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Old Fiddle vs New Fiddle

Posted by bj on Friday, September 26, 2008

I guess I've been thinking about this a lot lately since going to jams. I know there are some great new fiddles out there somewhere. But I have to admit I've yet to hear one, and I've definitely never played one.

Now, I also freely admit my prejudice. I've been a yankee trader and antique dealer since I was a young adult, and I've always cherished things that show their age, whether in the wear from the oft repeated touch of a hand or in the mellowness and fine grain of old aged wood and hand craftsmanship.

So I've gone to some fairly large events lately. And just about the only people you see carrying around newer fiddles are the kids. It seems that anyone who has been playing for years is playing a fiddle much older than they are. At least where fiddles are concerned, I'm not the only one who has this particular prejudice towards old and venerable (or sometimes old and full of umm . . . character!)

And why is this? It's all about the music. Old fiddles sound so very fine!

I've also got to wonder, when older fiddles are available for well under what good new craftsman-made fiddles sell for, why anyone would be looking at a new one. Is it some sort of prestige thing? The ability to show off how fat your wallet is? Or what? If it's either of those things, it's amazing the person took up fiddling to begin with, since fiddling is the original poor man's music. I hope it stays that way. It's much more honest than the alternative.

I guess in our society today, some people might believe that constant racket you hear from TV and radio and the Web that new is always better. But where fiddles are concerned it just isn't so, at least not in my admittedly limited experience.

Maybe someday someone will prove me wrong. And maybe someday a brand new fiddle will be enshrined in the Smithsonian.

16 comments on “Old Fiddle vs New Fiddle”

Kiva Rose Says:
Friday, September 26, 2008 @8:41:12 PM

LOL... while I love my shiny new fiddle to bits, I think I'll love it a lot more when I've put some wear on it and opened it up a good bit. An old fiddle is in my future though :) Ironically enough, I ended up with a new fiddle specifically because I (thought) I couldn't afford an old one. And price wise, it still seems to difficult to find an old one that compares in sound to my new one (although it seems as if your stockdale probably fits this criteria). At the $500 range though, I certainly would have gone for an older one.

Superdave sent me a sound file for the MOST lovely old german strad copy today in that price range.... I wonder if I could sell an organ for $500? I think fiddle collecting might be a disease for which there is no herbal cure. :D

btw, I sent your herbs off today via priority mail. Rattles still to come, because contrary to popular opinion, mice really do kinda like snake rattles, and they particularly like to rearrange them from their spot (bad mice) so ahem, I have to track down some more.

email coming tomorrow.

bj Says:
Friday, September 26, 2008 @8:59:56 PM

Oh dear! And the whole point to putting rattles in the fiddle is to scare the mice off! Well that and spider web busting and dust collection, though mine never sit still long enough to accumulate either. Is this rodent repellant idea just another old wives tale? I don't care, I think the idea of the rattles is a fun one, especially since every now and again you see one come up on ebay with the rattles still inside.

I hear healthy blood is bringing good dough these days, LOL! And yes, fiddles are definitely an addiction. I'm going to be back up to four of them on Tuesday.

If you love the sound of your shiny new one, then there's nothing wrong with it. But us fiddlers really do NEED at least two fiddles. What if your fiddle has to go in the shop? Dave sent me photos of his humongous fiddle pile. If he can't find you something you'll be happy with I will eat my very wide brimmed straw hat.

Rene Says:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 @4:30:03 AM

Interesting that you brought this topic up. I bought a mid range new fiddle that I really like. I have another fiddle but I like the new one and several musicians have told me it has good sound. The notes on the e string are always a little sharp sounded however. Last night (having said nothing about your post) my husband said " You playing has reached a level that it's time you look for a really good old fiddle" I asked why he thought that and he replied "Your E string is really harsh and the double stops don't sound as good on it, and its not in your playing because the high notes are always sharp"
So there you have it. Guess I'll start looking.

bj Says:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 @4:46:54 AM

I'll be interested to hear what you think after you've found the right old fiddle, Rene! There really is something about them that is magic . . . it's as if the music from the past lingers in the instrument and helps you sound better when you play your own-- and both my current old darlings are fiddles, for sure! Though every now and again a waltz comes floating out of the little french fiddle, so I suspect she has some classical playing in her past as well.

Rene Says:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 @6:23:12 AM

I suppose I will start keeping my eyes open, I'm sure the right one will wonder into my life sooner or later.

bj Says:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 @6:56:56 AM

You would be helping SuperDave out to see what he has. He's helping the family clean out the estate of one of his very good friends. He has so many fiddles to sell it boggles the mind. I'm sure there's something there you'd like, and he's fair to deal with.

brya31 Says:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 @7:43:44 AM

I wish I had bought an old fiddle rather than the Pretty Chinese fiddle that I own : ( I love the character of the old fiddles

bj Says:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 @8:00:44 AM

Maybe your family will recognize the hard work you're putting into your fiddling, and Santa will be kind this year. :-)

Rene Says:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 @8:26:56 AM

I do like my chinese fiddle, but it was probably a fluke. Isn't it great when the spouse says you need a different fiddle.

bj Says:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 @8:33:35 AM

I'm happy for you that you have a spouse who is so supportive of your fiddling! I know that's not always the case.

fiddlepogo Says:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 @11:41:26 AM

I used to have an old fiddle.
I sold it to a friend. Made the friend happy.

Now I have two relatively new fiddles.
One I bought new. (not very expensive)
I like the fact that:
they are relatively replaceable.
I'm pretty sure I could find a similar fiddle easily enough.
Neither required any repair work except sound post adjustments.
I don't worry about them as much at jams and busking.
And since I bought one new, and one had likely just one owner,
a violin student in Tennessee, I know their history doesn't include
theft, or the murder of it's owner in the holocaust, the death of it's owner
in one of the World Wars, or in any of the sectarian violence that's plagued the British Isles. A fiddle having a history includes the possibility of having a SAD history.

All that being said if I tried an old fiddle and I had the money and it helped me play better...

But I've tried a couple of older fiddles lately that LOOKED like they should sound better than mine, but they sure didn't!

Wherever I get such a fiddle, it had better have steel core strings on it.
The day I bought my current fiddle, a fiddle teacher tried to sell me a fiddle.
It had Dominants or something on it, and I hate the feel of those strings so much that it prejudices me against whatever fiddle I'm playing that has them,
and I have no way of knowing what such a fiddle would sound like with steel strings.

bj Says:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 @11:49:04 AM

LOL! I have the exact same prejudice against Dominants!

azfiddle Says:
Monday, September 29, 2008 @4:09:04 PM

I have a fiddle that will turn 100 in 2 years... and another one that is a one year old baby. I have been playing the new one almost exclusively since I bought it a year and a half ago. It is set up perfectly, It is a special find- came in the white from overseas, and was set up and finished in a workshop in Utah. It's clear and loud and nicely balanced across the range (except I wish it was a teeny bit more robust on the G string. I have picked up the old one on seeral occasions, and my reaction is always like this- "Oh, I forgot how nice and rich this one sounds" and then about 5 minutes of playing later..."this fiddle has a much more muddy sound than the new one, and I forgot about the little things that need fixing up".... All in all, I'm sticking with the new one for now, and hoping that the mellowness wand resonance will develop over time.

bj Says:
Monday, September 29, 2008 @4:43:48 PM

azfiddle, now this is MY opinion, mind you, and you're welcome to tell me to stick it somewhere else (but this is, after all, my blogpost *grin*) but I think you should have your old fiddle fixed up, and maybe experiment with some different sorts of strings on it. Maybe it won't become your main player. But maybe it will. If it doesn't, I still suspect you will pick it up more often when it's been given the TLC you say it could use. And if you decide you still don't like its tone, you should maybe talk to Kiva Rose about giving it a good home . . . Yes, this is bj in fiddle matchmaker mode!

azfiddle Says:
Monday, September 29, 2008 @5:55:13 PM

bj- you're welcome to that opinion, and in a perfect world, I'd go for something with a little more history. Here's the whole story. I've had that old French fiddle now for about 11 years. It has served me well, but isn't perfect. When I came to the conclusion that it wasn't "enough" fiddle for my needs (besides enjoying playing at home, I lead a weekly session and play in band so clarity of tone and volume are important. I tried over 50 instruments before buying this one. A lot of them were older instruments, a few were new. I was biased against the new ones, but there was only one of the older instruments that came close to this one. I also have some repetitive stress problems and it's important to have an instrument with no set-up issues. I haven't parted with the old one, but it isn't the best choice for me right now......

bj Says:
Monday, September 29, 2008 @6:20:06 PM

Oh dear. I know about repetitive stress. Besides wanting to learn to fiddle, which was the main reason I took it up, one of the side reasons that made me start fiddling NOW was that it's a way to give my left hand a workout in a different way from what it gets when I work on the computer all dang day, so that I'd be avoiding some of the repetitive stress. I certainly do understand, from an up close and personal POV. And I wish for all of you that you find the old fiddles that give you what you all need! That's me, the old fiddle junkie talking, and wanting to addict everyone else . . . and azfiddle, I am happy you found one that works for you (even if it is newer!)

Have you tried acupuncture for your rep. stress? it does help me. I do an acupuncture session around once every six months or so. You might need a bit more if it's really kicking in. I manage to keep mine more or less at bay this way and with the new exercise it's getting away from keyboard and mouse.

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