Five String Viola Conversion

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First Five String Conversion

Contact from a Potential Customer

A young man contacted me by phone, over a year ago, asking about a large, five-string viola. He was very polite and not at all aggressive or assuming, but  he essentially had no money for such an instrument. The phone call was a very pleasant conversation, despite the lack of funds and I was at least able to answer all his questions.

After we disconnected, I simply assumed I would not hear from him again, and eventually forgot about it,

Second Contact

The same youmg fellow contacted me again. a year later. This time, he had been “saving his money, ” but, unfortunately, not quite enough. So we talked over the options. Eventually I offered to convert one of my earlier orchestral violas to a five-string viola at the price he could afford. He liked that idea, and eventually, after his final approval, I began the project.

An older 16-1/2″ Oliver Viola

I began with this viola– my own design. The viola played quite well, but, for some reason, no one had purchased, so far. (It was instrument #11, viola #4 from my Bluefiddles site.)

The Plan

As I usually keep my viola necks fairly narrow, for player comfort, I needed to make a wider fingerboard and nut, to accommodate the fifth string.

Obviously, I also needed to plug three of the peg-holes and drill four new ones. They had to be positioned so that all five would fit on the pegbox, and the strings would still not rub on another peg, when tuning.

Photographs

I did not take any photos of the fingerboard and nut changes, but here are a few photos of the scroll in progress. (Also, midway through the conversion, he asked whether I could darken the varnish. That really had not been part of the “deal.” But, after thinking about it, I decided that I could try to do it with minimal labor, and just count it “good customer relations.”)

So: here are some photos of the scroll after plugging the original holes and drilling new ones.  I capped all the plugs with figured maple, to avoid leaving the dark circles which usually remain after such an operation.

The different background and lighting (shifting position, trying to eliminate reflections) resulted in different apparent color…but they actually match.

Adding Color

About the time I reached this point in the conversion is when the customer requested the color change. It turned out that he liked the color of his current instrument, and hoped I could mimic that somewhat. 🙂 (Okeedoke...)

So, I began adding color; sparsely, at first, until I could see how it was building. About three very thin coats of a dark, red-brown varnish were required to offset the original golden brown, and produced the color that he wanted.

five string Viola conversion handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop Luthier
Dark front, still unfinished.
five string viola conversion made in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier
Here is the Dark back, still unfinished.
five string viola conversion made in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier
Dark treble side, still unfinished.
five string viola conversion made in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier
And the Dark Bass side, still unfinished.

Set-up and completion

At the point where I felt things were beginning to look correct, I added a clear coat, and allowed it to dry for a few days before setting the instrument up. But then I set it up with Evah Pirazzi strings, and it hung in my dining room, where it could dry still further, while waiting for a check to arrive. (This is where I frequently hang my instruments for final drying, as it is usually the warmest room in the house.)

five string viola conversion, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier
Front view, hanging in the dining room, waiting to be shipped.
Five string viola conversion, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Dining room back view.

Finally, a check arrived, and I first sent a provenence document with clear photos of the instrument for identification purposes, (for insurance, and, in case of theft.)

Provenance Document

I always include a provenance document for my hand-made instruments, along with the bill of sale. That way, if the instrument ever gets stolen, they have clear proof that the instrument is theirs, along with good photos by which to identify it. The front page includes a dozen accurate measurements, and the back side (Two-sided document) has all the photos.

provenance document for five string viola handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Provenance document photo from Computer screen.

Shipping

Finally, I packed it carefully and shipped it off.

The 5-string viola arrived five days later, undamaged and still in tune. Most luthiers only ship their instruments with the strings slack and the bridge down, to minimize the chance of damage.

I don’t want to make the customer set-up the instrument, so I carefully wrap and pad the instrument inside a good case. Then I pack the case in an oversize carton, with yet more padding, and so far, the instruments have arrived safely, and  usually still in tune.

Soundpost magic

I’m not confident that the customer has access to a luthier who can set up and adjust five-string instruments. The soundpost fit and position is critical to the balance across the strings. That balance is touchy on a five-string instrument, and not everyone succeeds at it.

People odten tell me their 5-string fiddle sounds “dead” on the C-string. A five-minute readjustment of the soundpost brings it back into perfect balance. So…I go ahead and ship them fully set-up and ready to play.

five string viola handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Final appearance, front view.
five string viola handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Side view, final appearance,
Five string viola handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Final appearance, back.
Five-string viola handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, luthier.
Final appearance Scroll

The customer loves his new Viola. He is thrilled with his new five-string, and is practicing the Bach Cello Suites on it now. He promised to send a video, once he gets accustomed to the “five-string feel,” so when the video comes, I will add it to the website.

Thanks for looking.

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Another New Book to offer:

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Resurrection of another “Dead” Fiddle is now “Live!”

I have written numerous articles over the years, and posted some on my various websites, including a couple of books in .pdf format; but now I am beginning to use the Amazon Kindle Publishing software.

I initially felt pretty intimidated by the huge array of choices, but it has turned out to be fairly user-friendly, once I got over the “fear of the unknown” aspect. (I also published a fairly detailed commentary on the Book of Galatians, but that is not a “fiddle” book. :-))

Resurrection of another “Dead” Fiddle: (Repairing a newer, but badly broken violin.) (Resurrecting "dead" instruments) by [Chet  Bishop]

Second attempt:

I had published one earlier such booklet: this one is a little shorter, but has more internal repair of structural issues, so it may be even more interesting to some.

It includes the replacement of a broken neck-block as well as a full neck-set and replacement of mising rib wood, and the necessary varnish retouching.

This second book is a photo essay on the resurrection of a violin that arrived rather badly broken. Most luthiers would have refused the project, saying the repairs would cost more than the violin was worth. I enjoy this kind of project; besides, I charge a bit less than others. I work out of my home, which diminishes my overhead somewhat, and I can pass those savings on to my customers.

“Epilogue”

This Customer was delighted with the results, and the violin has returned to its old position as her daily player. She had previously been forced to buy a cheap instrument in order to keep playing. This one had been her favorite, but had been broken. When I opened it, I discovered a serious flaw in the original build, as well as some really bad repair work, all of which was made right before the violin returned home.

Here’s the link, if you are interested in looking:

Thanks for looking!

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New Book Available

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The Bread Bag Fiddle is now “Live!”

Some of you know that I have written numerous articles over the years, and posted some on my various websites, including a couple of books in .pdf format; but this is the first time I have attempted to use the Amazon Kindle Publishing software. I felt pretty intimidated by the huge array of choices, almost all the way through: but it turned out to be fairly user-friendly, once I got over the “fear of the unknown” aspect.

Anyway, this is a small work, only about 3,800 words, and about 30 photographs, chronicling the “Resurrection of a Dead Violin” which literally had arrived at my shop in a plastic bread-bag, with the top tied off to prevent the loss of loose parts.

As it turned out, a customer wanted an “old fiddle,” and agreed to have me resurrect the old junker. They are delighted with the result, and it is a daily player, today.

Here’s the link, if you are interested in looking:

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=the+bread+bag+fiddle&i=digital-text&fbclid=IwAR0ruyNsAt4mJ8qlbr0sLREES-C0H9cppji7jC6Q9fAMwNOtZJaPKF6BhgU&ref=nb_sb_noss

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New Five-string Fiddle Progress

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Hanging in the dining room to dry.

I completed the varnish-prep work on the newest five-string fiddle, inculding the sealer. The back, sides and neck are Oregon Big Leaf Maple. The belly (a first for me) is Douglas Fir. I have never tried Douglas Fir in the past, but there was a famous maker (Otto Erdesz) who used to make professional level instruments, using Douglas Fir for the front plates. So, I decided to try it.

You can see the results here:

https://fivestringfiddles.com/2021/03/19/new-handmade-five-string-fiddle/

Should be playing in a couple of weeks.

Have a look!

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Latest Development

5-streing fiddle
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15″ Five String Viola in North Carolina!

A shop in Charlotte, NC has agreed to take one of my fiddles on consignment.

The shop is called “The Violin Shoppe” and is a pretty important outlet in that area for stringed instruments, so I am thrilled to be represented there.

One of the owners, Glen Alexander, is a great fiddler, and demonstrated the posiblities offered by my little five-string viola, on his facebook page as well as on YouTube.

Here is the YouTube video: Glen Alexander putting my 5-string fiddle through its paces.

I’m gratified to see an Oregon Five-string fiddle, there, and to hear him play it!

Meanwhile, I have others on the way. 🙂

Thanks for looking!

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SATISFIED CUSTOMERS

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(Customer Review)

I recently brought in my family heirloom Violin to Mr. Bishop: The violin was in terrible shape as it had sat in my grandmother’s closet for nearly 70 years. There was a large crack on the top of the violin and many seams on the top had become delaminated. The tuning pegs were no good and the bow had lost all curvature and most of the hair. There were also many other unforeseen issues from previous repairs on the interior of the violin.

I initially contacted Mr. Bishop because I could tell that he is very passionate about these instruments, and his original builds are absolutely beautiful. He quoted me a very reasonable price for the amount of repairs this instrument needed, he gave me a very realistic time frame and completed the repairs right on time.

Not only did he finish the repairs on time, but we were right on budget with his original quote. Now my poor old family heirloom looks amazing and plays much like I imagine it did for my grandmother.

I can never thank him enough for the quality of effort he put into this instrument, and for the quality of the finished product. Thankfully my family heirloom can now continue to be passed down, and I’m sure my grandmother will be absolutely ecstatic when I bring this up to show her how it now looks.

I highly recommend anyone who is looking for a new instrument, or just looking for repairs on their current instrument to contact Mr. Bishop first. You will not be disappointed in any way.

Eternally grateful, Lucas Cunningham.

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Five-String Double Bass

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Five String Double Bass on the way!

I began this bass some time ago, but it was set aside for several years, because of other jobs that came in, and because I was very dissatisfied with how the rib-bending was going. I had a huge, propane-heated bending iron I had made, which simply did not get hot enough. 

This year I made a new bending iron, heated with electricity, and it worked very well. So I am up and going again.

 

Steel tube with a charcoal-briquette lighter inside, controlled by a 600W dimmer switch.

I completed the rib garland, and, more recently, traced the front plate outline, cut it out, and now I am shaping the outer arching of that plate.

For more information on my five-string offerings, please visit https://fivestringfiddles.com

Thanks for looking!

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Bandsaw Repair

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The old saw needed help!

A number of years ago, I had a sudden opportunity to buy an 18″ Jet bandsaw (for which I had yearned, lo, these many years...) and I jumped on it without hesitation. It has been a great saw, but it was gradually becoming more and more impossible to saw a straight line.

New Guides

My youngest son looked it over, and pointed out that the original guides were worn out, and that conversion kits were available to make all the guides roller bearings, instead of sliding surfaces. But the kits were $250, or so, and I hesitated. I attempted various adjustments, to no avail, and finally went online, and watched a number of videos explaining why the saw behaved the way it did, and decided that, since the saw was effectively useless the way it was, it was well worth the upgrade cost.

So I ordered the correct kit from Carter tools, after watching a bunch of videos by Alex Snodgrass, and installed it, expecting the change to be instantaneous. (Well, almost: It still took meticulous re-setting of several variables: the blade had to be correctly positioned on the drive wheels, the guides had to be correctly adjusted for the size of the blade, and the blade had to be correctly tensioned…and I did all that.)

Upper guide kit correctly installed.
Lower guide was harder to photograph, but there it is, also correctly installed.

Results? Not exactly what I expected.

It sawed exactly the same as before! (Augggh!)

I attempted a re-saw, and the blade dived for the left edge.
See the angle? There was no resisting it…it was determined to go left!

Back to the Manual

So I went back to the computer and downloaded a manual that was for almost the same machine as I have, and looked at the trouble-shooting list.

It turned out that the blade I was using had been damaged, and the teeth had lost their set. I installed a new blade, readjusted everything (different size blade) and tried again:

Just an old chunk of 1 x 4 fir, chosen for the test. Perfect re-saw!

And that was it! It turned out that, while the guides really were worn out, and needed replacing, the blade was also worn out, and remained as the final issue. Now that it has been replaced, the saw cuts like magic!

Results!

So now I have begun resawing all the chunks of maple I have set aside for fiddles! 🙂 I can saw rib-stock, and neck billets, and backs, and have them come out usable again. What a relief!

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