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French Fiddle Lust

Posted by bj on Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rick, one of our regular jammers at the Phillipsburg OT Jam, is a really fun fiddler, and I love the way he sounds when he plays. I love it when he comes, which isn't all the time since it's a distance for him. We got to play up at Lake Genero and down at the Howell Farms Fiddle Contest as well.

The last few times we've seen each other, towards the end of the jam, or when there was a lull in the action, he's asked if he could try my fiddle. This has happened three or four times now, and each time it was my little French D. Salzard fiddle, the one made in Mirecourt probably around 130-150 years ago. I've got photos of this fiddle in my photo album.

Rick's not thrilled with the ultra flat bridge (if truth be told, I wish it wasn't quite so flat myself) but something about this fiddle fascinates him. I suspect it's the difference in how it sounds under the ear. I tried his fiddle, and though it sounds wonderful when he's playing it, under my ear isn't as nice. It's somewhat bright and metallic sounding.

My french fiddle is incredible that way, it sounds wonderful right under the ear, very mellow and smooth, while also projecting and resonating nicely. It's a strongly voiced fiddle, and paradoxically, it is both mellow and edgy at the same time, but with none of that metallic sound. The bass is very strong and has a nice growl. This one isn't hugely dark, but it's shaded slightly more that way than towards bright. And this fiddle seems to love being really played hard, though it doesn't need to be to make sound, it will take a feather touch nicely as well. I've tried a bunch of other fiddles, and only two I've tried sound as good under my ear. One (though in a much more violinny way) is Paul Riffon's Italian fiddle. The other is my german fiddle, though that one is shaded much darker. And my American fiddle, though not as good overall, is also good sounding under my ear. But in truth, few really compare to my little french fiddle. I have a feeling it'll be the rare fiddle that ever supplants this one in my fiddle stable.

I think it's possible Rick's realized that, since he keeps coming back to my fiddle to try it. And, in my humble estimation, I think it's time for him to do some fiddle shopping. Geez, I had a Salzard in my hands the other day, when Jose' was playing show and tell down at the market. Though it wasn't set up, and needed some attention, and had old nasty dead strings on it, I could tell it would be a good sounding fiddle when done. Jose' also had a superb American fiddle that was maybe even nicer than his Salzard, and a nice german fiddle. And that was just what he had with him. I know he's got hundreds of fiddles, many of which are french fiddles. Maybe Rick and I should take a trip to visit Jose'. The way Rick plays he really deserves to have something as wonderful under his ear as I do.

And I have to admit that getting my two friends together would be a lot of fun.

8 comments on “French Fiddle Lust”

mudbug Says:
Thursday, September 24, 2009 @8:48:45 AM

"Hundreds of fiddles" ?.......... far is that from Maine?

bj Says:
Thursday, September 24, 2009 @9:16:59 AM

Jose' lives, I believe, in the Philadelphia suburbs. So it's an easy weekend trip. :-) It's even possible that Jose's fiddle collection is in the 4 figures. Yes, fiddle heaven. He's also a character and a half, a lot of fun to spend time around.

Swing Says:
Thursday, September 24, 2009 @2:07:33 PM

Most of us have a multitude of fiddles.... I am not sure that I'd call it a collection. Mudbug, I have two for sale here in Maine.

BJ a great story, thanks....

Play Happy

chippyvan Says:
Thursday, September 24, 2009 @3:17:57 PM

Well, you are right, You can never have enough fiddles.

I have 5, but only two good ones that t I like playing and switch between on a regular basis. I like each one for different reasons. The one I had at the Jam is my loud and bright fiddle. It definitely cuts through and makes it easier to hear in big jams. It does get piercing at times and I would not consider it a warm or dark sound at all. It does do a little better with nylon strings.
My other fiddle is much closer in sound to what BJ's fiddle sounds like but I feel gets lost at times in loud jams. I wish I could have one fiddle that was somewhere in between the two.

I also think that there is some audio psychoacoustic brain action going on in that I end up liking whatever fiddle I have been playing for a while and when I switch to the other, it doesn't sound so good, but then magically after a day or so, it gets better.

So where is this Jose guy anyway...


bj Says:
Thursday, September 24, 2009 @4:21:35 PM

Jose lives next door to Rafe Stefanini. Somewhere outside Philly . . .

bj Says:
Thursday, September 24, 2009 @4:26:49 PM

Question, Rick-- can you hear my french fiddle when I'm playing it and you're sitting across the room? I think it cuts through the noise without being bright. I can certainly hear it, and when Terri and I switched while jamming, I could hear it just fine when it wasn't under my ear. Though I think bright fiddles are often loud, I don't think a fiddle has to be bright to be loud.

chippyvan Says:
Thursday, September 24, 2009 @8:06:12 PM

Yup, I didn't have any trouble hearing you at the last jam. Although we were the only two fiddles playing at normal volume. I usually can hear you even when we have David and others playing along, so I wouldn't say yours does not cut through by any means. It is definitely a good sounding fiddle, and maybe could be even better with a normal bridge ;-)

I agree that bright and loud don't necessarily go together, in fact I think that you can make a very loud fiddle but with a restricted high frequency range. I have heard some that Rafe has re-done that fall into that category.

bj Says:
Friday, September 25, 2009 @6:20:52 AM

Lucky you, you can hear all my mistakes even when the room is full!

Re fiddles that Rafe has redone, I have a feeling I know where he's buying his "before" fiddles. :-) Funny and true story-- When Jose told me who his neighbor is, he asked me if I'd heard of the guy, and said Rafe's supposed to be a fiddler of some note and asked me if that was true. LOL!

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