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 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!


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.

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!

Fiddlin’ on Friday – Golden Slippers


This week’s tune is called Oh, Dem Golden Slippers, an American folk song written by James A. Bland in 1879, some say as a parody of the spiritual Golden Slippers made popular by The Fisk University Jubilee Singers after the civil war. Here’s the original –

Doesn’t sound much like a fiddle tune, does it? Bland composed new lyrics and his version became more popular than the original and is now known as Golden Slippers at any old-time or bluegrass jam. Here it’s played bluegrass style, with each instrument playing the lead, or “taking a break” in turn –

And here it is with Bland’s lyrics –

Bland’s original sheet music can be found at the Library of Congress website, along with a huge collection of American music – do browse the archives!

Golden Slippers also happens to be the first song of Red Desert Fiddle’s Fabulous Fiddle Fundamentals lesson course. Lora teaches many ways to embellish this song as well as ways to play backup and ideas about improvising and change ups. It’s a lot to digest for a first fiddle lesson, and this tune won’t be played at a fiddle contest by me, but I’ve decided to make a little video just to prove that I do indeed scrape away on a fiddle on occasion. As played (imperfectly) on the Six Foot Fiddle

And again (imperfectly) on Brandon’s Amati copy

Which fiddle sounds better on your speakers?

Put it down – it’s not yours!


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…

Cape Breton Fiddles


Today’s post is an excellent example of how a simple, “hey, did you see the movie about fiddles on Land and Sea?” can lead to hours of interesting web browsing and new treasures for the Free Music Sources page.

Cape Breton fiddling is a regional style of fiddling that falls within the Celtic music idiom. Natalie MacMaster, Dougie MacDonald, and Jerry Holland are just a few notable Cape Breton style fiddlers. This post is not about the Cape Breton genre, though, so let’s get back to the original subject, shall we?*

Cape Breton Fiddles is a short movie on CBC’s Land and Sea, a Canadian TV channel –

For more than thirty years Land and Sea has brought you stories from people who live off the land and the sea. We cover issues that affect people in rural communities which ultimately affect those in cities as well.
We bring you stories from those who celebrate life living close to nature, who promote and protect their culture and traditional ways of doing things. There are stories of success and sometime failures that portray the unique way Atlantic Canadians deal with the challenges and pleasures of living on the east coast.

The episode linked above features Otis Thomas, a luthier and long-time resident of Cape Breton. 17 years ago Otis cut down a sugar maple tree on the hill across the road from his house. That tree became known as the Fiddletree and is the subject of his book of the same name. Of that great tree Otis says:

I debated within myself well over a year before bringing myself to claim this majestic giant. I knew that with its richly figured grain, fiddles and ‘cellos could sing with the unique character of these woods I knew so well. I only hoped that I could do justice to the immensity of the act of cutting it down; that somehow the voice that it would gain in our company would balance the loss to the community on the hillside across the road.

A CD with 70 minutes of original music composed by Otis accompanies the book. If you’re not interested in waiting on the post, there’s an  instant download option.

Also featured in the film is Paul Cranford, fiddle player and collector of fiddle tunes. His website, Cranford Publications, is a wealth of information about the fiddlers and tunes of Cape Breton.

As if that weren’t enough, David Papazian, fiddler and luthier, is also featured.

Cape Breton Fiddles is well worth watching – music, fiddles, interesting people and lovely scenery. Grab a cuppa and prepare to be entertained!

* Once one begins to explore the specific genres, artists and music associated with them, it becomes almost impossible to stop – the internet has made so much information available and I want it all! Or is that just me?

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…

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