Archive for October, 2013
Three 5 String Fiddles On the Way
I decided to make two new molds, so that I could have more than one handmade five-string fiddle in the works at any given time. The new molds are made from the same half-model template, so they are very similar in character, but I did notice that somehow my original mold had been a little narrower in the center bouts than I had intended (don’t know how it happened), so the new ones are wider there, which may make the sound even more deep and clear. The instruments from the first mold have all been very good, so I am hoping the ones off the new molds are even better.
The original Oliver 5-string mold has the ribs and linings in place, and the chosen material for ribs, back and neck is spalted maple. This is an unusual choice, from a classical perspective, but a five-string fiddle is an unusual instrument, and I think it will prove a good choice. I really like the looks, so far. The second and third Oliver Molds (essentially identical, otherwise) have higly figured Oregon Big-leaf maple and Oregon Myrtle, respectively, for the backs and ribs. The Myrtle is a two-piece back, and the neck on the Myrtle fiddle is Big leaf maple; otherwise all the fiddles have matching ribs, backs and necks. The other two are each a one-piece back, also.
I am planning to use Port Orford Cedar for the two-piece front plate on the Myrtlewood fiddle. This will be the first time I have used anything other than spruce for a violin top, but I have been told it is exceptionally good for other types of instruments, and a friend gave it to me to try in a fiddle. I plan to use Sitka Spruce for the on-piece top of the curly big-leaf maple fiddle, as well as for the spalted maple fiddle. I am hoping to experiment with front plates made of Alaskan Yellow Cedar sometime soon, too.
Depending on the way they look when completed, I may vary my fittings a little, too…haven’t decided yet. I tend to like simple fittings, but I have used fancier fittings, once, and they did look nice– I am just not sure they belong on a bluegrass five string fiddle. Perhaps I can get a set of Oregon Mountain Mahogany pegs, or something. Mountain Mahogany is a very hard wood native to Oregon, but much lighter in color than Ebony, so it adds a different look.
I intend to use the same methods as always, including the double purfling that adorned the previous five-string fiddles. I will still use a scraper for the final contour and texture, though perhaps I will leave a little less “corduroy” texture on these than on some others. Some people like less.
I will use the same Spirit varnish that have always used on all three fiddles, as well as the same graduation scheme and internal arrangements (bass-bar shape and size, etc.), so the sound should be the same.
I will use the Helicore five-string sets, as usual, though I have found some other combinations that work remarkably well.
Progress reports to come
As things progress, I will post photos, so you can see each of the three fiddles grow from a small stack of wood to a completed instrument. Each will emerge as a brand-new, handmade bluegrass 5 string fiddle when complete.
Stay tuned… (no pun intended). 🙂
Biggest Little “Thumb-plane”
(OK, it is too big to be a thumb-plane, but I was simply making a larger copy of one of my thumb-planes (also called “finger-planes”) so I thought of it as a large thumb-plane.)
Handmade tools are part of the Luthier’s Trade, too.
The tool shown here is a curved sole plane specially made for carving the inside of a compound curve—in this particular case, the inside of an upright bass viol—sometimes called a double bass. (That’s a standard violin scroll beside it, and a twenty-five-cent piece, to compare size) Many such thumb-planes are made of cast brass—this one is all steel. It features all welded construction, and a hardened high-carbon steel blade.
I began with a short piece of scrap 2.5″ I.D. steel pipe. I mashed it to the oval shape in a hydraulic press, welded the sole in place, added the plane bed and blade retainer pin, and hand-crafted the chip-breaker to fit.
The blade was made of a cast-off piece of a commercial scraper blade. I think it would benefit from a thicker blade, but it works well as it is.
The sole of the plane is curved laterally, as well as longitudinally, to allow the blade to smoothly follow the surface of an inside curve. The blade, also curved to match the sole, is adjusted by loosening the keeper bolt and manually repositioning the cutting edge. In two tries, I had it shaving smooth ribbons of maple from the inside of the bass.
The plane weighs in at about two pounds, so it is not a featherweight, but the extra mass seems to make it cut more smoothly. On the other hand, it gives your deltoids a good workout…but that is part of woodworking.
First Bass Project
And then, there’s the project itself…. When complete, that bass will be 6’-3” tall—with the endpin retracted. But it will weigh only 20 pounds or so. The curved-sole plane is what allows the control to make the plates so thin—4.5mm in many places—9mm at the thickest. (Bass was completed and sold in 2006; I hope to build another one soon.)
Here is what the finished handmade double bass looked like:
Yes, I know now that the little white felt pads go on the inside of the tailpiece…but the photograph recorded my ignorance at the time, so I will let it stand.
This Double Bass was handmade in Oregon. It plays very well, with a huge powerful tone. It was sold and now lives somwhere in Illinois, I am told. This was a “William Tarr” model, built from plans obtained from Peter Chandler. My next Double Bass will be a “Panormo” model, modelled after a bass by Vincenzo Panormo, and using drawings by the late Peter Chandler.
All my Double Basses are of Oregon Big Leaf Maple and Sitka Spruce.