bass bar to be under the foot of the bridge, 'east to west',  in a sense as measured from center-line, or from the edge of the f-hole, or some place to hook the tape-measure, as it were.  I also don't want it to overlap the upper terminal hole of the f-hole.  With these two constraints, there is usually not much choice.  We also want it angled relative to the spruce grain, for strength purposes.  Lining the bass bar along the grain is a great way to crack the top.

The problem with old tops is that they are not always normal.  

Here are some of my pencil marks.  The line connecting the notches of the two f-holes is nominally where the bridge would sit.  But you might see that this line is not perpendicular to the center line, meaning at least one of the notches is not in the right place.  What's the right place?  A normal stop length, these days, is 195 mm.  The line below the line connecting the two notches is at 195 mm.  So in some sense, neither one of the notches is where we would think they should be.  

And yes, the top is normal size.  14 inches.  Mixed measurement units, it's how we do things in the US.

Unfortunately, the notches are convenient and easy to see from the outside, when positioning the bridge.  Or repositioning some time in the future when it comes off or is replaced.  

I'm not sure where the bridge will end up on this fiddle.  But with a ruler, I can put it at 195 mm if I want to, even if it doesn't line up with the notches.  And with an inspection mirror, I will be able to see the pencil lines inside, to help with soundpost adjustments, that sort of thing.

For placement, right now I don't really care where the bridge sits.  I can work with that later.  On the other hand, we think we should know where the bridge is so we know how long to make the bass-bar, how far it extends from the bridge both north (towards the neck) and south (towards the end-block).  

Pencil, calculations, guess, and make a couple marks.  

Next to plane some spruce down to thickness, with the growth lines vertical to the top, again for strength.  

With the thickness correct, I cut it a bit longer than my carefully calculated length.

Next, rough-fit the bottom, and when that is close, temporarily glue in a few cleats to help place the bar in the same place for final fitting.  It needs to fit extremely close the entire length.  And that will take longer than what I've done here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Jacobus Stainer in Absam prope Oenipontum 16, pt 2

So out with the old integral bass-bar.  Kinky grain right around the area of the upper terminal-hole, so I have to approach it from many angles in order to not dig in too deep.

The area is so kinky & twisty, in fact, that the original carver decided 'to hell with this' and left it quite thick.  6-1/2 mm, when the normal top thickness here might be around 3.

Cleaning up the top with thumb-planes and scrapers, I discovered an original repair.  This little section of wood was pulled out, somehow, during the original carving, then glued back into place, prior to the (original) final graduation of the top.  It is open along one side and will need to be re-glued.

In the course of the planing and scraping, I had to remove the original cleats holding the saddle-crack together.  The crack came open, so here we are, good enough to start thinking about the new bass-bar, so I have re-glued the crack, and installed 3 new cleats.

There is also a wing-crack to repair and the open crack at the neck, but I don't like to do too many cracks at the same time.  I'll get them after this sets.