Need More Fiddles!

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Failed to Keep Up!

I shipped the last three fiddles I had made and I am left with the “cupboard” looking pretty bare!

This had been a busy year in a lot of other ways, and I have spent a lot of time messing around, trying to build a travel case for the Travel Bass I built last summer. (Without the case, the bass isn’t going anywhere, so I really need to complete it.) Also, the last two fiddles I had made were literally hanging around the house, and so, I wasn’t feeling pressed to build more of them right away.

Sudden Change

But those two fiddles have suddenly found homes. The only two five-string violin-size fiddles I have left are ones I made several years ago: they both play very well, but the ones I am building currently are my best work, and that is what I want to put in players’ hands.

The Plan

So…I decided I had better hit the Lutherie trail in a big way: I took six of my molds (five in the photo, below…the sixth shows up later) and glued the blocks in place, to begin a group of six new fiddles. I plan to select and prepare materials, and match them together into “kits,” so that I know which top plate goes with which back plate…and neck, and ribs, etc.

Then, I plan to begin building them in pairs, but I will always have another pair ready to begin, if things slow down at all.

5-string fiddle molds with blocks and a transparent template.
Five molds with blocks and a transparent template.

The Process:

You have to look closely to see the plexiglass template in the photograph above (and below.) The template is hard to see, but it gives the precise shape I want for the outline of my blocks. I use a ballpoint pen to trace the shape onto the blocks.

Template tracing block shapes for 5-string bluegrass fiddle made by Chet Bishop
I use the template to trace the exact shape I want for my blocks.

 

Then, I use a saw to roughly cut out the shapes , and an oscillating spindle sander to shape them precisely. I apply wax to the edges of the molds so that an accidental drop of glue can’t bond them to a rib. The ribs are only glued to the blocks and linings, initially…the mold will be removed.

Molds with blocks shaped for 5-string bluegrass fiddle by Chet Bishop
Here are the blocks, shaped and ready for ribs.

Wood Choices

Next, I cut the ribs from wood that match the back and neck, as closely as possible. Usually, I try to get them all out of the same billet of wood. Over the years,  I have harvested some of my wood, myself, or it was given to me by a friend, in log form, and I had someone mill it up for me.  At other times, I have bought other wood from tonewood dealers.

I have used a variety of woods for the back plates: These (below) are all Big Leaf Maple, and I have used a wide variety of other woods; but when I build for classical orchestral instruments, I use only European Maple and Spruce.

I bought the wood (in the pictures below) from Bruce Harvie, of Orcas Island Tonewood Co. That piece of Big leaf maple on the right measures 2″ thick, about 6″ wide, and 16″ long, or more. The large billet allowed me to cut the ribs, neck and two-piece back all from the same billet. I cut up the Englemann Spruce billet on the left  to provide two tops and nine bass-bars.

Wood for 5-string bluegrass fiddles made in Oregon by Chet Bishop.
Englemann Spruce and Big Leaf Maple.

 

MAple wood for a 5-string bluegrass fiddle made in Oregon by Chet Bishop.
Same piece of Maple…closer view.

Processing the materials:

To begin with, I used a bandsaw to slice off the rib material. Then, I laid out the actual shape I needed for the back and neck. (The traced “shape” visible in the above photo is not my mark: it is just the way tonewood dealers catch the imagination of their customers.) 🙂

When I cut out the back plate shape I had to slice it in half lengthwise, and glue the halves together, to form the back plate.

planing center joint of a back plate for a Chet Bishop five-string fiddle.
Hand-planing the center joint.

 

Maple back for 5-string bluegrass fiddle made in Oregon by Chet Bishop.
Same billet, made into a back plate blank. The rest became ribs and neck.

 

Then, I traced out all the neck billets and used a bandsaw to cut them out.

Neck billets for 5-string fiddles made in Oregom by Chet Bishop.
Looks like a “bouquet of fiddle necks.” They will be matched with their respective backs and ribs.

 

Next, in addition to the work on the heavier components, I sliced ribs from appropriate wood to match the wood of the backs: a darker maple back required darker maple ribs. They will be only 1 mm thick when finished.

Ribs for 5-string fiddle.
I was glad I had rib material that matched the color of the old wood for this fiddle. That back (below) was harvested in September, 1983.

 

Wood for 5-string fiddle made in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Matching ribs and neck to back wood.

 

After thinning the ribs, I used a knife to cut the ribs to size.

Wood for ribs for 5-string fiddle made in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Each set of ribs requires three lengths for upper, center and lower bouts.

Douglas Fir

I usually build the top plates of spruce (Sitka, Englemann, European or other species.) Sometimes (rarely) I will use other woods: this one is Douglas Fir. Otto Erdesz used Douglas fir for front plates on many instruments. So far, I have only used Douglas Fir once, but it turned out to be an excellent fiddle, so  I am doing it again. 🙂

Wood Kit for a 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop.
A Douglas Fir top plate with a Big Leaf Maple back, neck and ribs.

 

And finally, I see the kits beginning to emerge!

Materials for 5-string fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
These Kits will help me keep focused and encouraged about building the six new fiddles.

 

I will try to provide updates and to post progress reports.

 

Thanks for looking.

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