violin fingerboard scoop
More information please. From cross country, a clear polite request. Her gentle Oklahoma accent could not mask underlying confusion. Even Aunt Flo knew I was using my chisel the wrong way. Time to change the conversation!
For several years violins have been coming across the table. In common with many? A misfitted fingerboard. Askew, misshapen, wrongly sized, they were permitted a challenged existence because I lacked tools and knowledge. One day I scraped away a blemish upon the ebony and discovered . . .
Ebony shaves nicely. It scrapes even better. With some lost cause violins on hand, I experimented with the sharpest edge I had, the side of my freshly honed Buck Bros. chisel. After a month of chisel abuse, the tool-sharpening guy was incredulous, cursing in his native manner. I knew it was bad from his furrowed brow, disrespect for his sharpened edges. Enough of my luthiery antics! Doing the unthinkable, I consult an expert. And found the right scraping tool was only a few dollars away.
Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event folks were in town, had the scrapers, allowed me hands-on examination, and provided sacrificial hardwoods – which I reduced to scrapings. They demonstrated sharpening and honing. For less than a Jackson, a pair of Lie-Nielsen scrapers in two gauges, delivered to my door.
We now achieve Top Hat performances, thinning new fingerboards by plane and scraping a smooth correct radius. The fun part? A final scraping of the neck / fingerboard seam. Two woods meeting so closely together, they feel like one. After a bit of love and caressing. From Lie-Nielsen.
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 ≈≈≈