Here’s an interesting one. This came to me in its ancient 1930s case, the violin top semi-detached. What made me leave it in the basement for two years was a piece missing from the top. But last winter my work table became clear. Rather than save the fiddle for my heirs to throw into the fireplace, I thought I’d give it a shot.
I’d already started working on it before the pics began. Here the top is off, cracks are repaired, and I’m cleating the cracks. The rib of the body has been leveled of glue and pieces of the top which stuck to it.
So the top is almost whole. But there is a chunk of the lip missing 😮 (not the saddle notch). The lip cracked along the purfling channel groove. The top is perforated in places. A luthier had a few too many schnapps for lunch, came back, and went to work on this top with a 4/4 purfling channel cutter? Who knows. The perforations we fill with glue but the chomp remains; a bit more nibbling is in order.
I find a piece of old spruce with a tight grain. I made a poor choice with discoloration in the wood but it is covered by a chin rest, as ye shall see.
So it is now hide glue time. Yum! I add sifted Appalachian spruce collected from under my table saw. To cover any shortcomings in my carving.
The patch is in a tricky spot to clamp. So I wedge the top into a nearby shelf.
The top is reattached. The sound post, saddle, and endpin are installed as well. The third set of pegs are perfect. The instrument tone-taps a clean, resonant “F”.
A new ebony fingerboard is installed and planed a little thinner (it could have been thinner still, but I still do not have the right hand plane). Then a scoop, a concavity along its length, is scraped into the fingerboard. Under the steel E string, I can make the fingerboard flat (in fact, I do make it flat). And progress from flat to concave as I move towards the lowest string, which is a wound G. In addition to the scoop, there is, naturally, a radius to the fingerboard.
Realizing the patch seam may develop a dark line from the pigmented spirit varnish, I cheat a little, extending the purfling groove through the patch, and puddle a bit of varnish into it. Next time, I may use an actual purfling channel cutter.
In the progression of lip images you can see how I tightened the radius, changed the contour, and kept reapplying varnish of differing tint. In a trick of grain, varnish, and lighting, a integral area of the top adjacent to the patch looks like the patch, and vise-versa.
As my second larger patch job, I have learned to leave it plenty proud; the finish will never come out right the first few times, and you want something to sand down. I could have kept at it, but the area is covered by the chin rest, it’s structurally what I wanted, and pursuit of perfection always ends in disaster.
So that’s it. The fiddle came through surgery with an A+. It has a deep mature tone, reflective of its 80- or 90-some years. This violin is destined for a performing arts high school student in Wilmington Delaware.
The work is a collection of 5-minutes-here and 5-minutes-there. Sometimes a bedtime visit to check the doors and make a cup of tea turns into 90 minutes of quiet progress. You want a table where everything can be spread out – and remain untouched – for the duration of the project, even if it is two months long.
Aside from the occasional midnight whittling or sound-post fitting, most of the work and photography is done in the mid-morning under natural indirect light.