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Knee Deep in Fiddles!

Posted by bj on Friday, June 26, 2009

My mystery box full of fiddles arrived today. Three 4/4 fiddles, one marked Jackson Guldan, and the other two marked "Guldan" inside. One 3/4 fiddle that is a sweetie, looks to be german (or czech maybe) but has no markings I can find. All date from around or before 1930, I think.

Two of the three JG fiddles are earlier better ones, strongly resembling german trade fiddles I've seen, and with really stunning wood on the back and sides. According to one of the posters in the thread I linked to, they could very well have been made in Germany.

One of those two older JGs I threw a wittner tailpiece on and a set of strings, and I've been playing it for the last couple hours. All I can say is WOW. This was a real surprise. The more it opens up, the more I like it, and right now the bridge is a bit rough and shows the beginning of warpage. I can only imagine how it'll sound with a good bridge cut for it. The upper strings can use just a bit of "debrightening" but overall the tone is great, with a nice growly bass, and it's very loud and resonant, a really great jam fiddle, I think. I'll find out tomorrow. The soundpost was upright when I got it, and I didn't do anything to change the position, so I'm sure it could use a bit of tweaking. Amazingly, the pegs seem to be just fine, and turn very easily. I can actually tune via the pegs to a pretty fine degree, without using the finetuners. They're better than the pegs on my keepers! If someone wanted to fuss, I think the fingerboard could use some attention, but it doesn't seem to affect the way it plays at this point. And it plays pretty easily. I'm very pleased.

These older JGs both have great tiger maple, real purfling, and overall look pretty damn good, much like the marked german trade fiddles of the same timeframe. Both have necks that are really close to where they're supposed to be angle wise. The only thing I'm not crazy about is the varnish, but I do understand these were built to be used in schools and durability was the order of the day. From that POV, the finish was pretty successful. Yes, there's some scuffs and scratching, but considering the age, these fiddles are in really good shape.

I'll try to get a few pics posted tomorrow. I'm taking the strung up fiddle to an all day jam and giving it a good breaking in. I don't plan on keeping this one, but I may enjoy it for a couple months before I let it go. Though I am getting the feeling that it might eventually be tough to let this one go. We'll see.

The other older JG is nearly identical to this one, but has an open crack in the treble side upper bout near the outside edge that needs repair. This one also is the only one with funky looking pegs, though they seem to function fine.

Both of these older fiddles have "US" on the cases and stencilled marks on the backs of the fiddles. The one I have strung up has "USVA" on the back. Some sort of military orchestra, or an early version of the USO? The thread I linked to, one of the posters also had a JG with a similarly marked case.

The third JG is one of those with the decal on the back that says "First National Institute of Allied Arts". The back is a very nice tiger maple, but this one has inked on purfling, unlike the others, and I suspect this later one is the pressed/steamed wood type, though the back looks better than that. This one needs very little to be made playable. I have to order another wittner tailpiece. The bridge looks passable-- we'll see. Again, this one has the soundpost intact and upright, and pegs that turn smoothly with very little effort. Amazing. It'll be interesting to see how this one sounds, once I can string it up.

But the cutest one is the 3/4 fiddle, which has decently done purfling with great beestings, a nice scroll, and is a blonde shaded to red translucent finish on some really stunning highly and finely figured tiger maple. This one is the only one that had the soundpost rattling around inside. It's also the only one that came with no bridge. That seems to be all it needs, though, other than a wittner tailpiece. Again, the pegs are a wonder, and turn nicely.

All four came in what appear to be their original cases. I also got two bows. One had (barely) enough hair on it for me to try it out. Boy did I get lucky with this lot! This bow just might be a keeper. It's a generic brazilwood, but it really pulls the tone! Worth getting it rehaired for sure. The other bow is also of some indeterminate wood, but currently has no hair, so it's hard to judge what it might eventually be like.

It was obvious to me that these fiddles were cared for and had regular maintenance by a luthier during the time they were actively played, and they show signs of being played a lot. According to the seller, they've been shut away in a closet since the early 1960's. I'm glad I'm the one introducing them back into the hands of people who will love them and play them . . .

I'll be posting these in the classifieds as I get them done. Well, maybe all four, but at LEAST three of them!  :-)

8 comments on “Knee Deep in Fiddles!”

mudbug Says:
Saturday, June 27, 2009 @5:57:04 AM

Nice BJ. Kinda like Christmas morning.

bj Says:
Saturday, June 27, 2009 @6:45:13 AM

Oh yes. While waiting to receive shipment, I was whining and moaning to myself and wondering if I'd done something foolish in buying these, given how impulsive it was, and how little information I was going on in making the decision. Now I think the Fiddle Fairy was whispering in my ear . . . these are definitely worth saving.

mudbug Says:
Saturday, June 27, 2009 @6:59:08 AM

Just watch out for when that fiddle fairy turns nasty. It's like a Stephen King novel!

kubasa Says:
Saturday, June 27, 2009 @7:18:57 PM

BJ, where in the world did you find this deal at?

bj Says:
Saturday, June 27, 2009 @7:47:46 PM

It dropped into my email box one morning. :-)

bj Says:
Sunday, June 28, 2009 @11:53:56 AM

Took this set up JG to the all day Bluegrass jam yesterday. It got a good workout. It was also tried by three other fiddlers, all of whom said I should consider keeping it. Jury's still out on my end. Bass is nice and growly, and the volume overall is pretty good, it holds its own at a large jam, and it does have a really good Oldtime sound. The treble is a bit weak, but then it never had the soundpost tweaked, so . . . maybe that will get better once it's done. I did put a different bridge on it when I got home, and that did help bring up the treble some, gave it a bit of clarity and more resonance, but I still prefer my other fiddles on the high notes. I really like the Bass end on this box though, almost as much as my little French fiddle, and more than the American fiddle.

And with the humidity yesterday, the pegs are no longer as easy to turn as they were, though they're STILL better than my regular players! I do think we set some kind of record for how many people could play under a 10 x 10 canopy during a drenching downpour!

ironbearmarine Says:
Thursday, July 2, 2009 @9:38:01 PM

Those Jackson Guldans are really great intermediate student violins for the classical stuff. very easy to play. I have found that if you fool around with strings and a couple of different bridges cut AND match it to a bow or even two bows. You can have a really good fiddle outfit for very little investment. For playing on a crowded small stage or in a crowded 10x10 canopy I find that if the fiddlers choke up a bit on their bows, we can squeeze a couple more in and no one loses an eye.

bj Says:
Thursday, July 9, 2009 @2:39:12 PM

Dee (aka FiddleCat) got to play it last Saturday, and she loves going up the neck. Said this JG was nice to play that way. Still just a bit nasally, but that could be needing more play in time. I did leave it with her so it can go to get a soundpost and bridge done right. I'm not an expert, and I'm feeling it needed the right touch that way prior to me taking the next step- deciding whether to keep it or sell it. Meanwhile I've got three more to make playable . . .

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