Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Violin.....or a Fiddle? (part 2)

About one month after completing my first fiddle I set out to follow Mr. Finch's advice and make another fiddle of the same shape and size, but using the more traditional woods. Bird's eye maple is very difficult to work with in comparison to the walnut. The Walnut, even though it is a hardwood, is not nearly as hard as Maple. The grain of the Walnut was fairly easy to carve away using only a sharp gouge chisel. The bird's eye on the other hand needed a little more elbow grease and tenacity.

   I found the spruce top to be easier to work with than the cedar I had used on the first fiddle. The grain of the cedar was so perfectly straight that it had a tendency to peel out in long strips if I wasn't very careful. The spruce did not do this because its grain is a little stronger and seems to hold together better for carving. The "how to" book that Mr. Finch had given me had detailed instructions on a lot of things like the dimensions of a Stradivarius and how to properly carve the scroll. I was not too concerned with recreating a Stradivarius so the correct body dimensions were paid very little attention, but this time I did want to carve the scroll, which is part of the beauty of a violin or fiddle. After I had all of the body pieces cut out and fitted together I went to work on a nice piece of maple for the neck. With the help of a few templates traced out of the book, my band saw, hand planes, rasps, and a lot of sand paper I had the major part of the neck shaped the way it would be comfortable for my big paws.
Then came the daunting task....the scroll.

The carving of the scroll took quite a bit of time for me to figure out. I did research, asked a few people who I knew had done some wood carving, and I studied the pictures in the book. I believe it was a good two weeks before I finally talked myself into actually cutting into the block on the end of my already shaped violin neck. Nervously I drew a few lines, made some reference points, checked measurements and repeated this process several times before actually starting. The first couple cuts I made didn't really boost my confidence any, they seemed to me to be coming out a little too uneven. I decided what was the real harm going to be? I did get it this far on my own, and if I messed up now I could always start over on another piece of wood and burn the evidence of any mistakes I made. I made a few more slices and carved away at it taking my time the best I know how, and before I knew it the scroll had taken shape and just needed some tweaking here and there to even it up a little.

The next step was gluing all the pieces together, which took only thirty minutes or so. Then it was off to my buddies house with it to have him put on a nice varnished finish. The finish is something else I have learned about. When it comes to sound quality, the finish matters. On my first fiddle I was unaware, so I sprayed it with clear lacquer which is very hard and does not allow the wood to flex at all. Varnish however, stays somewhat softer and allows the wood to flex as needed to soften the tones and add volume. The varnish my friend put on my second fiddle turned out very nice and captured the exact look and feel I was hoping for. Since I had a few eyes of the maple on the back that had come loose in the shaping process, I decided to let it stay and have a dark finish put on with wear marks in different locations on the neck and body so it would look like an old violin owned centuries ago by a gypsy somewhere. The final touches were the friction fit traditional pegs, hand made fret board, and a tail piece and chin rest. The chin rest, tail piece and pegs were bought online and all are matching. This was just easier and faster than making my own. The finished fiddle has brought many compliments and much joy and satisfaction knowing that this little piece of art is more than just a decoration for the wall, but it is very playable.
I now agree with Mr. Finch. The walnut, even though it is beautiful, does not compare to the sound qualities that the combination of spruce and maple produce when put together in a piece of quality craftsmanship with a few steel strings stretched across it. Not only are these two pieces of art playable, but they are both for sale through S&S Custom Instruments. Find us on Facebook. Now the question remains... Is it a violin or a fiddle? That can only be answered by what you personally believe it to be. I say, I'd love to hear either one.

1 comment:

  1. How is it that this thing hasn't been to my house yet? I would love to hear how it compares to the first one!