1950s German Violin “Hillendale ½”

A couple of weeks ago I passed a garage sale. The best kind. Made an offer on two student violins in unplayable condition. A ½ size and a ¼ size. Got the call back and picked them up last week.

I tightened up the old strings on the larger of the violins, liked its tone, so started with that one. Fit a new peg, straightened out the bridge – maybe, and cleaned up the entire fiddle with naphtha, then a Behlen polishing agent.

Turns out, after cleaning off the funk, that the ½ has real purfling, the ebony strips of wood inlaid around the perimeter. Also the two-piece back covers the heel of the neck; there is not a separate heel cap; a good sign.

Looks like we have a special violin here. As Steve Fields says, the better the student, the better the violin they should have when young. Some lucky kid will end up with this violin at a decent price.

The D’Addario Helicores arrived from Johnson Strings Friday, and Saturday afternoon was the perfect rainy day to string a violin and perform final shaping to the bridge. Despite my finest efforts to ruin yet another bridge, everything came out as close to perfect as I dare. This violin, unplayed since the ’70s, is back in fine fiddle. Clear tone, fast action, and LOUD.

Lastly, 1/16″ cork was used to restore the original ebony chin rest.  And a wipe of linseed oil to complete the refurbishment. 

Acquired at the same time,  Hillendale ¼, with a “Made In Germany, US Zone” label,  has amazing tone as well!

Never say lastly;  there is always something else.  Steve Fields played the ½.  It’s original bridge, though tweedled with, was still tweedledum.  And the sound post …  So I fiddled with the sound post and recut the existing bridge.  Olivia tried it the following week;  not enough arc on the bridge, and 1.5mm at the G string.  Wow, we’re not doing the Limbo here, Jim.  Too Low!  Back to the shop.

New bridge fit from a blank.  Perfect.  New sound post.  Splintered!  For the 3rd try, I cut and shaped a piece off an old slab of Adirondack spruce.  Finally finished, with a fine-tuner tailpiece as well.  Wait, never say finished …  ∆

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Centenarian Violin “Yorke”

This violin was purchased from a gent in York PA in April 2017. He had a long story attached to it which may or may not be true, so I’ll spare you. But it came to me in a paper bag with twine attaching various broken items, bridge, tailpiece, bows, memories. The top has a nice tight grain. Although makers tool marks are evident, especially on the headstock and peg box, the instrument appears to have been made with good materials and assembled very well.

It appeared to have sat for decades unplayed. Gut string ends were still attached to two pegs. Major exterior grime was carefully removed. The top had detatched on both lower sides, as well as a short area of the back. Exactly as one would hope. All were reattached with hot hide glue. I’d like to think you would have a tough time finding my work.

Other than a buffing compound, the varnish received no especial treatment. I specifically did not perform any cosmetic alterations, like touch-ups.

The fingerboard was cleaned, buffed, and sealed with boiled linseed oil.

The instrument received new: tailpiece with E tuner, bridge, D’Addario Kaplan Vivo strings.

The fingerboard and pegs appear original. I’ve seen ebony this color before but am not 100% positive on the wood type.

The instrument appears to have not received repairs of any kind before my actions.

It’s got excellent tone and volume. The pegs grab wonderfully without chalk. IMHO it would play well without the E thumb tuner.

From the dozens of violins that I’ve refurbished over the last few years, I’m guessing this violin was made in the very early 1900s.

1970s Conrad Banjo

Mom asks me to play the banjo every time I see her.  Just like I did as a kid.  Except that I no longer have a banjo.  Finally I set about to change that situation.

conrad body 2

Scouring hundreds of online advertisements, I settle on a Conrad, build by a rather obscure Japanese company in the 1970s.  The model was a “Masterclone”, a 10.0 pound copy of the famous Gibson Mastertone.

conrad body 1

conrad rosewood headstock overlay

Yes, that is a rosewood headstock overlay.  The tuners are not planetary, but they are a higher quality boxed offset geared tuner with a long ratio.  A friction 5th string tuner has a learning curve, but “it is what it is”.

conrad fingerboard and resonator back

Disassembly and cleaning proceeded normally.  I had a difficult time achieving the correct action;  the neck was not cut quite right.  To join the body at the correct angle would take some fiddling, but was an obstacle one commonly overcomes.

Assembly is completed.  New D’Addario medium nickel strings are installed.  The spa treatment with top-quality Behlen’s Fingerboard Oil upon the rosewood, now over four decades old, ties everything together.

d'addario ej61

behlen fingerboard oil

After playing her birthday party, the banjo went back on the bench to address a wobbling tone.  Its issue?  The neck is not tight enough.  As it wiggles, the banjo tone changes pitch like a Theremin.

The top lag will not tighten correctly because it was placed at the junction of the hoop and the tone ring.  Duh!  I replace that hanger bolt with a longer one, getting a nice tight connection against the heel of the neck.

misplaced neck hanger bolt

The connection between the coordinator rod and the hanger bolt (lag screw, some call it) turns out to be the real issue.  As I tighten the coordinator rod, the lag keeps turning.  Eventually I discover it is not a screw at all!  It is a “full thread stud” – also called a threaded pin, usually used in automotive assembly.  The pin pulls out of the neck heel, as it is threaded into hardwood.

neck to body fit

where's the hanger bolt?

One would think replacing the threaded pin with the proper lag would solve the issue.  It would, except that the coordinator rod has metric threads on the end.  Unless I replace the coordinator rod with common USA-threaded hardware, I need to procure a metric hanger bolt M6 diameter x 1.0 thread pitch, 60mm long.

Found the metric rod hanger online, will calling them on Monday, and this job is nearly a wrap!

hanger bolt

Sure enough, Bel•Metric has the exact part I wanted!

belmetric packaging

Expert packaging!

belmetric hanger bolt

We’re on the home stretch, mamma!

progress on the banjo

Get the new lag in place, tidy up the hoop with a bit of stain …

neck attached

And voilà!  Done!

conrad banjo done
Finally, some info on the company …

Conrad company info

1950s Framus Cello

Steve Fields dumped an armload of broken fiddles in my truck bed in February.  And one cello.  His faith in my abilities far eclipsed my own.  The fiddles were relatively easy, centenarian  to mid-1950s vintage.  The cello required more work.  Someone had tried to repair two top cracks without removing the top.  The first thing I did was pop it off with an 8″ Wüsthof and my Gerber folder.

framus cello 1 remove top

Next, a minor top crack was glued up.  A clamp to squeeze together plus lead weights to hold everything where it is supposed to be.  I’m using Titebond for all top cracks  (and hide glue to reattach the top, bottom, fingerboard, anything which may want to be disassembled).

framus cello 3 repair misc crack

Then I recracked the worse of the top cracks.  This one was all to the f-hole, barely attached.  There was wood missing before I got to it, and more wood damaged by separating the pieces.  Doing the sensible thing, I trued up the mating edges with block and sandpaper until I had a tight fit, losing about an eighth of an inch.

framus cello 2 remove poorly repaired section

Before I reassembled the top, a small lip crack was repaired with glue and 8 pound lead weight …

framus cello 4 repair misc crack

I going to need some cleats to help hold everything together.  Out came Pat Graham’s slab of Appalachian Spruce to make them from scratch.  Cleats were then glued to the underside of the top.  Again the lead weight provided all the persuasion required.  The cleats (“studs”, the Brits call them) were trimmed after the top was together.  Over half a dozen total were installed.

We’re about ready to glue the top back together.  Prepare yourself, it ain’t pretty . . .

framus cello 11 support before clamping

. . . but it appears to work near perfectly well.

framus cello 12 largest crack clamped

So there is our top. Whole again.

framus cello 13 top back together again

MORE TO COME.  HERE ARE THE PICS FOR NOW