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A new dimension to the Obsession called the Fiddle

Posted by bj on Friday, October 15, 2010

I bought a couple junker fiddles that need a whole lotta work. And now I'm starting to work on them.

This is the one I bought on Ebay for thirty five bucks including shipping awhile back. When I bought it, the strings were made of baling wire, and you can see in the above photo the string around the soundpost. Yes, this one's been a FIDDLE!


The second one is also a German trade fiddle, maybe Mittenwald since it has those droopy corners.

This is the one I bought at the flea market a couple few weeks ago for thirty bucks.

More photos here.

Both need some repair to the tops. The first one has a short saddle crack, the second one has the two piece top separating near the tailpiece block. So I have to file down the saddles and repair that area on both tops.

Both need the ribs near the tailpiece block reformed and reglued to the back, the first much more so, the second just a bit. So that's a major learning curve since moisture and heat will be needed to get the ribs back to the right shape, and molds will need to be made to create that right shape. This is why both tops needed to be removed, since it would be awfully hard to reform this area without doing so, though I suppose on the one that only has a bit of deformity where the too-tight chinrest kicked it out might be able to be fixed that way from the outside by someone who knows a lot more than I  do. The first fiddle has the back totally kicked loose of that tailpiece block, so it needs some reconstruction there, easier to do from inside.

As to what else I  might do to them, that's a huge question. These are ones I'm learning on. The first thing I've learned is that there are unexpected things with these trade fiddles in regards to what you get. For instance, the one with locator pins in both neck and tailpiece blocks, a real neck block and corner blocks in the lower bout, which are all signs of a better quality, has a carved in bass bar and very little sign of graduation to the top, sign of lesser quality. The one with no real neck block nor corner blocks has a real bass bar and a whole lot more indication that the top has actually been graduated. Go figure. It'll be interesting to hear which one ends up sounding better!

Getting these tops off was a learning curve in itself, and I did do a bit of damage to #2 around that tailpiece block. But I now know how, and I doubt it'll take me much more than an hour or two on the next one I do. These two took me DAYS. I wasn't using a high enough temperature on the palette knife when getting the glue loose initially.

HUGE THANKS to my fiddle luthiery mentors for all the help getting this far! Kathryn Freeman from Tennessee, Jane Gilday (aka janepaints here on the hangout) and Stephanie Reiser (aka Mandogryl on the hangout.) I'll also be getting some tips on soundpost setting from Bill MacLeod (aka transplant on the hangout) when Fiddle Hell rolls around in a couple weeks.

Oh, and in further news, I cut my first bridge for my American fiddle. Is it great? No, but it is a HUGE improvement over the warped bridge that was causing all my problems with that fiddle! I'll probably have Bill tweak my amateur effort if I have a few extra bucks when I get up to Hell.

The most important lesson learned to date-- None of this is easy. There is a LOT to it. But I can do it. Yes. I can.

17 comments on “A new dimension to the Obsession called the Fiddle”

Cyndy Says:
Friday, October 15, 2010 @4:59:26 PM

Cool post.

Mandogryl Says:
Friday, October 15, 2010 @6:09:19 PM

Wow, you got the tops off, COOL! Isn't it exciting?
Yes, you can do it, and learning on clunker fiddles is good.
That Magginni I repaired and re-worked really sounds great,
and I can't wait to show it to you,
and your two will sound very good, too.

harwilli55 Says:
Friday, October 15, 2010 @6:40:25 PM

Very impressive bj !! Hopefully, you will continue to post photos as you work through the process and talk about what you are learning. I am always fascinated by anyone whose curoisity knows no bounds and accepts no boundaries. You are definitely becoming the master of your own destiny ;-) You're a good role model for all of us !!

bj Says:
Friday, October 15, 2010 @6:46:49 PM

Harlan, the older I get the more I realize how very little in this world that I am capable of controlling . . .

eerohero Says:
Friday, October 15, 2010 @7:00:12 PM

Amazing creativity/curiosity of Yours gets you anywhere, I go around on live Auctions here in Sweden and finding old fiddles just like yours, also Mandolins, Old Lewin Mandolins, made in Sweden, which are sounding such as good as Gibson, yet the cost is about 50 bucks in general,of course, I need to make some repairs, Im not good at it, not yet !

bj Says:
Friday, October 15, 2010 @7:27:50 PM

Send those fiddles on over here, Eero!

FiddleJammer Says:
Friday, October 15, 2010 @8:19:31 PM

"get _up_ to Hell"


bj Says:
Friday, October 15, 2010 @8:28:39 PM

I'm goin' to Hell and back! LOL!

richdissmore Says:
Saturday, October 16, 2010 @8:21:46 AM

b.j. thats real good your a better fixer then you think the jam is tonight i,ll play what i can i,ll tell you on sunday how the jam went my hat off to you that looks very hard fixing the fiddles very good luck to you take your time fixing and all will come out fine

bj Says:
Saturday, October 16, 2010 @8:29:05 AM

Goal is to get at least one fixed by the time fiddle hell comes around in mid November, so maybe I have a chance of selling one up there. Heck, maybe I'll get 'em both done . . . and I've got another one coming. My friend Terry said he bought a french fiddle for me, but we haven't been able to get together yet for me to get it.

eerohero Says:
Saturday, October 16, 2010 @3:20:22 PM

I might send some of my Auction found fiddles to You,bj,when they come around, theres been very few live auctions lately, Im looking for an old Lewin Mandolin at the moment, these comes around very often in pieces

Lewin is not a pretty Mandolin like Gibson or Kentucky, its drop formed instead, yet the sound reminds me of Church Bells ! As good as on 3000 dollars Gibson.Purchased for 50-60 bucks at the live Auction, sometimes less.

bj Says:
Saturday, October 16, 2010 @3:32:46 PM

Oh, yeah, church bells! I didn't look to see what kind it was, but there was an A model (teardrop shaped) mando on my friend Mike's table at the flea market. I picked it up and started to play it and the sound was JUST LIKE THAT! I betcha it may have been a Lewin. I don't play mando mainly because I find it hard enough to keep 4 strings in tune, but that one sorely tempted me!

Here's the deal, Eero. Send me two and I'll fix one for you and one for me, k?

eerohero Says:
Saturday, October 16, 2010 @3:47:31 PM

Good enough Deal ! I keep my eyes open for Auctions every weekend
Lady Luck will stay with me for some time to come, I know....

bj Says:
Saturday, October 16, 2010 @4:56:32 PM

Break a Leg and find us good'uns!

KCFiddles Says:
Saturday, October 16, 2010 @5:29:59 PM

Looks like you are doing a fine job, but you worry too much!

FWIW, nobody I know uses heat to remove tops since hide glue doesn't melt and your knife isn't close enough to unbroken glue anyway, and removing a top with just a knife usually takes about ten minutes on old violins like that. Generally start with a thin palette knife away from any corners, then switch to a shortened, dulled kitchen knife (ham or roast slicers are great!) as soon as you can. Watch the seam carefully, and if the wood starts to split, use the thin knife to start ahead and break the joint back to your main knife. You need a pretty long blade for the neck block, and it helps sometimes to look through the end pin hole to make sure you are not digging into the top.

You can control splitting quite a bit by how you angle the knife.

I had to open one of our instruments recently, glued with our homemade fish glue and only a few years old. It was like epoxy! Dribbling a little alcohol along the top side of a knife into the joint made the glue let go almost immediately. Try putting some alcohol on a blob of dried glue to see what happens. If you are just a little bit careful, the alcohol goes straight into the joint and never touches the varnish.

Just soak the slivers off with wet cloth or paper towel and glue them back where they came from.

bj Says:
Saturday, October 16, 2010 @5:38:09 PM

Michael, I respect your knowledge, but that #2 fiddle wasn't budging with a cold knife and barely budged with a hot one. That top was ON there, and didn't wanna budge. The other one was easy EXCEPT for the neck block. Also, multiple other luthiers whose knowledge I respect use heat routinely. It worked.

Tennessee Tom Says:
Saturday, October 23, 2010 @6:28:35 AM

Great to see you embarking on fixin'-up these fixer-uppers! Look fwd to seeing the progress and the results of your TLC on these instruments.

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