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.

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!

 

2021: Two New Five-String Fiddles on the Way

Two New Handmade Five String Fiddles Begun

One Guarneri-Style, One Oliver

The last two commissions were a five-string on the original Oliver Pattern and a five-string on the slightly-wider Guarneri pattern. Both sounded great, and both customers are very happy. So, that left me wondering which one to do next. The obvious answer: Both!

 

Five String fiddles Guarneri and Oliver, side by side.
Five String fiddles Guarneri and Oliver, side by side.

 

I’m trying a new neck and scroll design on the Guarneri model. I hope it works well, because I really like the graceful look.

The instrument on the left (modeled after the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri, with modifications to acommodate five strings) is  left-over Oregon Big Leaf maple from building a five-string double bass, during the summer of last year (same as the Andy Pastor commission fiddle.)

Heavily Flamed Maple for the back plate.
Heavily Flamed Maple for the back plate.

 

The scroll (also Oregon Big Leaf Maple) is from a tree on the property where my wife grew up, and so are the ribs.  The back is from a tree on the next ridge of hills west: about ten miles by road, probably three miles in direct line-of-flight. (Same one from which the recent double bass was taken, as well as several other instruments I have made. The late Terry Howell, of Howell Tree Farm, gave me the entire log, so I have a good supply.)

Heavily flamed maple neck in progress.
Heavily flamed maple neck in progress.

Experiment:

I have also decided to try an experiment: This will be the first time I have attempted a 5-string bluegrass fiddle with a belly of Douglas Fir, as opposed to Spruce. Otto Erdesz was famous for using it successfully in many of his instruments, so, when a friend gave me some very straight, split Douglas Fir, I decided to make the attempt, on the Guarneri model. It is quite dense compared to spruce, but it rings like a bell, when I tap it with my finger, so, I think it will be good.

Bookmatched Douglas fir top plate with Guarneri-model garland.
Bookmatched Douglas fir top plate with Guarneri-model garland.

 

Douglas Fir Top Plate arching complete.
Douglas Fir Top Plate arching complete.

 

The back, as well as the ribs and the scroll on the right-hand instrument above (the Oliver-model) are all from the tree on my Mother- and Father-in-law’s property. The belly, as usual, is Sitka Spruce.

Spruce belly, Oregon Big Leaf Maple back and scroll.
Spruce belly, Oregon Big Leaf Maple back and scroll.

 

So, that is where things stand, today:

All the parts for the two new 5-string fiddles.
All the parts for the two new 5-string fiddles.

Slow Start due to Repairs and other Responsibilities

This has been a slow start: 2021 saw me needing to repair my ancient bandsaw, and, even more depressing, my drill press had succumbed to the misguided attention of a marauding mouse. (The little wretch had crawled up through the ventilation holes of the electric motor and chewed off all the insulation from about 4″ of wire!)

Saw:

The bandsaw required disassembly and drilling out a worn, threaded hole, and retapping for a helicoil. The machine will probably outlast me, now.

Drill Press:

The drill press motor had to be taken apart and a new wire soldered in place. (A friend did that one for me. I really lack confidence when it comes to electric motor repair.) Fortunately, the damage was limited to just that one wire. (Maybe the plastic insulation gave the mouse a belly-ache.)

Back in business:

At any rate, I now have both machines running again, and I was able to saw out the profiles for the remaining plates as well as drilling the pilot holes in each scroll.

I should be able to get more done, now. (Gotta prune the apple-trees, too… Spring is on the way!)

 

Thanks for looking.