Five-String Fiddles Nearing Completion

5-String Fiddles Nearing Completion

I apologize for the long hiatus. Lots of things have been going on, so I haven’t taken time to post progress reports on the two instruments I began in late July.

I had anticipated being done with both by the second week in September, but there have been sufficient interruptions and side-tracks that I am still not done. (Rats…)

When I last posted, I had just recently set the necks in the instruments. I progressed fairly rapidly for a bit, thereafter, but failed to “Show and Tell.”

Linings

I carefully removed the molds, and cleaned up the interior of the two fiddles, then bent and installed the back linings.

Handmade Five string fiddles in progress, by Chet Bishop in Oregon
One set of back linings installed. Other corpus ready for back linings.

 

Two handmade fivestring fiddles in progress by Chet Bishop of Forest Grove, Oregon
Both fiddles with linings installed. Notice the linen reinforcements of the purfling-weave areas.

Back Plates

The next step was to install the back plates. I had laid out and installed the back purfling weaves, but, because the rib garlands sometimes change shape a little after the molds have been removed, I avoided “locking in” the shape of the back plates until the plates were already installed. Then I could do any final trimming of the back plate, and afterward lay out, cut and install the remaining purfling.

Purfling weaves incised
Purfling weaves incised.

I went ahead and installed the back plates, trimmed them to accurately match the ribs and then began layout and installation of the back purfling. I bent the purfling, using heat, then began gluing the sections in place in the proper order.

purfling weave beginning
Beginning back purfling weaves. The idea is to produce an illusion of an “over-and-under weave.”

 

purfling in progress on two 5-string bluegrass fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Purfling in progress.
trimming purfling weaves on 5-string bluegrass fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Trimming the purfling weaves. They have been inlaid to a shallow depth, because the plates are thin.

 

scraping the purfling weaves on a 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Scraping the Purfling Weaves.

Final Varnish Preparations

The purfling channels and all the edgework remained before varnishing. Also, I turned off the artificial lighting, and used the dim light from a window to cast soft shadows across the wood, and reveal any humps and hollows I may have missed earlier. After completing all that work, I could begin the varnishing process.

five-string fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Both fiddles ready for final varnish preparations.

I will outline the process and show pictures in my next post.

Thanks for looking.

 

Further progress on two fiddles (8/24/21)

Slower Progress:

(I actually got a fair amount done, though…)

A few weeks ago, I bookmatched my plates and then cut ribs and necks, so as to set up “kits” for six new five-string fiddles. Then, I got started building two of them, as parallel builds.

Since I last posted, two weeks ago, I did not exactly stay on schedule, but I didn’t get too far behind.

Scroll Carving

I had completed the first scroll and neck, and had begun working on the second neck, when, I “kinda took an unplanned detour.”

scroll carving for five string fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop Luthier.
Beginning to carve the pegbox for fiddle #1.

 

carving pegbox for five string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon my Chet Bishop, luthier.
Heavy wood removal from pegbox interior.

 

sawing out scroll on 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, luthier.
Beginning the saw-carving of the scroll

 

Saw-carving the scroll for a 5-string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop. luthier.
Saw-carving the scroll.

 

scroll for 5-string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, luthier.
Scroll nearing completion

 

scroll for 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon, by Chet Bishop, luthier.
Scroll #1 essentially complete.

 

Then I Had a Small Mishap:

I had worked for 12 hours, Monday the 16th, and afterward, I was getting pretty tired. My hands were tired, brain was tired, too, I suppose…anyway:

I had begun carving the second scroll, completed the saw-carving part, and was removing waste wood with a small gouge, when, I slipped, annnnd, just happened to have my left hand in the path of the misdirected gouge. (sigh…)

Entry wound!

 

Exit wound!

 

Both sides at once!

 

Urgent Care? Emergency Room?

First we tried going to an Urgent Care clinic. We arrived there, and then discovered that (a) they only work by appointment, and (b) they don’t take medicare insurance, anyway. I asked what my options were, and they said, “Everything else is closed! Go to the ER!” (Sigh… very expensive option!)

So, about 30 minute later we arrived at the Emergency Room at St. Vincent Hospital. They were busy as usual, so we waited for about four hours. But after that, the ER people washed it out with sterile water, X-Rayed it to eliminate the possibility of torn bone or tendons, and applied two little “Steri-Strips!”

Steri-Strips from the ER.

 

I guess that was normal,  but it felt pretty “exposed,” and was very prone to bumps (which were pretty uncomfortable when they happened.) So, after we got home, Ann bandaged me up with a heavily padded dressing so that I could sleep without bumping it. That was a real help, and I slept well.

I kind of piddled around, the next day…partly too tired, I suppose, as we had arrived home somewhat after 3AM, and we got to bed after 4AM. Partly just not feeling real good. Anyway, I had other things that needed doing, so I didn’t work on fiddles for that day.

Bandage for protection.

 

Red Violin beginning? This was the second scroll, in progress when I slipped.

Back to Work!

I got back to work on Wednesday. It turned out that I really needed two hands for most things, so it slowed me down rather badly, having a bulky bandage on the left paw. However, I was finally able to get the fingerboard installed on the first scroll/neck so that I could shape them as a unit.

Fingerboard installed for 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, luthier
Fingerboard installed the second day after the injury.

 

That was kind of encouraging, seeing some progress again.

neck and fingerboard with five-string fiddles by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Neck #1 with the two completed front plates and garland assemblies.

 

back plate and neck assembly with dive string fiddles by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
I had also traced and cut out the back plate for fiddle #1.  (Big Leaf Maple: Pretty stuff!)

 

Then I set the neck on fiddle #1:

cutting neck mortise in 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier
Beginning the neck mortise. Notice the hard, heavy winter reeds in the Douglas Fir front plate.

 

cutting the neck mortise on a 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop. Luthier.
The cut-out in the front plate for the neck mortise.

 

completed neck mortise in 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Completed neck mortise

 

neck set completed in 5-string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Completed Neck-set. (Back of the neck heel will still have to be sawn off.)

 

Healing up!

After that, we had appointments with various people, so I didn’t get a lot done on Thursday or Friday. By the time the weekend had rolled around, I had the biggest bandages off, and was sporting a plain finger bandage, but I had to be pretty careful.  Bumps were still pretty unpleasant.

Thumb exit wound, healing well.

 

So, after having removed the bulky bandage, I went back to work on fiddle #2, carving that “Red Violin” scroll into just a plain, “five-string fiddle scroll.” It looked as though the majority of the “gore” would simply be carved away: so, no “Red Violin!” (By the way, that little gouge, third from the right, is the one that perforated my thumb.)

scroll for 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, luthier.
Beginning work on the second scroll, again.

 

scroll nearing completion for a 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop. Luthier.
Second scroll nearing completion.

I will post more again, soon. Sorry for the hiatus: it wasn’t intentional. 🙂

 

Thanks for looking.

 

 

More Progress on the first two of Six Fiddles. (8/9/21)

Build Progress for a couple of new “5-string Bluegrass fiddles:”

Last time:

Last post showed the garlands complete, and ready to be leveled:

garlands for two five string fiddles made in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Garlands with linings installed, ready for leveling.

 

I began the leveling process using a file and a finger plane, until the fragile rib-edges were level with the linings.

garland for five string fiddle made in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Beginning the levelling process.

 

Then I completed the leveling by rubbing the garland on a sanding board.

five string fiddle in the making
Flattening the garland on a sanding board.

 

Tracing the plates

Once the garlands were flat, I could use them to trace the outline of the plates: I used a small washer as a tracing tool– as a spacer, to give me the overhang distance I want (3mm.)

tracing the front plate for a 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Tracing the outline of the plate, using a washer and a ballpoint pen.

 

five string fiddle in the making.
The washer has to be the right size to put the ink line 3mm away from the rib.

 

overhang for five string fiddle handmade by Chet Bishop In Oregon
Pretty close, I’d say!

 

Correcting the corners and cutting out the plates

I really don’t want the “round corners ” produced by the washer, but they do give me a starting point from which to correct the corners before cutting out the plates:

corner shapes for 5-string fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Corrected corner shapes laid out, on Englemann Spruce, using a straightedge and a circle template.

 

Douglas fir front plate cut out for 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Douglas Fir Front plate cut out and ready for arching. Uncommon wood, but good!

 

two plates for five string fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Both plates are ready for arching. I enjoy using Oregon woods when I can.

 

Arching the plates:

Arching the plates is a critical step, because the arching pretty much controls the tone quality. In fact, it may be the single most inportant factor in achieving good tone. I begin by scribing the edge-thickness of the plates and then I  begin removing waste wood to complete the rough arching:

Scribing the edge thickness for a 5-string fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Scribing the edge thickness for the Douglas Fir front plate.

 

planing a front plate for a 5-string fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Rough-arching the Douglas Fir plate, using planes and gouges.

 

I use arching templates to establish the shape of the arching, and then fair-in the parts in between the templates. (The templates for the back plate are slightly different, but all of these things matter: I have to use them correctly. And, although I can get the arching “close” without the templates, quite honestly, “close” isn’t good enough.)

arching templated for 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
This top is from the previous fiddle, but I used the same templates, so here they are!

Laying out F-holes, and incising them.

After the arching shape is very close to correct, I use templates to lay out the f-hole shapes and locations, and then use a knife to incise the lines deeply, so that I can’t accidentally remove the lines through further shaping.

f-hole layout for five-string fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
F-holes laid out and incised on both front plates.

 

Then I refine the arching, using gouges, planes and scrapers, until the shape is exactly what I want.

refining the arching on a 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Refining the arching on the Englemann Spruce plate.

 

two plated for 5-string bluegrass fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Both front plates ready to begin purfling.

Purfling:

The word “purfling” evidently comes from the old Italian “por filo” meaning edging.  It supposedly helps strengthen the edge, and it certainly helps “define” the edge, and…it looks nice. Though there are examples of old intruments without purfling, all of the better “Old Master” makers used it, and I will never make an instrument without it. (Besides…I like it.)

I position the purfling beginning at 4mm inside the outer rim of the plates, and mark the location of both sides of the slot, using a purfling marker (sometimes called a purfling cutter.) The marker won’t work for the corners, so I have to lay them out using a pencil.

Then I use a knife to incise those lines deeply enough to receive the actual purfling strips.

purfling laid out for 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Beginning purfling slot in Englemann Spruce front plate.
Douglas Fir is much more difficult to incise, because the winter growth rings are very hard.

 

picking waste wood from the purfling slots on a 5-string fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Picking waste wood from the purfling slots.

 

Finally, when the slots are complete, I can begin inserting the actual purfling strips. The strips come as 32″ long three-ply veneers, and are very brittle. I have to use the bending iron to prepare them for insertion into the slots.

plate ready for purfling for a 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Purfling slot completed in Douglas Fir front plate.

 

inserting purfling in a 5-string bluegrass fiddle front plate, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Ready to insert purfling strips in the Englemann Spruce plate…but not without bending them first!

 

Purfling, inserted dry, into front plate of 5-string fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Purfling, inserted dry, on the Englemann Spruce front plate. Ready for hot hide glue!

 

Gluing the Purfling:

After the purfling strips are correctly fitted, dry, I carefully lift them out, one by one, and slip hot hide glue into the slot beneath each strip, then quickly force the strip back into the slot, ramming it home with a special tool.

When all is complete, I allow the purfling to dry, before moving on to cutting the channel, performing the final edgework, and fairing the channels into the arching…but those are stories for another day.  🙂

Completed purfling for two 5-string bluegrass fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Both plates’ purfling complete, still wet from gluing.

 

Thanks for looking.

Progress report: fiddles for Fall of 2021

Progress Report 8/3/21

Foundational Work For 5-string Fiddles

My last post showed the six “kits” I had built. The post included bookmatching the five-string fiddle plates, cutting the profiles of the Big Leaf Maple necks and scrolls, and cutting appropriate ribs to size. As a result, I ended up with six kits, including bass bar blanks all cut from the same billet of Englemann Spruce, and a big pile of linings ready to bend. ( I thought the linings were willow, but I now suspect may be poplar, instead.)

Five of these front plates ar Englemann Spruce, but one is Douglas Fir. I rarely find Douglas Fir that will work for tonewood, but a friend brought me a pickup-load of firewood,  and I found some that sounds great. (As you can see, I am not a “snob” about where I get my wood. If I need special wood, I buy it, but I frequently use Oregon woods.)

(In case anyone reading this is not aware, I build all my instruments (except the fittings, as a rule) entirely from the raw materials. I make all my molds by hand, and all my templates by hand. I have even made many of my tools. So every instrument is genuinely “handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop.”) 🙂

materials laid out for 5-string fiddles to be made in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Four of the six assembled “kits.”

 

I set aside four of the six “kits,” just to get them out of the work area. Then I began work on the remaining two kits.

Fiddles in pieces, waiting to become 5-string fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Two of the four kits in storage.

 

Beginning the Builds

The first step after shaping the blocks (last post) is to bend the ribs and linings. Then I can glue the ribs to the prepared blocks, using hot hide glue, and finally glue the linings to the ribs.

I rub a heavy coat of candle-wax (“paraffin” in the US) on the outer rims of my molds. This will prevent a “sneaky” drop of hide-glue from accidentally bonding the ribs to the molds instead of just to the blocks.

(A rib accidentally glued to the mold can be a disaster if I don’t realize my mistake in time. The glue is definitely stronger than the rib. It will destroy the rib, if I don’t catch it early enough to use hot water or steam to release it. But the wax coating pretty much eliminates that problem.)

I used a bending iron and a thin aluminum bending strap, to hand-shape the ribs, and then put them aside in paired sets, with the respective molds for which they are intended.

ribs and linings bent for handmade 5-string fiddle by Chet Bishop in Oregon
Ribs and linings bent and ready to install.

Installing the Ribs

I installed the center-bout ribs first: they can be difficult, so I’m glad they are first. But the real reason they are first, is that the upper and lower ribs will overlap the ends of the center ribs: they do not have a mitered corner, but a lapped corner, which if done correctly, is essentially invisible.

installing ribs on 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishopribs
A pair of center-bout ribs installed.

I frequently use these “French-style” molds, (flush on the back) which allow me to install the front linings and still easily remove the mold. (Italian-style molds are centered on the ribs…I use that kind, too.)

I used cylindrical clamping cauls of appropriate sizes (dowels, broom-handles…whatever) and f-clamps to quickly secure the rib ends before the hot hide glue gels. If I make a mistake, I can steam the joint loose with a teapot, and do it over, correctly.

After the center-bout ribs dry, I shape the ends of the ribs to match the curvature of the blocks.  Then the upper and lower ribs can be glued to the perfectly-shaped block and rib. Finally, I begin installing the upper and lower ribs.

installing ribs on 5-string fiddle handmade by Chet Bishop in Oregon
First upper rib installed: notice the shaped endes of the center-bout ribs.

 

Installing ribs in 5-string fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
A pair of matching upper ribs installed.

 

installed ribs on five-string fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
All the upper and lower ribs installed. (Looking from the back side of the mold.)

 

ribs installed on two five-string fiddles, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Two completed rib-sets, ready to be trimmed before adding linings. (Lots of smoke blowing in from the fires this season, making the light kind of red.)

Necks!

While waiting for glue to dry on the ribs, I laid out the necks so that I will be ready to begin carving them.

Necks for five-string fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Necks laid out for carving.

Linings!

After trimming all the corners, so that they look as though the ribs come together as one, I begin installing the linings. I cut a small mortise on each side of each block, flush with the rib, so that the lining will be glued tightly to the rib, and into the block mortise. I secure them all using hot hide glue.

Next, I cut the linings to length, shaping the ends to closely fit the prepared mortises. Then, I coat about 7mm of the edge of the rib, and the entire mating surface of the lining with hot hide-glue and insert the lining into the mortises and push it to the correct level, corresponding to the ribs. Finally, moving rapidly, I secure it with small spring-clamps.

installing linings in five-string fiddles being handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
One set of linings fully installed: one to go!

 

Linings installed in five-string fiddles handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
All the front linings installed in both molds.

 

I made a good deal of progress yesterday, and had hoped to make more progress today, but there were some household repairs that needed to be addressed first; so I didn’t begin working on violins until mid-afternoon.

Tomorrow I will level the fronts of the garlands and trace the front plates… I hope.  🙂

 

Thanks for looking!

Need More Fiddles!

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.

New Five-String Fiddle Completed!

Five-String Fiddle from the Vallery Tree

The Beginning:

This instrument was actually begun last winter, but is only now coming into completed form. The back, sides and neck are all salvaged from a tree taken down years ago on my wife’s parents’ property, where she grew up. (I built a commissioned instrument from this same tree last year.) I wish I had a lot more of it, but much of the tree was lost to rot. Too bad… it is pretty wood. The Sitka spruce top came from somewhere here in the northwest, but I don’t know exactly where: all I can say is that I bought it from a local wood dealer.

Early stage Oregon five string bluegrass fiddle by Chet Bishop
Early stage… at this point there was a long way to go!

 

Eventually, I had the corpus (body) completed and had begun working on the neck and scroll. Additionally, arthritis was plaguing me a little, so it was slow progress.

handmade Oregon 5-string fiddle in progress
Completed corpus with partially carved scroll and neck.

 

hand carved five string fiddle scroll for oregon 5-string fiddle
Nearly-completed scroll joined to fingerboard, for final shaping as a unit.

 

completed scroll and neck assembly with fingerboard ready for installation on Oregon five-string fiddle
Completed neck assembly, ready for “neck-set.”

 

Then it was time to set the neck. This is one of the most exacting steps in building a violin: everything has to be correct, or it will be impossible to correctly set the instrument up for playing.

Beginning the neck mortise on an Oregon handmade 5-string fiddle by Chet Bishop
Beginning the neck-mortise into which the neck heel will be set.

 

Final Assembly

After the neck mortise is completed, so that the neck fits perfectly and all angles and dimensions are exactly right, I liberally coat the mortise and neck-heel with hot hide-glue, and then I quickly ram the neck into place. Then, I checked all measurements one last time and clamped it with a single clamp at the heel.

neck set completed on a handmade oregon 5-string fiddle by Chet Bishop
Successful Neck-Set! (The button and heel still need to be trimmed…)

 

back view neck-set handmade Oregon 5-string fiddle by Chet Bishop
Back view

 

After all the woodwork was completed, I varnished the instrument: The first coats are quite yellow, to provide a “golden glow” from under the color coats.

five string fiddle handmade by Chet Bishop in Oregon
First coat of (yellow) varnish. The Spruce shows the yellow strongly.

 

varnishing a 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop
Back view: the Maple was darker to begin with, so the yellow is not as obvious.

Final Set-up

Finally, the instrument was fully varnished and set-up:

Oregon handmade five-string bluegrass fiddle by Chet Bishop
Front View of the completed instrument.

 

Oregon Bluegrass five-string fiddle, handmade by Chet Bishop
Side View:

 

Oregon five-string bluegrass fiddle, handmade by Chet Bishop
Back view.  (I love that grain!)

 

The Verdict:

The sound on this fiddle is very strong and clear: it has a well-focused C-string and is well-balanced across all five strings. I think this is possibly my best instrument so far.

 

Thanks for looking!

 

 

Five String Fiddle Finally Complete

Finally Done!

This one took awhile: Lots of sidetracks and other projects to complete. But it is finally done!

Back, Neck and sides

The back, sides and neck are from the “scrap” left over from building that five-string double bass last summer. This is the “sister-instrument” to the commission I built last winter, from the same wood-source, but the other side of the bass.

This and several other of my instruments are all from a log given me by the late Terry Howell. I have made one cello, one bass and several five-string fiddles from the wood of that log, and I still have a lifetime supply, thanks to Terry’s generosity. (see that story, here)

Front Plate

The front plate, however, is a first for me: Douglas Fir! This is unusual, but not unheard of: there are a number of professional instruments by Otto Erdesz out there being played whose front plates were made of Douglas fir. Will I always use it? Nope! But this turned out very well indeed! I am more confortable using spruce, and probably will continue to mostly use spruce, but it was quite an eye-opening experience to try the Douglas Fir.

The sound is very big, with a very clear, deep C-String, and perfect balance across all five strings. This fiddle will “cut through the mix” in a band, but can also play pianissimo when needed.

Overall, I am very well satisfied with the final result on this fiddle. I am confident that a buyer will find it a thrill to play.

Front view of handmade five-string bluegrasss fiddle.
Front is made of Oregon Douglas Fir: this is unusual, but not a first. Otto Erdesz used to use Douglas fir for front plates.

 

Side view of handmade 5-string bluegrass fiddle, made of Oregon Big Leaf Maple and Oregon Fouglas Fir.
Sides and neck are made from Oregon Big Leaf Maple. I have the entire log they came from.

 

Back view of Oregon handmade five-string fiddle, or Oregon Big Leaf Maple.
Back plate is also that same Big Leaf Maple.

 

Scroll of handmade 5-string bluegrass fiddle by Chet Bishop.
The Scroll, too, came from that same log.

 

Thanks for looking!

 

New Handmade Five String Fiddle

fiddle with sealer

Handmade Oregon Five-String Fiddle in Progess!

Just an update: This week was a hard one, in terms of getting things done, because I had some repairs to do; but I did complete the varnish prep work on the most recent five-string violin, and then rubbed into it the mineral ground I use to fill the wood pores and prevent excessive varnish saturation.

The mineral ground dried rapidly, allowing me to accomplish the final rubdown before varnishing began: so, this evening, I applied the sealer, which is designed to soak in, and lock the mineral in place, after which the solvent evaporates, leaving only the resin in the wood. I rubbed off the excess with a rag and alcohol to make sure no unwanted residue was drying on the surface.

So, here is how it looks today. From here on out, it will be varnish and set-up: It promises to be a great fiddle! (And, it did!)

front with sealer
Front view with sealer. I must have moved just a little, as I see it is blurred a little. But the color is accurate.

 

Treble side of five-string bluegrass fiddle, with sealer
Treble side, with sealer. I think those ribs are going to be beautiful!

 

Bass side of handmade Oregon 5-string fiddle with sealer.
Bass side, with sealer. Looks even nicer on this side!

 

Back view of Oregon Big Leaf Maple five-string fiddle with sealer.
Back view, with sealer. I like this best of all.

 

I always hang the fiddles in the dining room to dry, since we heat with wood, and that is where the woodstove is. The room stays warm, especially up near the ceiling.

Back of oregon five-string blurgrass fiddle with sealer drying.
Hanging in the dining room to allow the sealer to dry.

 

This is a pretty accurate view of the color, so far: I intend to use yellow varnish as my base coat(s) to produce a golden glow from within the color-coats.

Thanks for looking.

Newest Development

five string viola

15″ Five String Viola in North Carolina!

A shop in Charlotte, NC has agreed to take one of my fiddles on consignment.

The shop is called “The Violin Shoppe” and is a pretty important outlet in that area for stringed instruments, so I am thrilled to be represented there.

One of the owners, Glen Alexander, is a great fiddler, and demonstrated the posiblities offered by my little five-string viola, on his facebook page as well as on YouTube.

Here is the YouTube video: Glen Alexander putting my 5-string fiddle through its paces.

I’m gratified to see an Oregon Five-string fiddle, there, and to hear him play it!

Meanwhile, I have others on the way. 🙂

Thanks for looking!

 

Five-String Progress

Handmade 5-String Fiddle coming along!

Oregon Douglas Fir top plate

There was a famous maker, years ago, (Otto Erdesz, 1917-2000) who often made top plates for violas and violins out of Douglas Fir. Professional players bought and played his instruments, and they are still being played today, although many classical players insist that European spruce is the only “proper wood” for an instrument soundboard. Frankly, I usually would have agreed: all my experience with Douglas Fir seemed to indicate that it would not be a very good choice, even though I have played one of his instruments, and it was excellent. So, until this instrument, I simply didn’t try it.

Early this winter, a friend gave me a load of clean, dry Douglas Fir firewood. I heat with wood, and we had all been told it would be a bad winter (it wasn’t) so I really appreciated the gift. As I split some of it, I noticed that, unlike most Douglas Fir, it had no twist at all, and split easily and cleanly. When I picked up a chunk and tapped it, it gave a very clear, bell-like ring. (Hah! That spells “time to try some fir!”)

So I found one of the few pieces long enough to use, and carefully split it into useable billets, then sawed a center-line to book-match a plate.

Douglas Fir billet with Rib Garland
Douglas Fir billet with Guarneri Rib Garland

I have been using a pattern modeled after the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri del Gesu, a lot, lately, so I installed blocks in the mold, bent the ribs, and got going!

I had one more piece of “scrap” of Oregon Big Leaf Maple, from the 5-string Double bass I built last year, too,  and I was looking forward to making a fiddle out of it. I had already made one 5-string fiddle from scrap from the other side of the bass-back, (sold to a bluegrass fiddle player in Ohio) and it turned out very well, so I was anxious to get the “sister” instrument made.

Back Plate Arching nearly complete:

Back arching nearly complete.
Back arching nearly complete.

 

The neck actually came from a tree on my wife’s parent’s place. I got started on it, as well:

neck billet in progress
Neck billet in progress.

 

Beginning to cut out the scroll requires a lot of saw-cuts, to outline the actual curl of the scroll, and then to remove the waste wood, using either a saw or a gouge…I used the saw, in this case.

beginning the scroll cuts
Beginning the scroll cuts.

 

Continuing the scroll cuts.
Continuing the scroll cuts.

 

Then I use various gouges and chisels to complete the scroll and the inside of the pegbox.

Scroll and pegbox nearing completion.
Scroll and pegbox nearing completion.

 

After the scroll and pegbox are very close to complete, I will prepare and attach the fingerboard and shape the two as a unit. That hasn’t happened, yet, so the handle portion of the neck is still rough and untouched.

Scroll ready for fingerboard; Arching complete on back plate.
Scroll ready for fingerboard; Arching complete on back plate: ready for Graduations.

 

Completing the Front Plate

Meanwhile I completed the carving of the front plate, laid out and cut the f-holes and began the purfling. Cutting the purfling slots by hand on Douglas Fir is quite difficult, because the winter reeds are exceedingly hard, compared to the softer summer reeds, and the knife just “pops” over them so that it feels as though it is running over corrugated roofing. It took me much longer to purfle this plate than it usually does for a spruce plate. (Ah, well! Perhaps that is one reason so few use it!)  But the tap-tones of this plate are exceptionally strong and clear: I still have high hopes for the power and tone of the resulting instrument.

Purfling the front plate.
Purfling the front plate.

Garland leveled and Front Plate installed!

(I neglected to get photos of the bass-bar process: it is also Douglas Fir, from the same billet. I will show it after I remove the mold…sorry.)

Front plate installed and waiting for glue to dry.
Front plate installed and waiting for glue to dry.

 

The graduations for the back plate are nearly complete, but today was a long day, and I will have to finish them tomorrow. So, here is where the progress stands, for tonight:

Completed front plate on garland, with nearly completed back plate.
Completed front plate on garland, with nearly completed back plate.

 

Tomorrow! (yeah, tomorrow!)

I hope to get the back plate completed tomorrow, except for the purfling, which will wait until after I install the plate. Then I will prepare the fingerboard and get it glued onto the neck, and I will feel as though I am “On the home stretch!” (But it won’t really be true: there still will be a great deal of work left to do, before it is anywhere close to completed.)

 

Thanks for looking!