Posts Tagged ‘violin’

Instrument Show in Corvallis

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Instrument Show in Corvallis, Oregon

Violin-family Instrument-Makers from around the Pacific Northwest will be there.

I will be there, with Violins, Violas, Cello and five-string fiddles.

 

I hope to see you there.

 

Thanks for looking.

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Current and new Projects

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Current and New Projects

A Double Bass

That Double Bass I began (quite some time ago) has sat in the corner of my shop, sneering at me every time I look that way. That has to stop…but the only way to stop it is to finish the project. (sigh…)

One of the things that was holding me back is that my old home-made bending iron simply wasn’t good enough. So, the first step toward completion is to make a new, hotter, smaller diameter bending iron. The old one was heated with a propane torch, but it was quite large, and it took a long time to get it barely hot enough to function. This one will have an electric element for heat, and much smaller diameter, as well as much less mass. I hope it works well. Another maker shared how he made his bending iron, and I am attempting to emulate his example. If that works, I can get moving and complete the bass this fall.

Another Cello

A few years ago, I had salvaged some curly Big Leaf maple from a very large tree that was being removed from my wife’s childhood home. I promised I would build her a cello from the wood, so she would have a treasure from her childhood. So, the wood is fully dry and seasoned, now, having sat out in my shop for several years. It has humidity-cycled through the changing seasons, and should be quite stable, now. A friend (Steve Stevens, now deceased) had given me a cello top set of Red Spruce, so that will go into the mix as well, making it a treasure to both of us.

What I hope to do, is to give special attention to getting good pictures of every step of the construction and finishing of this cello, so as to post a running commentary and tutorial as I work. On every project thus far, I have had a tendency to get engrossed in the work and forget all about pictures. So, I may recruit Ann to take the pictures, so that I can keep rolling.

A Large Viola…or maybe a Viola da Spalla

I haven’t decided just how large, yet…the largest violas I have made in the past have been 16-1/2″ on the body, which is pretty good sized, and already too big for some folks. But I am considering either a 17″ (or larger) viola, or a “Viola da Spalla”, sometimes called a violoncello da spalla, or a small Violoncello piccolo. The Viola da spalla is played off the right shoulder, so that the chin is over the bass lower bout, but not on a chinrest. A strap holds the instrument up under the player’s chin, and the bowing hand reaches up from beneath, to access the strings. Frequently they are made as a five-string cello, and that is how I would approach it. Tuning, then, is in the same range as a cello, but adding one higher string: C, G, D, A, E.

Either way, I realize I am probably building something I will never be able to sell, as there isn’t much market for either instrument. (Ah, well… some things we do out of love.) Anyway, this one is not a very high priority.

Another Violin

The last violin I made received good reviews, but I can see things I could improve, so…I will probably make another one soon. (This lutherie stuff is addictive!)

Coming Soon

I hope to begin at least two of the projects soon, and begin posting photographs.

 

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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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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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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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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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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.

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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So–What’s a Luthier, anyway?

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What is a “Luthier” (definition)? What is “Lutherie”?

 So…What IS a Luthier?

The old French word simply meant “a lute-maker”. And his business was called lutherie.

“Loot-yeh” is pretty close to the French pronunciation. We Americans have a cheerful disregard for the pronunciation rules of the languages from which we borrow our vocabulary, so we typically pronounce it “Loothy-er”. The work of a luthier, lutherie, is usually pronounced “looth-er-y”

What does it mean Today?

The meaning has shifted, over the years, to cover the builders of all  stringed instruments. Lute-makers are still luthiers, but so are guitar-makers, ukulele-makers, mandolin makers, and, of course, violin-makers. Violas, basses, cellos, five-string fiddles and dulcimers are also made by luthiers.  Banjos, pianos, violas da gamba and harps, among others, are also built by luthiers. And the process of building and/or repairing stringed instruments is also called “lutherie”.

Usually when one is looking for a luthier, they are not looking for someone who made one guitar for a summer project, or something of that sort– they are looking for someone who is at least a competent worker, and who can reliably repair an instrument, without further damage. That takes some training and experience.

Some people have the privilege of attending a full-time, extended training program, or serving a term as an apprentice, under a master maker. This last is still likely the best training, although some fine schools are now available.  Some cannot take the time from their established responsibilities to go away to school for an extended period, and learn from books, and/or piecemeal from a variety of teachers.

Workshops are now available in many parts of the United States, wherein one can begin to learn the skills to make guitars, violins, bows, etc. (Incidentally, one who makes violin-family bows is called an “archetier”… another French word.)

Some Violin Lutherie schools:

North Bennett Street School

Chicago School

Salt Lake City school

University of New Hampshire

Redwing college

Some Guitar Lutherie schools:

Galloup school: My son graduated from this school– I can recommend it.

Roberto-Venn school: I have heard good things about this school too.

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