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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.

 

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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. 🙂

 

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Long Time No See!

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Long Absence!

Several Repairs and Two Completions

Repairs:

I had several repair projects over the last nine months…a couple of violins, two minor cello repairs, a classical guitar repair and a fairly major cello repair, from which I will eventually share a lot of photos.

One of the violins was pretty pleasant, in that an 82-year-old man brought me his mother’s violin which he had never heard played, and asked me to restore it to playability. There wasn’t a great deal wrong with it, which was fortunate, as he was moving to another state that weekend. I was able to clean it up, hair the bow,make various minor repairs, and have it playable by that Saturday, and he met with me Sunday morning, and was overwhelmingly satisfied. I played “Amazing grace” for him (very poorly– I truly am not a player), and he was pretty choked up.

Another repair was an elderly plywood cello owned by a friend. It had open seams, a missing bridge, and a few other things. Pretty easy stuff, though. Her husband’s classical guitar (also plywood) also had open seams, and very bad old strings, so I glued up the seams, replaced the strings and took both instruments back to them the next week.

My son’s friend brought me her cello, inherited from her grandmother. It was a nice, old Mittenwald carved cello, and she had been told there was a lot wrong with it. I looked it over very carefully, trying to find the things that were so “wrong”, but there was nothing… It seemed to only be missing the bridge. I finally said, “There’s nothing wrong with your cello; it just needs a bridge!” She said, “Oh, the bridge is here!” and produced the missing bridge. Even the soundpost was in place…so I installed the bridge, tuned the instrument, and played a couple of old hymns, just to check the sound. All was in order, and fully functional in about 15 minutes. She went home ecstatic, and I got a big smile, too.

Two Completions

Viola Completion

Another was not really a repair, it was the completion of a small viola for a family whose son is a fairly good player, and who wanted to switch to viola, but they could not afford a handmade viola. I proposed that I buy a 15-1/2″ viola-in-the-white, and complete it for them. As it turned out, the projection was way too low, so the job required that I change the neck-set angle before completing the finish-work and set-up. In the end, they got a very good viola for about a third what I charge to make one from scratch. That worked out well for them, and for me as well, which is good, because in the midst of all of the above, a fairly major job came in:

Cello Completion:

A lady in New Hampshire contacted me to say that her father had begun a cello around 30 years ago, but died without having completed it. The unfinished, unprotected cello had rested in her attic for eight or nine years, and was badly cracked in a few places. It ultimately turned out to be nearly a complete rebuild, but the result was very satisfactory for her and for me. It just took me a lot longer than I had predicted. This job ended up requiring:

  • Scroll-graft, to salvage the scroll her father had carved, while replacing the damaged neck.
  • Replacement of both the upper and lower end blocks.
  • Removal of both upper corner blocks, and reinforcing both areas with false blocks.
  • Repair of ten cracks, collectively, in the two upper ribs, both caused by wood shrinkage at the upper corner blocks.
  • Re-establishing the outlines of both front and back plates,
  • Installing purfling, and a new back button.
  • Re-checking and graduating the front and back plates,
  • Re-shaping the bass-bar.
  • Reassembly of the corpus,
  • Re-setting of the (new) neck, in the new upper end block.
  • Installing and dressing a fingerboard,
  • Installing a uniquely-shaped nut, to match the uniquely-shaped scroll cheeks.
  • Installing an oversized saddle to fill the oversized  cutout already removed from the front plate.
  • Complete varnish-prep, including correcting damages, as well as cleaning up (most but not all) tool-marks.
  • Complete varnishing-process, from raw wood.
  • Installing a Rosewood end-pin assembly.
  • Installing and fitting a sound-post, as well as a bridge, and a Rosewood tailpiece with four built-in adjusters.
  • Plugging the original peg-holes, as they were in the wrong places, and establishing correct locations to install the new Rosewood pegs.
  • Strings, final adjustment and set-up, as well as a week of play-in, and applying a wolf-eliminator.

It was lots of fun…her father had chosen beautiful wood, and the resulting instrument has decent sound, too. It just was far more time-consuming than I had expected, so she patiently waited to get her cello back, and was quite gracious about the extra time involved. Over all, it was a very good experience, and we both went away happy.

The whole saga was posted on Facebook, so I allowed my website to languish during all those months.

I will post photos soon.

Thanks for looking

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Building a Double Bass: The Ribs and Linings–Part One

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Bending and Installing Bass Ribs and Linings: Part 1

Gamba-corners versus Violin-corners

When I built my first bass, ten years ago, I built a bass rib bending “iron” of heavy aluminum pipe, and it worked acceptably for that bass, primarily because it was a “gamba-cornered” bass:

my first bass

Gamba-cornered bass: no recurve at the corners.

The gamba-cornered basses derive their name from their earlier predecessors, the viols. (Some people still refer to them as “bass viols”.)  The violas da gamba were a medium-sized viol, intended to be played in a sitting position, gripped between the knees, like a cello without an end-pin. Their corners had no recurve, so the basses with similarly shaped corners are called “gamba-cornered.”

But this bass, in addition to having a removeable neck, will be a “violin-cornered” bass, with sharp recurves at each corner. And, as it turned out, the old bending iron just wasn’t going to work. So I improvised by clamping a piece of 4″ ABS pipe to the workbench, draping a wet rag over the rib in progress, and “pressing” it with a clothes-iron. Surprisingly, it actually worked, just not all that well. I could get a rib flexible and roughly bent the way I hoped, but then had to quickly clamp the floppy rib into the mold and let it cool and dry there, and regain some rigidity.

Again; it actually worked… just not very well. It was a very frustrating process, and clumsy, much as if I had never built a bass before. I can tell that, before I build another bass, I need to build a better bending iron…and maybe streamline my mold a bit, as well– this one is a real tank, and inconvenient to use, as I did not use good foresight regarding where clamps would fit, so as to actually use the mold. (sigh…)

So, when I last posted photos (16 months ago…things have been busy) I had the mold prepared and the ribs ready for bending.

Bass mold with blocks installed and shaped

Bass mold with blocks installed and shaped. The mold will be removed, leaving only the blocks as part of the finisnhed Bass.

 

Bass ribs ready for bending.

Bass ribs ready for bending. The blocks were not shaped yet, in this picture. I ended up removing that neck block and replacing it with Spruce.

 

Bending and Installing the Ribs and Linings:

I always install the center bout ribs first–usually called the c-bout ribs. When the glue has dried on the c-bout ribs, they can be trimmed to match the outer curve of teh corner blocks, and the upper and lower ribs can be installed.

The C-bout ribs have been installed

The C-bout ribs have been installed and trimmed. I used salvaged ABS pipe for clampling cauls, and any sort of clamp I could lay hands on.

 

I really will have to improve my clamping arrangement  before building another bass. Probably will have to make major improvements on the mold, too.  I bend the upper ribs one section at a time, and clamped them to the mold to cool and dry, before making the next bend:

Beginning to form the upper bass-side rib.

Beginning to form the upper bass-side rib.

 

Bass side upper rib fully clamped

Bass side upper rib fully clamped.

 

Clamping nightmare.

Clamping nightmare.

 

More nightmares!

More nightmares! Those pipes tended to roll, throwing off the clamps. (sigh…)

 

And still more nightmares!

And still more nightmares! those sloping surfaces encouraged the clamps to slide off.

 

But finally, things began to shape up, one step at a time:

Both upper ribs in place

Once both upper ribs are in place it begins to look roughly like a bass.

 

Upper and C-bout ribs installed

Upper and C-bout ribs installed and trimmed. The bass is clamped to a table-top, so it looks huge, but it is only about 42″ tall.

So, the next step is the lower ribs; but I was uncomfortable handling the mold with the unprotected ribs, so I will install the upper and center linings before attempting to turn the mold over so I can install the lower ribs. The linings stiffen the edges of the ribs, as well as tripling the gluing surface presented to the front and back plates.

I installed the upper linings before trying to up-end the bass and install the lower ribs and linings:

Lining installation

The linings begin as straight strips of weeping willow, as shown. I bend and trim them to fit, then attach with hot hide glue.

 

Bass side linings complete. Treble side glued and clamped.

I only have sufficient clamps to attach one side at a time. You can see that I have already installed the bass side linings.

 

Back with no linings, yet

No linings at all on the back side, yet…that will be the next step. See how thin the ribs really are!

 

Upper and center linings completed on front side.

Upper and center linings completed on front side.

 

That is all I am going to post for now…the lower ribs and linings are next, but I have to create a fixture that will allow me to turn the bass to a variety of angles in order to work on it. I think I have a plan figured out: we will see how it turns out.

Meanwhile, another project has arrived on my doorstep. A lady sent me a cello begun by her dad, but which was still incomplete when he passed away 9 years ago. My assignment: resurrect that dream-cello! It will have to wait until May 1st, I think, but I am anxious to get started on it. It is made of beautiful bird’s-eye maple and what seems to be Red Spruce. I hope it turns out to be a great cello. Looking forward to the challenge. 🙂

Thanks for looking.

 

 

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3/4-Size Violin Completion

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Completed the 3/4-Size Violin!

I had a number of other projects going, so I neglected to maintain the website presence…the only post lately has been of another violin resurrection. But…I hope to change that.

The last post was of the neck-set on the 3/4 violin. It looked like this– but the back plate was not made, yet. Most makers complete the entire corpus, then set the neck. I complete the rib garland and the front plate, then set the neck while the inside mold is still in place. This allows me to get the neck-set perfect, and to level the back of the garland, including the back of the neck-heel, before making the plate. When I install the plate, it fits perfectly, only requiring the final trimming of the heel and button together, to establish the optimum height in the center of the curve of the heel.

Neck-set side view

Neck-set side view

Completing the Back Plate

So, the next thing was to trace the back plate, and complete it:

Corpus with back plate blank

Corpus with back plate blank

 

Beginning to carve the back archings

Beginning to carve the back archings. There is a long way to go!

 

Once the arching is complete, I cut the purfling slot

Once the arching is complete, I cut the purfling slot

 

 install the purfling, dry

Then I install the purfling, dry, to make sure everything fits correctly. That strip of aluminum is my bending strap.

Then I glue the purfling in place.

Then I glue the purfling in place.

 

Edge Crest marked

Then I mark the edge of the crest, so I know where to carve the channel.

 

channel complete

Then I carve the channel, using a gouge, and use planes and scrapers to fair-in the curves of the channel and the archings.

 

Arching and purfling complete

Here, the arching and purfling are complete…but the graduations (inside arching) are not begun.

 

Graduation

I begin by measuring the thicknesses all over the plate, so as not to run into any surprises and make the plate too thin. Then I use gouges and planes to bring all the thickness close to what I want. But, to make sure I don’t go too far, I measure and carve out small spots all over, to the exact thickness I want in each little “polka-dot”. That makes a “graduation map” that allows me to follow my plan to completion, by removing all the excess wood between the dots, thus “connecting the dots.”

There are other ways to do this. One involves a special tool, commonly called a “Strad-Spike”, because one was found among the tools of Antonio Stradivari. I have seen them and and have actually used them, but have never gotten around to building one. So…

 

graduation map laid out

Graduation map laid out.

 

Final thicknessing in progress.

Final thicknessing in progress.

 

Graduations almost completed.

Graduations almost completed.

By the way, I think it is interesting to hold the plates up to a lamp and see how much light comes through:

translucent spruce

That is a lot of light coming through that spruce plate…it is about the thinnest plate I have made.

 

translucent maple

Even the maple lets a little light through.

Closing the Corpus

Finally, to install the label and close the corpus. (I always forget to take a picture of the label…sorry.) Most makers put their label in after everything is fully completed. I used to do that, but I found it so frustrating to get a glue-coated label through the f-hole, line it up correctly and get it smoothed out on the back plate…all working through the f-hole…that I decided my labels will go in when I close the corpus; always. That means the label predates the completion by a few weeks at most, as a rule. I think one time there was a long wait,  but that was the lone exception.

Closing the corpus

Closing the corpus

 

Fully glued and clamped, using hot hide glue and spool-clamps.

Fully glued and clamped, using hot hide glue and spool-clamps.

 

Closed corpus from the back.

Closed corpus from the back.

 

Closed corpus from the front.

Closed corpus from the front. Dainty little thing, isn’t it? This is my first 3/4-size violin, and it feels pretty tiny.

 

Finishing

I removed the fingerboard so as to be able to easily access the entire exterior, for final scraping and finishing.

After that, I had a lot of “scraping and looking” to do. (Scrape and look, using a low-angle, dim light, then scrape and look some more.) When everything was as smooth as I could make it, and exactly the shape I wanted, I stained the entire violin with coffee, to get rid of the stark-white bare, new-wood look. It takes at least three coats, usually, to get the color dark enough that it will not shine through the varnish. The collateral effect is that the grain raises because of the water. So, I sand it lightly, to smooth the grain “just enough.” I want the grain to be visible in the final state, but not too visible.

Coffee stain

Coffee stain

 

Then, I rubbed in a coat of the mineral ground. I brush it on liberally, rub it in hard, with my fingers, then wipe it off as hard as I can, using a rag. When it dries, the instrument will be whiter than ever– chalk-white, all over. The first time I did this I was pretty alarmed at the look, but I had just watched Roger Hargrave do the same thing, and knew that the white mineral would completely disappear with the first coat of sealer or varnish. And it did!

Here is the violin with the sealer applied:

sealer front view

With three coats of coffee, and the dark sealer, the wood looks pretty dark. But it will look good under the varnish.

 

The back, with the seal-coat.

The back, with the seal-coat.

 

After that it was a case of applying several coats of golden varnish, then a few coats of red-brown varnish, and a final two coats of the golden stuff.

 

Front varnish nearly complete

Front varnish nearly complete

 

Back varnish nearly complete

Back varnish nearly complete.

 

front with the final coat of varnish.

There is the front with the final coat of varnish.

 

Set-up

Standard set-up, and the violin will be done! That includes the saddle and endpin, as well as re-installing the fingerboard, fitting and installing pegs, a bridge, the nut, the soundpost, tailpiece, and strings. A chinrest completes the instrument.

Bottom of the violin before the endpin

Bottom of the violin before the endpin and saddle were installed.

 

Endpin installed

Endpin installed: saddle is next.

 

Heres the plan: a rounded saddle

Heres the plan: a rounded saddle to prevent “saddle cracks”. They work because there is no sharp corner to act s a stress riser.

 

 footprint of the saddle

There’s the footprint of the saddle: no further shaping is done until I cut out the mortise in the front plate.

 

Traced saddle mortise

I traced the footprint onto the front plate, and began cutting out the mortise.

 

cut out saddle mortise

Then I cut out the mortise using sharp gouges and a small knife. Any nicks in the varnish will be retouched later.

 

The varying thicknesses of the top plate can then be traced onto the saddle itself, and final shaping can begin.

 

Saddle and endpin complete

Saddle and endpin are nearly complete. The saddle will be filed a little more, and the varnish retouch will happen later on.

 

fingerboard and pegs installed.

I reinstalled the fingerboard, and while the glue is drying, I fit and installed the tuning pegs.

 

Fingerboard and pegs complete.

Fingerboard and pegs complete. Notice the nut is also intalled.

 

Completion

Finally the little violin is complete!

 

Front view of completed 3/4-size violin

Front view of completed 3/4-size violin

 

Side view...

Side view…

 

And the back view.

And the back view.

 

finished scroll

Close-up of the scroll

Thanks for looking. Please keep in mind that the Marylhurst Musical Instrument Show will be April 29th and 3oth. If you can make it, I hope to see you there. This little violin will be there for you to test drive, along with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 adhesive 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 replacing 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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3/4-Size Violin Neck-Set

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3/4-Size Violin in Progress. Purfling and Neck-Set

Purfling first, then Neck-set

When I last posted, the fiddle looked like this:

Purfling Slot Incised

Purfling Slot incised, but not completed.

 

Installing Purfling

This next step was to go back over the incisions, cutting them to the correct depth. Then I used a purfling pick (there are many different types) to shave out the waste wood from between the incisions. The last thing I do, before installing the purfling, is to go all the way around the slot, checking the width and depth with a scrap of dry purfling. I want the fit to be snug but not tight, and deep enough that the purfling will be flush with the surface of the plate. Here is the completed slot:

Purfling slot completed

Purfling slot completed

 

I used a bending iron to shape the sections of purfling, installing the Center bout sections first, and mitering the corners to form the desired “bee-stings.” As I cut the ends of the upper and lower bout sections, I have to check and be sure that the two mating miters will form a single sharp point, shaped exactly the way I want. This takes a good deal of practice. As one of my teachers told me, “Sure, this is tough! If it was easy, everyone would be good at it!” (Funny, that seems to be true in most walks of life…) Once the purfling is all in place, dry, I can begin gluing. Here is the dry fit:

Purfling Dry-Fit

Purfling Dry-Fit

 

Next I pry up the center of each of the center-bout strips, and, using a thin palette knife, I slip hot hide glue in under the lifted purfling, then, working quickly, I push the purfling back into the slot, and drive it home using a special tool. I start at the center ans work toward both ends, so that the glue being forced from under the purfling is driven along toward the ends of the center bout purfling strips, into the mitered corners, so that it glues the ends of the upper and lower purfling strips in place, as well.

Here is the freshly glued purfling, driven as deeply as I could manage, into the slot:

Freshly Glued Purfling

Freshly Glued Purfling

 

Freshly glued Purfling Detail

Freshly glued Purfling Detail

 

The next step is to sketch in a line 40% of the distance in from the outer edge, toward the purfling. It is a faint pencil line, but it serves as a guide to show me the limits to the channel…the broad trough around the edge of the violin:

Edge Crest boundaries inscribed

Edge Crest boundaries inscribed…it’s a blurry photo, but you can see the penciled lines.

 

Then I begin cutting the channel: a trough whose outer edge is the line I just inscribed, but which cuts only as deep as is necessary.

Beginning of the channel. The Edge crest is still visible.

Beginning of the channel. The Edge crest is still visible. I have just begun to cut the channel.

 

Purfling Channel Completed

Purfling Channel Completed

 

Purfling channel Detail

Purfling channel Detail

 

Neck-Set

I laid out the neck mortise, using pencil and straightedge. Then I cut the edges of the mortise, using a razor-saw, and carved the wood away to form the mortise. It is somewhat tricky (like all the jobs in lutherie), but I got it done. Once everything was perfect, I glued the neck heel into the mortise, using hot hide glue:

 

Neck-Set Front

Neck-Set Front

 

Neck-Set Side

Neck-Set Side

 

That was all I did that day. 🙂

The next step will be to remove the mold and install the back linings to the ribs.

Thanks for looking.

 

 

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3/4-Size Violin Progress

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3/4-Size Violin Still in Progress

Last time… if you remember… it looked like this:

Progress as of January 2nd.

Progress as of January 2nd.

F-holes and Bassbar

So, I went ahead and cut out those f-holes, using an f-hole “drill” my children bought for me, and an X-acto knife.

F-holes

F-holes cut out and ready for the bassbar…outside view. They still will require a good deal of refinement.

 

Then I chalk-fit a bassbar blank, and glued it in place, using special clamps made by Jake Jelley, the friend who encouraged me to continue building instruments.

Bassbar blank with clamps.

Bassbar blank with clamps. You can see the f-holes cut out…they still need more trimming.

 

Shaping the Bassbar

I carved and planed and scraped the bassbar into what I judged to be an appropriate shape for this instrument. Both it and the f-holes will receive a bit more scraping and shaping before they are varnished. The whole instrument, actually, is fair game for tweaking, refining, and perfecting, until the varnishing begins.

F-holes, bassbar and graduations

F-holes, bassbar and graduations nearly complete. Outer edges have been rounded to approximate their final shape.

Installing the Front Plate

I aligned the front plate as closely as I could with the rib garland, and applied six spool clamps–one for each inner block. Then I loosened one clamp at a time, and, using a thin palette knife, I slipped hot hide glue between the plate and the blocks and linings. I rinsed the edge, overhang and rib quickly with hot water, and wiped it with a rag, then re-tightened the clamp, and added more clamps between that clamp and the next, repeating the procedure untill all the edges and especially all the blocks were securely glued and clamped, and relatively clean.

Front plate installed, using spool clamps.

Front plate installed, using spool clamps. Ann thinks these look like hair-curlers. 🙂

 

Back view of mold with front plate installed, and spool clamps.

Back view of mold with front plate installed, and spool clamps. The mold will be removed after the neck is set.

 

Purfling Comes Next

Not everyone does things in the same order. I have had trouble, in the past, getting my edge overhangs even all the way around. If I install the purfling first, then I am locked in, so to speak, and if the overhang is uneven, there is nothing much I can do. But if I purfle after installing the plate, I can take time first to adjust that overhang, using files and scrapers, until I am satisfied that it is the way I want it, and then purfle, following my adjusted edge shape.

Installed front plate, from the mold side, showing the overhang.

Installed front plate, from the mold side, showing the overhang. Notice that there are no back linings, yet.

 

Purfling laid out and lightly incised.

Purfling laid out and lightly incised. (The shadow is my head– I was too close to the plate.)

 

The idea at this point is to just deepen the lines a bit, not to try to cut the full depth of the purfling slot. You can see that, in some places, the waste wood begins to pop out on its own. Most will have to be removed using a purfling pick. Here is a closer photo of the incised purfling lines:

Close-up of the incised purfling lines.

Close-up of the incised purfling lines. That corner will still undergo significant shaping and refining.

 

So…next time, I will show the completed purfling, and the neck-set– I hope. 🙂

 

Thanks for looking

 

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