Posts Tagged ‘Sitka Spruce’

Lion-Head Viola Progress.

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Lion-Head Viola Progress:

OK, here are some photos of the way things ended up tonight: The color is due to a fresh coat of strong coffee…I had intended to take the pictures before I soaked the whole thing in coffee, but slipped a cog, there, somewhere, so this is what you get.

Front view Lion-head viola before varnishing

 

side view lion-head viola before varnishing

 

back view lion-head viola before varnishing

 

front view lion-head scroll

 

side-view lion-head scroll

 

You can tell I got my peg holes a little off– I will have to move them, or my strings will definitely end up rubbing on the adjacent pegs.

I hope to be varnishing by this weekend. I will keep you posted.

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Why a Five-String Fiddle?

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Why not a Five String Fiddle? 

Traditioooonnn, Tradition!!

Violins have been codified in terms of form, size, materials and tuning for over 400 years. Orchestras have 30+ violins, between which the untrained observer would have a difficult time distinguishing, let alone identifying as having come from a particular maker’s hand. And yet experts can frequently tell at a glance when, where and by whom that violin was made. And ALL of them have four strings (count ‘em): G, D, A, and E. No five-string violins in the orchestra!

The violas, too, have their four strings, always at C, G, D and A. They are less tightly defined, however and are all over the board in terms of size and shape. Some are so large that most normal-sized people can’t play them, and some are not much larger than a violin. But they all have those four strings, tuned exactly a perfect fifth below those of the violin. No five-string violas, either.

NON-traditional is OK, too.

Really, a viola works best at what it does, and a violin works best at what it does, as specialized tools…but when they are so close in size—indeed, sometimes overlapping—what prevents us from having one instrument that covers the full range of both? A five-string fiddle?

Well…that isn’t as easy as it sounds. The physical size of a violin is barely big enough to really produce the open G-string tone, so simply adding a low C-string will not work well…and the viola is almost too big to make good high-pitched notes, so adding a high E to a larger viola is usually not very satisfactory either.

Five-string fiddles specifically designed for five-strings

But it CAN work…with some tweaking. Honestly, probably a five-string fiddle would work best in the size of a small viola—say, 15”—or even 15.5”. But country fiddlers and bluegrass fiddlers, who are waking up to the desire for a fifth string, and a lower range, don’t want a “five-string viola”–they want their instrument to fit in a regular fiddle case—not a viola case. They want a handmade five-string bluegrass fiddle. (See Five-string fiddles)

What has worked for me, so far, is to maintain the “footprint” of a regular violin, but increase the depth of the body a little; lengthen the pegbox, obviously, for the extra peg and string; thin the plates just a little more, and deepen the bassbar a bit. I may try widening the center bouts just a little, too, sometime. But for now, I have a working model, with which everyone seems very pleased: it is very easy to play, has good balance across all five strings, a big deep bass end on the C string, and clear, strong high notes on the E string.

So, when a fiddler wants to be able to go low and growly, he/she can do so. When he/she needs a high end for some special sizzle, it is there. All in one fiddle case. A five-string fiddle case.

 Oliver Five-string fiddle, by Chet Bishop. Sold.

Front view of Oliver Five-string fiddle, by Chet Bishop. Sold.

Oliver Five String Fiddle, by Chet Bishop (Sold)

Back view of Oliver Five String Fiddle, by Chet Bishop (Sold)

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Lion-head viola in progress

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Not your “typical” Lion-head viola

So many of the “lion-head” instruments of the past have been either so highly stylized that they were unrecognizable, or so poorly carved as to achieve the same result, or, when done in a completely recognizable fashion, were representative of a snarling, dangerous beast which I find difficult to associate with a viola. I wanted the dignity and power of the lion– the majesty, to coin a cliché, and not the predatory beast.

Grafted Scroll

I wasn’t even sure I could carve such a head, so, rather than risk a perfectly good neck-billet on a gamble against my questionable artistic ability, I decided to plan a grafted scroll. I have done this in the past, but this is the first time it was planned. Usually, a scroll graft is a repair, or a major alteration. In some (relatively rare) instances, a maker will perform a scroll graft in the new-making process, so that the new instrument will seem to be old. (No deception involved, it is just that virtually all instruments made before 1850 now have a scroll-graft, as a result of a shift in musical demands, and changing construction styles. Most of the “baroque” instruments were re-worked in this way, so that very few have the original neck.) The scroll-grafts I have done were repairs, up until now.

Knowing that there was a very good chance that my lion-head might not turn out well, I chose a very hard, even-grained maple block for the head, and only enough of the pegbox area to permit a graft. When/if the head turns out acceptably, I have a viola neck billet prepared to graft into the hard maple head, and after that it can be treated as any other scroll/neck for a viola.

Lion-head in the making

This is how the Lion-head looks for the moment. The mane will have to fair into the cheeks of the pegbox–(which haven’t been sawn out, yet, as full-width is easier to hold in the vise.) That will have to happen soon, to finalize the shape of the head and mane.

Oliver Lion-head Scroll (unfinished)

Lion-head scroll from bass side

 

Oliver lion-head scroll (unfinished)

Lion-head scroll front quarter

Oliver Lion-head scroll (Unfinished)

Lion-head scroll from Treble side

16.5″ Oliver Viola

The proposed viola is 16.5″ on the body, with a one-piece big-leaf maple back, and Sitka spruce top. The neck is big-leaf maple, except for the hard-rock maple head. (BTW, that hard-rock maple really earns its name– it was really hard to carve). As the viola is one of my own design, it is labelled an “Oliver” viola (my middle name, and that of my Dad and Grand-dad.) I use that name for all the instruments I design myself. Any design I copy from someone else’s work, I label as “Modelled after…”

The other violas I have made to this design (same body as #11 Oliver Viola– see the chronology) have had very good tone…I seriously doubt that the lion-head will affect the tone significantly for better or worse. But some people like a traditional scroll and will not like the lion. Others may find the lion attractive. We’ll see how folks respond. So far, I like it.

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Beginning a New Cello

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Starting a new “Davidov” Cello

I decided a new cello was in order, and I hope to have it completed in time for the Marylhurst Musical Instrument Makers Show, the last weekend of April.

This will be another “Davidov” 1712 Stradivarius model, similar to the one on my Chronology page (instrument #16), but with a one-piece back. I like one-piece backs, but they are not very common on a cello. This wood (back, sides and neck) is from the same maple log as that from which instrument #19 (five-string fiddle #2) is made. The belly will be Sitka spruce. I plan to make the whole instrument darker than the last one was. Here is a photo of the slab from which the back will be made:

This is a slab of old-growth Big-leaf Maple heartwood. Not everyone will use heartwood, but I like it. I planed some of the rough surface off so that you can see the flame in the wood.

I will try to post photographs of the progress, as the cello emerges.

 

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