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"Store bought" fiddles with wider spacing at the nut

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Dec 13, 2019 - 4:54:52 PM

WyoBob

USA

111 posts since 5/16/2019

I have a free, homemade fiddle (really crudely built.)   It's really "homemade" and was given to me by a friend.  My first fiddle. It looks like it was glued together with a hot glue gun, is heavy but, I can play it without having my fingers touch adjacent strings.   Because I was really interested in learning to play the fiddle,  I bought an "Antonio Giuliani Primo" violin from Kennedy which is a nice sounding fiddle but, the string spacing at the nut places the strings closer together and I have problems with my fingers touching adjacent strings so chords and double stops are a problem.  The A.G sounds pretty good.  The "freebie", not so much. 

I don't have the normal, "fat finger problem".  I have nerve damage due to a shattered wrist suffered in a fall and $40,000 worth of surgery to get me "back to normal".  I have a left ring finger that will never be able to come down straight on a string.  I can play the free fiddle just fine.  With the A.G, I can't.   The difference in total string spacing between clean notes and not clean notes is about 1.8 mm at the nut.  Doesn't seem like much but it is for me. 

I could possibly make a new nut with a bit wider spacing for the A.G. but I think that that would place the G and E strings too close to the edge of the finger board.  The action at the nut is also lower on the "freebie".  The action is quite high on the A.G. by comparison.  I think that the lower action might also help with the muting problem.  I have developed calluses which means, I think, a more pointed contact on the strings.  Less "squish" of the finger tips, in other words.  I have "Prelude" strings on the "freebie" and Fiddlerman (perlon core) strings on the A.G.

So, I was wondering if there might be a "factory" fiddle that would have a bit wider spacing.  The A.G. is built to the "standard" spacing.

So, is there any such thing as wider spacing on a new fiddle?  I live in north central Wyoming.  There are no fiddle shops within hundred's of miles so ordering online seems to be the only option available to me.

I'm 72  years old and have been playing for 4 months.   I've got 12 tunes or so under my belt.  Tunes I know from playing old time tunes on my banjo.  I'm having a blast but would like to be able to play chords and double stops as opposed to single string tunes.  My desired price range would be in the $4-500 price range.

Any ideas, fellow fiddlers?

Dec 13, 2019 - 5:12:48 PM
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11038 posts since 9/23/2009

I don't know the answer...but I can relate. I have a fiddle somebody found in their local trash...sold it to me...I toook it to a luthier to reglue, etc. I love playing that old thing, because it has two features that make playing really easy for me...skinny neck, but wide nut string spacing....somehow it has those two things. I don't have fat fingers either, but big guitar callouses that won't fit onto one solitary string on some fiddles...my new, expensive fiddle I'd bought a few years ago...maybe ten years ago...has a fatter neck (I like the skinny neck so much better), yet, somehow, the nut has squished up string spacing so it's really an effort to get my big ol' guitar calloused fingertips to sit on a string and not touch adjacent strings. I can do it, but it just take a lot of effort and I get worn out. I have another fiddle, a Suzuki cheapie thing I bought right before I decided to get an upgrade with the newer one with the fat neck and skinny string spacing...well...on that thing I just flatout CANNOT stop one string at a time...sounds terrible. I was wondering if you can buy a new nut and install it with wider spacing...that Suzuki is just unplayable by me. I love the old one with the skinny neck and wide spacing...it's just fun and easy to play. I'd like to try to fix the other two if possible. I know I didn't answer your question, but just have been wondering about the same issue.

Dec 13, 2019 - 5:26:26 PM
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11038 posts since 9/23/2009

Well I got very industrious and stop wondering and went to youtube...lol. I found this video showing how to change depth or move slots in the nut that's already in there. I don't know where you'd find ebony dust...which is used in moving the slots...but I was wondering if a person couldn't find that if some other wood could be used. Anyhow...I think I'll employ my husband to try this on the Suzuki, since I can't play it anyway...if it improves, I might let him do it on my expensive fiddle with the fat neck and squishy string slot distances.

youtu.be/qGbh-eaqiGg

Dec 14, 2019 - 8:42:37 AM
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DougD

USA

9676 posts since 12/2/2007

Have you thought about contacting Kennedy violins and explaining your problem? Looks like they have several luthiers on staff who might be able to make a new nut that would solve your problem. Certainly lowering the action is easy, and maybe just a little wider string spacing would do the trick. Also they may have another instrument with a wider neck they could sell you, with a generous trade in for yours (many places offer full value trade ins on step - ups).
Certainly nut blanks are really cheap and easy to change, so you could experiment yourself if you want.

Dec 14, 2019 - 9:15:38 AM

WyoBob

USA

111 posts since 5/16/2019

Thanks Peggy and Doug.

I think I'd rather make a new nut than use the CA glue method.  That way, I can save the original nut and not worry about the mess and dangers of CA.  (Not health dangers, cosmetic dangers).  Though I've used CA glue through the years, I always "flash back" to when I stuck my thumb to the fuselage of a balsa glider I was building.surprise   If I foul up making a new nut after a couple of tries, I could always put the original back on.

Perhaps I should be satisfied with what I can do regarding fingering on the A.G. fiddle and spend more time with bowing technique.  I can always do the double stops on the old fiddle.  I enjoy it's easy playability but sure prefer the sound of the A.G. fiddle.

Doug:

 I did email Kennedy.  They offered to send me a new nut and bridge for $13.00.   Never mentioned trading or installing a new nut.

I described my physical limitations with my left hand when I was shopping and they sold me the fiddle.  I figured they know what I needed.  Guess not.   Knowing what I know now (after 4 months of fiddling), if someone in a similar situation as me  asked my advice about fiddles, I'd say, "you need to get one with wider string spacing".  Kinda seems like a no brainier now that I have a bit of experience.  Evidently their salespeople haven't sold fiddles to old, beat up 72 year olds with dexterity issues.

I forgot to mention the bridge, I think.  The old fiddle has wider string spacing on the bridge.  It seemed easier to bow so I thought I'd modify the bridge on the new fiddle.  I removed both bridges and sanded down the A.G. bridge until the slots were gone and used the old bridge as a spacing pattern for the new one.   I'm really happy with how the modified bridge works on the A. G. 

Edited by - WyoBob on 12/14/2019 09:23:01

Dec 14, 2019 - 2:42:10 PM

960 posts since 6/26/2007

You are very unlikely to find a new fiddle with a wider neck unless you get a factory five string and convert it to four (not recommended). Since your nut is high (common with Chinese fiddles) you can file it down until the present grooves are gone, being careful to keep the same shape, then file new grooves as close as you can to where you want them. The new grooves can be very shallow, just deep enough to hold the strings in place. Usually the G string can be pretty close to the edge of the board but some people tend to pull the e string sideways a little and want it a little farther in. If you don't have that problem you might get away with putting it close to the edge, too. If you go that way, I would compromise a little and space the strings slightly closer than you think ideal.

An alternative, which I am not recommending because I'm fairly sure you don't have the skills, is to replace the fingerboard with a wider one, taper the sides to fit the neck and make a new nut to fit the board. I have done that once, for a friend who had converted a 4-string to 5. It worked but was a lot of trouble.

Good luck.

Dec 14, 2019 - 2:59:38 PM

WyoBob

USA

111 posts since 5/16/2019

Thanks for the tips, Lyle.

You're right about the lack of skill for major operations.  As Clint Eastwood said, "A man has got to know his limitations".smiley

I've made nuts, bridges and wood tailpieces for my banjos and stretched a goatskin head.   I used to really like to tinker but I've got my banjos set up exactly like I want.   With the fiddle, I want to spend time learning and not much time "tinkering".   At 72 1/2, the sand is running out and I'd like to get good enough to get "out of the basement" and play with others which means less tinkering and more playing.

I reduced the string clearance at the nut on the Kennedy fiddle quite a bit awhile back and it is now .014".   I had Fiddlerman perlon core strings on the fiddle but put Helicore's on it today.   My beater fiddle has Preludes on it and they seemed to work pretty well so I thought steel on the A.G. would be a good idea.  I'll save the Fiddlerman strings for when the Preludes wear out.

Thanks for the advice.

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