Another Resurrected Fiddle

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Resurrecting an Old Violin From Alabama

Repair Procedure: “Young Lady from Alabama” Violin          1/2017

This Violin came to me because a young lady in Alabama had read my article on violin repair, and decided she wanted me to fix her fiddle.

She sent me a few photographs to see whether I thought it was repairable and worth repairing. I said yes, on both counts, and she shipped me the violin. She knew that it was not an expensive, high-quality violin, but it was special to her, and she felt that the investment would return a better violin for her to play than the cheap one she was currently playing, and give her more pleasure as well, because of the sentimental attachment.

Here is the original photo I saw:

separated heel

Original view–first sight I had of the instrument. The heel is separated, and the fingerboard is flat on the belly.

She sent me the fiddle, carefully packed, and it arrived unharmed. Fortunately, I got home immediately after the FedEx people dropped the package on my porch, as it was raining hard, but the package was nearly completely dry.

Safe and Dry!

Safe and Dry!

 

But, this is what I found inside:

Broken neck block and separated heel

Neck heel is separated from the block, and the block is broken.

Starting Condition (as seen from outside):

  1. The neck is separated from the button. (above)
  2. The neck block is broken. (below)
  3. The treble side upper bout rib is damaged at neck joint (and is “re-touched” with red ink).
  4. There is missing wood at the heel of the neck.
  5. There is at least one repaired crack in the top plate.
Pieces of broken neck-block still glued to neck heel.

Pieces of broken neck-block still glued to neck heel. The neck came off in my hand.

 

Missing wood from both the neck block and the treble rib

Missing wood from both the neck block and the treble rib…”retouched” with red ink.

 

 chip of wood missing out of the heel of the neck.

There was a chip of wood missing out of the heel of the neck. This is a critical joint, so it had to be replaced before reassembly. (See the red ink, too? Strange…)

 

Existing (repaired) crack, and numerous abrasions, chips, etc.

Existing (repaired) crack, and numerous abrasions, chips, etc.

Beginning Procedure:

  1. Remove all the fittings and strings; store them in the case pocket.
  2. Remove the neck.
  3. Make a cork-lined clamping caul, to hold the ribs in proper alignment.
  4. Remove the top plate and inspect all interior conditions.
    1. Crack repair was “OK”, but minimal: add 2 cleats, clean up the three old cleats.
    2. There is missing wood from previous top removal. Repair it, before closing.
    3. The bass-side upper bout rib is cracked. Repair it before closing.
    4. The saddle fell off—re-install after closing.
Cork-lined clamping caul and new neck-block

Cork-lined clamping caul and new neck-block

 

Clamping caul

The top is off and the clamping caul fits! That old block will have to come out…it was too narrow, and way off center. No idea why…

 

Repair Procedure

  1. Remove the old neck-block.
  2. Repair the damaged ribs, and replace the missing wood at the neck-heel.
  3. Install the new block, using hot hide glue and clamping caul.
  4. Level the front of the garland.
  5. Re-install the repaired front plate, including original saddle.
  6. Re-set the repaired neck.
    1. Minimally “dress” the Fingerboard.
  7. Retouch the varnish all over, as needed. (It should look nearly new…the violin was quite glossy before.)
  8. Set-up the violin, using old pegs and chinrest, but replacing all else.
    1. New tailpiece with four tuners (with her approval)
    2. New bridge
    3. New soundpost
    4. New Dominant strings
    5. New cork on Chinrest clamping surfaces
    6. Add a few business cards
    7. Add an invoice.
  9. Play and adjust for best sound.
  10. Pack and ship to Owner

Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? And, really, that is about how it worked out:

Old neck block has been removed, and the treble rib has been tapered to receive the new wood.

Old neck block has been removed, and the treble rib has been tapered to receive the new wood.

 

New rib wood glued and clamped in place, on the treble rib. The bass rib is also cracked.

New rib wood glued and clamped in place, on the treble rib. The bass rib is also cracked, but it is hard to see at this angle.

 

Repaired treble rib, cracked bass rib.

Repaired treble rib, cracked bass rib.

 

Outside view of rib repair.

Outside view of rib repair.

 

New neck-block, glued and clamped.

New neck-block, glued and clamped.

 

New neck-block installed.

New neck-block installed and garland leveled.

There was also missing wood at the neck-heel: At some point in the history of this fiddle, it had been snapped loose from the neck block, and a piece of wood about the size and shape of a fingernail had chipped out of the gluing surface of the neck. (photo up above) This is a critical joint, so the wood had to be replaced.

I soaked a thin piece of aged maple in hot water until it was flexible, during which time I scraped smooth the scooped out place in the heel. Then I slathered in the hot hide glue, and clamped the now-flexible maple into the “scoop”, using a cork for a clamping block. When the glue was completely dry, I planed the wood flat to match the original shape of the neck heel.

Missing wood replaced and planed flat.

Missing wood replaced and planed flat.

 

Meanwhile, the inside of the top plate needed attention: there was a (poorly) repaired crack to attend to, several bits of missing wood, etc.

The old repairs were pretty crude...but mostly holding, so I only cleaned them up and improved upon them a little.

The old repairs were pretty crude…but mostly holding, so I only cleaned them up and improved upon them a little.

 

Some of the previous repairs had been achieved using Elmer's Glue

Some of the previous repairs had been achieved using Elmer’s Glue…not an appropriate advesive for violins. That is what the whitish-clear stuff is, above.

I replaced any missing wood using spruce, cut to fit, and hot hide glue.  While I had the top off, I cleaned up the old crack, and added two more diamond-shaped cleats. The importance of this shape is that it minimizes stress on the grain of the undamaged wood. That square, block (center cleat) above could cause a new crack to form along its edge. I eventually carved the old cleats to a thin taper, to minimize the danger.

 

I cleaned up the crack to receive the new cleats, daubed them with hot hide glue and clamped them in place.

I cleaned up the crack to receive the new cleats, daubed them with hot hide glue and clamped them in place. You can see I have begun tapering the old cleats.

 

New diamond cleats in place.

New diamond cleats in place. They still need to be tapered. The missing wood near the f-hole will also be replaced.

 

The cleats are all tapered, and the missing wood is replaced.

The cleats are all tapered, and the missing wood is replaced.

Finally, the top can be re-installed on the garland. First I leveled the garland, so that any inconsistencies caused by my relpacing that neck-block will be eliminated, and the top will fit cleanly. Then I dry-clamped the top in place, and, loosening a few clamps at a time, I inserted hot hide glue all around the edges, especially at all six blocks. As I completed the glue insertion in each area, I replaced the clamps and gently re-tightened them, then cleaned off any glue squeeze-out.

The result? The body is reassembled and the next step is re-setting the neck.

The top is safely reinstalled, and the neck is ready to be re-set.

The top is safely reinstalled, and the neck is ready to be re-set. All the scuff marks are still there.

 

Ready for neckset.

Ready for neckset.

 

The neck mortise has to be carved out

The neck mortise has to be carved out with chisels and other tools to exactly match the shape of the neck-heel. All angles and surfaces are critically important.

 

Once the neck is fitting exactly, I double check all dimensions and angles and finally slather hot hide-glue in the joint and ram the neck-heel home, checking rapidly to make sure everything is still correct. Then I clamp it so that it stays secure until that glue is fully set and dry.

 

Neck set glued home.

Neck set glued home.

 

And there is the new neck-angle!

And there is the new neck-angle!

 

Front view neck-set.

It has to all be correct when the clamps come off. In this view you can see that all the old scuffs are still there. They will still have to be re-touched.

So, I have to file and smooth the neck-heel joint, then re-touch the varnish so that the old and new are a close match, at the heel and both ribs. Then re-touch all the varnish, not attempting to make it new, but to cover any bare or damaged wood with varnish that matches the original varnish.

 

Color-match, back view.

Color-match, back view.

 

Color match, end view.

Color match, end view.

The rib-patch is not invisible, but it is no longer objectionable, so I am satisfied.

 

Color match, side view.

Color match, side view.

And finally, everything is done! The set-up is complete, all the old dings and scuffs have been retouched, and the old fiddle looks and sounds great.

Time for this one to go home.

Completed repair

Completed repair: It looks good, and plays well. The owner says she is thrilled. 🙂

 

 

 

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