Holy expletive, it works!

28 September 2010

I am very very pleased to report that the conversion was a success – my fiddle now works and sounds like a hardingfele!! And even without the understrings, the tone of the instrument was greatly improved in the process. Details later, when I post the tweaks I still want to make… for now, pictures.

reclining nude


a full pegbox




14 September 2010

Today I carved a new nut for the understrings from arbutus wood. I had some big chunks for firewood and narrowed it down by axe, saw, chisel, razor, sandpaper… I don’t have photos, but I’d already glued an arched arbutus nut to the underside of the tailpiece to keep the understrings out of the way of the fine tuners. I had drilled four staggered holes through the metal tailpiece and will be using ball-end strings withe the ball on top. After cleaning up the edges inside the neck a bit I glued in the new nut with just enough clearance to get under the fingerboard.

setting the under nut

Also undocumented are the four holes bored through the bridge with a leather needle (I didn’t have a drillbit nearly small enough). I reinforced the wood around them with some glue, but I’m not sure if it will hold under the tension of strings. If it works I will try flattening out the arc a little bit for a more traditional string setup.

On my last trip into Vancouver I visited my most excellent luthier Chris (http://www.kcmstrings.com) who set me up with the tailpin I somehow misplaced, ordered me some gut strings, reset my soundpost and gave me a little vial of crystallized hide glue. This afternoon I melted it down and filled the kitchen with a noxious stench.

the worst smell

My first attempt to reattempt the fingerboard was a massive failure as the glue gummed up too fast to work it. I remelted it, added more water, and gingerly held the fiddle and fingerboard inside the oven to warm the wood and give me a little more working time. I feel like I might have added too much water, but the glue is setting now and I’ll know in a few hours…. I don’t have the right clamps to hold a job like that, but Ryan suggested plastic wrap and electrical tape as an alternative.

super clamp

Trepanning and varnish

14 September 2010

After a year of occasionally picking up my giant block of maple, then putting it down again, I decided to try a new tack with the head (I also went and saw some sweet hardangers at the Met, and a viola d’amore which gave me some oblique inspiration).  Having vertical pegs between the horizontal ones seemed like a worthwhile experiment, so I drilled four holes in the head and used a tiny round file to taper them. I shaved and filed down a set of peg blanks to fit, and kept it a very tight fit as there’s no secondary hole for balance. Had some difficulty figuring out how to drill the string holes in the tapered pegs, but my very resourceful brother Ryan made me a little wooden peg-holding device to go into the vice.

and now my fiddle has a mohawk


After I stripped the head, which I’d left alone the first time as I had intended to chop it off, it was time to varnish. I rubbed in a British oil-painting medium called Liquin to seal the wood, then just used a semi-gloss clear Varathane. I ended up with a few bubbles on every coat, sanded down a lot but eventually had to accept some flaws so I didn’t build up too much varnish. The Liquin brought out the grain nicely and it looks realllly pretty.

clear coat


Fun with chisels

5 July 2009

WELL. After an overly long hiatus, I’m back on the Hardanger path. Today I borrowed my roommate Jacob’s excellent little chisel set and started chipping at the neck channel. I have never used chisels before, and the thock thock thock noise drove me to earplugs. The back steps in the sunlight were a great place to work, and I grabbed a couple strawberries from my planterpots while I chiseled. And chizzled. Er. Photos!


action shot

This needs to be deeper, but it will eventually be the channel that the four sympathetic strings run through underneath the fingerboard.



Also: strawberry.



Stripping the front presented new challenges, as I had to avoid dripping caustic goo through the f-holes. I was more confident with said goo overall though, and it went faster than the back. I got gloves, too, which sped things up as I could be a little more cavalier. The goo is truly vicious. It burns to the touch (probably useful, as you’re disinclined to leave it on your skin long enough to cause much damage) and I’m pretty sure the fumes from today killed the equivalent in brain cells of a solid two-week bender.

The sides were a trickier job still, the varnish didn’t peel as readily and I ended up having to sand some large patches of it off. I’m not sure if it was applied thicker in the first place, or just not subject to the wear that the top & bottom had been. I haven’t finished the sanding yet, I’ll post photos when the whole fiddle is nude…


2 May 2009

This next mod is purely aesthetic. I’ve wanted a blonde fiddle for some time, and was not at all atttached to the garish orange my fiddle came with, so I got a tub of varnish stripper and set to (after giggling for a bit over the fact that it was called “super strippa”). When the first coat began to bubble and peel I was a bit stunned – I hadn’t expected it to, y’know, actually work. It looked like a high-speed video of fungus growing.

bubbling, mottled

It took four applications and lots of vigorous scraping to clear the back. I’m leaving the front and sides for another time, I’m a little worried about melting the joint glue with the stripper and I’m going to approach the edges with more care.


Some quality time with a few levels of sandpaper and I got it here…


The purfling (double stripe of inlay around the edge of a violin) was just painted on so it came off with the varnish. I’d like to have purfling on my fiddle but painting it back on seems pretty cheesy, I’m wondering about inlaying silver wire… that’s a ways off, though.

First steps

28 April 2009

The first thing to do was to remove the fingerboard in order to carve a channel through the neck that would later hold the resonating understrings. I wanted to keep the fingerboard intact, so I steamed it off over a kettle. I had visions of the glue melting away smoothly and the fingerboard sliding off under my fingers, but after about 35 minutes of steam time over two days I used a pocketknife to pry it off with an unnerving cracking sound.

fingerboard removed

fingerboard removed

close up fingerboard

close up fingerboard

I was pretty happy.



The violin as violin

28 April 2009



This is the closest thing I have to a before photo – some of the hardware has been removed, and I’m keeping tension over the soundpost with rubber bands. The black square visible is from a much earlier, somewhat embarrassing experiment in attatching a pickup with velcro.