Archive for October, 2016

Small Viola Set-up

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Setting Up the 14-inch Viola

What is “Set-up?”

Set-up can include a fairly wide range of things not related to the actual building of the instrument:

  • Dressing the fingerboard
  • Adjusting the string-height at the nut
  • Fitting the bridge
  • Fitting and adjusting the sound-post
  • Fitting (or lubricating) new tuning pegs
  • Installing strings, tailpiece and chinrest
  • Final adjustments for sound and playability
    • Height of strings above the end of the fingerboard
    • Balance of tone across the strings (adjusted at the soundpost)

Usually the instrument already has the fingerboard and saddle when “set-up” begins.

This Instrument

In this particular case, I had already installed, but not dressed the fingerboard, so I still had to:

  • Dress the fingerboard,
  • Install and finish the tuning pegs,
  • Drill the holes in the tuning pegs for the strings,
  • Fit and install the nut
  • Cut the slots in the nut, to receive the strings,
  • Drill and ream the hole for the end button, and fit the end button
  • Fit the soundpost, to a preliminary position,
  • Fit the bridge and adjust it for height,
  • Install the tailpiece, strings and chinrest.
  • Perform any “final touches”, to repair small varnish flaws, etc.

I have been swamped with other responsibilities, so, this time, I made no effort to record the process as it was being done. If anyone is interested, one can search the archived articles on this site, to see photo-essays of set-ups. Here is the completed instrument, from various views:

Completed saddle, end-button and tailpiece

Completed saddle, end-button and tailpiece: notice the curved ends on the saddle.

 

Completed 14-inch viola front side

Completed 14-inch viola front side: sitka spruce.

 

Completed 14-inch viola side view

Completed 14-inch viola side view. The instrument was slightly tilted away, making the body look large.

 

Completed 14-inch viola back.

Completed 14-inch viola back. That big-leaf maple is pretty stuff. This was donated by Terry Howell.

 

Completed neck;

Completed neck; If you check back a few posts, you can see how different the neck looks before and after polishing and sealing.

 

Completed treble-side scroll.

Completed treble-side scroll. This big-leaf maple, for the scroll and neck, was cut in my wife’s parents’ yard, some time ago.

 

Completed Bass-side scroll.

Completed Bass-side scroll.

 

Completed bridge, from the tailpiece side

Completed bridge, from the tailpiece side. Those are Helicore strings, and a Josef Teller bridge.

 

Bridge viewed from the fingerboard side.

Bridge viewed from the fingerboard side.

 

Bridge and sound-holes viewed from the front of the instrument.

Bridge and sound-holes viewed from the front of the instrument.

 

So! That is the 14-inch Viola! I will add a chinrest in the morning, but I wanted to get these pictures posted.

So far the sound is good. It is a little unfocused on the C string, but I usually expect some of that at first. I adjusted the soundpost to enhance the C-string, and tomorrow I hope it will have improved. I could tell it was opening up within 20 minutes of hard bowing, so I expect it will be a good viola. I would prefer orchestral strings, I think, but it is difficult to find a C-string for a 14″ viola.

This will make a very good viola for some player with small hands.

Thanks for looking.

(Edit: Here is the finished instrument WITH the chinrest. And, as I hoped, it sounds even better this morning. :-))

Completed 14-inch viola with chinrest.

Completed 14-inch viola with chinrest.

 

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Finishing Sequence: Part Three

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The Final Varnishing Steps:

Color Coats Application; Shading, etc.

Choices:

There are as many individual styles for violin-family instrument finish as there are makers, it seems, but most makers still face the same sorts of decisions:

  • What kind of varnish? There are so many variants on this one that I am not even going to try…
    • The biggest division, though, is the choice between “Spirit Varnish” or “Oil Varnish.”
  • Basic color scheme: Red, Brown, Amber, or Orange? Or somewhere in between?
    • And, how do you achieve those colors? With synthetic dyes, natural pigments, or something else? Some people induce color in their varnishes by the making or cooking processes. Some add color afterward.
  • Thick or thin varnish: one can go too far in either direction.
    • Too little varnish, and it has a “dry”, thin look.
    • Too much, and it can look as though it has been dipped in marmalade, and it will deaden the sound, as well.
  • “Straight” varnish (sometimes called “Full” varnish) or “Antiqued?”
    • If Antiquing is chosen, how far will you take it?
      • Just a gentle shading, emulating minimal wear, from careful use? or
      • Real damage, carefully repaired, “distressing” the instrument, to look as though it has survived several wars and a flood?
      • Or somewhere in between?

My Choices on This Viola are as Follows:

  • Spirit Varnish
  • Golden brown, leaning toward reddish brown
  • Thick enough varnish to stop looking “dry” or “thin”…just enough to give a sense of “depth” as one looks at the grain of the wood.
  • Gentle shading on the “antiquing,” adding darker color in the “no wear” areas, and leaving the “worn” areas a little thinner. I doubt it really looks like an old violin, but it has some of the general look and charm…I hope. 🙂 I have done straight varnish a few times, and, while it looks nice, I prefer the minimal antiquing.

So…when I last posted, I showed you the viola with the first four coats of varnish:

Viola back and side with four coats of spirit varnish

Viola back and side with four coats of spirit varnish.

 

Here is the Viola with Six Coats of Varnish:

 

Viola front with six coats of spirit varnish.

Viola front with six coats of spirit varnish. You can see that some touch-up will be needed to even out the color.

 

Viola side with six coats of spirit varnish.

Viola side with six coats of spirit varnish.

 

Viola back with six coats of spirit varnish.

Viola back with six coats of spirit varnish.

 

More Color Needed! Here it is with Eight Coats:

It looks pretty good in the above photos, but the camera does some odd things to the color, and it needed a little more, yet. So, here it is with eight coats:

Viola front with eight coats of spirit varnish.

Viola front with eight coats of spirit varnish. It isn’t really this red. It is still in the brown range. I don’t know why the camera affects the color appearance this way…maybe it is the lighting.

 

Viola side with eight coats of spirit varnish.

Viola side with eight coats of spirit varnish.

 

Viola back with eight coats of spirit varnish.

Viola back with eight coats of spirit varnish. Still some more work needed.

 

Final Sanding before Final Coat of Varnish

A careful rubdown with very fine, worn abrasives precedes the final coat of varnish, so that brush-marks, irregularities of any other sort, and rough areas can be reduced as much as possible.

Rubbed smooth, and ready for a final coat of yellow varnish.

Rubbed smooth, and ready for a final coat of yellow varnish.

By the way, that tiny brown dot in the middle of the lower front plate is a tiny knot in the spruce. It is in the wood, not the varnish. It doesn’t hurt a thing, and adds a bit of character, I think. (Real Spruce wood! It had branches originally! 🙂 ) I regularly use wood with “character.” Several of my early instruments have ribs with a pattern of tiny “pin-knots” in them. Those ribs were all cut from the same billet, and doled out one instrument at a time. I still have a few from that billet, and will use them eventually, as I really like them. Here is the side and back:

 

Side of viola, ready for final varnish coat.

Side of viola, ready for final varnish coat.

 

back of viola ready for final coat of varnish

On this side it is easy to see the dull, freshly sanded surface.

 

Here is the Final Look Before Adding the Fittings:

This is the final coat of yellow varnish…very thin…to achieve the look I wanted. There will still be a final rubdown and polishing, later on, but this is the last of the varnishing.

viola front with final coat of varnish

Front of 14-inch viola with ninth and final coat of varnish.

 

viola side with final coat of varnish

Side with final coat of varnish.

 

viola back with final coat of varnish

Back of 14-inch viola with ninth (final) coat of varnish.

 

What is left to do?

I will add the saddle and end-pin next, then re-install the fingerboard, fit the nut and tuning pegs, re-touch whatever damage is done to the varnish in the above-mentioned work, then set up the viola, with sound-post, bridge, tailpiece and strings. I’ll add the chin-rest when everything else is in its final state, and, as a very last step, seal and polish the “handle” portion of the neck.

Thanks for looking.

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