The ideal violin neck is subjective. It changes as you grow, develop, and mature. Perfect today is old hat tomorrow. The neck itself moves, as does the fingerboard. Not as quickly as our tastes but more like a painting of a slow tortoise.
The fingerboard is shaped with a radius across it’s width. The other direction, parallel with the strings, looks flat. But it is actually curved. String height is so low on a violin that without longitudinal concavity – the fingerboard’s scoop – vibrating strings would buzz against the fingerboard.
When a favored fiddler’s favorite fingerboard appeared beyond flat, clearly convex along its length, it was time to learn the art of the scoop. After chipping up a few natty practice fingerboards, I tried a good one. It was easier. Quality wood shaves more cleanly. “Scraping” of the fingerboard was performed. Seemingly random, together the strokes produced a concave surface to the fingerboard. Nearly flat along the high E edge. Visually pronounced along the low G. Gradations in between. Finally, comparison of the newly scooped violin fingerboard with my Products Engineering Corporation straight edge. Convex no more. Just the right amount of concavity.
After the scraping comes the sanding. Dusty thirsty work with multiple grits of scratch cloth. 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1,000. The glossy finish I want? The easy way is to dump sealer over it, a thick polymer coating. But tradition prefers bare wood. We scraped and sanded the old sealer off the fingerboard during the scooping. The reshaped wood now prefers special attention. The musician wants skin-smooth wood under their fingertips. A natural shine is wanted.
Micro Mesh makes it easy. With products developed for fine art restoration, our slat of century-old ebony is no challenge. Working up through the colored grits, the wood begins gleaming at about 6,000 grit. But do we stop? No! All the way to 12,000 grit, buffing like the best Park Avenue manicurist. The wood shines!
We started using Micro Mesh Buffing Sticks a few years back, touching up a bit of mandolin here and there. Then discovered an ebony violin nut can be made to shine. After a few more fingerboard refurbishments, we’re sold on Micro Mesh. Fingerboard sealers we’ll save for fretted instruments. All of our fine stringed instrument fingerboards are going out the door bare wood shining. Sparkling like Eve’s smile ≈≈≈
Our gift of services was excitedly bid higher and higher at the annual ATB Charity Ball. Privately we speculate what the winner(s) would choose for us. 3rd shift dog kennel cleaning at the animal rescue? Working a busy birthday at Lawrence Latimer Lewis’s Llama Laughhouz?
More exciting, it turns out. Record and host an audio book! Far harder than it sounds. Because everything we do at ATB, we do for posterity. One thing which made it easy, made us look like pros? Our old music stand.
The same music stand which drove Doc to sputtering apoplexy within the bluegrass circle is again pressed into venerable service. Requisitioned, delivered, dusted, it is looking new. Recording gear set up. Microphones checked. Red light in 90 seconds. Producer to the Blue Room.
Everything went wrong. Even the words on the pages kept jumping all about, but that was probably from laughing. The constant, perfect performer? My music stand. The same kind we used in school. Only this one was never tossed without ceremony into the back of a yellow school bus. Still looking chipper but older than my favorite loafers.
The employee-owned Manhasset could make this stand a little less perfect. Instead they make a multigenerational product, valued, cherished, remembered. The statistics of romance and yes, marriage, between high school stand-mates are overwhelming. 99.9% of the time, love blossomed behind a Manhasset. ∆
LITTLE DEER ISLE, MAINE Generational downsizing had Jeff moving fiddles. In the right place, I acquired a Johann Baptist Schweitzer Copy of 1813 in rare good condition. Down the Eastern Seaboard the Baptist (bap•TEEST) was shipped. To Pennsylvania for mild refurbishment, strings, set-up, then further south to William in Georgia. Its stop-over proved to be more than a quick pat on the back. The pegbox was wonky.
While this instrument may have been made for 1:20 taper pegs, someone had later used modern 1:30 taper pegs. The new standard has provided superior tuning performance and pegbox health since its inception about 1900. This narrower peg, however, will not fit simply by “shoving it in as hard as you can”.
In a fog, flummoxed by ratios and angles, we turn to two of the best luthiers and mathematicians in the world for answers. The question, “What’s the difference?”
From Ontario: Basic trigonometry gives tan(angle)=rise/run. The angle is then inverse tan(rise/run), which gives an angle of 87.14 degrees. The compliment is 2.86 degrees. Thus, your 1:20 reamer is 2.86 degrees. – Charles Tauber
Not to be outdone, we’re gifted the link to a “Taper & Angle Calculation” program from a reader in Tatamagouche, the village in Nova Scotia. A 1:30 taper is scarcely larger, 3.33%
Closer examination reveals it is no big deal. With existing peg hole damage, it’s not even six-of-one, half-a-dozen of the other. We’re saved the expense, for now, of an imported Old World specialty reamer. Bill is still waiting in Georgia; lead time leaps forward. My domestic Juzek 1:30 tapered reamer with three straight cutting flutes works perfectly. The Juzek peg shaver (USA production with some imported parts) produces both blisters and perfect pegs. A little pool cue chalk on the peg surfaces, along with D’Addario Kaplan Amo strings, completes the job.
Steve Fields played the finished restoration at Woodside Creamery Farm yesterday. He pronounces the effort, “Perfect!” Another All-Smiles-Day!
Through a summer haze of bug bites, various skin infections and rashes, even intermittent sun poisoning despite the best efforts of La Roche-Posay, we’ve again dropped into the lap of another week. Without a story. But we are close. Like this week, stringing newly acquired ½ and ¼ size fiddles. The bench is littered with wrappings from D’Addario, their Helicore strings. Nearly every fiddle refurbishment gets Helicores.
While competitors put “student quality” strings on their fiddles, Helicores have proven, again and again, to product better tones, making my efforts so much more satisfying. The thrilling grin of a teacher giving feedback on a fiddle unplayed for decades, the student who buys or borrows the instrument, even myself, largely untrained.
Constant improvement, meticulous attention to quality, a true value despite their cost. It’s D’Addario for me. Mandolin, guitar, violin, even Pete’s bouzouki wears D’Addario.
Helicore violin strings are crafted with a multi-stranded steel core, resulting in optimal playability while producing a clear, warm tone. The smaller string diameter provides quick bow response. Premium quality materials combined with skilled workmanship produces strings known for excellent pitch stability and longevity. D’Addario
Old fiddlers … young fiddlers … everything in between. Add a gazillion guitars and banjos, a heap o’ mandolins, a few upright basses and dobros. Let’em loose within a shaded grove up the hill from the Main Stage. That’s the Old Fiddlers’ Picnic. Now in its 89th year, it was old even when my folks were courting teenagers from a nearby mill town.
Aside from the stage, no one is in charge. No one is there to drink or fight. There are no genre turf wars. Just a peaceful gathering of people without anything to prove. Playing for fun, sharing their gifts, enjoying the company of old friends.
Because Sunday’s Picnic was Saturday’s rain date, several acts cancelled. Naturally I was roped into performing. With only Hugh’s mandolin and nothing planned, it was the perfect opportunity to fail spectacularly. Hugh’s Collings MT2 is *showing its age* (stage whisper). The frets are getting low, and while she sings a tune better than most, it takes a lot of effort to put her in the mood.
Fortunately I ran into Glenn McNemar of Kennet Square. Glenn both maintains the local mandolarium while making mandolins full-time, and brought a fresh build with him. Not six weeks old, proud of fret, soft in demeanor but unconsciously vivacious, his mandolin was the star of my time slot.
Five hours of playing, bug bitten, dehydrated, sore, hungry, I again enjoy one of the finest small music festivals in America. Just like the one next weekend in a county park near you.
Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music, and a related genre of country music. Influenced by the music of Appalachia, bluegrass has mixed roots in Irish, Scottish and English traditional music, and was also later influenced by the music of African-Americans through incorporation of jazz elements. – wiki
It all started in March while visiting Wintergrass, the Wilmington Delaware Bluegrass Festival. A fella had a mandolin of pure line. Shapely neck and smooth body. Her voice! Golden, well articulated, clear, and rich. Sharp when required. Clearly an effort from one of the best finishing schools!
Off we went to see where she was born, meet her parents. The York Pennsylvania studio of Bluett Brothers Violins. Chris Bluett (blu•ETTE) proudly shows me around his latest, a clean F-body mandolin with intricate headstock, the violin in progress, a few guitars from earlier years there for a visit.
Chris has been making instruments his entire adult life. It takes more than skill and an understanding supportive wife. It takes dedication and respect for the craft. Born into every instrument. A tradition he proudly supports through an active apprentice program. Chris Bluett, carrying the torch.
While visiting York Pennsylvania luthier Chris Bluett (blu•ETTE), a gent comes into the luthiery with a violin in a paper bag. For sale. Chris makes and sells violins but does not buy unless made by him. The B-Team steps forward. I offer a slim stack of dollars for the shabby fiddle, and walk away a hopeful man.
Tight unblemished top grain, casual adherence to scroll symmetry above the box, and matching pegs caught my eye. As I clamp down on refurbishment, it got better and better. Decades of grime gently removed, Behlen hide glue restoring separated back and top, this gem exposed promising pedigree. Labeled without origin, the top was definitely a better tonewood.
Over a century ago with excellent materials, a craftsperson put this violin together with attention where it matters. Ready again for strings, I consult the foremost authority. With D’Addario Orchestral Strings CSR on speed dial, we come to the same conclusion. Premium strings for this promising centenarian.
D’Addario Kaplan strings are selected. They feel good in the hand, as I string the violin. Almost silky, with superior peg end windings. Stretching “break-in” was minimal. The tone? Phenomenal! After Steve Fields gets used to the slightly different scale length of my set-up, his smile is never far as he runs through his favorites. If I ever get this violin back from him, I may remove the D’Addario Kaplan Vivo set and try the D’Addario Kaplan Amo set. Can’t wait!