Monday, August 27, 2018

Hardanger Strings

Hardanger strings arrived in the mail today. Doesn’t indicate much real progress on my part, besides taking the time to find and order them, but they tickle me nevertheless.

And the package art-work, Fanitullen, The Devil’s Tune.

At a wedding, a fight broke out, as they did in those days.  The fiddler, wanting to be somewhere else during a fight, as we still do today, went down to the cellar to get more beer, to help calm things down.  He found the Devil atop the beer barrel, playing this tune.  Listening to it, he learned the tune, and played it for folks afterwards. 

Or something like that.

Here’s a decent version of the tune by Bukkene Bruse -- Fanitullen.

An 1853 painting by Adolph Tidemand (source).

And the words, in Norwegian by Jørgen Moe (1813-1882) and English translation by Espen Andersen.

In the hardened days of yore
when with beer and brawn
the knives of Hallingdale
from their sheaths were often drawn
when women to the feast
funeral shirts would bring
with which they would swathe
their dead husbands in

there once took place a wedding
somewhere in Hemsedale
where song and dance did cease
and the men did ring the vale.
In the center of the floor
framed by shoulder-broad men
two stood with knives unsheated
and a leather belt round them

And like columns carved
unmoving, serene
another four stood
as guardians of the scene
They lift burning torches
toward the blackened beams
where curls of smoke collected
to a dark and brooding stream

In vain two women try
howling, to stem
the living wall of bodies
raised before them
Angrily they’re thrown back
and left to despair
while the fiddler quietly sidles
toward the cellar stair.

Down he goes to tap beer
as the winner of the fight
may have need to kiss
the bowl's rim tonight.
Within the belt they'll duel,
blood running like sap
the vein will need refilling
from the beer casket tap.

Standing in the cellar
he saw a bluish glow
someone sitting on the casket
tuning fiddle, holding bow.
This man held it backwards
tightly to his chest
and as soon as it was tuned
put his fiddle to the test.

There came a song of wonder;
It rang like angry words,
Like steel bite into wood
Like fists rammed into boards.
It jubilantly roamed
Around the darkened cellar hall
And came to a halt
At the sound of a fall

Quietly the fiddler listened
to the mighty flow
It was like the music’s eddies
went down his spine and brow.
He quickly asked the other
“Where did you learn that song?”
The answer: “Don't you mind that,
But remember it – for long!”

But as the man bent down
Reaching for the tap
He saw a horned hoof
against the casket rap
He forgot to tap the beer
And ran up to the hall
Just as the men were lifting
The body from the fall

Fanitullen it is called
This wild and haunting spell
And in Hallingdale they play it
And they play it well
And when its tune is singing
to beer and feast and brawn
again knives of Hallingdale
from their sheats are quickly drawn


Well, back to installing pegs on a different violin. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Hardanger -- main parts together at last

Slow, but still plugging away.  Glued the back on my first Hardanger this morning, after fitting the neck yesterday, and after gluing the top to the ribs last week, which came after taking the ribs off the form, trimming the linings and blocks.

This afternoon, I will clean up the pegbox on my viola, including cutting the fluting around the outside.  Once that is done I can attach it to the assembled top and ribs.  Not the method I was taught, but one that I've used on my last couple of fiddles.  The old makers in Cremona used to nail on the neck before fitting the top and back to the ribs.  Current common method is to assemble the body, so that the top and back are glued to the ribs, then fit the neck.  Different ways, and one can defend any one of them. 

Repairs keep me in groceries and away from the new making.  Just the way it is in most violin shops.  An interesting fiddle came in last week for repair.  Fingerboard got knocked off.

Used to belong to Dwayne Youngblood, a well-known fiddler in our area.  Now belongs to someone else, who really enjoys playing it.  Got the fingerboard cleaned up and glued back into place.

A German del Gesu, with ornate bits.

And a label to boot.

Speaking of labels, I put one inside my Hardanger before I buttoned it up.  In my fiddle-making, I usually wait until after the instrument is varnished to put in the label, it being easy enough to fish one in through the f-hole.  But on the Hardanger, the soundholes have overlapping wings, so I wasn't sure how easy it was to get one in after closing the box.  Made a quick one up, the tried it inside in the usual spot, under the bass-side soundhole.  Can't see it from the bass side.  Can see it from the treble soundhole, looking across, but then it's upside down.  So I placed it upside-down on the bass side so that it would be right-side up when seen from the treble side. 

I haven't paid enough attention to what other Hardanger makers do to know what the common practice is for labels.  I don't think much about my own labels.  But of these two labels shown here, one of them is real.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Mary Rose 1

Having a little time this afternoon, which I could have spent doing yard work but didn't, I sketched up a new project.

In 1545, the Mary Rose, one of King Henry VIII's battleships, sunk.  Retrieval efforts were started quite early, but it wasn't raised until 1982.  Shown in a nice museum, which I'd like to see someday.  Here's a link to it -- Mary Rose Museum.

Among the many artifacts found, some sort of fiddle. 

I've been wanting to make a copy for quite some time now, and finally have a chance.  A high-school student, needing a project, wanting to explore violin-making, so we discussed a few options I had on various backburners.  He liked the Mary Rose fiddle idea.

I sent him off with the assignment to make a scale drawing of what we're going to make, based on photos available on the net of the actual artifact and other folks' reconstructions.  Having been a successful college instructor, I realize the importance of being at least 2 text-book pages ahead of the students.  So, today at the kitchen table, I sharpened up a pencil and went to work. 

On the original, the neck is missing, and the peghead is ambiguous.  So I have freedom to decide how to proceed there. My plan here is to make a 3-string, scaled to a 16" viola, using the lowest 3 strings.  A chording, rhythm instrument, to accompany singing or melody instruments.  Of our modern English words, rhythm has to be one that looks most like Old English, even though it's probably not.

So, basic sketch laid out.  I can think about it, and still change my mind.  It is in pencil. 

My New Minimalist Web Site

This is the third major redesign of my shop's web-page, and it is the first one that I have been mainly hands-off in the actual coding.  My son, Roger, took care of that part this time. 

You can see the new web-page here.

It should look something like this on a computer screen.

And something like this on a smart phone.

My previous web-site looked exactly the same on a smart phone as it did on a computer screen, only smaller. This one is scalable, so that it should fit, should adjust, to various screen sizes.

And that's just part of the reason I've decided to take a more hands-off approach to maintaining my web-site.  When I first learned computer coding, we were taught Fortran.  Our screens were dark green with bright green letters, and they were terminals, not individual computers.  Terminals hooked to a big computer in a different building, and as students we had the lowest priority, which meant it took a long time to type something in.  Then personal computers came out, such as my first, a Commodore 64, and I learned Basic.  Then Pascal as I got into grad school.  Then C.  A brief dabbling in Object-Oriented programming.  Then I graduated and got to working on fiddles.  I have no idea what's going on in programming today, and I don't care to learn.  I want to spend my time on fiddles.  And music.  And reading.  Cat videos.  Nearly anything else, except yard work.  

The other idea I had was to be minimal on my shop's web page.  It's something I've been thinking about for some time now.  In previous incarnations of my shop's web page, I had multiple pages, stacked with what I thought of as useful information.  The problem is, as time has gone on, fewer and fewer folks read much of it.  They wanted contact information, to contact me, and then ask me exactly what they wanted to know rather than searching in hope that it might be somewhere on my web-page.  And it probably wasn't, truthfully.

So the new web-page in really basically a high-tech business card.  Roger and I designed it as single page.  I do have links to this blog and to the shop's Facebook page.  That's where I'll add recent information, which will be highly relevant for a brief period of time, then can fade into the memory bank of some computer somewhere and folks won't have to wade through it to find out what my hours are.  (By appointment, as with most single-person violin shops.)

If you want to see Roger's web-site, it's at

As with all things like this, my new web-site is an experiment. Even if it works, something different will replace it before too many years have gone by. 

Yard work will remain.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Hardanger bass bar

Got a couple bows rehaired this morning, glued in a bass bar for a viola I'm making, and then took some time to shape the bass bar in my first Hardanger.  The instructions from "Vi Byggejer Hardingfele" by Sverre Sandvik, translation by Eldon Ellingson, are not very detailed.  Shorter and smaller than a regular violin.  Longer tall section between the f-holes.  There is a sketch of a bass-bar on the plans, but it is unclear whether that is the good one, or one that had to be reshaped later.

Other sources talk of the Hardanger bass-bar being like a Baroque bass-bar, which I haven't made, either.  So, taking minimal direction as a high-level of permission, I plunged in and came up with this.

And that will have to do for now.  I put a light layer of shellac around the glue-surface, so if I need to take the top back off, say, to reshape the bass-bar, it's a little easier.

Will glue it on the ribs tomorrow, probably.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Label, a possible source of information, part 2

Here's another label, that appears handwritten....

 ... but isn't.  It's a print.  Still nice looking, in any event.

It reads: François Guillmont, Aix la Chapelle.

What do we know about François Guillmont?  Certainly there were men by that name, but this violin was not made by such a person, nor was it made in France.  Françios Guillmont appears to be a 'trade name' (aka, made up) for the Ernst Reinhold Schmidt violin shop (aka, factory) in Germany.  Late 1800s, early 1900s. 

Not that this makes it a bad violin at all.  Fairly decent, upper middle-class, as was the one in my last post. 

Why would folks put in fake labels?  It evokes a story.  Exotic locations, craftsmen toiling away in some idyllic setting.  People like stories.  Probably folks making fiddles in France put in German names and locations as well. 

So labels are fun.  Don't take them too seriously.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Label, a possible source of information...

... and sometimes not.

I had hoped to have more to say about this label, and the fiddle it was attached to. 

I liked the neat handwriting.  It appears to me to read: Matthias Kofler, Salzburg 1910.

A little research on the internet, and I found, well, nothing of use.  Apparently there was a Kofler, or Kofler family, making violins in the mid- to late-1800s.  But I couldn't find any Kofler.  So I don't know.  It could be a completely fake label.

The violin itself appeared to be a decent, upper-middle-class violin.  I had it on the bench at the Wallowa Fiddle Tunes Camp last month.  Some glueing and a new bridge.  Grabbed a couple snapshots.

The body, with a couple clamps, next to my fancy gluepot.

The scroll was tidy, though with a couple pegbox breaks that had been previously repaired.

It had been a wallhanger for a few years, the cord around the scroll's neck was part of its hanging.  Now, with a new bridge, new tailpiece, and new strings, it's being played again.  From what I've heard from the owner, she's happy with it.

But I still don't know who Matthias Kofler was.