Posts Tagged ‘Bluegrass fiddle’

5 String Progress Report #12: Purfling

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Five String Fiddle Back Plate Purfling

Layout

I use the same purfling marker to begin the layout of the back purfling as I did on the front purfling, except that, as I have a habit of using a “signature” fleur-de-lis on the upper and lower ends of my five-string fiddles, I have to stop short of the corners and ends, and sketch those areas in by hand. However, I had noticed that, since I have literally been sketching them in by hand, no two were alike, and they were pretty time consuming. So, today I made a small template out of tag-board…a junk-mail offer for some thing or another, that just happened to arrive at the time I needed such a thing. (Serendipitous, that….)

I used the purfling marker to lay out everything except the corners and ends, then used the template by poking through it with a needle, to lay out the ends, and sketched in the corners with a pencil and knife.

purfling layout

Purfling layout: Upper end and corners, with template and needle.

 

Purfling layout: Lower end

Purfling layout: Lower end and corners, with template, needle and knife.

And, now I am ready to cut all my purfling grooves, pick them out, and begin installing purfling.

Back Purfling layout.

All back purfling laid out and ready to cut.

Cutting the groove and picking out the waste wood.

This part is hard on the hands. Some very good luthiers, today, now do this part using a dremel tool, but I tried it a couple of times and had some rather nasty accidents. I reverted to cutting the grooves by hand. It is hard on my hands, but I end up doing better work. I just have to take breaks now and then.

Something I had to bear in mind on this fiddle, is that the Koa grain is so curly and wild that I could have no confidence that the purfling pick would not chip out a larger piece than I intended. So, I had to move carefully, and take small “bites.”

Also, inlaying the “purfling-weave” (the fleurs-de-lis) was risky, as the graduation was already complete, so I did not have lots of extra wood to work with. I had to make sure I did not cut too deeply. I worked carefully, and took my time, and got through the challenge without mishap. Aggravated my arthritis somewhat, but that is OK, too; I will just take a break for a day and do some other things.

The chimney needed to be cleaned, and commercial cleaners refuse to do it, as they say our roof is so steep and high, that it is too dangerous. (sigh…) So we bought a set of chimney brushes, and, every year, we do it ourselves. That took a few hours Saturday morning. We heat with wood, and it is important to clean that chimney every year.

Chimney cleaning!

Chimney cleaning!

 

view

Nice view from the roof, though!

But in the afternoon and evening, I went back and got back to work on the fiddle. Section by section I sliced along those marks and cut the grooves as deep as I thought I needed them, then began picking out the wood from between the cuts.

Upper purfling groove

Upper purfling groove, partly cleaned and nearly ready for the purfling strips.

 

Lower purfling groove.

Lower purfling groove. Ran out of energy, but this is all that was left to do. I’ll get it another day.

 

Back purfling groove, nearly complete.

Whole back, as it stands, now.

Anyway: I think that is about as far as I am going to get, this weekend. I will try to finish the purfling by Wednesday, get the heel and neck and scroll at the absolutely finished level, then start doing all the final edgework, and prepping for varnish.

Thanks for looking.

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5-String Progress #9: Back Plate

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Five String Fiddle Progress: Back Plate

Flattening the back of the garland

After the glue was completely dry, I removed all the clamps from the linings and cleaned up the interior: that is to say, I tapered the back linings, so that they faired smoothly into the ribs, and I shaved and scraped the blocks to their final shape.

Then I rubbed the back surface of the garland (rib and block structure) on a “sanding-board” to level the back of the garland, and to ensure that the back of the neck heel was completely level with the back of the garland. That way, I can fit the back plate absolutely flat against the garland, and trace the shape.

I didn’t take a picture of this procedure, this time. Here are some taken when I was building a cello:

Sanding board with cello garland

Sanding board with cello garland

 

Flattening a cello garland on a sanding board.

Flattening a cello garland on a sanding board.

I make pencil-marks on the edges of the linings, ribs and blocks, all around, and scrub until the marks disappear. When all the marks are gone, the garland is flat. It gets pretty vigorous and physical, but it is quite effective.

Here is the flattened garland, ready to trace the back plate:

Flattened garland.

Flattened garland. Notice that the neck heel is dead-flat level with the back of the garland.

As you can see, the blocks are quite smooth, now, and the linings taper gently into the ribs. After this point, there will be no more changes to the interior of the corpus, except as it directly affects the back plate.

Tracing the plate

I clamped the plate to the corpus, carefully centering the glue-seam of the back plate on the centerline of the neck and the end block.

Garland centered on plate

Garland centered on the back plate

 

 

Garland clamped to the plate.

Garland clamped to the plate.

Then I traced around the garland using a ball-point pen and a flat washer whose flange is exactly 2.5 mm wide, so that my line will be 3 mm from the ribs, all around. I watch carefully to make sure the washer stays flat on the plate…they have a tendency to flip up and follow the pen. I work along the perimeter, giving several strokes to every part, so that the line will be visible against the dark wood. Notice that this procedure makes “round” corners. I will modify them before cutting them out, so that they are the correct shape.

Tracing the shape of the plate.

Tracing the shape of the plate, using a washer and a pen. (Yep, that is a Gunderson pen!)

 

And, there is the plate, almost ready to be cut out:

Traced plate, ready for cutting out.

Traced plate, almost ready for cutting out.

One thing I do, that I forgot to photograph, is that I re-shape the corners. I use a straight-edge to connect a line from the end of the rounded corner where the pen circumscribed the corner of the rib to the center glue line at the location where the purfling will cross the far end of the plate. (Or, you can just use a 30/60/90 triangle to lay out a 30-degree angle off the center glue line on the end of each corner. But I do it with the straight-edge.) Then I continue the curves of the inner bouts to connect with the straight lines I just scribed in, and the corners are complete. I use a sharp scraper to remove any ink lines that are not part of the perimeter outline, and then I really am ready to cut out the plate.

Cutting out the plate

I use a band-saw to cut within a millimeter of the line, and then use an oscillating spindle sander to perfect the edge, right up to the lines. These and my drill press are pretty much the only power tools I use, though I have occasionally used an angle-grinder with a coarse sanding disc to remove rough excess wood, on larger instruments.

I run my fingers around the edges looking for lumps, and work those out as well, using a file as needed. Here is the completed plate blank:

Plate cut out and ready for arching.

Plate cut out and ready for arching.

At this point I also sketch in the interior graduation plan–just the outline of the inside boundaries of the plate, so that I know where I am going to carve. There is no reason it has to be done at this point, but it helps me remember which side was outside and which inside…and that really does matter, as the plates are vitually never exactly bilaterally symmetrical. If I forgot and arched the wrong side, the completed plate would never fit the garland (ask me how I know…).

Interior Graduation boundaries sketched on correct side.

Interior Graduation boundaries sketched on correct side.

You can see that there are numerous bark inclusions in the wood, which I will fill with matching wood…but I will wait until the arching is complete before I attempt to fill the holes, so that I do not plane away my plugs. It is unsusual to use wood with holes in it like this, but it is also unusual to use anything other than maple for a violin back. Five-string bluegrass fiddles are not burdened by the same 300+ years of tradition as violins, though, so exotic woods can be used. This wood has amazing flame and figure in it, and the plugged holes will not detract from the beauty of the wood.

Before I begin arching, I establish the edge-thickness all the way around, using a “wheel-style marking gauge“, set to 4 mm. It has a tiny sharp wheel that does the marking, and it makes very cleanly scribed lines.

Edge thickness marked

Edge thickness marked on correct edge. (Notice the bark inclusion on the other edge)

Beginning arching

I used a Japanese-style pull-saw to cut the approximate height of the plate thickness on each of the corners, so as to avoid unnecessary stress on the corners while carving the arching. It looks a little odd until the arching is complete, but it avoids the possibility of breaking off a corner. I use a large, sharp gouge to reduce the edges and begin the arching; then a toothed finger plane to continue the curves until I am very close to the desired shape. at that point I will switch to a smooth, curved-sole plane and bring the arching to nearly exactly the desired shape. From that point on, a variety of scrapers will be my only shaping tools, for fear of tearing out wood along the figuring .

Here are some photos of the progress. This is very hard, difficult wood to carve, and my hands are giving out, so this is about as far as I am going tonight:

Beginning arching 1

Beginning arching: notice the saw-cut corners, and how the one has been carved almost to a normal curve.

 

Arching back plate in cradle

Different viewing angle: The cradle is thick pine, with a plywood door-skin, to secure the plate. Inside, it is cut away, so that the plate can fit arched-side down. The plywood is right at 4mm thick, same as the finished plate.

 

Continuing arching back plate

Continuing arching. Still quite a way to go, but I am getting tired.

So…that is it for today. Pretty fancy wood, isn’t it? The customer bought it in Hawaii 33 years ago, or so, and has dragged it around all these years, until he decided that he wanted a five-string fiddle.  Probably the only opportunity I will ever have to make a fiddle out of curly Koa,  but it is really going to be a beautiful instrument.

My hands are getting too tired to work effectively. I will try to get more done later this week.

Thanks for looking.

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Latest Five-string Fiddle Nearly Complete

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Maple/Spruce combination Five-string Fiddle

This is the one I mentioned in an earlier post that I hoped to have completed before beginning the commissioned fiddle. It is nearly complete: only varnishing and set-up left to do.

Maple and Spruce

This wood was given to me by a friend, who, many years ago, had gotten the “gotta build a violin” bug, but it never developed into the real “disease” (as it did in my case.) I don’t know where the wood originated…all I can tell for sure is that it is Maple and Spruce. I believe he had bought a “kit” of wood from a company in Oklahoma, which is no longer in business. (Who knows where they got it….)

He finally donated the wood and other supplies to me, with the request that it actually would become a fiddle. So…here it is, with the first seal-coat on, and drying in the sun, on top of my car.

Five String Fiddle Front with first coat of sealr, drying in the sun.

Five String Fiddle Front with first coat of sealer, drying in the sun.

Five string fiddle back, drying in the sun

And the back…

I expect that the flame in the maple will be more pronounced with the varnish in place, but it is a pretty nice-looking fiddle anyway, so I am not really anxious about the moderate flame.

I wanted to get this done before my friend and his wife move away, later this month…but I am cutting it awfully close.

I will post more photos later.

Thanks for looking.

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Five-String Futures!

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Two New Five-string Fiddles in the Works

Spousal Encouragement

My wife has been after me for some time to increase my output of 5 string bluegrass fiddles. (She’s probably right, but there are so many other things to do!) So…what to do? I made two new molds, a little broader in the middle bouts, which may improve the sound even more. I installed blocks in both molds and hope to build one five string fiddle of Oregon Myrtle-wood with a Port-Orford Cedar top, and another five-string fiddle of figured maple with a spruce top.

Improved Perspective

I had belly surgery last month (gall-bladder removal) and I am feeling much better. It makes me wonder whether that has been the main source of much of my “don’t feel good” problems for years. I feel so much more positive about work, lutherie and life in general, it is pretty amazing. (And, no, I am not on any “feel-good” meds, in case you are wondering… although, I’ve got to say, after the few days of Oxy-Codone, I can see why people get addicted to the stuff. But I got off it just a few days after the surgery, with just a few times going back for a day or two, to get over a hump, so to speak, when pain became a problem again.)

Progress Thus Far:

So: I have bent the ribs for the figured Oregon Mytrle-wood/Port Orford Cedar fiddle, but still have to join the plates both front and back. I installed the center bout ribs last night, and hope to get the upper and lower bout ribs installed today.

Wood for Myrtle-Port Orford Fiddle

Wood for Myrtle/Port Orford Fiddle with Douglas Fir Tree. There was a hard East wind blowing, and the ribs kept blowing away.

Close-up of wood for Myrtle/Port Orford Fiddle

Close-up of wood for Myrtle/Port Orford Fiddle

The plates for the Maple/Spruce fiddle are already joined, but the ribs are only cut– they still need to be thinned down to 1mm and cut to 35mm width. If I can get that done today, I will heat up the bending iron and try to get the ribs bent, and the c-bout ribs installed. After that I can work on getting the willow linings cut, bent and installed.

Both fiddles need the neck-blocks cut to shape, to prepare for carving. Neither have any plate-carving done, nor purfling,  f-holes, etc., of course.

Follow along as I complete the builds. If you decide you’d like a private look at one of them give me a call or an e-mail.

Goals:

The intent is to have two new five string fiddles ready in time for the Marylhurst University Musical Instrument Show in the Spring ( April 25th and 26th, 2015) My problem is that I also realllllly want to have a new hand-carved upright bass ready in time to attend the International Society of Bassists (ISB) competition in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the last week of May/first weekend of June. (Too many goals…need more energy and time!)

One drawback to the competition goal is that (I think) I will not be able to post progress reports, (photos, anyway) until after the competition. Ah, well… I’ll post other stuff, I guess.

Thanks for reading.

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Back view of Oliver 5 string fiddle

5-String Fiddle Finally Complete

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Five String Fiddle completed…just in time for the Show!

The Maryhurst University Musical Instrument show is this weekend,  Saturday and Sunday, the 3rd and 4th. Admission is only $3 … this is a really good deal, and a great “peek” at up-and-coming makers, as well as the more well-established ones.

Last year there were two banjo-makers, three or four mandolin makers, one double-bass maker, one maker of traditional Persian instruments, one maker of electric Kalimbas, one maker of traditional Mexican instruments, three or so Ukulele makers, possibly  ten makers of violin-family instruments, a couple of cigar-box ukulele makers, one orchestral harp maker and probably fifty to sixty guitar makers, of all varieties.

Handmade Bluegrass fiddle took months to complete

I have had more discouraging setbacks on this instrument than in any instrument of the last ten years, probably. I got sick early in the making, and was very busy with work as well, so that slowed things down. Twice I made errors and had to scrap the neck and start over. (Boy, is that frustrating!) Then I somehow got a serious muscle spasm in my back, and could hardly walk for several weeks.

However, perseverance pays off, and I finally completed the five string fiddle last night. There are still some spots to touch up on the varnish, and some other cosmetic issues, but for purposes of practicality, it is complete– and playing very well.

Oregon Bigleaf Maple and Sitka Spruce

The maple wood is from the same log  from which I made last year’s five string fiddle. The flame is not quite as spectacular, as it came from a different portion of the log, but still definite eye-candy–the back looks like a cloudy golden sunset in the right light.

If you’d like to try it out, please come to the Marylhurst show this weekend. Meanwhile, here are some photos:

Front of Oliver Five String Fiddle

Front of the fiddle– colors are close, but in person it is more brown/red…less yellow.

 

Back of Oliver 5-String Fiddle

The back looks pretty good, but it is better, of course, in person…you can see the flame better.

Close-up of Oliver 5-String Fiddle Back

Here is a closer view of the grain of the back. It really requires the changing angle of the light, to get the best view of it.

Back of Oliver Five-String Fiddle neck

Here’s the back of the scroll. I really like the flame in the neck.

Side View of Oliver Five-string Fiddle scroll

And, finally, the side of the scroll itself. Not much flame in the wood, but I like the way it turned out, anyway.

Come and try it out at the show. I’ll hope to see you there.

 

 

 

 

 

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2013 Marylhurst University Musical Instrument Makers’ Show

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2013 Marylhurst Musical Instrument Makers’ Show

Here are some photos from the 2013 Marylhurst University Musical Instrument Makers’ Show: (Most were taken before the show was open to the public– these people are all the makers and vendors.)

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It wasn’t all guitars and fiddles, as you can see. This couple makes Persian instruments called “Tars” (the larger ones) and  Setars, (not “Sitars”, which have 30 strings…traditionally, a Setar has three strings, but apparently about a century ago, a tradition of four-string setars began.) That little thing to the right of center is a setar.

There were also two banjo makers, several ukulele makers, mandolin makers, an orchestral harp maker, and, yes, even a few fiddle makers. And every kind of guitar imaginable.

The table in the next photo was mine…I was sharing it with my son, who makes guitars. That worked out well. We had someone at our table nearly constantly.

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In the picture above, Brian, my youngest son, had not yet arrived. In the one below, his girlfriend was helping set up his display.

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There were approximately 500 visitors each day…it was a pretty encouraging weekend.

The five string fiddle (left-most in the rack) sold, so that was nice, but unfortunately there were not very many cellists in the mix…only two stopped and played the cellos, but they really liked both of them. The five-string was the real star. 🙂

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Annnd… I’m Back. With a New Fiddle.

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Resurrected Website: Bluefiddle’s West Wind Strings

A couple of months ago, in my befuddled, well-meaning, bungling way, I killed my website entirely.

The host was able to save it, but I had been in the process of changing hosts, so that was a bit awkward. I have switched from Joomla, which I was just beginning to understand to WordPress, regarding which I understand nothing…and have bought the requisite book: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide…”  Sounds as though it was written for my kinda guy. A friend has reconstructed the site using WordPress, and has assured me that I will be able to master the new software.  I trust he is correct.

New Five-string fiddle

I did complete one new instrument since I last posted: a five-string fiddle (sometimes called a “bluegrass fiddle”), using the wood from the Big Leaf maple log I had been given a few years ago. This is the first instrument I have made using that wood, and I am delighted with the look, response and sound. Here are a few photos of the new, handmade in Oregon, bluegrass fiddle:

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