That Darned Crack!


Here’s a more detailed look at the German Trade Fiddle (hereinafter GTF) at the saddle end of The Crack –

The crack is about 1.5mm wide at the bottom, tapering to almost nothing where it ends at the upper part of the treble FF hole. No matter how the clamps were arranged, that darned crack would not close, so I have no choice but to open her up. To tell the truth, I was really hoping it would come to this as I really want to see what’s inside – corner blocks? thru-neck? integral bass bar? What delights await?

First things first, though – off with the fingerboard!

Yeah, that sucker was glued on forever! It came off in two pieces and revealed itself to be a pale wood dyed black, most of which came off on my hands from the hot water applied to the seam. Sigh. Can’t have any fun if you don’t get dirty, right? Cut my finger, too, damn it! Lots of hot water and a putty knife loosened the seam and the top came off in one piece. Here’s what awaited me –

This thing is dirty inside! The typed label reads:

Antonius Stradiuarius
Faciebad anno 1716
Made in Germany

The fact that it says “Made in Germany” in English marks this fiddle as having been made to be exported to an English-speaking country some time after 1890-ish but before WWII as it doesn’t say “West Germany” and is definitely too old to have been built after the re-unification. It’s also stamped “Germany” near the end pin. Some of these German trade fiddles sound really good, so I’m hopeful that it will live up to the price I paid ๐Ÿ™‚
Anyone have any info on dating this one?

It has full end and neck blocks, rather roughly finished, but the corner blocks are fake – nothing more than wedges to make it look like it’s fully blocked when peeking in through the FF holes. No upper corner blocking at all. The linings have been trimmed but are a bit rough.

And the inside of the top, still quite wet from all the water (might have overdone it a bit, but it came off in one piece, which is quite a first-time accomplishment, so Yay Me!) –

The bass bar seems heavy, but it is shaped and glued in. The underside of the top is quite roughly carved and should probably be smoothed a bit before it’s closed up again. It needs to dry thoroughly before anything is done, so here it will sit until it once again reaches the top of the Fiddle Repair Queue. Life is good!

The German Trade Fiddle


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!

In the Case


[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…

Broken Cello Bow

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Now that the cello has been put back together, I can talk a bit about the cheap bow that I ordered well ahead of the repairs. The bow arrived broken. Not cracked, but really broken. Obvious grain run-out all along the stick –

The break was not clean and some wood chips were absent, making me wonder if it wasn’t shipped broken.*

A quick look through Strobel’s Violin Maker’s Notebook revealed that cyanoacrylate glue** is the stuff to use on cheap bows to repair a broken stick.***

The first step is to unscrew the adjustment nut until it comes all the way out. Gently wiggle the frog loose and set the whole thing down on your work surface. It is very important not to twist the ribbon of hair as you work with the rest of the bow. Don’t kink the hair up, or handle it much at all or you may end up with a hopelessly tangled mess.

Because the break was long and fairly flat I was able to use a couple of squeezy clamps for the repair. Note the paper towel to soak up any superglue spillage. It was allowed to cure for a couple of hours before the clamps were removed. The repair seemed solid, if not pretty –

I fretted a bit over the missing pieces of wood and debated wrapping the stick in wire or leather to make it look better, but decided to see if the repair would hold before wasting any time on it.

The frog was reassembled, the hair tightened and it seemed to be okay.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. So far it has handled better than expected. The hair is a bit loose, but overall it performs just fine for a couple of amateurs playing around in the living room.

* It’s not always a good idea to buy stuff on eBay, but there was no easy way to procure a cello bow for very little money and I took a chance. The seller said that the cello bows (they had multiple listings in their shop) were out of stock when I wrote to complain and asked for a replacement. I ordered some other stuff from their shop in lieu of getting 80% of my money back and they did not ask me to ship the broken bow back, so in a way this is a “free” bow, but I still feel a bit ripped off.

** That’s Super Glue to us common folk. It does vary in viscosity and efficacy, and what you get can be a crap shoot, but this little tube worked fine this time. You can even get it in black, which makes a repair of this sort almost invisible.

*** This is a very cheap bow of no monetary or sentimental or historical value – a repair like this on a valuable bow should only be attempted by a qualified repair professional. That being said, why not fix your old stick instead of buying a new one?

Blemish Repair

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There is a small pressure ding at the arrow above – it was obviously put there by a sharp knock with something fairly hard. It came out of the box with this blemish. It could be left as-is, but why pass up an opportunity to try out a repair method? Somewhere on the ‘net (forgot to bookmark the site) there is a tutorial about using an iron and a wet towel to steam out a dent just like this one.

Here’s a closer look at the dent –

In size, it’s about 3/8″ long, and 1/16″ deep with smooth edges, no broken grain lines. I used a wet, folded paper towel and a soldering iron, figuring that my big sewing iron would be awkward to use and would leak hot water where it wasn’t needed.

Gentle taps over the dent with the soldering iron produced a hiss of steam and results very quickly with not much water on the rest of the top.

The end result was a raised spot where the dent had been. Surprising, until I remembered that the dent had not been scraped โ€“ duh! it was sunk lower than the rest of the face during the scraping…

A bit of gentle scraping after it was dry and the dent has totally disappeared! Amazing, really. Much more troubling is the yellow-ish shadow around the edges that only shows up in photographs. There is obviously a very thin remnant of glue that needs to be scraped offโ€ฆ

First Repair*

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Actually, it’s the second, and it’s not even a violin, but let’s not pigeonhole The Blog too much, ‘kay?Several years ago a former associate mentioned that he might want to learn to play the mandolin some day. An inexpensive model was purchased online and he was soon plucking away. But. The cheapy mando did not stay in tune. A better mando was soon acquired and the cheap model was relegated to a hook on the wall. Poor mando!

The cheapy (but pretty) mando was occasionally brought it down from its hook, dusted it off, and tuned up. Alas, it was always a no-go, slipping out of tune after just a few minutes of gentle playing.

Enter your aspiring fixer-upper of stringed instruments. Shopping locally, I found mando tuners and good strings at the local music shop. The tuners fit perfectly. It took over an hour to re-string the little beast, but it was well worth it – the mando stays in tune and sounds great!

But. You should know by now that there’s always a “but” when yours truly embarks on a DIY journey.

The action was too high. I mean, really high compared to the Better Mando. It hurt to press the strings down far enough to finger notes. Crap! What to do? Take it apart and make adjustments, of course. What fun!

It seemed pretty obvious (after comparing bridge and nut measurements on the Good Mando) that the bridge needed to be lowered and the nut filed down to put the strings closer to the fingerboard. The nut is made of plastic** and fell off when the strings were removed. It had been applied with a clear epoxy-like substance which required some time with a sharp scraper to remove. What a bumpy mess! The nut was easy to sand and re-apply*** leaving about 2mm clear above the fingerboard –

I sanded the bottom surface of the nut to keep the string grooves intact, changing the angle slightly to make it more closely match the neck and fingerboard for a nice, tight joint.

The bridge looks like teak and was sanded down about 2mm in total. A steel rule is a handy clearance gauge:

I strung it up, made a custom strap and handed the prize back. I would love to show some pictures of the mando back together again, but I’ve been informed that I’m not allowed to touch it, since all I want to do is take things apart.

He’s got guards on it now, but no one is watching the old school cello tucked in behind the guitars in the other room…

* Last year, [name deleted] lamented that his favorite acoustic guitar would not stay in tune. He enjoys playing along with YouTube and this particular (not expensive) guitar is just the right size for sitting in front of the computer. “Hmmmm,” says I, “I bet the tuners are worn out, and it sure could use some good strings…” A quick order with Stew-Mac and WebStrings, a couple of hours of cleaning, installing the new tuners and strings and the old Decca was good as new. Easy-peasy! And cheap, too ๐Ÿ™‚

** Yes, the “right” thing to do would be to carve a new nut out of a little piece of ebony, but sometimes the extra mile is just a long walk in the middle of a long day that does no one any good.

*** I used TiteBond wood glue. So sue me. Yes, I could have used hide glue, but time was of the essence and it seemed kind of silly to heat up the glue pot for what amounted to about two drops of glue. It dried quickly, seems to be a good join and no one was hurt by the application.