The German Trade Fiddle

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Well, it seems to be almost raining fiddles here on the Oregon Coast! I was browsing through a local thrift shop the other day and spied not one, but two fiddles on the counter. One was a cheap-looking, heavily sprayed Chinese 3/4 model with case and bow that wasn’t worth the price they were asking. The other was this little beauty:

No case, no bow, no fittings but pegs. Nothing fancy, but the varnish is nice (the picture is not quite true to color) and the spruce top has a tight grain with some interesting swirls –

The back is not flamed, but pretty none the less –

It’s not as shiny as the pictures suggest – that’s all the natural sunshine I could find and the angle was impossible! The scroll is interesting and well made with no cracks in the peg box –

The flames on the neck are totally fake. Oh, yes. It has a rather scary looking crack from the treble side of the saddle to the upper part of the treble FF hole. Other than that, it looks to be in fine shape! I paid almost nothing for it and the experience of gluing up that crack will more than repay the purchase price. Score!

Put it down – it’s not yours!

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The Amati copy violin is back together.

The pegs look Right with the color of the varnish. The new bridge is holding its shape nicely.

The strings are stretched and holding pitch. I e-mailed Brandon to let him know it was back together. His reply?

“I’ve been busy…I’ll come by next week some time. Or maybe the following week…Enjoy playing it.”
Uh-huh. He is obviously using some sort of psychological manipulation on me, hoping I’ll fall in love with her and pay whatever price he asks so that she can stay here with me where she belongs.
I will be strong. I will put her back in her case to await the return of her real owner. After one more song…

In the Case

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[Name Deleted] and I went over to Brandon’s to launch the latest boat project yesterday. Before a lovely row on Devil’s Lake we took a look at Brandon’s wood stash – he’s a woodcarver as well as a boat builder and musician – and picked up some boat wood and a nice piece of figured maple for a future fiddle or two (more on that another day.)While petting the cat we noticed an old “wall hanger” fiddle and asked if we could take a look at it. The subject of yesterday’s post, it came home with me to be repaired and brought back to life. More on that later, too. While we were on the subject, Brandon brought out a case with a lovely red violin inside –

The label reads –

Antonius, & Hieronymus Fr. Amati
Cremonen. Andreae fil. F. 1641*

and the scroll has “Conservatory Violin” scribed on the back –

The belly is a nice, tight-grained spruce –

The back is flamed maple in two pieces –

The varnish is in pretty good shape. Brandon found this treasure at an estate sale about 12 years ago, had it set up and cleaned, and then the tailpiece broke –

My job is to replace the tailpiece and fit the Hill style pegs that match. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? I don’t have the perfectly matched tailpiece in the shop, but you know I had to string it up just to see what it sounds like –

Sweet certainly describes the sound of this old violin. It was quite striking how the sound changed over a few hours as the strings stretched and everything settled into place. It will be hard to give back…

ETA: Here we are a day later and the violin sounds even better than yesterday, if you can believe that. [Name Deleted] commented, “it sure does a lot for your playing…” The Six Foot Fiddle sounds just fine, but he’s right, the old red violin makes me sound more experienced than I am. Good even. Or at least competent.

* No, of course this violin is not 400 years old! It’s a copy of a violin made in 1641 by the brothers Amati. Probably a mass-produced model, but so far I haven’t been able to find any information on it. If anyone has clues, e-mail me at SofiaLeo2013 at gmail dot com.

Surprising Gifts

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Just a sneak peak. The case is not empty, but I don’t get to keep what’s inside. The fiddle on top of the case was made in Utah about 90 years ago and will be staying in my shop for repairs. Stay tuned for the full story…

The Old Cello

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Back in 1984, North Thurston High School in Olympia, Washington was being demolished to make way for a new building. A friend of [name deleted] was a part of the demo crew and he spied a bunch of instruments in a dumpster awaiting disposal. Knowing that [name deleted] had a fondness for musical instruments of all kinds, but having only a minute, Douglas managed to save one battered cello from destruction.

This warhorse is a Genuine Kay Cello, Model 55, Serial Number 5146 –

The Kay Musical Instrument Company produced upright basses, cellos, violins, banjos and various styles of guitar from the 1930’s through the 1960’s before it was bought out and the name disappeared. The serial number dates this cello to 1939. The Kay upright bass and cello shared serial numbers and were produced side-by-side. After all these years, the sound post is still standing –

The Kay cellos are constructed of plywood, and built very sturdy to stand up to use by schools and public orchestras. The purfling is painted on, as are the “flames” –

The neck was broken some time long ago and mended with a screw through the fingerboard and into the neck base with a wood plug in the fingerboard. It’s not pretty, but seems to be holding-

The scroll is in good shape, with the expected chips in the finish and an identifying tag from the school –

There are the usual nicks and scratches that you would expect an old school cello to have, but overall it’s in fantastic shape – no cracks (new or repaired) and no seams loose.

[name deleted] has been carrying this cello around for a long time, and we thought it would be nice to see if it would hold up to being strung up again. A set of fittings was ordered from China* the old girl got a good cleaning** and I set to work. With Strobel’s “Useful Measurements for Violin Makers” in hand, measurements were taken to begin carving on the bridge. The fingerboard projection was 12mm too high! No way can this fingerboard be taken off and planed (remember the screw?) so the bridge ended up quite tall with rather chunky feet. No big deal, really, but I would have liked to have been able to make it a shade more delicate.

The fittings set came with new pegs, but the peg holes are quite large so the existing pegs will have to do. Bushing the holes, etc. etc. may come at a later date. Peg drops went a long way towards fixing the slipping pegs and make tuning much easier.

So, how does she sound? Fabulous, actually. Kay cellos get mixed reviews online, with some hating their “thin, weak sound” while others praise the “deep, rich tones.” We obviously have a good one as the sound is rich and full and with the end pin all the way in the C string makes the floor vibrate. A better bow is next on the agenda now that we know she’ll stand up to being played after being silenced all these years. Cello is a ton of fun and we look forward to many years of playing around with it.Do you have an old instrument that is just a decoration? Ever thought of putting it together to see if it will play?

Where does one buy inexpensive, but not cheap sounding, cello strings?

* Which is really irritating – we prefer to buy as locally as possible, but prices for a set of fittings for a cello shipped from the US were outrageous! Three times as expensive in some cases, even with overseas shipping! We did not want to spend a lot of money on fittings only to find that the old girl wouldn’t hold up to the string tension, so we did what we hate to do.

** Inside was a Corridor Pass for one Charlotte to get her from the office to Mr. Stabbertal’s class on Valentine’s Day 1974, which was fun to find, but I hate to think of her using her cello as a waste basket…