Archive for January, 2018

The Garland

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The Garland

Shaping blocks and Bending ribs:

Inner curves of corner-blocks, and both end-blocks, first

I learned to shape only the inner curves of the corner blocks, initially, as well as the outer curves of the end blocks, because if I shape both curves on each corner block, then there exists the possibility that, when I clamp the center-bout ribs in place for gluing, the tips of the blocks may deflect outward, instead of holding their respective shapes.

Also, after the c-bout ribs are glued in place, when I shape the outer curves, in preparation for receiving the upper and lower ribs, I shape the ends of the c-bout ribs at the same time, so that they simply continue the curvature of the blocks, to a feather-thin end condition, before gluing the upper and lower ribs in place. Then, when I trim the upper and lower ribs, it is easy to make the glue-lines between the c-bout ribs and the upper and lower ribs completely invisible, matching the corner of the trimmed ribs at the corners of the instrument garland.

So, here is the mold with the blocks shaped as described above:

Blocks shaped in preparation to installing certer-bout ribs.

Blocks shaped in preparation to installing certer-bout ribs.

 

Ribs are Next

When using figured wood, I have to make a determination as to which angle the figuring will follow on the instrument. I thought I could just copy whatever the Old Master (Guarneri del Gesu) had done, but, as it turns out, he used highly figured wood for the ribs, all right, but the flame (curl) in the maple went directly across the rib at nearly exactly 90 degrees, whereas mine is quite slanted. So, I have to make a decision: Will I have the curl slant “up” (north) from the back side to the front, or the other way– from front to back?

Really, I simply have to make it consistent, on both the treble and bass sides. Some makers have the slant in the C-bouts going the opposite direction from that of the upper and lower bouts. Some, also, have used a single rib across the two lower bouts, and thus had the flame slanting one way on the bass side and the other way on the treble, and then matched the center and upper bout rib curl to the lower bout rib, so that the grain was consistent all the way around, instead of being mirrored between the two sides.

That sounds good: but, in the first place, I haven’t enough rib wood to pull it off correctly; and, in the second place, it can potentially cause problems later on, if the plates shrink (they are made of wood, remember!) and the ribs have to be shortened a little, to match. If there is already a joint at the center, it is relatively easy to simply shorten each side by a millimeter or so, as needed, and re-shape the end-pin hole. But if the bottom wood is all one piece, the repairer will have to cut through that bottom rib, and establish a new center joint; so the two halves will no longer match perfectly, though it will be pretty close.

Anyway: I usually would first thin the ribs to a consistent one millimeter thickness, and then cut them to length, carefully laying them out as to location and orientation, before bending. This time, I consulted with one of my teachers, who assured me that Guarneri ribs were a little thicker. So, since the ribs came to me at 1.3 mm, I will consider that to be the ideal thickness for this particular instrument.

Ribs

Ribs for new violin (one is already on the mold.)

 

Then I can bend all the ribs, individually, and set them aside ready to be used. In the case of the C-bout ribs, I clamp them into the mold, where they will cool, and stabilize, in exactly the correct shape. Afterward, I used a small brush to slip glue into the joints, and secure the C-bout ribs permanently to the corner blocks.

First (Treble side) C-bout rib installed.

First (Bass side) C-bout rib installed.

 

Second (Bass side) C-bout rib installed.

Second (Treble side) C-bout rib installed.

 

When the glue holding the C-bout ribs had dried sufficiently, I shaped the outer curves of the corner blocks appropriately: You can see, in the  photograph, below, that the center rib-ends have been shaped along with the outer curves of the corner blocks, so that they will cleanly fair into the curves of the upper and lower ribs.

Final shape of corner blocks.

Final shape of corner blocks. C-bout ribs are shaped along with the corner blocks.

 

I then immediately installed the upper and lower ribs in their respective places. In this particular case, I chose to install the lower ribs first. After the glue dried for a few hours, I installed the upper ribs.

Lower bout ribs installed.

 

All ribs installed.

All ribs installed.

 

When the glue holding the upper and lower ribs had dried sufficiently, I trimmed the ends to the correct length, and filed them smooth. The only “end-grain” showing will be the ends of the upper and lower ribs at each of the corners. I try to make them square with the centerlines of the corner blocks, so that it gives the inpression of a “mitered”corner, but with no apparent glue-joint: the joint is exactly along the corner of the squared-off rib end. The first priority is to have the rib end at the right angle, so it will appear to be perpendicular to the plane of the garland. The next is to file them to look “square” with the corner, as I explained above. Finally, some creative scraping of the C-bout rib-ends will usually move the glue joint to be exactly on the corner of the upper or lower rib, and make it essentially invisible. This one is close:

Corner, nearly complete

Corner, nearly complete: a little more scraping will make that joint invisible.

 

Linings

The only thing left to complete the garland is to install linings on both the front and back sides. The way I have chosen to use my mold (“French” method…ribs flush to one side of the mold) precludes my adding the back linings until after I remove the mold. That is fine: I also intend to leave the mold in place until after I have set the neck, so I have quite a way to go on that step.

Not everyone installs the neck while the corpus is on the mold. I began doing it when building my first cello, and it helped so much with neck-setting that I have continued it ever since. I deliberately allow the heel to “run wild”, in terms of length (or height, depending on how you are looking at it), so that it protrudes past the back of the neck block a little bit. When all my other items (angles, measurements, etc.) are exactly correct, I glue the neck in place, and before installing the back plate, I simply trim the back of the neck-heel flush with the back of the corpus. Then the back plate fits perfectly, and I am not struggling to get that joint tight. But… I am getting ahead of myself…. 🙂

I cut strips of willow to the appropriate dimensions for linings and then plane them smooth; then bend them to fit the curves of the violin, and finally, cut them to the appropriate lengths, and install them. Willow responds very well to both bending and carving, which is why I prefer it for lining material. I can bend all the linings in just a few minutes, and they will all hold their shape until I am ready to use them.

Bent linings, ready to be cut to length and installed.

Bent linings, ready to be cut to length and installed. Willow is easy to bend: These linings all started out like the straight one in the photo.

After the corners are all dry and secure, and trimmed, I cut two small mortises in each block, to receive the linings; then cut the linings to exactly the right lengths for a tight fit. The linings serve two purposes: they strengthen the edge of the ribs, which would otherwise be quite fragile; and they triple the gluing surface area bewteen the rib garland and the plates.

When I have all the linings fitted correctly, I remove them one at a time, apply hot hide glue, re-insert the linings, and clamp them in place, using tiny spring clamps. Sometimes one or more areas are more stubborn, and require a heavier clamp. Then I use something with more authority.

Linings fitted, glued and clamped.

Linings fitted, glued and clamped.

 

So: there is the garland (rib-structure), essentially ready to use! Next time we will level the garland, and use it to trace the shape of the front plate. At some point before attaching the front plate, I will also trim the linings to a triangular cross-section, so that the inner edges taper to a thin transition, and do not add a stress-riser to the ribs. I’m not certain whether it would affect sound, but the Old Masters did it that way, so I will follow their example. The corner blocks also will be trimmed back to be fairly minimal. I will carve away the end-blocks to each be the shape of half an ellipse, but I will leave them fairly robust, for strength.

Mold with blocks, ribs and linings.

Mold with blocks, ribs and linings.

You can still see traces of ink and glue on the blocks, looking like gaps…that will all go away when I level the garland.

 

Thanks for looking.

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New Project!

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New Project!

“Pellegrina-esque?” Violoncello da spalla?

I had been pondering (glumly) what to build for the next show at Marylhurst University, and had nearly decided upon one of two “niche-market” items…either a very large “violoncello da spalla”, or an emulation of David Rivinus’s “Pellegrina.” I had spoken to Mr. Rivinus a couple of years ago, and he told me that, for years, he had encouraged other luthiers to use his design, as a partial solution for some of the “work-related injuries” associated with playing large violas…but no one took him up on it, so he just produced them himself for the rest of his lutherie career, ultimately making 100, or so, of the odd-looking instruments. They were all sold, ultimately, and he has stopped taking orders, so I considered “taking up the mantle”, so to speak, and producing instruments modelled after his work. But, as I said, that really is rather a “niche-market” viola.

The violoncello da spalla is possibly even more specialized, as, though it is strung very much like a regular violoncello (cello), it has a fifth string (E), above the standard C-G-D-A of the cello, is only 19-20″ long on the body, and is generally played off the right shoulder, so that the lower bass-side bout is under the chin, and the bowing arm comes up from underneath, so that the player is nearly as comfortable as when playing a small viola, but the sound is that of a cello or extremely large viola–take your pick. Very little classical music has been written for these instruments, so I doubt there would ever be a lot of market for them, though I would love to build them.

But! in the midst of these ponderings, I had sent one of my teachers a couple of sets of photos of two of my recent violins, and, while he was quite encouraging and positive, he took the time to give me a carefully-considered, and quite detailed critique (what a treasure!) of both instruments, telling me what changes he would want to see, when comparing my work to one of the Old Masters (Guarneri del Gesu, in particular.) So! I changed course, and figured that I have just enough time to attempt another copy of the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri del Gesu violin, of which I already have the “The Strad” poster, with actual CT-scans of the original instrument, and exquisite photos of the outside, along with technical drawings and tables of measurements.  Game on! New Project!

Guarneri del Gesu

(Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri 1698 – 1744) was a violin maker  living and working in Cremona, Italy. He was one of the sons of Giuseppe Giovanni, and, though he was not very successful in his lifetime as a luthier (having to supplement his income by other means) compared to the more famous Antonio Stradivari, some of his later instruments are highly prized today, and sell for more than perhaps the very best Stradivari violins. Currently the very highest price (undisclosed, but reportedly in excess of $15M) was paid for the 1741 “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu, on lifetime loan to Anne Akiko Meyers. I have never attempted an instrument modelled after the “Vieuxtemps”, but I have made two or three modelled after the 1735 “Plowden.” So that is the chosen model, again.

Starting from Scratch, Again

Checking the Mold Template against the Poster CT-Scan.

Checking the Mold Template against the Poster CT-Scan…I thought it had been exact, but there were some tiny discrepancies.

 

corrections

The black-marked edges are the places I corrected next. (Not much, really, but striving for perfection, here.)

 

Strad Poster of the Plowden

These are the photos on the poster front. The poster does not want to lie flat– I store it in a mailing tube, to keep it undamaged.

 

Checking the mold.

Checking the mold against the corrected mold-template: as it turns out, the corrections were all within the areas of the blocks– the mold is fine.

 

Blocks cut and fitted

Blocks cut and fitted…notice the differing heights, marked on the ends.

 

Blocks glued in place.

Blocks glued in place. I use Titebond for this task, but nearly nothing else.

 

Block shapes, as traced from the mold template.

Block shapes, as traced from the mold template.

 

The Wood for the New Violin

This will be a one-piece back of European Maple, neck and ribs matching the back, and a two-piece front plate of European Spruce. All were obtained from International Violin Co., of Baltimore, MD.

One-piece back, neck and ribs of European Maple, front of European Spruce.

One-piece back, neck and ribs of European Maple, front of European Spruce.

That trace on the back plate was put there by the wood-source people…it does not reflect the shape of this violin at all.

So! That is the Beginning!

I will carve the inner curves of the center-bout blocks next, so that I can bend and fit the center ribs to match those curves. Afterward, I will carve the outer curves of those same blocks as well as the tail and neck blocks, before bending and fitting the upper and lower ribs.

As a precaution against accidentally gluing the ribs to the mold, I already rubbed a paraffin candle all over the edges of the mold, where the ribs will touch, so that if an accidental drop of hide-glue ends up there, it will not stick. (Been there…broke the rib, before I figured out what was amiss.)

This is as far as I am going today…I am still recovering from hernia surgery last week, and I find I still tire easily. But I’m on my  way, and will try to keep you posted, with progress reports, here

Thanks for looking.

Chet Bishop

 

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Various Repairs

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Repairs Only…not by choice.

Various Repairs:

For the last six months I have been involved only in repairs, restorations and resurrections: no new builds.

Gary’s Fiddle

One was a fairly simple repair job for a man named Gary: he is 82 years old, and had his mother’s violin, which she had gotten from her father, who bought it in Denmark during or before WWI…but, as she quit playing before he was born, he had never heared it play; so he really wanted it singing again…and asked specifically that I would play “Amazing Grace” on it, after the repairs were complete. (Sigh…) I am really not a player, but I agreed, so the deal was a go—annnnd, he was leaving the state, moving to Wyoming, the next Saturday. So it was a “rush” job, with no wiggle room.

 

Here is how the violin came to me:

Broken case, missing peg, hairless bow, and more.

Broken case, missing peg, hairless bow, and more. (Notice that one metal bow-clip is missing, and one fabric loop…and the remaining two are on opposite sides.)

 

The nut was missing, though someone had attempted to replace it with a bone nut, but the bone nut really didn’t fit, so I ended up just making a new one of ebony.

Mising nut and peg

Mising nut and peg.

 

The lower bout treble seam on the back was open for about 5-6″, but there was no crack, so that was an easy fix.

Open seam.

Open seam…no big deal.

 

The back was in good shape:

Undamaged back

Undamaged back, except for a few scratches.

 

So! Where to start?

The obvious things seemed to be to close the open seam, and to replace the mising nut. As it turned out, the fingerboard was about to fall off, too, so I re-glued it while making the new nut.

Seam repair.

Lower bout Treble back seam, cleaned, re-glued and clamped, using spool-clamps.

 

Someone had attempted to make a bone nut (popular in some circles, in some periods of history– still the norm for guitars), but it was really not at all the right size…so I just made a new one of ebony.

old bone nut that did not fit.

The old bone nut…not servicable, though.

 

New ebony nut...in progress.

New ebony nut…in progress.

 

Fingerboard and nut glued in place.

Fingerboard and nut glued in place.

 

Everything drying at once!

Everything drying at once!

 

A Broken Case:

So, while the glue was drying on the fiddle itself, I atempted to close up the gaping cracks in the old wooden case. They had been open a long time, and resented having to mate up again, but with some creative clamping and wedging, I got it presentable on the outside. The inside needed attention as well– the little spacers and dividers were loose, and the compartment for rosin, etc, was falling apart. Annnd, the bow-holders that were left were on opposite sides, so I had to transfer one to match the other.

Clamping and gluing a broken case.

Clamping and gluing a broken case.

 

While the case was drying, I re-haired the bow, and made minor repairs. It turned out OK, but I did not take any photos.

Finally, I was free to replace all the pegs, using a modern taper, and good quality ebony pegs. At that point it was ready for strings and a full set-up, including a new bridge and soundpost.

Newly set-up old fiddle

Newly set-up old fiddle.

 

All Done!

The case looked pretty good, all things considered, and the newly-re-haired bow and newly-resurrected fiddle looked at home in it.

Here is the repaired case, closed.

Here is the repaired case, closed.

 

Case, with re-haired bow, and resurrected fiddle.

Repaired Case, with re-haired bow, and resurrected fiddle.

 

Delivered!

Gary was pretty tired: he had spent all night packing to leave for Wyoming. But he was delighted with the fiddle.

Owner with his resurrected fiddle.

Owner with his resurrected fiddle.

 

Tone was not bad, considering the 80+ year enforced silence. It seemed to be “waking up and remembering the good old days,” even in the few hours that I had with it before returning it to the owner. I did play “Amazing Grace” for him, but you will pardon my reticence to display my Non-virtuosity, here, in a public place. 🙂

 

Thanks for looking.

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