Posts Tagged ‘handmade in Oregon’

Progress report on two new fiddles

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Progress Report on the 14″ Oliver Viola, and the Violin Modeled after the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri.

“Life is what actually happens while you are making other plans.”

Well…company came and went, and the week didn’t happen exactly as I wanted it to; There were other things to do, and people to spend time with. My only daughter was here all week, which was nice– she flew in from Switzerland, with about a week’s notice. We went to the beach, Monday, and spent the day infiltrating all the art and clothing stores in Cannon Beach, then had fish and chips and headed home. 🙂

My younger brother dropped in for a surprise visit today, with my young neice. That was a nice visit. While they were here, a neighbor couple showed up, too. We ate and visited, and had a nice evening. Afterward, I helped Ann trim a hedge and haul the branches to the burning pile. All good things.

So! Progress report:

I am trying to keep the two instruments on parallel tracks for completion…hoping to keep them no more than a few hours apart in terms of progress.

Progress in building 14” Guarneri-model Viola and Violin:

(Hand-carved instruments begun on May 25th, 2016)

  1.  Cut and install the blocks. (May 25th)
  2. Prepare the ribs, by sanding (using a plywood jig I made to use with my spindle sander). (May 25th )
  3. Bend the ribs, using the bending iron, and install them on the blocks (several steps). (May 26th, 27th)
  4. Prepare, install and shape the front linings. (May 27th, 28th)
  5. Use the sanding board to flatten front of garland. (May 30th)
  6. Prepare the plate stock (book-match and flatten inner side) (Front only—one-piece backs on both fiddles.) (May 30th)
  7. Use the completed garland to establish the shape of the plates. (May 30th)
  8. Cut the front plate exactly to size, including filing and sanding. (Only got the viola cut out. I will cut out the violin tomorrow night if it isn’t too hot when I get home. )
  9. Lay out and cut out scroll and neck. (May 26th)

(Began carving both scrolls using gouges and small finger-planes—spent a good part of May 28th doing that, while waiting for bending irons to heat up, etc. More time as time and strength allow. That maple is tough stuff, and my hands tire quickly anymore.)

Here is the photo-evidence: Handmade in Oregon 🙂

two instruments in progress-viola and violin

May 30th Progress Report.

 

The instrument on the left is the 14″ viola, and is made of Oregon Big Leaf Maple, and Sitka Spruce. The one on the right is the violin, and is made of European Maple and Spruce. Both have blocks and linings of weeping willow.

I ran out of time and energy, so the cutting out of the violin plates will have to wait until later. Once they are cut out, I can begin arching the front plates, and get these things looking more like fiddles.

As you can see, I am trying corners that are a little longer, this time. I may end up shortening them after all, but I left extra in case I wanted them longer. Usually I make pretty short corners.

Vacation is Over– Back to Work!

That’s all I have to show, for today. I go back to work tomorrow. Classes are over for this term, but I still have to prepare certificates, and arrange make-up tests for those who need them.

(For those who don’t know, I teach Welding Supervision classes at Gunderson, Inc. where I have worked for the last nearly 30 years. I began there as a welder, but nowadays I mostly lecture. Print-reading classes, remedial Math classes, Welding Inspection classes, Safety, Metallurgy, etc. It is not as fun as making fiddles, but it is steady. :-))

Thanks for looking,

Chet

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Myrtle and Port Orford Cedar Oliver 5-String Fiddle; and an upcoming Show

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New Five-string Fiddle

Myrtle Wood and Port Orford Cedar

Some time ago, a friend (Cliff Stansell, of the Pistol River Trio) asked me to build (strictly on speculation) an Oliver five-string fiddle of Oregon Myrtle wood (for back, sides and neck) and Port Orford Cedar (for top and bassbar). He prevailed upon his brother (Les Stansell, a maker of Guitars and Ukuleles, using those woods) to donate the wood for the experiment. This is the result:

New 5-string fiddle

New 5-string fiddle

Back view

Back view

 

Front view

Front view, hanging up

Back view hanging up

Back view hanging up

What about Sound?

Well, quite honestly, it has been strung up for less than 12 hours, and, though I have spent some time playing it, and adjusting the soundpost, etc., it is really still too early to be sure how it will sound.

So far, I feel pretty positive about it. I know the arching and graduations are good, but I have never used this combination of woods before, so it is hard to be sure what is a product of the wood, and what is a product of the luthier.

It feels heavier to me, quite naturally, simply because Myrtle is a harder, heavier wood than Maple. But that may be OK. I know that Bubinga (even harder and heavier) is regularly used for five-string fiddles, and I actually have some Bubinga to try someday soon.  The Koa I used for the 5 string fiddle last year was also very hard and heavy, and it turned out to sound very good. So I am hopeful that this one will too. It already sounds good…but I want it to sound Great!

(Update: by the next morning the sound had improved remarkably, as new instrument frequently do: I had adjusted the soundpost just before calling it quits for the night, and such adjustments frequently take a few hours to “settle in”.)

Marylhurst Show is coming up in two weeks.

For anyone interested, the Annual Marylhurst Musical Instrument Makers’ Show  (click the link for details) will be April 30th and May 1st this year. I hope to see you there. Come and test-drive this fiddle and the others.

Thanks for looking.

 

 

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Five String Finished

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Varnished, Set-up and Ready to Play!

Here’s the most recent five-string fiddle, handmade in Oregon, varnished and ready to play.

The sound is balanced across all strings and has good volume. I guess I would say it still sounds a bit “new”, but that is to be expected with less than five minutes play time. The strings are Helicore, and were sold specifically for a five string fiddle. I have set them up with Dominants, and they sound good that way, too.

Just as I began to take photos (on my car again) the sun came out from behind a cloud, and the varnish glowed very nicely. (I love it when that happens.)

Varnished Five-string Fiddle in the Sun

Varnished Five-string Fiddle in the Sun

 

Varnished 5 string fiddle back

Varnished 5-String Fiddle Back

 

 5 string fiddle side view with the varnish in the Sun

And the side view with the varnish in the Sun

 

I am looking forward to hearing a good fiddler (old-time, country, bluegrass, celtic) put this one through its paces. Or a violist or a violinist…I’m not particular.

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 Fiddle (slowly) Handmade in Oregon

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Five String Fiddle Progress

Life is what happens while you are making other plans, they tell me. This season has been loaded with distractions. I worked a lot of late hours at Gunderson, Inc. where I was teaching classes on Welding Supervision.

Two young fellows were coming to the house a couple of times per week to work on instruments they were building. One was working from a kit, but had zero experience with tools, so it required a great deal of personal attention; the other built from scratch, and is nearly finished with a very nice 15-5/8″ viola, a fairly faithful copy of the 1580 Gasparo da Salo viola. (Funny, when those young fellows are here, I don’t get a thing done on my own work.) I did begin three 5-string fiddles, months ago, but have only made measurable progress on one; the Spalted Maple 5 string fiddle.

I took two weeks vacation between Christmas and New Years, but ended up being sick nearly the whole time. Besides, my daughter was home from school for that two weeks, so I had reason to be distracted. 🙂 I did get a couple of work days in, but it has been a struggle.

Finally, I have several repair jobs going, each of which really needs to be done, so, to make a long story slightly shorter, things haven’t turned out as planned.

Double Purfling Complete, Including Purfling Weave on Back

The maple for the one-piece back is some Oregon Big Leaf Maple that was given to me by a local landowner and forester a few years ago. This is the third instrument I have made from that tree. It is a relatively soft maple, and has had a very nice tone, so far, in my experience. I have made one five string fiddle from it, so far, and one cello.

The Spruce is Sitka– a one-piece sitka front plate–  only the second time I have ever seen one, and it is some of the toughest spruce I have ever worked with, which I think will make a good, thin, top plate for the instrument, as I have made one instrument before with very similar spruce, and it turned out a winner, as a bluegrass, celtic and country fiddle. But it was not fun cutting the double purfling by hand, as every “winter grain” was so hard it would catch the knife blade and try to turn it.   However, here is the progress so far:

Progress on 5 String Fiddle

Progress on Five String Fiddle

Today I will make the final corrections on the front and back arching and cut in the f-holes (I hope), then begin graduating the front plate. Hopefully, by next week, I can have the corpus nearly completed. Maybe somewhere in there, I can get a good run at the other two fiddles, as well. I really need all three completed by the time of the show in April. There will be about 500 people per day, coming through that show, and some of them will be fiddlers. 🙂

We will see; I am feeling somewhat less than optimistic, however, after the experiences of the last three months.

Thanks for looking.

Chet

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Beginning Three New Five-string Fiddles

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Three 5 String Fiddles On the Way

Different Molds

I decided to make two new molds, so that I could have more than one handmade five-string fiddle in the works at any given time. The new molds are made from the same half-model template, so they are very similar in character, but I did notice that somehow my original mold had been a little narrower in the center bouts than I had intended (don’t know how it happened), so the new ones are wider there, which may make the sound even more deep and clear. The instruments from the first mold have all been very good, so I am hoping the ones off the new molds are even better.

Different Materials

The original Oliver 5-string mold has the ribs and linings in place, and the chosen material for ribs, back and neck is spalted maple. This is an unusual choice, from a classical perspective, but a five-string fiddle is an unusual instrument, and I think it will prove a good choice. I really like the looks, so far. The second and third Oliver Molds (essentially identical, otherwise) have higly figured Oregon Big-leaf maple and Oregon Myrtle, respectively, for the backs and ribs. The Myrtle is a two-piece back, and the neck on the Myrtle fiddle is Big leaf maple; otherwise all the fiddles have matching ribs, backs and necks. The other two are each a one-piece back, also.

I am planning to use Port Orford Cedar for the two-piece front plate on the Myrtlewood  fiddle. This will be the first time I have used anything other than spruce for a violin top, but I have been told it is exceptionally good for other types of instruments, and a friend gave it to me to try in a fiddle. I plan to use Sitka Spruce for the on-piece top of the curly big-leaf maple fiddle, as well as for the spalted maple fiddle. I am hoping to experiment with front plates made of Alaskan Yellow Cedar sometime soon, too.

Different fittings

Depending on the way they look when completed, I may vary my fittings a little, too…haven’t decided yet. I tend to like simple fittings, but I have used fancier fittings, once, and they did look nice– I am just not sure they belong on a bluegrass five string fiddle. Perhaps I can get a set of Oregon Mountain Mahogany pegs, or something. Mountain Mahogany is a very hard wood native to Oregon, but much lighter in color than Ebony, so it adds a different look.

Same Workmanship

I intend to use the same methods as always, including the double purfling that adorned the previous five-string fiddles. I will still use a scraper for the final contour and texture, though perhaps I will leave a little less “corduroy” texture on these than on some others. Some people like less.

Same Varnish

I will use the same Spirit varnish that have always used on all three fiddles, as well as the same graduation scheme and internal arrangements (bass-bar shape and size, etc.), so the sound should be the same.

Same Strings

I will use the Helicore five-string sets, as usual, though I have found some other combinations that work remarkably well.

Progress reports to come

As things progress, I will post photos, so you can see each of the three fiddles grow from a small stack of wood to a completed instrument.  Each will emerge as a brand-new, handmade bluegrass 5 string fiddle when complete.

Stay tuned… (no pun intended). 🙂

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Tool-making is part of the game, too!

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Biggest Little “Thumb-plane”

(OK, it is too big to be a thumb-plane, but I was simply making a larger copy of one of my thumb-planes (also called “finger-planes”) so I thought of it as a large thumb-plane.)

Handmade tools are part of the Luthier’s Trade, too.

The tool shown here is a curved sole plane specially made for carving the inside of a compound curve—in this particular case, the inside of an upright bass viol—sometimes called a double bass. (That’s a standard violin scroll beside it, and a twenty-five-cent piece, to compare size) Many such thumb-planes are made of cast brass—this one is all steel. It features all welded construction, and a hardened high-carbon steel blade.

I began with a short piece of scrap 2.5″ I.D. steel pipe. I mashed it to the oval shape in a hydraulic press, welded the sole in place, added the plane bed and blade retainer pin, and hand-crafted the chip-breaker to fit.

The blade was made of a cast-off piece of a commercial scraper blade. I think it would benefit from a thicker blade, but it works well as it is.

New Hand-Plane with vVolin Scroll

New Hand-Plane with Violin Scroll

 

The sole of the plane is curved laterally, as well as longitudinally, to allow the blade to smoothly follow the surface of an inside curve. The blade, also curved to match the sole, is adjusted by loosening the keeper bolt and manually repositioning the cutting edge. In two tries, I had it shaving smooth ribbons of maple from the inside of the bass.

 

Curved Sole of Hand Plane

Curved Sole of Hand Plane

The plane weighs in at about two pounds, so it is not a featherweight, but the extra mass seems to make it cut more smoothly. On the other hand, it gives your deltoids a good workout…but that is part of woodworking.

First Bass Project

2006 Double Bass Project

2006 Double Bass Project

And then, there’s the project itself…. When complete, that bass will be 6’-3” tall—with the endpin retracted. But it will weigh only 20 pounds or so. The curved-sole plane is what allows the control to make the plates so thin—4.5mm in many places—9mm at the thickest. (Bass was completed and sold in 2006; I hope to build another one soon.)

Here is what the finished handmade double bass looked like:

Double Bass in Varnish Stand

Double Bass in Varnish Stand

 

Double Bass Side View

Double Bass Side View

 

Double Bass Scroll

Double Bass Scroll

 

Double Bass Back View

Double Bass Back View

Double Bass Back Detail

Double Bass Back Detail

 

Double Bass Front View

Double Bass Front View

Yes, I know now that the little white felt pads go on the inside of the tailpiece…but the photograph recorded my ignorance at the time, so I will let it stand.

This Double Bass was handmade in Oregon. It plays very well, with a huge powerful tone. It was sold and now lives somwhere in Illinois, I am told. This was a “William Tarr” model, built from plans obtained from Peter Chandler. My next Double Bass will be a “Panormo” model, modelled after a bass by Vincenzo Panormo, and using drawings by the late Peter Chandler.

All my Double Basses are of Oregon Big Leaf Maple and Sitka Spruce.

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Lion-head viola with three coats varnish

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Lion-head viola looking good, with three coats of varnish, but far from finished.

Here are a few pictures of the viola with three coats varnish. I definitely intend to go darker, but it is looking sorta nice. I especially like the way the heavily flamed one-piece Oregon Maple back is beginning to show its inner glow.Back with three coats varnish 

Side with three coats varnish

 

Scroll with three coats varnish

I may not get much done on it tomorrow. I need to clean the chimney and move firewood.

 

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Final assembly of a finished cello.

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Once the varnish is finished and dry, I complete the final assembly of the cello.

Adding the Saddle

I do something a little different with my saddles: it is not immediately obvious, but the left and right corners of the saddles frequently are a source of cracks in the front plate. Many luthiers combat this tendency by adding a small gap on each side of the saddle, to allow the plates to shrink a little without stressing those corners. I take it a step further, and actually eliminate the corners by putting a significant radius (maybe 10mm) on each corner, so that they are smoothly rounded. Sharp corners are a stress riser, and eventually a crack will form there. A rounded corner adds much less stress to the plate, and, as I also leave the small gap for shrinkage, I anticipate that there will never be a saddle crack in these instruments.

The saddle is cut all the way through the plate, so that it rests upon (and is glued to) the end block. It extends 30mm on each side of the center line and 12mm into the plate. The saddle provides a hard bearing surface for the tailgut to rest upon, so that it does not dig into the soft spruce of the front plate. It is about 12mm high (above the block) at its highest point, but the point is not centered; it is about at the forward third , so that the pressure of the tailgut is transferred directly down into the block, and does not cause the saddle to flip over in either direction.

Adding the Nut

There are two different styles of cello nut: one style allows the contour of the nut to match that of the fingerboard, around the corners, and drops down to about 5mm thick over the corners of the pegbox cheeks. The other follows the contour of the fingerboard, but then extends that contour in a smooth curve down to the corners of the pegbox cheeks, so that the nut follows a smooth arc all the way across. I have done the first way in the past. this time I chose the second. I think I like it.

The nut provides a hard bearing surface for the strings to rest upon, and provides a tiny clearance over the fingerboard, so that the end of the string length is a clean sharp edge, and makes a clear sound.

Installing the pegs.

Once the nut and saddle were glued in place, it was time to start the pegs. I had drilled the pilot holes before beginning the carving of the pegbox, so now all I had to do was to ream them to the correct size with a peg-hole reamer, then shave the pegs to match, using a peg shaver. It sounds easy, but it is fairly laborious and time consuming; Cello pegs are pretty big, and we are shaving off an awful lot of wood. Same for the holes…there is a lot of work in those four little holes. Once the pegs have been correctly fitted, they are treated with a peg-compound that provides a heavy, stiff lubrication…the peg is not supposed to either slip or stick…it should hold the tension of the strings without failing, but allow the player to adjust the pitch smoothly and easily. Once the pegs fit correctly, they have to be removed and trimmed to the appropriate length, the ends polished, and holes drilled for the strings.

Installing the end-pin

Finally, the end-pin hole had to be drilled and reamed, and the end-pin shaved to fit the hole. Pretty much the same procedure as the pegs, with the exception that it is fairly ticklish toward the end…one twist too far, and the end-pin will be loose (guess how I know). If that happens you can use a spiral bushing to shrink the hole back down a tiny bit, and save the day.

I began by using a 5/8″ spade bit to drill a hole all the way through the end block, precisely at the center of the end seam, and perpendicular to the surface, there. Then I used a large tapered reamer to enlarge it into a tapered hole ready to receive the end-pin assembly. The final hole was about 7/8″ diameter at the outer opening.

Other tasks

I did build some cello stands a few days ago, and a rack to hold violins and violas (I settled on a capacity of six instruments). I still have to stain and finish those items, so I can pad them all and have them ready for the upcoming show.

But the cello is essentially done. All that remains now is to cut the string slots in the nut, drill the pegs for strings, fit a bridge and soundpost, and set it up. (Simple, right?)  Anyway, here is how it looks today:

Cello front with nut, saddle, pegs and endpin.

Cello front with nut, saddle, pegs and end-pin.

Cello side with pegs and end pin.

Cello side with pegs and end pin.

Cello back with pegs and end-pin.

Cello back with pegs and end-pin.

Cello scroll with nut and pegs.

Cello scroll with nut and pegs.

Cello scroll back with pegs.

Cello scroll back with pegs.

I will still have to give a final polish to all the ebony parts and the varnish, of course, but the cello is very nearly complete. After everything else, I will stain and add a light finish to the handle portion of the neck, so that it does not look so white, and will not pick up dirt too badly.

Here is the completed cello:

Completed Cello, modeled after the 1712

Completed Cello, modeled after the 1712 “Davidov” Stradivarius

The cello plays very well, and I trust I will find a home for it. I am not surprised that it responds well– this is modelled after the 1712 “Davidov” cello, by Antonio Stradivari…and the original is in professional use by Yo Yo Ma, today. I feel good about that pedigree….

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