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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Robert Ballot, early 20th-century Boise violin maker

Yesterday, a customer brought in a violin he bought not too long ago.  Appears to be a typical late 19th-century early 20th-century Maggini-labeled factory fiddle.  The immediate repair was to replace the endpin, which had rotted to the breaking point.  Ended up putting in some new pegs and glueing a couple of open seams.

So the fiddle, double-purfled front and back.  Almost an extra turn in the scroll.  The label reads

Giovan paulo Maggini / brefcia 1654(?)  

No country of origin on the label.  All fairly typical for this sort of instrument.

But there is a second label, a repair label.

The repair label reads --

                            BY -----                      Robert Ballot

                                      Boise, Idaho,  March 1913

The fiddle must have been fairly new at the time, so who knows what repairs were needed.

At the top of the label, in later ballpoint pen, is

                         Repr. Jack Blakely 1949

                         Bok (?) 2223             Casper Wyo.

The instrument now, in 2019, shows several repairs to the top.  I did not take the fiddle down enough to look for any other labels under the top, and the owner returned today, paid, which I truly appreciate, and took possession of it, which I also appreciate.

Given that the label was fairly far south of the f-hole, and I was shooting with my iPhone, I could not get the entire label in one shot.  Here are a few images that you can use to piece it together in your head.

Neither name was familiar to me, so I did a bit of poking around.

From the Amati site,

Robert Ballot
(c. 1864 - 1864)

From the Evening Capital News of March 13, 1916, in the classified ads, listed between Taxidermists & Wigs and Toupees, is Violin Maker -- 

ROBERT BALLOT, Expert Violin Maker and Repairer, At Sampson Music Co., 913 Main St.

For Jack Blakely, I found this reference, from a ca. 2014 "Fiddlers of the NW" Seattle concert promotion --

Ramon Selby grew up in Casper, Wyoming and played fiddle in his family band for square dances and other shows. He has a host of fascinating tunes from his familys repertoire, some very complicated waltzes for example, tunes he learned from his teacher, fiddler Jack Blakely, and many more tunes he learned from the legendary Hugh Farr, fiddler for the Sons of the Pioneers, who was a family friend and frequent visitor to the Selby household. Ramon was a 2012 inductee into the Northwest Western Swing Music Society Hall of Fame. Ramon will play with long-time accompanist Alan Troupe on guitar.

So at least Blakely was a known fiddler.

Certainly more out there, but I need to get back to the bench now.  Anyone out there with more info, I'd be happy to add good stuff into the comments.