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.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Jacobus Stainer in Absam prope Oenipontum 16, pt 1

 Another old factory fiddle, well-loved by someone who played it years ago. 

Wanting to see it in the hands of someone who would love it again, as well as freeing up closet space, the owner sold it to me.  I didn't pay much.  A rather plain fiddle, mostly in good shape, but it will take some work before I can feel good selling it.

The fingerboard is not ebony, but hardwood stained to look like ebony.  And it is crooked on the neck, overlapping the finger-side.  On the thumb-side, the stain is also worn away.

It was a little loose as well, and came off easily. A generous glue channel in the fingerboard and in the neck itself.

For comparison, when I make a new fiddle, I don't make any glue channel.  Perhaps the slightest scraper hollowing on the ebony.  One could almost fit sympathetic strings in that channel.  I'll fit a new, ebony fingerboard to this fiddle.

There was a saddle crack, repaired, and a wing-crack, not repaired.  I could also see through the endpin that it had an integral bassbar.  So off with the top.

Note the cleats for the repaired saddle crack, on the treble side.  And the wildly carved bassbar.  One can imagine that took a good 15 minutes to shape.

The top was roughly gouged, though not as rough as many I've seen.

And the top is rather thick.

I might be around 4mm here, if I thought it needed it.  But usually less than that.  And about 2.5 in the upper and lower bouts.

So, I think I will take some meat out of this top after gouging out the integral bassbar.  It will be replaced with a new, standard bass-bar.  Both changes will improve the sound.

No corner blocks, not even foolers in the bottom corners.  I'll probably leave it that way.  Not convinced that blocks would change the sound quality of this particular instrument. And it is a fair amount of work to do so.  The corners have held together for sometime as-is.

It's weird that Jacob forgot to add the '42' or whatever after the '16'.  That's a joke.  Possibly late 1800s, early 1900s.  Could be pre-1892, since no country-of-origin on the label, but if so, not by much I'd say.

The back could use some cleaning-up as well.  The graduation pattern was 'make it thin but not too thin everywhere'.

So, is this worth working on?  I never know.  It's something I can do when I'm not doing something else.  Maybe keep me out of trouble I might otherwise get into.  The fiddle will end up being interesting to someone, some time.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Horn Frog

This bow came in for a rehair.  Not a particularly strong stick, it had a significant warp at the tip end when tensioned.  We'll try to compensate for that somewhat in the rehair.  It is not a stick that would justify heating and bending.  It may not even survive that.

A Chinese bow with a water-buffalo(?) horn frog.  Interesting look.  Not one I sold, and this is the factory hair, the first rehair for this bow.

Here we are with a rounded leading edge on this block.  Not a great sign, showing that they haven't bothered to square up the mortise edges, leaving it as it came away from the router.

On pulling the plug and hair out, here we can see that they didn't even bother cleaning up the edge that is in contact with the hair.

Not a good situation.   Seeing more and more of this sort of factory work these days.  I suppose they believe they can cover up shoddy work with a fleur-de-lis.

Well, we can't let it go out like that, so, a bit of chisel work to square up the mortise. Then, it can be rehaired -- without resorting to glueing the hair and plug in place, which is the way it presented itself here.

Bow is rehaired, back in the customer's hands.  Still a bit of a warp to the stick under tension, but not as bad as it was.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Cello Bow Rehair

Had a customer bow in for a rehair, a nice looking stick.  I didn't recognize the name, so did a little searching first.

Turns out it's one of Arcos Brasil's trade names, a factory-made bow.  Nothing wrong with that.  Most of us have factory-made bows and fiddles, use them and enjoy them.  The point is: this in not a handmade bow.

This bow has not been rehaired, as far as I can tell, so this is the way it left the factory.  I'll add also that it has been played for some time, and the musician has enjoyed using this bow.  No one is perfect, no factory is perfect, and what works, works.  Just some interesting details, I hope.

So, when removing the hair from the tip, I had a little trouble removing the block.  It was somewhat glued in.  Here's the hair after I got it out.

Superglue was used to bind the hair in the knot.  Again, nothing wrong with that.  I do it, as do many other rehair folks.  It seems better and simpler than the old burn-with-rosin way of binding the hair, though plenty of folks do that, too.  Seldom in a factory these days, I'd say.  I suspect the block was not intentionally glued in, but that the plug was seated before the glue on the hair had a chance to dry -- a sign of haste.

Here's the tip mortise from 'above'.

Note the slight 'divot' on the right-hand side.  Extra credit if you can see it's partner on the left-hand side.  What are these?  We call them 'mistakes' in the trade.  The router that was used to hog out wood here went too far.  

Here it is at an oblique angle.

And a little more angle.

You might be able to see the round router marks in these photos.  May have to enlarge them a bit by clicking on them.  The round cut-out gets bigger as one looks further down into the hole.  That's because the mortise has angled walls.  The bottom of the mortise is smaller than the top.  It's not a badly cut mortise, and the errors on the side don't cause much problem.  In cutting a new block, we fit it 'front' and 'back.  Doesn't need to fit air-tight on the sides.  In fact, it's a little easier to get out on the next rehair if it doesn't fit the sides too tightly -- assuming one doesn't then superglue it into place.

In the frog, we can again see some sign of haste.  Here the block is a little too loose on the side.

A section of hair has slipped around.  From this, I can deduce the bow was probably rehaired 'frog-first' and this slippage was accounted for when combing out the hair and tying it at the tip.  The hair itself, the playing section of the hair, was in fairly decent shape as far as tension was concerned.

Now with the plug removed --

Note the rounded corners at the bottom of the mortise, again a sign of router work that was not cleaned up with a chisel.  This is not ideal, but I left it as is, cutting the corners of my new block to fit that.

The bow is now rehaired, and should work fine.  Just a glimpse behind the curtain.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Original Antiquing on a Now Well-Antiqued Violin

I usually have a couple of fairly abused violins about, and from time-to-time, I will pull one or two off the back shelf and try to get some work done on them.  This is one.  I have dismantled it to get at what needs getting at.

It is possibly a 100-year-old fiddle with a label that reads:

Salomon Luthier a St. Cecille 
Place de la ecole a Paris 1756.  

The label is another attempt at antiquing, I am fairly certain.  If one were to bet where this came from, a good bet would be "not from 1756 Paris."

This fiddle has been badly cracked, several times, and badly repaired in the past, with way too much glue being used.  Some folks working on violins believe more glue will make up for missing wood or bad joints.  These cretins will spend time in purgatory for implementing this belief.  Most of my effort has been removing old glue, just to get down to wood.

The inside of the violin has been darkly stained to simulate age.  You can see the white areas where the stain didn't get to, those areas under the blocks or ribs, for example.

One bit of antiquing I just noticed is factory-applied thumb-nail damage, along the treble side of the fingerboard.

Maybe you can't pull it out of that photo, what with all the real antiquing that has taken place over the years prior.

It's under the varnish, or at least part of the varnish, in some mid-layer.  Some one took something sharp and small, such as a knife tip or maybe a nail, and poked and scratched along there, then rubbed black stuff into it, to make it appear as if this particular fiddle had been heavily played by a virtuoso, maybe someone like Paganini, as one would with a high-quality old violin.

Be careful when buying with your eyes.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A Day in Oxford

We recently returned from a trip to England and Scotland.  First on my list of attractions to see when we planned the trip was a visit to the stringed-instrument collection at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

And here I am, standing next to what is likely the most expensive violin in the world.

This is the famous Antonio Stradivari "Messiah" violin.

As you might be able to tell from the first photo, with the bright outside atrium light coming in through one portal, together with the glass cases and busy backgrounds, photography in the place is tough.  Of course, there are plenty of decent photos of the Messiah to be found on-line, as well as controversy.  It has a nearly complete layer of colored varnish, sharp edges, squared corners, all the things that other Strads don't -- because the others have been worn by centuries of use.  Everyone I know who actually knows about Strads and other high-end violins think that this is the real thing.  But folks love conspiracies, and if you do, too, don't bother commenting here.  Not interested.

I was able to get a reasonable photo of the back, though, as before, better ones can be found on-line.

And here is the Messiah to the left, another Strad and a Viullame in a second case, and a case of guitars, including a Strad guitar at the far right.  Note the glare on the glass fronts.

Here's the back of that guitar's headstock.

You might be able to click on it and see the identifying marks.

In addition to the Messiah, I knew the Museum had the oldest known violin, and was hoping it would be on display.  It was.

In addition to this, a few others from the Amati family.

And another N. Amati I just thought was elegant, showing what can be done without relying on the figure in the wood for the wow-factor.

In addition to the Cremonese instruments, a display of Brescian fiddles of various sorts.

A quick walk from the Ashmolean, is the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, where they have trombones, 


a bow-maker's shop from the Hill Brothers shop,

and a plaster cast of Josef Haydn's skull.

By the look on his face in the painting, Haydn is not too sure about this display.

We walked around Oxford a little,

We're not eating at 5 Guys in Oxford.

This is better.

Nice day.