And, The Finish!

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This is how a violin is completed:

Last time I posted, I had just completed the commissioned five-string fiddle, up to and including the sealer.

Sealed five string fiddle handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop
Sealed instrument, Front View
back view of sealed five string fiddle, handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Sealed instrument, Back View.


The “magic” of the sealer was that it caused the mineral ground to disappear forever. The instrument instantly went from stark chalk-white to a natural wood color, and the mineral will never be visible again. I always enjoy that transformation.

The Varnish, on the other hand, is a series of relatively small changes, wherein the violin not only achieves the color we want. Furthermore, the increasing clarity and depth of the varnish gives the impression of being able to “see into the wood.”

I always begin with a couple of coats of deepyellow or amber varnish, as an undercoat which will shine through the later color coats.

Yellow First

Here is the violin after the two coats of yellow varnish:

Yellow varnish base coat on a commissioned 5-string fiddle handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier, Chet Bishop
Front View, with Yellow base coat.
Yellow base coat varnish on treble-side of commissioned 5-string fiddle, handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier, Chet Bishop.
Yellow base coat, Treble Side View.
Yellow base coat on back side of 5-string commissioned instrument, handmade in Oregon by artisanal Luthier, Chet Bishop.
Back View with Yellow base coat.

Color Coats

Next, I bagan layering the color coats, building to the look I planned. (Each “coat, in reality is usually two coats, applied in quick succession. There were about eight total color coats, but I will call them “first through fourth.”)

First color coat on front of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
First Color Coat, Front
First color coat on treble side of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier, Chet Bishop
Treble Side, with First Color Coat.
First color coat on back of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier, Chet Bishop
First Color Coat, Back
First color coat on bass side of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Bass Side, with First Color Coat.

This maple is really beautiful wood. I wish I had a lot more of it, but, sadly, I only was able to salvage a little of the tree from which it originated. The “donor tree” was removed from the property where my wife and her siblings grew up. It had finally rotted and was becoming dangerous, so they removed it. But the wood is gorgeous. You can see the stump in this article….

Continuing color coats

As you can see, the yellow base coat is still showing through pretty strongly. That is good, but I still wanted to move the color toward a deep reddish brown,  with the golden yellow shining through. Therefore… I needed more color coats!

Second Color Coat on 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop
Second Color Coat, Front
Second Color coat on back of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
Back, with Second Color Coat.

The color is headed in the right direction, but still needs to be deeper. I will add extra color in any areas that should be darker.

Third Color Coat, front side of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by Artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Third Color Coat, Front.
3rd color coat on back or 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
Oregon Big Leaf Maple Back, withThird Color Coat.

I was getting pretty close to correct, so I began taking the instrument out into natural light, to check the color there.

Fourth color coat on five string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Fourth Color Coat, Front.
4th color coat treble side of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
Treble Side with Fourth Color Coat.
4th color coat, back side of five string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by Artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Back, with Fourth Color Coat.
4th color coat bass side of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by Artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Bass side, Fourth Color Coat.

The color was pretty close to what I had hoped to produce. Therefore, I felt that I was ready to  reinstall the fingerboard, Afterward, I would hand-rub the varnish to a good polish.  Finally, I allowed it to hang in my dining room and cure a little more fully.


First I carved the underside of the fingerboard to remove extra mass. This affects the sound, as well as the feel of the instrument. (Extra, unnecessary mass tends to absorb vibration rather than resonate.)

Underside of fingerboard
Underside of fingerboard beginning. It was fully carved and smoothed before installation.

Then I carved a tiny notch, dead center on the upper end of the backside of the fingerboard, where it would contact the neck. After carving the notch in the fingerboard, I drilled a shallow 1/16″ hole in the neck, to accomodate a tiny nail.

That nail is temporarily installed, to serve as a guide and an anchor while installing the fingerboard. The hide glue is very slippery while it is still hot, and liquid. There is a tendency for the fingerboard to “drift” under the clamps, before the glue can gel.

The notch in the fingerboard fits on the nail. The nail, then, serves as a temporary stop, so the fingerboard stays put. (I remove the nail after the glue has set.)

Fingerboard installed on 5-string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Fingerboard installed. Notice the tiny nail used to temporarily position the fingerboard.

Beginning Set-up

After a few more days, I began set-up. First, I installed the soundpost, saddle, nut, and end button. Next, I fit the pegs, and was ready for the bridge and the strings.

Nut installed on 5-string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Nut installed: it will be filed lower before installing strings.
Saddle installed, still requiring final smoothing and retouch.

You can see in the above photo that the varnish was still very soft. Everywhere I touched it, it also resulted in my leaving fingerprints. I had to “French-polish” the whole instrument afterward, and let it hang until the varnish was harder. Then it would be easier to handle. (But it was good to have the set-up nearing completion, too.)

Completed five-string fiddle ready for retouching.
Completed five-string fiddle ready for varnish retouch.


After the varnish had hardened a little more, I then installed the pegs.

Pegs installed, front view of five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop,
Pegs installed, Front view.
Bass side with pegs, Five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Bass side view with Pegs.
Back side of five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Back Side View with Pegs.

Final Set-up

I installed the Bridge and Strings and Tailpiece, and then the fiddle was complete. I still let it hang in my dining room for a week or so, too, so that the varnish would continue to harden without damage.

competed 5-string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Hanging up to cure.

Final photos

Final front
Final look at the Front before delivery.
Close-up look at the f-hole area.
Close-up of the f-hole on the Oregon Douglas Fir Front.
Bass side final look before delivery.
Bass side: final look before delivery.
Close up of the Scroll.
Close up of the Scroll.
back side of five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Final look at the back of the fiddle before delivery.

I prepared the instrument’s documents (Bill of Sale and Provenance Document) and afterward, when the varnish had cured for another two weeks, the customer took delivery at the end of July, 2023.

He was delighted, and played the instrument for a long time at my house. Further (which is a joy to me,) he has contacted me since then, expressing his continued joy in the new fiddle. That is the kind of thing that makes this work a great pleasure.

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Artisanal Lutherie? Artisanal Violin Making? What Now?!?

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“Artisanal Violin Making!”

Until recent years, I had never even heard the word “artisanal.”

For 23 years, I naively thought I was “just a violin maker!”  But then, I began hearing about “artisanal bread,” and “artisanal cheese,” and “artisanal restaurants.” And then someone sent me a satirical video about artisanal firewood! It was very tongue-in-cheek: definitely making a joke of the whole idea.

So, I looked the word up on the internet, hoping for a clear definition. There was a whole interesting article on Wikipedia about the term, giving the history, and all.

It turns out that I qualify! (So does every traditional luthier, but this is news to me!)

It reminds me of an old joke:

(“Last week I couldn’t spell [insert professional title] and now I are one!”)

Does it Really Matter?

It turns out that possibly part of the reason people are beginning to call me for “bespoke, custom-made, commissioned” violins and five string fiddles (yes, I know those terms amount to redundancy) is just because I do “make them one by one and almost entirely by hand.” But, so do most makers. (I use a bandsaw to cut out the rough billets. I also use a drill press to make parallel 1/8″ pilot-holes for the tuning pegs. But mostly hand tools.)

Possibly part of the reason they come to me is that I can tell them exactly where the wood came from: I can even show them the actual stump from which it was cut, in some cases.

(That particular Oregon Big Leaf Maple stump was the source of a small stash of wood I salvaged when the tree was removed because it was becoming dangerously rotten.) It was a sad day, when they removed the tree, as my wife and her siblings had played there, and climbed in its branches, during their growing-up years. But it was the source for a few instruments like this one:

Possibly it is because they enjoy the step-by-step continual progress reports, which I send them, every few days, and they get to see their instrument “being born.” They get to choose the overall “flavor” of the look and feel of their fiddle. Some have particular expectations in terms of color, texture, etc.

It is all rather strange, as, to me, that is “just how I make violins.” I had never applied the word “artisanal” to myself before. I just made things, and I did business the “old way.”

But that’s fine: it doesn’t change anything, really. It is just a new perspective for me.

“Artisanal Lutherie!”

It does have a certain ring to it!


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New Five-String Fiddle Commission on the Way

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New Five-String Fiddle Request!

A client contacted me through my other website ( and asked whether I could build a 5-string fiddle of primarily Oregon woods. (Sure!)


So, she came for a visit and played eight of my hand-made instruments (all good fiddles), finally declaring a particular one to be exactly what she wanted, except that she did not care for the look of the one-piece Sitka Spruce top plate. It had very wide grain on the bass side and narrower on the treble side. (It sounds great, but the looks were bothering her.) Soooo…

Custom Build!

I went into my storage and retrieved a really wild-grained piece of Big Leaf Maple, and two billets of very straight, even-grained Spruce: one of Englemann, and another of Sitka: she chose the Englemann and loved the maple. She wanted an instrument essentially the same as that first one, but without the odd-looking belly grain. (Same model; made on the same mold (form), and sounding just like it, as well.) It will be tough to do, because the one she really likes is already five years old; it has had time to settle, be re-adjusted, and settle again. (Yes, it sounds good!)

Select Woods and a Good Start

So, we went out to one of my other buildings and hand-picked some likely-looking wood for the neck and ribs, and we were ready to do business. She presented a deposit, and I suggested that she take home the one she loved, for the time being, to keep her interest up while waiting for me to complete her personal treasure. She went home happy, and I began sorting willow for blocks, finding my proper templates, and enjoying the prospect of a new build. I will post follow-ups as they occur.

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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.


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New Page: Books!

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New Page! Download Books!

Photo-Essays on lutherie, offered as E-Books

Right now there are only two books, but hopefully others will eventually appear there, as I write them.

  1. The first is the chronicle of an acoustic five-string fiddle build.
  2. The second is the story of the completion of the Jensen Cello.

Click on this link, or simply return to the home page, and click on the “Books” page at the top.

In E-book form, they are being offered free of charge. They would be quite expensive to print, because of all the color photos.


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New Instruments Beginning

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What’s New?

I had a fair amount of positive feedback on two particular instruments at the Maryhurst show: a “1735 Plowden” Guarneri model violin, and a 14″ Oliver viola that has pretty amazing sound. So I decided to see if I could repeat the successes, and am building a new one of each model.

1735 Plowden Guarneri model

This is a very powerful instrument, pretty classic Guarneri style and sound. I took my measurements from the Strad poster and technical drawings, and copied the archings from there, as well. The first one had a rich powerful tone from the day it was first strung up and playing. So, I hope the second try at the same instrument will be even better.

This one (like the first one, and, like the original) is European maple (one-piece back) and European spruce. I am using willow for blocks and linings. I am always impressed with the difference in how the European wood handles under the knife, gouge or plane. I have been told by all my mentors and teachers that, at least for violins, the European Maple is definitely superior in terms of tone. I am going to take their word for it…they are all very experienced makers who really ought to know. They did say, however, for violas, cellos, and basses, that domestic woods seem to work fine. Must have something to do with the higher-frequency sound or something like that. Although, that last five-string fiddle I made, of Myrtle and Port Orford Cedar, has very good high end tone, as well as good low notes…so I don’t know why one is better than another. The Myrtle is definitely harder, heavier wood…maybe that helped.

14-inch Oliver Viola

This will actually be off the same mold as the Guarneri violin (a duplicate of it), so it will have exactly the same “footprint”, but the arching and graduations, as well as the rib-height and other differences will definitely make it a viola, not a violin with viola strings. It is comparatively easy to make a large viola that sounds great, but much more difficult to make a very satifactory small viola. Fortunately, I fell into (quite by accident) an arching pattern that worked very well, and later had it confirmed by one of my teachers, so I had early (accidental) success with small violas, and have gotten better as I learned to understand what was happening with them.

I like the viola sound, and I am big enough to play my largest viola model (16-1/2 Guarneri model) comfortably, but I can see where a professional player could encounter some problems holding his/her arm out at that distance for hours of practice or orchestral performance. So, the small violas have a special attraction in terms of comfort…and if they can sound comparable to a larger instrument, so much the better. I also make a 14-7/8″ viola, but the 14″ viola is the smallest I have made.

This one is Big Leaf maple and Sitka spruce. Willow linings, same as the other new instrument.

Parallel Processes

I will be attempting to complete the two new instruments side by side, step by step, so that whatever stage I am at in one will be where I am on the other, as well (give or take an hour or two.) We’ll see how that plays out.

I’ll post pictures in a few days.

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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.

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5 String Progress Report #17: Finally done!

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Five String Progress Report #17: Finally finished, Set-up and Playing!

Fair Warning:

I got cranking on the task again, and did not take photos until the job was done.

The photos are at the bottom of the post, so if you want to skip all the narrative, you can scroll to the bottom, and just look at the fiddle.

What I accomplished was to:

  • Dress and polish the fingerboard
  • Install, file to final shape (including string grooves) and polish the nut
  • Install the sound-post
  • Drill and finish the string-holes in the pegs
  • Fair in the ends of the nut with the sides of the upper end of the fingerboard
  • Polish the saddle and endpin
  • Polish the “handle” portion of the neck one last time, and
  • Touch up the varnish around the saddle and other “dings”
  • Rub about 2-3 drops of shellac into the neck: just enough to seal and polish it
  • Fit the bridge
  • Fit the tailpiece
  • Install the strings and chinrest
  • Play that thing!

Dressing the Fingerboard

When we last looked at the fiddle, the fingerboard had been permanently glued in place, but it had not been planed to the proper curvature, either logitudinally, or tranversely. I want the completed fingerboard to have just enough “scoop” longitudinally, that there is nearly a string’s width of clearance under the center of the largest string. This seems to help prevent buzzes, among other things, and helps with intonation, I think. The transverse curve is set at a 42 mm radius. I have a steel template I made of scraper stock that is flat on one side, and has the 42 mm curve on the other. I primarily use it to check the curve, but I can also use it to scrape, and sometimes I do so. All the board-dressing has to be done with the nut removed, obviously. It is smart to mask off the scroll with something, too– tape rags over it, maybe, to prevent hitting it with the plane.

I began with the small “hammer-handle” curved-sole plane, reducing the surface in the center of the board; then a very small, cheap stanley plane, razor-sharp and adjusted for a fine cut. I checked every few minutes to see how the curve was developing. When it began to look reasonable, I switched to a scraper, working diagonally across the board, to get rid of the plane marks. Then I switched to a coarse Swiss file, held flat on the board, and working up and down the board until all the “dull-spots” had begun to be shiny. I check the curve again when it is all smooth, then switch to abrasives, using a hard plastic block that looks like teflon, but is some sort of high-density plastic they use at work sometimes. This was a scrap, and it works well for a sanding block, though a hard wooden block would be fine. It is about 3″ long, 1-1/2″ wide, and 1″ thick.

I started with about 100 grit, then almost immediately switched to 400 grit, then to 600 and finally 1500 grit. With each change, I worked up and down the board until all the board had the same look. After the 1500-grit work the board was very shiny, and exactly the right curvature in both directions.

Installing the Nut

The nut ultimately has to support the upper ends of the strings, just a scootch above the surface of the fingerboard: about the thickness of a good business card is ideal. bear in mind that every “non-open” note is actually touching the fingerboard, so the closer you can get to the board without touching it, the better. This does require that the fingerboard be perfectly dressed, without even the slightest humps or hollows, otherwise it will buzz.

I had already shaped the nut so that it was about a millimeter taller than the end of the fingerboard, exactly the width between the end of the fingerboard and the beginning of the pegbox cavity, and curved to perfectly match the top of the fingerboard. Also, the top of the nut has to “roll off” into the pegbox smoothly, so that there is no sharp break in the curve as the strings go over the nut toward the pegs. We are trying to avoid any unnecessary stress risers in the strings.

I glued the nut in place using the amount of hot hide glue that covered the end of a toothpick. It doesn’t take much at all. Some people only glue the nut to the fingerboard end, not the neck. In some ways that makes sense to me, but I am still in the habit of gluing to both surfaces. Probably I ought to change that: just think about it–the pressure of the strings is holding the nut immovably in place– the only reason you need the glue at all is so that you don’t lose the nut when you are changing the  strings. (Ah, well…next time, maybe.)


While the glue on the nut was drying, I fit the soundpost. I want the completed soundpost to start out about one post width behind the treble foot on the bridge, and pretty much centered on that foot, laterally. In addition, I want it vertical: parallel with the vertical edges of the end and corner blocks. so I remove the end-pin, shove my bi-focals as close to the hole as possible, and, using a bright light source, I maneuver the soundpost into the position I want it. Too tight is better than too loose, as I can keep trimming until the fit is perfect. I can’t put wood back, though, so if I make it too short, the game is over and I have to begin again. (I have done that many times. This takes practice, believe it or not.) A perfectly fitted soundpost is airtight on both ends, just tight enough that it will not fall over when you change the strings, and in exactly the right spot. I will share how I adjust it, though there are undoubtedly as many opinions about that as there are luthiers, so I expect many will disagree. The adjustment has to come after the strings are tuned.

String-holes in the Pegs

By this time, the nut was dry enough I could handle it without fear of knocking it loose, so I could drill the string-holes in the tuning pegs. I used a 1/16″ bit, in an “egg-beater” style hand-cranked drill, to pierce the pegs.

Knowing that the pegs will work their way deeper, over time, as they are used, I have deliberately cut the pegs just a tad short, so that as they work deeper, they will not stick out the other side of the pegbox too far. With that in mind, I also place my string-holes slightly toward the fat end of the peg, inside the box, so that it will not eventually disappear into the other cheek of the pegbox.

I mark the locations with the tip of my small knife, and drill them out, avoiding going through into the pegbox back. What I did this time was to drill part way, and then remove the peg, and complete the hole with the peg held freehand. A lot of luthiers make a drilling jig, that emulates the pegbox, and holds the pegs firmly, and is much more accessible while offering no danger to the fiddle. (I keep telling myself I need to make one of those…one of these days I will get around to it.) After drilling the holes, I dress the ends of the holes with a round file, so they offer less stress to the strings where they pass through the holes.

String-grooves in the Nut

At this point I felt confident that the glue had set on the nut, so I carefully measured and scribed the string grooves in the nut. Then I filed each groove, using an appropriately sized file. As I said before, I use the little tip-cleaning files available in welding shops. You have to make sure you are actually getting the file-type cleaners…the new ones are just twisted wire.

I cut each groove down until it seems the right height above the surface of the board, but I know it will require some fine-tuning once the strings are actually installed. I extend each groove over the curve, and aiming the direction I want the strings to go. I slope the outside two strings inward a little to keep the strings from rubbing on the inside of the pegbox cheek.

Final Polishing

I also file and scrape both ends of the nut, to fair them into the sides of the upper end of the fingerboard, then polish the sides until the joint is very smooth. I polished the saddle and the end-pin, until the ebony glowed like jewelry. I realize it will get dull later, but for now it looks great.

I went ahead and polished the “handle” portion of the neck one last time, using 600-grit and then 1500-grit. Finally, I used a tiny artist’s paint brush to touch-up the varnish any where it had been scratched or in any way damaged during installation of the fitting, and, applying a dime-sized dot of shellac to a rag (about 2-3 drops), I rubbed it vigorously into the handle portion of the neck to seal it against sweaty hands and to polish it so it glows. (Nice-looking fiddle!)

Fitting the Bridge

I no longer use sandpaper in cutting a bridge. I have finally gotten good enough at spotting what needs to be trimmed that I can achieve full fit without resorting to abrasives or even chalk-fitting. This is a job for a sharp knife, and a “calibrated eyeball”.

I begin by setting the bridge blank (I used a Milo Stamm bridge blank this time) on the belly of the violin, centered between the inner nicks of the f-holes. I position the bridge with the branded side toward the tailpiece (away from the fingerboard).

I tip the bridge toward the tail-block just enough to make the “south side” of the bridge perpendicular to the belly (at that point). Then I usually slide  a sharp pencil along the base of the feet on the south side, to establish the curvature of the belly on the feet, so I know where to begin.  When I am done, I want the back side (tail-piece side–south side) of the bridge to be perpendicular to the belly, and the feet to have achieved an “air-tight” fit in their respective spots. When I have managed that starting point, I can begin carving away all “excess wood” on the upper part of the bridge.

I carve using a very sharp, fairly large knife, to get the feet fitted to the top. To complete the fit, I sometimes switch to a very sharp, slightly curved scraper. Once the feet fit perfectly, I hold the bridge firmly in place, with one hand, and slide a pencil along on the fingerboard with the other hand, with the pencil projecting out far enough to scribe the curve onto the bridge. That line will not be correct, but it gives me a place to start. I usually raise up the center of the curve about 3 mm; the bass side about 2.5 mm; and the treble side 1 mm. I fair in the curve across the top, so that it is similar to the fingerboard but more sharply curved.

I trim the top down to that new line, or just above it a millimeter or so, and establish the string positions, making small notches for each string, in exactly the right location, but knowing that the height will be wrong. I then set the height using the strings. I install the tailpiece and all the strings, spacing them out across the bridge, in their respective slots, and measure the height of each string. I want about 5 to 5.5 mm on the C string, about 5.5 to perhaps 6 at most, on the G string, the same on the D, , a litle lower on the A, and about 3 to 3.5 mm on the E string. I check, calculate about how much to take off on each string, if any, then usee a string jack to raise the strings so I can remove the bridge. The string jack will also maintain tension while I work on the bridge, so I can just slip it back in and check the height as I work.

When the string heights are right, I complete the trimming of the bridge, removing all excess wood. I open the “kidneys” and “heart” somewhat, lower the knees, thin the bridge from front to back, so that the upper edge is about 1 mm to 1.5 mm thick. I thin the feet so they are about 1 mm thick at the toes, and thin the ankles appropriately, as well. I don’t like the look of a fresh-cut bridge, so I rub that fresh-white bridge on the back of my head, where there is enough oily scalp under the hair, to take off the white, and leave a thin oily film that looks a little more subdued.

At that point I tune the violin, and check the height of the strings at the nut. I loosen one string at a time, and file the grooves until the strings come very close to the fingerboard, then re-tune.

Adjusting the Tailpiece

This time I got lucky, and arrived at the correct adjustment on the first attempt, but usually I have to take the strings back off, and adjust the tailpiece. What I am after is to get the ratio of the vibrating string length to the “afterlength” between the bridge and the tailpiece to exactly a 6:1 ratio. In this case, the vibrating string length was exactly 330 mm, and the afterlength (measured from the contact point the bridge to the contact point on the tailpiece) was exactly 55 mm. Couldn’t be better!

Installing the Chinrest

There are many types of chinrests, made of many different substances. I have made them from scratch, and have bought ebony, boxwood, Rosewood, and bakelite chinrests. People have different tastes and needs (Allergies are a problem for some people, using some substances…Cocobolo is a bad one for some people; Rosewood for others.) I used bakelite, this time, on the theory that it is light, and will not dampen the vibration of the instrument very much. Besides, I have never heard of anyone having an allergic reaction to bakelite. But fittings are pretty easy to make, and if someone wanted a curly maple chinrest, or whatever, I would certainly make it for them.

Play-in, and Soundpost adjustment

I can’t prove that “play-in” really happens. Most players feel that something changes in the instrument over the first month or so of playing…and that it happens faster if one plays aggressively, loudly, and frequently. So, initially, I play a lot of double-stops, re-tune frequently, and play a lot of scales and songs that are simple enough I can manage them. (I only play by ear, and nothing fancy; Hymns, waltzes, etc., and a few celtic pieces thrown in…)

I adjust the soundpost to try to get the best balance from string to string, and the best quality of sound I can coax out of the violin. I begin by tuning very carefully, then I play the G note on the C string, for instance, and alternate between the open G and the G note on the C-string, listening to the quality of sound, and the relative volume, brightness, etc.  If one is significantly weaker (say, the C-string is weaker  than the G), then I fudge the soundpost very slightly toward the weak-sounding string. Usually just a tiny move is sufficient. once I have adjusted so that the balance is fair across all five strings, if I want it brighter as a whole, I can move the soundpost slightly north, etc. I still want it close to vertical, and still have to have that “air-tight fit”.

Over the next week, I will play it a lot, and keep checking the sound, the balance, etc.


This seems to have about the strongest C-string of all the five-string fiddles I have made. I don’t know if it is due to the Koa wood, or the special arching I experimented with this time. I really hope it is the arching, as I probably can repeat that, but may never get to work with Koa again. The only way to find out is to make another fiddle of some other wood, and duplicate the arching.

The balance is good across all five strings,and quite strong…definitely on the bright side. I expect that the hard heavy Koa wood, in thin graduations, affected that aspect of the sound. The sound is clear, even in higher positions on the bass strings. My anticipation is that, as it plays-in, the sound will open up a good deal more, and mellow somewhat.

Gotta do another one….

Here are the photos:

Finished Front
Finished Front


Finished bass side
Finished bass side


Finished Treble side
Finished Treble side


Finished Back
Finished Back


Bass side scroll
Bass side scroll


Treble side scroll
Treble side scroll


Back of Scroll
Back of Scroll


Front of Scroll
Front of Scroll


Lower “fleur-de-lis”


Upper “Fleur-de-lis”



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