About a year ago I purchased this fiddle from an antiques dealer who'd been trying to unload it in a shop, but couldn't since the neck had separated and it was in two pieces. I had the neck set and reglued, but still had the problem of what to do with the finish... or lack of one, in this case. I have never been able to figure out if the violin had ever been finished. It appeared to have spent a number of years unfinished, as the surface was well-polished by hands and handling. It's possible the maker never completed it, but I have no way of knowing that with any certainty.
If I'd had no intention of ever playing it, I would have left it as it was, but I wanted to hear it. Someone went to all the problem of building it, and I wanted to see that it was played. The construction wasn't great, and parts, such as the scroll, look unfinished, but it was a very cool old American folk instrument and I wanted to get it back into circulation, so to speak.
I asked advice about the finish here on Fiddle Hangout and got a lot of responses. Virtually every builder or luthier who responded said to refinish it, so I went ahead with the project after doing a lot of research. Even after sanding it, much of the dirt and stain remained, but I think it looks great on the finished fiddle, as I didn't want it to look like a brand-new finish.
I've always liked the reddish, nut-brown finishes I've seen on lots of old American fiddles, so I decided to keep it true to its roots. I asked a lot of advice from a friend in Indiana, PA, who's a luthier, and he walked me through the process to ensure I didn't so anything that might dampen the sound.
It's now done, and the results look spectacular to me, considering what it looked like before (just dirty wood, polished by years of hand oils). I love the big, wide grain on the red spruce top. But even better is the sound, which continues to improve by the week as I play it and the finish continues to cure.
This is a very thin fiddle, with a one-piece back, and it has booming G and D strings, with rich, dark tones and lots of volume. It's also crystal-clear on the high end, with excellent sustain on the E, and only falling off a bit on the A.
I love it when a plan comes together. Thanks to all who provided advice earlier.
This is how it looked when I first purchased it.