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A Trip to the Violin Shop, and Another Bout of Fiddle Tweaking

Posted by fiddlepogo on Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The new local luthier, Graham Wickham, had let me have two wood chin rests on trial, and I had paid him a deposit... but instead of deciding on one or the other, I decided I wanted both of them... so I owed him some more money than expected, and went to his shop to pay him.

Once that was out of the way, I asked if I could try some of his fiddles for sale, and he said "Sure!"

I wanted to get a better idea of his work and results than just what he did putting a bridge and soundpost on "Stinky"... I wanted to hear instruments that had gotten his full treatment.

What he has in the shop are mostly German fiddles, many of them medium quality "trade" fiddles.

He's aiming at offering good quality student instruments, and appealing instruments for fiddlers at a reasonable price, and I think he's succeeding.

Overall, I liked them pretty well- all were pleasant sounding, and a couple even seemed inspiring!!!

The better ones had bite and clarity and fullness all at the same time.  Granted, he's not the maker, but he managed to put them back together and make them sound GOOD!  Unfortunately I can't afford any right now... but who knows???

At least now I can recommend his work with confidence.

One of the ones I liked best is apparently one a local violin teacher liked too... so my taste in fiddles may be evolving to what could actually be considered good taste!!!  Another thing I noticed was that the fact that Graham's fiddles were all strung with synthetics didn't bother me like that used to- it seems I've acquired a lighter touch with the bow.

I had the Eastman with me, and to my surprise, the Eastman stood up pretty well against some of Graham's wares- not in the clarity department, though.  He says it needs a soundpost adjustment, which unfortunately I'm gonna have to wait on, since I overspent on chin rests!!!  (They were really pretty reasonable, but  money is tight)

Tweaking:

It may have been yesterday or Saturday night that I experimented on Stinky by gently using the light side of an emery board to remove much of the rather scarred varnish on Stinky's neck.  And I liked the results- more depth to the sound and more detail.  So I got some synthetic steel wool in a fine grade.  When I got home, I cleaned up the work I had done on Stinky.

I didn't do the whole neck though... I just did the part that was scarred, and just thinned it towards the body.

One of the things it did was make Stinky louder- I was surprised that Booker was now the softer of the two, but that wasn't going to last long- I thinned the finish on Booker's neck, too.  Somehow I wasn't ready to strip it down to wood, but I got it nice and smooth.  And it got LOUDER again.  Maybe I should have left well enough alone- it was nice to have a quieter fiddle for a change!  But having tried some older, more responsive fiddles with a bigger voice, I guess I'm trying to get that kind of character out of mine now.  Unfortunately, "leaving well enough alone" doesn't seem to be an option... I think I've got a full-blown case of Chronic Fiddle Tweaking Syndrome!!!!

UPDATE:

I couldn't resist... I HAD to see what Booker would sound like with the neck finish stripped off, even though in some ways it was playing very well- it sounded and played well at home, but at a gig, it sounded a bit harsh... of course, it could have been the rainy weather affecting it too. 

So I took most of the finish off Booker's neck last night- and at first I scared myself with how different it sounded- it's NOT a trivial change at all!!! The E string still sounded clear, and that was a relief, since that's the reason I bought Booker in the first place.  But the other strings sounded a bit "woolly" - kind of warm, but not very focused, and that DOESN'T suit my fiddling style.  But then I noticed that there were little strips of finish left under the edges of the fingerboard, and when I got those with the fine side of an emery board, the sound came more into focus.

This morning I really enjoyed fiddling with Booker's new personality- it's a much meatier sound, and while it has bite, that bite isn't all concentrated in the high end.  It still feels kind of tight though.  That could mean the new sound needs playing in, or it could just mean I haven't finished the job- the clear spot on the neck is nowhere near as long as it should be.  I took another inch off of Stinky's finish, and the sound got bigger, so I'm thinking the same thing on Booker will be good- I hope!!!-

(an hour later)

Not as much of a change as I'd hoped- I could have left well enough alone, but I don't know how to DO that!

And actually, the sound has moved back a bit towards Bookers OLD sound!!!

But at least Booker's neck looks a bit more normal now, instead of looking sort of like a tricolor flag!



7 comments on “A Trip to the Violin Shop, and Another Bout of Fiddle Tweaking”

BC Says:
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 @5:49:31 AM

Others may say "Step away from the fiddle", but I must say you have been quite an inspiration to me. I've tried some of your "tweaking tricks" on my $40 vso and I have to admit right now it sounds soooo....................DIFFERENT! Actually it sounds pretty good for a $40 vso (pos). Thanks MIchael!

fiddlepogo Says:
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 @11:29:43 AM

BC-

I think that's the key.... the cheaper and or funkier the fiddle, the greater the freedom to tweak it-
it's very much like my electric guitar tweaking- none of my Strats and stratoids are USA made Fenders, so they don't have a lot of inherent resale value to lose by not being "original". And I enjoy pulling good tone(s) out of something that at first sight is more likely to get smirks than respect.
I wonder if my attitude on this wasn't shaped by hearing "The Little Nash Rambler" when I was about 8 years old.

richdissmore Says:
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 @11:49:06 AM

beep beep how do i get out of first gear this is from the town the cars were made kenosha wis.

fiddlepogo Says:
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 @12:35:18 PM

LOL!!!

mudbug Says:
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 @1:25:37 PM

I was the culprit who said "step away from the fiddle", but I was just "tweaking" Michael. I realise he enjoys his experiments, and obviosly BC, he's inspired you to experiment yourself. He's enjoying himself, and I'm guessing if he wasn't tweaking his fiddles, it would be "fiddling" around with something else. It's guy's like this who invent lighbulbs and other useful things. They say that Leo Fender tinkered at his workbench till the day he died. My hat's off to you, Pogo!

BC Says:
Thursday, May 26, 2011 @5:29:14 AM

Mud- You're the "culprit "? LOL That was one of the best one-liners I've read here. Now I have 2 inspirations!

Pogo- I'm trying your neck tweak now- very slow. It's amazing how THICK that lacquer is. Tweaking my vso does keep my hands off my "good" fiddle. But I think it's safe to say after trying some of your tricks, my vso sounds as good as fiddles costing twice as much. LOL again.

fiddlepogo Says:
Thursday, May 26, 2011 @1:28:02 PM

I'm using a 3M Paint and Varnish Stripping Pad, part #7413NA, and I think the #1 in the lower left hand corner refers to the coarseness. I cut it in strips around 3/4 of an inch or so (and the length is the 4 3/8 width of the pad, and run it over the neck in sections like my dad taught me to run a shoe shine cloth over the shoe- back and forth sideways. It gets most of the varnish in the section off pretty quick, then I use the ends that I was holding to get the remnants.

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