Rosin*

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Rosin. Such a simple little thing, pretty cakes in various shades, shiny when new, dull in texture as they are used. Rosin up your bow and let’s play!

The choices seem to be endless, with each brand and type having its devoted followers. I think rosin is a bit like fancy knitting tools – they don’t cost very much and each one seems fresh and new so we tend to indulge even when we don’t really need anything new.

So, here’s what I’ve learned about rosin, just scraping the tip of the iceberg:

Starting from the far left – anonymous rosin that was in the case with my cheap Chinese fiddle. Most everyone I’ve talked to says to just toss it as it’s total crap, but I found a use for it – a brand new bow that has never had rosin on the hair is very smooth and difficult to put rosin onto. These cheapo rosins are quite dusty and brittle, falling apart easily and consequently putting just enough rosin onto the bow hairs that running the bow over a better cake of rosin will work much more smoothly. Waste not, want not 🙂

Next is a dark rosin from Kaplan called Art Craft Dark No. 7 that I like very much. Some people recommend using a darker rosin when the humidity is high. Or is that when the humidity is low? Depends on who you ask, so I thought it worth a trial.

Next up is a green rosin called Jade made by L’Opera in France that is gorgeous to look at, but the jury is still out on how well it works with my fiddle.

Last in my personal rosin arsenal is a light rosin called Hidersine which is made in England. I use this rosin more than any of the others as it seems to work well here on the Oregon Coast where the humidity is quite high all year ’round. It gives me the most consistent sound with the fewest squeaks and squawks.

You wouldn’t think that such a simple thing would matter so much, but the rosin changes how the violin sounds to a great degree. Different strings like different rosins, too, so it’s an experiment to figure out what rosin works best for a particular fiddle.

So many things to learn, so little time…

Want to make your own?

* Bear in mind that yours truly is a beginner, experimenting to find the tools that work best for me. Your mileage may vary…

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Baby Steps

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This is my cheap Chinese fiddle –

There’s nothing special about it. I paid $100.00 for the outfit which included a case, bow, rosin, electronic tuner and the fiddle itself, of course. Nothing in the kit is of the finest quality, nothing fancy. The wood is rather plain, the finish is sprayed on (badly in some spots) and the purfling is painted on (not inlaid.) Close inspection shows that the craftsmanship is not the highest quality, but overall it’s a fine instrument for a beginner, IMHO, and the price was right.

It was supposedly set up by a professional, and the shape of the bridge shows that this is very likely. Everywhere I look on the ‘net fiddlers recommend taking your fiddle to a professional for setup before playing much as it seems to make a huge difference in the sound of these cheap instruments. Or you can do it yourself if you’re scotch handy. So far I’ve not taken it to a professional but probably will some time in the near future – I think the soundpost is too long and in the wrong place…

I bought a Don’t Fret decal for the fingerboard to show the positions without using sticky tape that I wasn’t sure how to position correctly anyway. I’m not sure if it’s a help or a hindrance at this point.

A better bow, darker rosin and an ebony mute round out the extra purchases.

I made a few changes to the setup based on advice from several sources and will make more changes as time goes on. The first thing to be upgraded were the strings. I have no idea what strings were on it in the first place, but they were very tinny and hollow sounding – like a bad recording if that makes sense. Kelly recommended Red Label strings as being not too expensive but with a bright “fiddle” sound. The local music shop was out of Red Labels, so I opted for “the next step up” (according to the music man) Calvert Symphony synthetic cores (which are located nowhere on the ‘net that I can find…) which gave a much richer sound and at first were really strange to note – so much thicker than the original strings! It was easier to get a good tone, so I was happy. For awhile.

The Fiddle Hangout is a message board peopled by fiddlers all over the world, some of them builders of some renown, some famous players as well. It was there that I heard about Black Diamond strings and thought I should give them a try. The sound is very good, not muddy. They are easier to play than the Calverts and are thinner in size. They have a very nice (to my beginner ears) “fiddle” sound and I will keep them on for awhile to see how I like them as my playing improves.

There are so many strings to choose from, in every price range, that it’s hard to make a choice as a beginner.

What’s your favorite string and why?

And Then Things Got Complicated…

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As I generally do, I began to research violins on the ‘net, just looking around, you know? I came across this picture –

of an Amati violin from 1613. Is that fabulous, or what?!? Visions of a blond violin began to dance in my head. I was dreaming of blond violins. Then I took a look at my bank balance. Yeah. Never gonna happen.

So I thought, “How hard can it be to build a violin?” It’s not rocket science, right? A bit of research revealed that, while it really isn’t rocket science, it is pretty close – finding the perfect blend of materials, shape and finish is actually quite a difficult feat, which is why the old violins are selling for outrageous prices.

Hmmm…People are still building violins, so there must be some info out there. I found an interesting book, “Violin Making, An Illustrated Guide for the Amateur” by Bruce Ossman. The “can-co” attitude really appeals to me. Bruce believes that anyone with a few woodworking skills is capable of building a violin that will sound good, if not as great as a 250-year-old instrument. The instructions are clear and seem to be easy enough.

But, in corresponding with a friend, Rob Ditterich, a violin maker in Australia, I was led to seek out Henry Strobel, a violin maker in not-too-far-away Aumsville, Oregon. We drove over one morning after a meeting and had a lovely chat with Henry Jr. about violins and bows and I bought Henry’s book “Violin Making Step by Step” which is chock full of great information.

However, I don’t think I’m ready to build a violin from slabs of wood yet. Looking around the web, I happened upon the Kit People. For around $150 I could get a partially assembled kit and finish it myself. Now that’s more like it! But…I was sure I could find a cheaper better price. I mean, they’re all made in China these days, right? I chose to go the eBay route and will report soon on quality, etc.

In the mean time, there’s still so much research to be done…

It Started out so Simply…

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Last weekend I attended the Toledo Wooden Boat Show. A great time was had by all and the weather was perfect.

Every year at the boat show Kelly Thibodeaux hosts a fiddle workshop on Saturday afternoon, and I’ve meant to take a closer look the last couple of years, but was just too busy. This year there was a man selling stringed instruments, including fiddles, up in the parking lot and I decided that this would be the year I would give it a go. Kelly was there when I was paying and promised to knock 2-3 months off my learning curve if I took his workshop. Kelly pronounced my fiddle “pretty good” and recommended I get some better strings for it. That 2 minutes was the happiest my poor fiddle has sounded so far, but practice will improve my technique, so I’m not discouraged.

Here’s Kelly and the Etouffee Band in action –

Which prompted a bit of YouTube research to find fiddle demonstrations and lessons, which led to (as these things always do) the discovery of many styles of violin (etc.) music.

This is “cross-over classical” music –

So, I’ve taken up the fiddle –

No videos yet – the cat still leaves the room when I start to play, so it will be awhile before I share any of this Crazy with the Internets, but know that my neighbors are suffering as I practice 😉