Friday, July 20, 2018

Your Crack is Showing

Had a fellow in the shop yesterday, and we got talking about antiquing.  Many musicians want old instruments, and if they can't find an old instrument they get along with, they want a new one that looks old.  Something about 'the stories it could tell' or that.  And I suffer from it as well.  I like looking at old, well-used instruments.

I, however, have enough trouble getting a clean, new finish on my fiddles, let alone messing it up convincingly, so I gave up on antiquing some time back.  But the conversation yesterday got me thinking.  I'm in the process of varnishing two relatively modest Chinese whites -- instruments made elsewhere that I take apart, clean up a bit, then varnish and set-up.  It tickled me this morning to think about 'gunking' one up a little bit, to see how it would compare to the 'un-gunked' one when they were both done. 

To gunk up a  fiddle, I mix some Ivory Black oil paint with a little mineral spirits, smear it all over the fiddle, then wipe it off.  Some of the black remains in the seams, nicks and what-not on the fiddle.  All that taking it back off takes time, because I really hate seeing a glob of paint somewhere that I've missed.  A glob of paint randomly located on the fiddle doesn't look particularly old, just careless.  And all this antiquing does nothing whatsoever for the sound of the instrument.  One hopes it improves the look of the fiddle in someone's eyes.  In addition to liking the sound and playability, we want to like the way it looks.

In the process of gunking-up my fiddle, I had the even worse idea of adding a fake crack.  Haven't done this before, though I have seen it done on other fiddles.  Soundpost crack?  No, too much right now.  So I made a fake crack at the A-peg hole on the treble side.  A common crack, and when real, somewhat bothersome to repair.  It can devalue an instrument, even convince someone not to buy the fiddle.  So why do it?  Well, to see if I could.

I think it turned out ok.

It actually bothers me, as a repair person, to look at it, even though I know it is fake. I'll take that as a good sign.  It also cautions me to examine such cracks a little closer in the future. 

As a reference, if you are a violin-repairer reading this in the distant future, and the label is intact, this is VN140.

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Bow for Playing the Saw

Tom (not his real name) emailed me yesterday, wondering if I could take a look at a couple bows he had, see if they were worth 'fixing up and restringing'.  I had worked on his violin a few years back.  He said he also played the saw, and was teaching some kids how to do that, needed a bow for them to use.  And if his old ones were no good, maybe I had some suggestions.

Sure, happy to look at them, I told him.  If they're not in decent shape, you can get a fiberglass stick bow with horsehair for the same price as a rehair.  They're durable, a little on the heavy side, may be just the thing for kids and saws.

Tom lives in Oregon, across the Snake River, a drive on the freeway, then city streets, finally the more rural roads where I live.  He asked if I’d be around the next day.  I was planning to be, I said.

He called the next day: you there? 


Take me about an hour. 


He arrived, brought in two sticks.  One had been broken at the tip, glued back in place, no spline.  The other was maybe 1950s-era stick, dyed red, with a frog that was losing its black dye, revealing the white wood it was actually made of.  No grip on either, though I’m not sure that a grip is important in saw-playing.  I’m not sure it isn’t crucial, either.  I don’t know.

So, he bought a fiberglass stick. 

Do you have rosin? 

Yes, but it’s old, maybe 70 years old, and all cracked. Can I melt it and reform it?

Yes, but a new cake of rosin is 4 bucks.

I’ll take that.

We walked outside.  Hot day, not as hot as yesterday.  He had a newer pickup, bigger than an extended-cab, with a set of smaller doors behind the full-sized front doors.  Matching canopy on the back.

He told me a friend of his had just died.  Knew each other since they were kids.  Didn’t live near each other any more, but would meet every so often, and take up to talking like they had been together the day before.

Well, better get back, he said.

Yup, me, too.  If you pull forward, you can go on out the dirt road around the field, come out at the bottom with your nose pointing out.  Easier than backing out of this crooked driveway.

Thanks, I’ll do that.

Tom turned 90 this year.  Born in 1928. 

I like thinking about that.  90 years old.  Questioning through email, driving solo, looking for a bow to teach some kids how to play the saw.

Puts a smile on the inside of my face.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Couple of Roughnecks

Back in the shop after a week at Weiser, Idaho, the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest.  Breathing just a bit before heading off for a week at fiddle camp in Wallowa, Oregon, a really beautiful spot, a low-key workshop with lots of great folk in attendance.

Meanwhile, working on necks.  Getting down to nearly finished dimensions.  First step is to cut away some of the extra wood on the side, chip it out, then plane away the sides of the neck root.

You can see the saw-marks perpendicular to the ebony fingerboard.  Good to stop just a ways back, to avoid chip-out.  I also like to put a little water on the neck-root when I'm planing -- the close, far left bit of maple here -- also to avoid chip-out in this figured maple.  It likes to break out in inconvenient spots.

Next is to start working down the thickness of the neck itself, the portion the musician touches when playing. 

I use a combination of saw-cuts and rough-rasp work.  In the background is a "Dragon" rasp from Stewart-MacDonald.  It is aggressive, which is good at this point in the process.

To work out the neck root and chin area, the curved portions at either end of the neck, I like to use a small Mora Kniv.

Good to keep the pencil handy and restore the center line every so often.  Rotate the neck as you're working it down to keep it smooth and round.  Flat spots are noticeable to the musician, and not in a good way.

I try to get the neck fairly close, but when I come back the next day, I always see more I need to tend to.  Or maybe even taking photos for a blog post.  Either way, more to come off, not much, just pickier work, and smaller chunks.

Did the same for the Hardanger neck.

And one does not live by necks alone, so other things to be made today.