Tools and technique evolve to form a personal style.
2017 Appalachian – AVC version. 17.08.04 “Deep Fryed”
In addition to benchmaking violins and fiddles, I have building up violins from the white for over two decades. My Appalachian, Kentucky, Cumberland, and other models built up from white violins have received a decent amount of acclaim and are played by many fine fiddlers and very skilled amateur violinists. I take great care and pride in what I do. This is all my work. I have no room full of assistants doing this and that. It’s all my handwork.
“Deep Fryed” is a leftover from my Tennessee shop, and a very nice one at that. The fiddle was experimental to some extent, with graduations influenced by the work of Jack Fry, a physicist. His post-assembly work is interesting, some of it influencing my work, but mostly overshadowed by other approaches. In contrast, his graduation experiments and thinking are quite influential in what I do. His graduation numbers are quite heavily drawn. Very thin spots and pronounced ridges aren’t necessary, but the principle of freeing up the bar at the ends, relieving some overly strong points, and leaving extra mass in a few spots works nicely.
Overall, a pleasant, suitably powerful, forgiving, and well-balanced fiddle. A somewhat earthy bottom end moves into increasing luminosity, with the E string having a translucent power that really makes A E double stops cut through. There’s still a good deal of sweetness in the tone, which can be brought out by careful bowing near the fingerboard. Down by the bridge lurks a nice cutting grit, but without getting too edgy or grating. A larger man could crank this all night at a jam or dance without any trouble being heard or getting tired. Looks quite spectacular, too, likely not for the shy one in the back. This one wants to be played with confidence by someone who wants to be heard. However, it’s not overly aggressive, and will step back and blend when desired, without any particular work on the player’s part. I would not consider this a beginner’s instrument.
Feels fairly big to handle, would fit a man’s hands best, substantial, easy to get a grip on.
Bow comfortably and reliably draws an easily controlled sound. No skating or skipping. Very steady. No tracking issues. A bit of a softer attack; not explosively articulate. Forgiving. Double stops lie comfortably.
Tone can be sweet and singing, but really centers on the slightly metallic, a little edgy, with a touch of a nasal edge, will cut through other instruments when asked, all under that earthy to luminous range across the strings, which doesn’t overwhelm its excellent balance across the strings. Consistent and even up the strings, too.
About average on playing legato. Takes strong playing well, low distortion, hard to break it up, even playing next to the bridge.
Dynamic ranges isn’t bad, but more of a crank it out at mid to pretty loud volume. Clearly likes being a fiddle. Comparing to a typical good violin of several thousand dollars price, benchmade.
Easy to intonate, gives good feel to the left hand and into the body, not exceptional, but unusual at its price point.
• Guarneri pattern
• Open grain top, with interesting undulations on the bass side
• Two-piece nicely figured back
• Very well figured neck, with bold, masculine scroll
• Thin black, wide white purfling, rather bold in appearance
• Fairly soft, high-mastic varnish, amber red-orange over a yellow ground, high pigment, some texture and shading, varnish made in my shop
• Ebony board and fittings, except Wittner fine-tuner tailpiece, chinrest has some differential shrinkage undulations in the ebony, which pleases me and seems to give excellent grip.
• Despiau bridge
• Prim strings
Final thicknessing and voicing of instruments from overseas in the US began in the 19th C, with a focal point in Chicago. Importers and larger shops continue this practice, having skilled workers go through instruments made elsewhere, then varnishing and setting up those instruments for sale in their shops or on the wholesale market. For example, the House of Weaver graduates and varnishes a range of instruments. Individual workers, including me, are well-known for this process, including John Silakowski and Royce Burt.
The incoming instruments range from very inexpensive Chinese production instruments already varnished to fine, master-built European instruments ready for final tweaking and full-professional varnish and setup. Varnishes range from a quick spirit coat through the full schedule of UV aging, faint stain, sealer, ground, and numerous delicate varnish coats. Setup ranges from rough student level through (rarely) very careful neck and nut shaping, hand split soundpost, precise peg fitting and polishing, and precise cutting of a double clamshell bridge. The amount of time and skill required to do the former are fairly low. A full professional setup takes several careful hours.
Appalachian & Cumberland Instruments
I started producing the “Appalachian” line of instruments in 2002 from my then-shop Gianna Violins. The early versions were based upon unvarnished (“white”) instruments sourced from Eastman Strings. Eventually, I moved to instruments imported directly from Romania and purchased from a Bulgarian friend. I produced well over a hundred of these. I still see the older ones come through. They sound good and are holding up well!
My graduation and voicing systems have advanced a good deal, and I am doing a full blown top-end setup on the new instruments. Both back and top get graduated using a moderately complex basis system that builds some flexibility into some areas of the top allow the bass bar and where otherwise too stiff. Once the graduation to the numbers, as adjusted by stiffness, is complete, I go through extensive acoustically guided fine graduation, including ribs, linings, plate wood, and bass bar. I assemble the instrument using fish glue from International Violin, which I really like. When together, I do all the final detailing of the woodwork, including the fingerboard and nut, and do a first pass voicing of the body from inside and out. Inside work is accomplished with scrapers on metal rods, involving only minor adjustment.
My usual graduation pattern is influenced by the graduation maps of Jeff Loen, the average Stradivari and del Gesu maps of Simeon Chambers, and to a small extent by the work of Jack Fry. I don’t slavishly follow any system. Instead, I work down gradually to a pattern that matches that particular instrument, where the central plateau flexes and twists the amount I have found works well, and where the “pillars” above and below the F holes have a certain amount of spring. The thickness of these areas varies depending upon the arching of the specific instrument. I also go through a first-pass detailed voicing, including working the critical F hole wings, if useful.
My varnishing system involves the wood, the ground, and finally the overlying varnish. For the wood, I finish all surfaces with a scraper, sandpaper only being used on the neck and edges. After initial scraping, hot water raises the grain for a second pass. Reflected light shows how much grain texture remains on the top. I don’t attempt to make this texture completely regular – violins are not bowling balls!
Once sufficiently level, I UV darken the wood for a period of time, not tremendously, just to get additional depth. If UV doesn’t bring up the figure, I will use a little bit of a darkening treatment from International Violin.
The first color goes deep into the wood, but is very subtle. Yellow pigment is stirred up in mineral spirits, then left to settle. The very finest particles remain in suspension. The decanted faintly tinted mineral spirits washed over the instrument with a brush soaks into the wood fibers, putting a faint reflective yellow under everything else, a yellow that warms the deepened wood figure and highlights the grain of the top, just the tiniest bit. Building a finish is a little bit at a time.
My sealing medium has varied over time, but is usually an egg albumin and gum Arabic mixture, very dilute, washed on in two thin coats, or thin shellac. These are followed by a rubbed in mixture of the sealing medium and vanishingly fine silica mulled together, then wiped on and rubbed off, filling the pores and texture slightly. This is not a thick “mineral ground,” simply packs the wood surface with extremely fine particles. There is no buildup. When dry, the wood pings at a higher pitch, and I like the way the instruments respond.
From that point, finishing is fairly conventional. I thin and brush on several layers of dilute oil varnish, rubbing each lightly with rubbed out 600 grit wet and dry abrasive paper to get nits and hairs or other debris, if any, off. Once the surface will take color, I mull pigments into either tinted or clear oil varnish and brush on layers. As more color builds, I darken the color with asphalt. Pigments I use are primarily natural, including madder lake, various umbers, some yellows, some blues, and asphalt. At the end, I buff with Tripoli and olive oil to a nice sheen. Multiple passes of French polished soft spirit varnish create a soft gleam.
First, the fingerboard gets planed to a 41.5 mm radius, with just a bit of relief. Scraped and sanded down, the last sanding with 1500 grit and thinned mineral oil. I do this in conjunction with shaping the nut to a graceful arc and final dressing, staining, and treatment of the neck and sides of the fingerboard. The neck gets a final French polish with spirit varnish, over the polished oil.
Pegs are good ebony, turned here, and carefully fitted, then polished. I leave them slightly short so they don’t extend during their break in.
Soundpost I split from good spruce, shape into a square, then octagon, and so on. To 6.5 mm, per Jerry Pacewicz of Triangle Strings. I fit this symmetrically with the bar relative to a mix of mid points from the center bout width, upper F hole eyes, and midpoint between the F hole notches. Usually this is along the joint of the two halves of the top, but sometimes not!
Bridge blanks are generally Despiau, width to allow 1.5 mm overhang of post and bar. I follow a complicated, but standard, system of foot fitting, setting the height with the G and E strings, then shaping front and back with a plane to leave a good deal of belly. The Triangle Strings site description of this process influenced my approach, and is worth a look. See “techniques.” This is a bit tedious. I end up with fairly thick wood in the “belly,” but a narrower waist. Response speed and clarity is improved. The bridge gets polished down to 2400 grit micromesh.
Once strung, my system of voicing was developed from that of Deena Speers, highly modified by discussion with numerous workers and my own systematic experiments. I go through from G to A working the more-fundamental end of the spectrum, getting each string to do what it likes without fuss, and to be balanced. Then back down through E to G, bringing up or toning down the higher partials. Along the way, I work on the breadth and depth of the low and mid tones, and on any overdriven strings. Often the A and E need to compressed in a bit to avoid excess brashness or too much of a nasal edge. The bridge wings, tailpiece, afterlength and other aspects get considered during this process. For mandolins, I have marketed this approach as “mandovoodoo,” and have completed hundreds of instruments.
Based in Friendsville, in East Tennesse for almost 30 years, working as a geologist then an attorney. Moved to Chicago early in 2018, concentrating on cooking, companionship, and building violins.
Music: When I was 7, I insisted on learning piano. Spent rainy days reading through Chopin and Mozart. Rock bands, solo performance, and trios. Classical guitar through master classes with Tom Patterson, Anthony Glise, Lily Afshar and numerous others. Soloist with Baroque ensembles playing recorder.
Hand working: Auto mechanics from a young age. Model airplanes. Custom steel bicycle frames. Residential construction. Cabinet work. Then in the early 1990s, restoration of violins. Reworking vintage instruments for performance by the late 1990s. The Appalachian line and benchmaking beginning at the turn of the century, along with the expansion of Gianna Violins. My musical instrument work has steadily evolved into a concentration on acoustic understanding and improvement.
United States, Chicago, IL
Check/Money Order, Cash (in person), Paypal, Mastercard, Visa
Payment Option Notes:
Checkout through online portal
Returns accepted. Buyer must contact seller within 3 days to arrange return. Refund will be given as Money Back.
Buyer pays return shipping.
Additional return policy details: Risk of loss on buyer
Condition of Item(s):
More Info URL:
Stephen Perry / Gianna
This ad will automatically expire 3/20/2019 5:29:54 AM unless updated before that date. To keep the system current, ads expire if not updated for more than 60 days.