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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.



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.



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.



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.



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 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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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



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 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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Fractional Violin Progress

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3/4-size Violin

3/4-size Violin Coming Along Slowly

Holidays are a hard time to be Productive. (No excuse; just a fact.)

I took off from work from the 21st of December through the 8th of January, partly because my daughter was going to be in town for that period of time, and partly because I hoped to get some work done at home. However, a couple of days ago  (12/29 and 30, 2016) were the first days I had occasion to work (almost) uninterrupted. It was quite a luxury. I had one more such day today (1/2/17), but I have not seemed to have much of my former stamina lately, so I did not accomplish as much as I had hoped. However, I did manage to:

  • Complete the Red Maple scroll,
  • Complete (and temporarily install) the Ebony fingerboard,
  • Complete the neck/fingerboard combination,
  • Dress the fingerboard (still a little more to do),
  • Complete the preliminary arching of the European Spruce front plate (still a little more to do, after purfling),
  • Trim the front linings and shape them, using a knife and scraper,
  • Layout and incise the f-holes (which facilitated the final correction of the arching), and
  • Begin the graduation of the front plate (inner arching).

Wood Choices

The back, neck, scroll and ribs are Michigan Red Maple, which I bought from Elon Howe, years ago: really nice stuff. The belly is European spruce, and feels quite crisp under the blade, as well as possessing a very clear bell-like ring, when tapped. It is certainly interesting to observe the differences in how one type of maple or spruce behaves as compared to another.

3/4-size scroll

The 3/4-size scroll as of January 2nd.


Arching and f-hole layout

Arching and f-hole layout.


Beginnings of Graduations

Beginnings of Graduations


Overall Project Progress as of January 2nd.

Overall Project Progress as of January 2nd.


Remaining Operations

Next, I hope to complete the graduations, cut out the f-holes, and install the bassbar. Then I will really be “on the home stretch”…or I will feel that way at least. I can install the front plate either before or after purfling it, then set the neck and remove the mold.

After that, I will install the back linings, shape them and the blocks, and complete the back plate.

Potential for Trouble

I accidentally left my gluepot turned on a couple of nights ago. Fortunately, all I lost was the glue. No damage to the pot or the glue jar, and no collateral damage. I’m still sort of kicking myself, though…it is a potentially dangerous mistake. My glue warmer only gets to about 145 or 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so there isn’t musch danger of a fire, but still….

I guess if that is my worst mishap for this violin, I will be doing well. No major setbacks, and no injuries, so far. (It doesn’t happen often, but when one works with razor-sharp hand-tools often enough, it is easy to have a “senior moment”, and nick oneself. Gotta be careful.) I have heard horror stories of serious injuries from other luthiers. So far, I have only needed stitches once, from a “slip” when carving the scroll to my #20 instrument, if I remember correctly. 🙂

Other Projects

During one of the several “hiatus occasions”, during the last two weeks, my wife and I built and installed a storm window in the utility room (we are expecting very cold weather, soon), and we hung curtains, too, among other things. Lots of visiting with family members and friends, of course. I did make a bentwood box for my daughter, too, but I already told about that project, of course. 🙂

As I said, holidays are not an easy time to get a lot of work done. But we keep trying. 🙂

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Two Violas from Obscurity

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Violas in Obscurity

Unsung Heroes

These two violas never had their photos shown, though both have been played by professionals; sometimes in public recitals. I was just starting to put together a website at the time, and had no clue about a weblog, as that was not much of a “thing” back then. When I built this site, I came to realize that it was in fact, a weblog, and that I should be entering posts on a semi-regular basis. So I began to do so.

But, the other day, when I was trying to update the “Chronology” page, I realized that one instrument was completely missing (The Forgotten Violin), while a few others had very poor pictures, or none at all.

So: this post will be an effort to remedy that condition.

My First Really Small Viola (14″):

My #5 instrument was actually intended to be a violin, modelled after the 1728 “Milanollo” Stradivari violin. But I was pretty ignorant about arching, and did not follow the arching of the original instrument at all, but bulged it outward, allowing the arching to rise almost directly from the purfling, with very limited “recurve.” I thought I was increasing inside air volume and thereby increasing the size of the resonating cavity, and (hopefully) increasing the sound output of the violin. In fact the results were very perplexing: every person who played it, and who knew anything about how violins were supposed to sound, got an odd look on his or her face, and said, “This sounds like a viola!” I was too ignorant to understand what they meant, so I was puzzled and frustrated, thinking, “It is the size of a violin, the shape of a violin, and it is strung with violin strings…and tuned to violin frequencies! How can it sound like a viola??” But they were right: there is a difference in the sound, just as there is a difference between most men’s voices, and most women’s voices. Much later, I learned more about the physical differences between violins and violas, and even learned to hear some of the difference in timbre. I realized that I had simply, inadvertently built a 14″ viola. So, despite the label inside that proudly says it is a violin, it really is a viola…and sounds like one. So I re-strung it with viola strings, and it turned out to be an astonishingly good viola for its size.

It still has a lot of “marks of the beginner”, in terms of workmanship, but it plays quite well, and, the reason it looks like the work of a beginner is simply… that it is.


My first very small viola (14

My first very small viola (14″)



14″ Viola side view



14″ Viola Back

I made the little Viola from “European Maple and Spruce” that I bought on the internet, so I have no idea of the Country of Origin, nor even a way to find out, since back then I was buying on eBay, not from a reputable source (ignorance again…). The few professionals who have played this instruments were really surprised at its open, easy responsiveness and power.


A 14-7/8″ Viola–The “Brian”

This is my third small Viola, and the second from this mold. It is the same mold as the first instrument I ever made, a viola for my son, Brian, hence the name of the mold. All the violins off this mold bear the label of “Brian”. When I began this viola, I was helping a young man by coaching him through his first instrument, a 15-1/2″ viola modelled after the 1580 Gasparo da Salo  “Kievman” viola. It had a charming purfling weave on the back plate, and double purfling, which I liked, so I decided to incorporate those two features into my viola that I was building while he worked on his own. (As it turned out, he took an exceedingly long time to complete his instrument, while I pressed on and completed mine the next summer. His turned out very nicely, by the way.)

The viola took a little while to “wake up”, so to speak: The lower frequency notes were a little flabby, at first, but with continued playing, and soundpost adjustments, it opened up very well, and is a easy-to-play, good-sounding viola today.

So, here is the Brian viola:


14-7/8″ Brian Viola



14-7/8″ Brian Viola Side



14-7/8″ Brian Viola Back


The wood for this instrument is Big Leaf Maple and Englemann Spruce, both from John Tepper, at Tepper Tonewoods.

I updated the “Chronology” page, and added the photos that were missing, there, as well as here.

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Lutherie and Gift-making

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Viola Box

Gift for my Grown Daughter

With Christmas around the corner, it suddenly occurred to me that, as the children were growing up, though I had frequently made things for each of them, I had made some fairly nice handmade gifts for my two sons (handmade hunting knives with hand-tooled scabbards for each, and a viola for one), but I had never made anything comparable for my daughter.

Time was running out, so, while she and my wife were out shopping, I hit it hard in my workspace, and made a bentwood box with a viola theme:

Viola Box Open

Viola-box, open, showing the bent, figured maple sides, and the violin purfling.


The scroll is one I had begun for a large viola, but it wasn’t working out right. The top and bottom are CVG Douglas Fir, left over from my closet-making project. Inner blocks are Englemann Spruce, left over from some instrument. Bent portion is probably Big Leaf maple, unused, and sitting in my shop waiting for a project. So is the scroll, for that matter.


Viola Box, closed

Viola Box, closed.


The stub of a scroll is inletted into the Doug Fir top, and secured with Titebond glue.  No fasteners are used. The workmanship isn’t great, but I got it done in one long day…applied the last coat of varnish early the next morning, and it was dry and ready to wrap for Christmas.

Everyone was happy with it, including me.

I had a nice photo of her with the box, but she forbade me to post it. 🙁

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The Forgotten Violin

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I Forgot a Violin! (Oops!)

Pressed for Time: didn’t take pictures.

I don’t know how I managed to do it, as I always take photos of my work, but I somehow skipped one.

In March of 2015 I completed a very good quality violin, just before the 2015 Northwest Musical Instrument Makers Show, at Marylhurst University. I vaguely recall that I was pressed for time, and got it playable literally the day before the show, or thereabouts. But, for whatever cause, I neglected to take photos of the build-process, and even of the completed violin. It wasn’t until I was trying to update my “Chronology” page that I realized something was missing

Then I had to go back and look at the dates inside instruments (as well as my archived weblog posts) in order to figure out what had happened. This was the Forgotten Violin:

Oliver Long Form

Oliver Long Model

A Different Mold:

This is only the second violin I have produced from this particular mold: The other was actually the first violin I ever made, so the two can’t really be compared. I changed some things since then anyway, so I have dubbed this mold, as it now stands, the Oliver “Long Model”, since it is a little narrower in the upper and lower bouts, giving it a “long” look, though it is really about the same length as the others.

European Wood–(mostly)

I am pretty certain that the front and back plates are European Spruce and Maple, respectively, but the ribs and neck are not European. I believe the neck is Red Maple that I bought from Elon Howe, in Michigan, and the ribs may be, as well. I wish I had written down all this information when I made the instrument, but I didn’t, and my memory is not coming up with any certainties. Sorry.

Cycloid arching

The one thing that made this violin special in my mind, is that it is the first one on which I attempted to use the “Hypocycloid” or “Curtate Cycloid” curves to establish the arching. In the past, I either slavishly copied the arching of the old master instrument I was trying to emulate (which can work very well, provided the instrument you are copying worked very well), or I just winged it, and established the archings the way I thought they ought to be. This time I actually established my curves differently, using math, a compass and straightedge, and actual little wheels of thin plywood I made. (Sounds strange, I know…but it was math that was definitely available to the old master makers, and technology that was available to them, as well, so I wanted to try it.)

And it worked out very well. I had very positive reviews from professional players from this instrument as well as those whose arching reflected the Cremonese master (Guarneri del Gesu) I had attempted to copy on those instruments. (Why?) Evidently that is how they originally perfected their arching, as the templates I made from scratch closely matched the templates I lifted from their work. It was an interesting experiment at any rate, and I still have the templates, if I want to use them, and I know how to establish all the curves again, if I need to do so. In the meantime, this is a very good violin.

A Violin for smaller hands

I deliberately made this instrument on the “delicate” side: just a little narrower at the neck than usual, and a daintier scroll than I usually make, because there was a small-stature player I was hoping to interest in the violin…but (naturally)… it turned out they were not in the market at the time. (Sigh…) This is an exceptionally easy instrument to play, though, and has very good projection and tone. So…I guess I will simply hope to find another player with small hands. 🙂

At any rate, here is the violin:

Oliver Long Form Front

Oliver Long Model Front


Oliver Long Form Side

Oliver Long Model Side


Oliver Long Form Side

Oliver Long Model Side


Spirit varnish, and… Not Antiqued

This is one of the few instruments on which I chose to apply my finish without deliberately induced “antiquing.” I don’t do it often, because I really like the antiqued look…but I like this one, too, so I may do some more like it.

Anyhow– that’s the story of the “One that almost got away.” …”The Forgotten Violin.”

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