Monday, January 31, 2011

Violin...or a Fiddle? (part 1)

According to Merriam Webster's online dictionary.....

Definition of VIOLIN

: a bowed stringed instrument having four strings tuned at intervals of a fifth and a usual range from G below middle C upward for more than 4 1/2 octaves and having a shallow body, shoulders at right angles to the neck, a fingerboard without frets, and a curved bridge

Definition of FIDDLE

: violin
There is often a debate on the differences, if any, of a violin and a fiddle. Many who play classical violin music may say that there is a difference. Those too, who play bluegrass or folk music may say there is a difference. What I have usually heard to be said as to the difference is that fiddles are not always shaped the same way as a traditional violin, nor are they played in the same manner. Fiddle's can be made of a variety of woods, violins on the other hand should always be maple and spruce with ebony trimmings. The bridge on a fiddle is slightly flatter than the bridge on a violin allowing the bowing of two or more strings at one time, giving way to the almost hollow droning sound of mountain style folk music.
These differing opinions and sound qualities are just some of what inspired me to delve a little deeper into a project that I have thoroughly enjoyed. To begin, this project started when I was doing some work for a man in the town I grew up in. He has been a tinker for a long time. Because he is a hippie and a well educated man, he was easy to get along with and showed me a few of the projects that he had done over the years. The thing that caught my attention most was his workshop filled with stringed instruments in various stages of completion, and one he calls a sweet-stick, basically a dulcimer. The sounds the sweet-stick produced were amazing, especially since it was made of scrap plywood and a stick of hardwood that he had shaped into a neck. The ease of play and the beautiful droning sounds that it produced made my mouth water and my creative juices flow. I asked him to give me some pointers on how to build one of these instruments but he would just smile and say they were not difficult to make. Finally I resigned myself to accepting that he was not just going to give away his "trade secrets" so I asked him if he would help me put the frets in, and string it if I built one for myself. He agreed and so I went to work that same week. The dulcimer I created impressed him and his wife so much, because it was so pretty and sounded so good, they said that I should build eleven more, keep my favorite one of the twelve, and sell the rest. Well that is what my dad and I decided to do. For the past year or so we have been building and selling dulcimers of many different shapes along with other things. That lead me to fiddles. (More about dulcimers another time.)

Shortly after building my first couple dulcimers and learning to play a few songs on them, I started a project that was and still is a learning process. I carved out my first fiddle about a year ago now, and it has not fallen apart yet. For my first one I had not yet learned about graduating the face, so it is a bit thick in all the wrong places. The face was made out of cedar, which is nice and soft, so it flexes like the paper on a speaker. The back and neck are carved out of black walnut which is one of my favorite woods not only to work with but to look at. Instead of traditional friction fit pegs, I used guitar tuners cut down and reshaped a little to fit the curve of the peg head. Instead of a traditional scroll I just rounded the end of it off - I was unsure yet how to carve a traditional scroll.

The time involved on this project was right around forty hours and when it was finished I started work on learning to play it. This was and still is a great challenge. My daughter is taking lessons and her teacher told me about an older man that lived in the area that had been working on violins for over fifty years, oh yeah, and he could play too. I was told to take my pretty little piece to him to have it critiqued so I could learn a little more about making them. Mr. Finch was a great help. He started out telling me that it was all wrong. The woods were incorrect, the scroll was missing, the graduation was way too thick... then I told him that it was my first one and that I was trying to make a backwoods fiddle and not a Stradivarius. Mr. Finch then smiled and said, "Well you sure have accomplished that, and don't get me wrong, walnut is beautiful and the body shape you have is just fine, but now go and make one out of maple and spruce and see the difference." Now with my spirits soaring again, because, after all he did like my craftsmanship, I decided to continue on with my work. With the helpful aid of this old man and the "how to" book that he gave me, I set out on my second fiddle project.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff Luke, looking forward to hearing the Stradivarius