The Ground – First Coat

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As with the Six Foot Fiddle, the Red Fiddle will have a sugar seal as the ground coat. Why? Well, it’s non-toxic, easy to apply and makes the wood grain “pop” in a most satisfactory way. Learning from the mistakes of last time, the ground formula for this fiddle is 1/2 cup tap water, 1/3 cup light brown sugar, 2 tsp honey and two black tea bags, simmered on the stove for an hour or so.Here she is in the white (note how dark the ground mixture is – you almost can’t even see it on the dark rug) –

And here she is in process –

What a difference, eh? The black tea was added in the hope that it would darken the surface overall with a slight reddish tint. Pretty close! The sugar seal is brushed on while still warm with a foam brush. The mixture is quite thin and goes on very evenly with little effort. Here you can see how dark the mixture is –

Held up to the light it has a reddish tint, whereas the ground for the SFF was much more brown. Final results after one coat –

The picture makes the belly look streaky, but it’s really quite even with the dark grain lines popping –

I’ve elected to varnish with the fingerboard on (as some people believe the Masters did) simply because the fingerboard is very nicely fitted and is glued on very well – why make more work if you don’t have to, right? It’s easy enough to get a small brush under the FB, so it should work out just fine.

In the White

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The Red Fiddle is almost ready for varnish. Here she is all “dressed up,” sans chin rest. The button needs to be shaped and final sanding and scraping attended to, but in the main, she is done. The bridge is still too high and thick, and the nut needs some adjustment, but these are minor details to be finished at the very end of construction.

Being the curious sort, I was eager to hear what she sounds like at this early stage and I was not disappointed. The sound is very BIG, as are the vibrations from the box. The longer she is played, the more she vibrates, especially on the lower strings, which I hope means that the soundpost is in the perfect spot.

The strings are Thomastik Prazision which have a solid steel core, and I quite like them on this fiddle. The pegs have no peg compound or drops, so they are slipping out of tune as I play and I wasn’t able to compensate fast enough, but it is what it is – a Good Enough sample for the purposes of this here blog.

I plan to make recordings at each stage of the finishing – in the white, after the ground coats are on, and after final varnishing just to see how the sound develops. You read about a fiddle in the white being very “open” and “brash” but it really doesn’t mean anything until you hear it for yourself, IMHO.

Soundpost Gauge

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At this late date, the memory of putting the soundpost into the Six Foot Fiddle is a bit vague – I don’t remember it being painful, but it must have been (or I just got very lucky the first time) if setting the soundpost into the Red Fiddle is any indication!How the soundpost went into the SFF without a soundpost gauge is anyone’s guess, but I knew it would not work for the RF after about three hours spent putting it in and discovering the soundpost was too long, removing it, taking some length off, trying again, ad nauseam.

A gauge really is a necessary tool. Oh, sure, you can buy one anywhere on the ‘net, but then you have to wait for it to be shipped and waiting is not easy when all you really want to do is play the darned thing! What’s a builder to do? Make it from materials on hand, of course!

First, gather materials –

A picture for reference (here we see Strobel’s Violin Making) a metal coat hanger salvaged from the dark depths of a closet, heat shrink tubing (a drinking straw would work,) pliers, wire cutters and a flat file.

Using Common Sense and a bit of trial and error, the coat hanger is cut and bent. The ends of wire that will touch the inside of the fiddle are filed smooth and level. The heat shrink tubing is applied (not too tight!) and Bob’s yer uncle!

The finished tool ain’t elegant, but it is functional –

A coat of spray paint some day will make it look sharp and new, but for now it has been used and put away so that the important matters of fiddle building can take over once again – the playing!

Pegs Fitted on the Red Fiddle

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The Red Fiddle has fitted pegs!

Tools needed – peg shaver, metric ruler, pencil, rat tail file and tiny drill bit (I found my tiny drill for about $3.00 at the cash register display of a discount store somewhere years ago.)

I used a Good Enough home-made peg shaver to make the pegs a bit smaller – you don’t want to ream the holes larger if you don’t have to – time will take care of small holes for you wink

The pegs are rough fitted at this point and will be re-fitted after the final varnish coats are dry.

The holes are drilled fairly close to the inside knob edge of the pegbox and the pegs are a bit long at this stage – the pegs should extend 16mm from the pegbox to the bottom of the turning knob – any longer and they might not fit in the fiddle case. The plain ends will be cut off even with the pegbox and gently rounded and polished to make them pretty.

After the holes are drilled, the rat tail file is used to make a little depression over the hole on both sides to make threading the string easier and to relieve any pressure on the string at the peg where it bends.

The saddle has been glued in and all that remains is to put in the sound post, shape the nut and string her up for a little test run. I’ve had some actual paying work this week, but it’s finished now and I may have her strung up tomorrow. Video to follow…

Fiddlin’ on Friday – Mississippi Sawyer

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The internet is a truly wonderful place if you want to learn a tune on the fiddle, jam with others, jam in the comfort of your own home, or get advice on improving your technique.

Over at The Fiddle Hangout there’s a new monthly thread called the Virtual Fiddle Festival where everyone agrees to practice the same tune and post a video or audio file to the site. The tune for March is Mississippi Sawyer. Sheet music can be found at Kitchenmusician.net as well as any Old-Time fiddle book and in the thread linked above.

Here it is as performed by Monmouth, Oregon fiddler Truman Price

The melody is believed to have come from the bloody days of the French Revolution, and was later transported to England where it became known as “Downfall of Paris,” and later still to the US where we know it as “Mississippi Sawyer” reflecting its new geography.

From the Ceolas site:

Ford (1940) relates: “This tune seems to have a strong appeal among old-time fiddlers. The writer has heard it at old fiddlers’ concerts from coast to coast. When played by a fiddler who loses himself in the swing of its rhythm, his listeners may hear the faint tinkle of anvils, the clinking of horseshoes, and the wetting of sickles and scythes and cradles. It is lively and exciting, yet soothing. The authorship is credited to an early sawmill owner, who set up his mill somewhere near the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The first enterprise of its kind so far West, it created widespread interest among a people whose only means of producing building materials had been the ax, maul, wedge and rive, and the broad ax and adz. Always referred to as ‘The Mississippi Sawyer,’ the millwright became a noted character and people congregated daily at his mill from miles around. It was a tradition among a later generation that the celebration following the test run of the mill was the occasion for a picnic that lasted for days. The picnickers came in covered wagons, well supplied with good things to eat, and pitched camp in the woods near the mill. All hands took part in handling the logs and lumber as the work got under way, and tables and a dance platform were speedily built of the first boards from the saw. After the day’s work an open-air banquet was served by the woman, and when it was learned that the sawyer was also a fiddler he was immediately chosen by acclimation to play the opening tune of the dance. Thus came into being ‘The Mississippi Sawyer’, one of the rare old tunes of American fiddle lore.”

The interwebs deny that the song has any lyrics, but there’s a song of the same name that looks right by Dave Tweedie if you like to have words for your tunes.

So come on over to the Fiddle Hangout and upload your version of Mississippi Sawyer. There are already many video and sound files posted by FH members and rumor has it that Lora from Red Desert Fiddle has plans to submit an entry into the virtual fiddle festival…

That Darned Crack!

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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 🙂
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 Red Fiddle Has a Neck!

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I’ve been dithering about this most crucial step because the button was cut quite off center –

I measured, made a template, sketched out where the mortise should be, measured again, made a new template, etc. etc. until I had to step away and give it a break. Today I finally just took a chisel to the darned thing to end the anxiety.

Cutting through the ribs on the cross grain is a bit tricky – the side cuts are made with a small saw, very carefully inside the template lines so the mortise can be made wider if needed. Cutting through the vertical-grained neck block with a sharp chisel is easier –

And that’s where I stopped taking pictures. The mortise is slowly cut deeper and the neck fit into the slot until the parts fit together perfectly with the proper projection of the fingerboard. Here it is clamped up –

Just waiting for the glue to set up and then final shaping of the neck heel and button can begin. Is it perfect? No, but it looks pretty darned good, even if I say it myself.

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