And, the Finish!

This is how a violin is completed:

Last time I posted, I had just completed the commissioned five-string fiddle, up to and including the sealer.

Sealed five string fiddle handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop
Sealed instrument, Front View
back view of sealed five string fiddle, handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Sealed instrument, Back View.

Varnish:

The “magic” of the sealer was that it caused the mineral ground to disappear forever. The instrument instantly went from stark chalk-white to a natural wood color. As a result, the mineral will never be visible again. I always enjoy that transformation.

The varnish, on the other hand, is a series of relatively small changes, wherein the violin achieves the color we want. Furthermore, the increasing clarity and depth of the varnish gives the impression of being able to “see into the wood.”

I always begin with a couple of coats of deep yellow or amber varnish, as an undercoat which will shine through the later color coats.

Yellow First

Here is the violin after the two coats of yellow varnish:

Yellow varnish base coat on a commissioned 5-string fiddle handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier, Chet Bishop
Front View, with Yellow base coat.
Yellow base coat varnish on treble-side of commissioned 5-string fiddle, handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier, Chet Bishop.
Yellow base coat, Treble Side View.
Yellow base coat on back side of 5-string commissioned instrument, handmade in Oregon by artisanal Luthier, Chet Bishop.
Back View with Yellow base coat.

Color Coats

Next, I bagan layering the color coats, building to the look I planned. (Each “coat,” in reality, is usually two coats, applied in quick succession. There were about eight total color coats, but I will call them “first through fourth.”)

First color coat on front of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
First Color Coat, Front
First color coat on treble side of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier, Chet Bishop
Treble Side, with First Color Coat.
First color coat on back of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier, Chet Bishop
First Color Coat, Back
First color coat on bass side of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Bass Side, with First Color Coat.

This maple is really beautiful wood. I wish I had a lot more of it, but, sadly, I only was able to salvage a little of the tree from which it originated. The “donor tree” was removed from the property where my wife and her siblings grew up. It had finally rotted and was becoming dangerous, so they removed it. But the wood is gorgeous. You can see the stump in this article….

Continuing color coats

As you can see, the yellow base coat is still showing through pretty strongly. That is good, but I still wanted to move the color toward a deep reddish brown,  with the golden yellow shining through. Therefore… I needed more color coats!

Second Color Coat on 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop
Second Color Coat, Front
Second Color coat on back of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
Back, with Second Color Coat.

The color is headed in the right direction, but still needs to be deeper. I will add extra color in any areas that should be darker.

Third Color Coat, front side of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by Artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Third Color Coat, Front.
3rd color coat on back or 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
Oregon Big Leaf Maple Back, withThird Color Coat.

I was getting pretty close to correct, so I began taking the instrument out into natural light, to check the color there.

Fourth color coat on five string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Fourth Color Coat, Front.
4th color coat treble side of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
Treble Side with Fourth Color Coat.
4th color coat, back side of five string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by Artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Back, with Fourth Color Coat.
4th color coat bass side of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by Artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Bass side, Fourth Color Coat.

The color was pretty close to what I had hoped to produce. Therefore, I felt that I was ready to  reinstall the fingerboard, Afterward, I would hand-rub the varnish to a good polish.  Finally, I allowed it to hang in my dining room and cure a little more fully. The varnish was still quite soft, though dry to the touch.

Fingerboard

First I carved the underside of the fingerboard to remove extra mass. This affects the sound, as well as the feel of the instrument. (Extra, unnecessary mass tends to absorb vibration rather than resonate.)

Underside of fingerboard
Underside of fingerboard beginning. It was fully carved and smoothed before installation.

Then I carved a tiny notch, dead center on the upper end of the backside of the fingerboard, where it would contact the neck. After carving the notch in the fingerboard, I drilled a shallow 1/16″ hole in the neck, to accomodate a tiny nail.

That nail is temporarily installed, at an angle, to serve as a guide and an anchor while installing the fingerboard. (The hide glue is very slippery while it is still hot, and liquid. There is a tendency for the fingerboard to “drift” under the clamps, before the glue can gel.)

The notch in the fingerboard fits on the nail. The nail, then, serves as a temporary stop, so the fingerboard stays put. (I remove the nail after the glue has set.)

Fingerboard installed on 5-string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Fingerboard installed. Notice the tiny nail used to temporarily position the fingerboard.

Beginning Set-up

After a few more days, I began set-up. First, I installed the soundpost, saddle, nut, and end button. Next, I fit the pegs, and was ready for the bridge and the strings.

Nut installed on 5-string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Nut installed: it will be filed lower before installing strings.
Saddle
Saddle installed, still requiring final smoothing and retouch.

You can see in the above photo that the varnish was still very soft. Everywhere I touched it, it also resulted in my leaving fingerprints. I had to “French-polish” the whole instrument afterward, and let it hang until the varnish was harder. Then it would be easier to handle. (But it was good to have the set-up nearing completion, too.)

Completed five-string fiddle ready for retouching.
Completed five-string fiddle ready for varnish retouch.

Pegs

After the varnish had hardened a little more, I then installed the pegs.

Pegs installed, front view of five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop,
Pegs installed, Front view.
Bass side with pegs, Five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Bass side view with Pegs.
Back side of five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Back Side View with Pegs.

Final Set-up

I installed the Bridge and Strings and Tailpiece, and then the fiddle was complete. I still let it hang in my dining room for a week or so, too, so that the varnish would continue to harden without damage.

competed 5-string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Hanging up to cure.

Final photos

Final front
Final look at the Front before delivery.
Close-up look at the f-hole area.
Close-up of the f-hole on the Oregon Douglas Fir Front.
Bass side final look before delivery.
Bass side: final look before delivery.
Close up of the Scroll.
Close up of the Scroll.
back side of five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Final look at the back of the fiddle before delivery.

I prepared the instrument’s documents (Bill of Sale and Provenance Document) and afterward, when the varnish had cured for another two weeks, the customer took delivery at the end of July, 2023.

He was delighted, and played the instrument for a long time at my house. Further (which is a joy to me,) he has contacted me since then, expressing his continued joy in the new fiddle. That is the kind of thing that makes this work a great pleasure.

 

Thanks for looking.

 

More Progress on a Commissioned 5-String Fiddle

Progress Report: 5-String Fiddle

When I last posted, it was to explain my neck and scroll procedure. Before that, I had left the project with both plates partially carved.  The garland was complete, but with linings on the front side only.

Front Plate Procedure

So, moving forward, the next thing was to complete the front plate,

front plate
Douglas Fir Front plate outer arching nearly completed

Once the arching was nearing correct values, I carved most of the interior and then began laying out f-holes and purfling lines. The Douglas Fir is extremely difficult to work with, because the winter reeds are incredibly hard, while the summer reeds are nearly as soft as spruce… so the knife tends to follow the winter reed, instead of your intended path, making it very difficult to cut a smooth line.

beginning to carve the interior
Beginning to carve the interior of the Front Plate. This part was not too hard.
checking the depth
Checking the depth of the hollow. There is still work to do on the outside, so I have to be careful.

Purfling Procedure

rough purfling due to hard fir sound plate
Rough beginning for purfling and sound-holes. 

It was discouraging seeing how rough my beginning looked. But, as things progressed, I was able to clean up my lines a little and they began to look more acceptable:

Inner line of purfling completed.
Inner line of purfling completed.

And then, The outer purfling. I was being careful to not inlay the purfling too deeply, for fear of causing problems, but that meant the purfling did not want to stay in the slots by itself, while the glue set. So I had to clamp it down until the hot hide glue gelled and set up.

clamping purfling while glue sets.
Clamping purfling while glue sets.

But it looked pretty good after I planed it all flush with the Douglas Fir.

Double purfling on Douglas Fir Soundboard
Outer line of purfling copmpleted. Notice the pilot holes for the f-holes have been drilled.

When the interior and exterior were correct, I could finish cutting out the f-holes.

Beginning to cut out f-holes for a 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Beginning to cut out f-holes.
F-holes completed but rough
F-holes completed but rough. as the next few days went by, I kept returning to the f-holes with small files and perfecting the shapes.

I forgot to take pictures of the sequence of steps installing the bassbar. I constructed it of Douglas Fir, to match the top plate, and chalk-fit it to the correct location inside the plate. After the glue was dry I shaped it to the correct height, thickness and curvature. 

(There are a couple of links in the above paragraph to other builds, where I remembered to take pictures,,,sorry for the inconvenience!)

Then, after completing the inside scraping and edge preparation, I installed the front plate, using hot hide glue and spool clamps.

Front plate installed, with neck, fingerboard and back plate for 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Front plate installed, with neck, fingerboard and partially completed back plate.

Next time, I will show the procedures for setting the neck, completing the back plate and closing the corpus.

Thanks for looking!

 

 

New Commissioned Five String Fiddle On the Way!

New Commission!

Unusual  Woods

A customer ordered a new, custom-made Five String Fiddle, and it is on the way!  He chose heavily spalted, heavily-flamed, Oregon Big Leaf Maple for the back plate, the sides, the neck and scroll. My wife’s parents gave me the wood from this maple tree.

Ann used to play under and climb on this tree as a child, and we hated to see the tree cut down. Her parents still live there, less than four miles from our house, but they had to remove the tree because it was dying. I have salvaged wood for a few instruments from that tree and they all look and sound wonderful!

Given a choice between Spruce and Douglas Fir, the customer chose the Douglas Fir, for his front plate. This tree was also cut a just few miles from my home. (A famous violin and viola maker, Otto Erdescz  (1917-2000) used to make violins and violas with Douglas Fir soundboards. Some of them are still being played professionally, today. But very few luthiers use Douglas Fir. I didn’t either, until a few years ago!)

Not my usuaI Choice in times past

For many years, I refused to try such a thing. But a friend gave me a load of very straight grained Douglas Fir firewood, a few years ago.  As I was splitting it, I heard the split-off piece hit the ground, and it rang like a bell! I had never seen such straight-grained, clear Douglas Fir, with zero runout!

Unfortunately, that particular piece was too short for a fiddle. I had to search through the pile for a piece that was long enouigh for a violin plate.

Since then, I have made several such instruments, and they all sound great. (I find that the Spruce is definitely easier to work with, though, and, for classical, orchestral instruments, I still use only European maple and spruce.)

Customer Preferences:

This man showed up at my shop and he played all the five string instruments I had. (He really had not been used to 5-string instruments before, and he laughed for joy, hearing the rich deep C-string on each one.  After a short while, he declared, “OK, I’m addicted!”) He played the full range of all of them, and finally settled on my earliest unsold 5-string (#3 on the “Chronology” page) as being exactly what he wanted.

But not to buy that instrument. No! He wanted a commissioned instrument “just like that one!” He had thought things over, and he wanted one that was built especially for him! (Sure! We can do that!)

And, as it turned out, that was a good thing:  A week later, the next customer who came to try out all my instruments  also loved that fiddle, but she bought it that day, and drove away! So it is gone!

Which Mold?

I knew which of my molds was the source of that fiddle: I have made at least four off of that specific mold. All of them have sold, now, so, for the moment, there are none available. (This instrument will “solve that problem” momentarily, but it will be gone immediately after completion.)

The commissioning customer also wanted local wood, so that he could say, “My violin was made from a tree on that hill!” So…choosing the wood was the first step.

Choosing the Wood

The model I would use had already been chosen, so that was not an issue. I also knew what the wood source would be: I still have a little of the maple my wife’s parents had given me. And, with the customer’s approval, I chose a clear piece of Douglas Fir, salvaged from the firtewood I mentioned earlier. He loved both pieces.

Maple and spruce for five string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier
“Fiddle in the rough!”

Here is a closer picture of the maple:

Heavily Spalted and Heavily Flamed Maple for five string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, luthier.
Heavily Spalted and Heavily Flamed Maple

I book-matched the spruce, by cutting a single billet in two equal halves and gluing them together to make the front plate.

Douglas Fir for five String bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Douglas Fir, cut and ready to joint and glue the Center seam

I laid out the neck outline on the billet I had chosen for the neck, and I drilled the pilot holes for the tuning pegs. Then I cut out the side profile on a bandsaw.

scroll billet for new five string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Scroll profile cut out, and pilot holes drilled.

Mold Preparation

Meanwhile, I got the blocks glued into the mold. Then I  traced their shapes from my template, so the whole job could begin. I also  planed away the rough surfaces of the maple to ascertain that it actually would serve well as the back plate of a new five-string fiddle. And, I found that it was just a little too narrow in the lower bouts.

So, I “transplanted” a small piece of wood from the area above the upper bout on each side and grafted them in on the lower bouts. (This practice is not at all uncommon: It will be every bit as strong as the center seams on two-piece backs. And, once the double purfling is installed, the joints will be nearly invisible, under the varnish.)

wood for new five-string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Back plate in progress, blocks in the mold, and the shapes traced from the template.

Preparing the Ribs

I had chosen wood for the ribs, as well, and I sawed them to a thickness of a little over 2 mm. I thinned them, using a wooden fixture I made, clamped to my oscillating spindle-sander. The fixture allows me to  gradually reduce the thickness to 1 mm.

Here are the ribs:

Ribs for new five string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Rib-stock, sawn and thinned: ready to be cut to size and bent.

Installing the Ribs

Next, I cut the ribs to the correct length and width. I carefully considered which grain from one side would “mirror” which grain on the other side. I had already been tinkering on the neck, as you can see in this photo, but I will explain that process later.  (It isn’t always possible to do everything in a precise order. While I am waiting for  glue to dry on one section, for example, I may jump ahead on another piece.) You can see the bookmatched front plate, too.

Wood for new five string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Bookmatched top plate, neck and back billets in progress, and rib samples, cut to size.

I cut all six ribs, and marked them as to inside, outside, upper and lower ends, etc, as well as which side of the fiddle they would call their home…treble or bass side.

Then I bent the ribs using a hot “bending iron” (actually made of aluminum, but, in the old days, they were iron.)

(I forgot to take photos of the shaped blocks: Sorry.)

I had cut and shaped the corner and end blocks, already, so I applied a generous coat of hot hide glue to one block at a time. then, I clamped the rib into the block surfaces, making certain that everything fit correctly before tightening the clamps.

First, I installed the center bout ribs, and when the glue had dried, I used the spindle-sander to trim the ends of those ribs to match the curvature of the outer faces of the corner block, so I could install the upper and lower ribs. Here are the upper ribs, glued and clamped:

ribs installed for a new 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Center and Upper bout ribs installed, using hot hide glue and clamps.

The lower end of the bass-side center bout rib was not fully tight, so I reglued it and reclamped it. (left lower side of photo.)

Then, when that glue was dry, I installed the lower ribs, by turning the mold upside down in the vise, so I could see clearly. It also meant that both hands were free to adjust the rib position, and apply clamps.

All ribs installed on new 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
All the ribs are installed, but still need to be trimmed, before installing the linings.

Linings bent and installed

I also did not take photos of bending and installing the linings. (Sorry.) Here are two photos of the result, still in clamps.

Linings installed in new 5-string Bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop. Luthier.
Front view of linings clamped in place.
Garland with linings installed, for 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Side view of lining clamps and rib garland.

Tracing the plates

Once the linings were installed and the ribs thus strengthened, I could trace the shape of the plates, and begin cutting things out.

Completed garland and billet for front plate for 5-string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Garland and Front plate billet cut to shape.
New 5-string bluegrass fiddel in progress, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop Luthier.
And, that is the progress, so far!

Thanks for looking! I will try to keep everyone posted as to progress.

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.

 

 

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!

 

Five-String Progress

Handmade 5-String Fiddle coming along!

Oregon Douglas Fir Top Plate

Otto Erdesz, 1917-2000 often made top plates for violas and violins out of Douglas Fir. Professional players bought and played his instruments. They are still playing them today, although many classical players insist that European spruce is the only “proper wood” for an instrument soundboard.

Frankly, I usually agree: all my experience with Douglas Fir has seemed to indicate that it would not be a very good choice. (I believed this, even though I have played one of his instruments, and it was excellent.) So, I simply didn’t try it, until this instrument.

Game-Changer!

Earlier this winter, a friend gave me a load of clean, dry Douglas Fir firewood. I use wood heat, and we had all been told it would be a bad winter (it wasn’t.) So I felt truly grateful for the gift. Later, as I split some of it, I noticed that, unlike most Douglas Fir, it had no twist at all, and it split easily and cleanly. I picked up a chunk and tapped it, and it gave a very clear, bell-like ring. (Hah! That spells “time to try some Douglas Fir!”)

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

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

I frequently use a pattern modeled after the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri del Gesu. And…I like it, 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. Happily, I had saved it, too, from the 5-string Double bass I built last year. Understandably, 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, (which I sold to a bluegrass fiddle player in Ohio.)  It had 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

 

And, the Neck

I obtained the neck billet from a tree on my wife’s parent’s place. Every time I looked at it, I found the wood very attractive, so I got started on it, as well:

neck billet in progress
Neck billet in progress.

 

First. I began to carve the scroll and pegbox. I find that this task requires a lot of saw-cuts, to outline the actual curl of the scroll, and then to remove the waste wood. Alternately, I can use either a saw or a gouge, but I find that the saw saves a lot of effort. Here, I use the saw.

beginning the scroll cuts
Beginning the scroll cuts

 

Continuing the scroll cuts.
Continuing the scroll cuts.

 

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

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

 

I prepare and attach the fingerboard after the scroll and pegbox are very close to complete. Then I can carve 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. Then, I 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. The knife just “pops” over them so that it feels as though it is running over corrugated roofing.

As a result, I took much longer to purfle this plate than I usually do for a spruce plate. (Ah, well! Perhaps that is one reason so few luthiers are willing to use it!)  But, I still have high hopes for the power and tone of the resulting instrument. This plate has exceptionally strong and clear tap-tones.

Purfling the front plate.
Purfling the front plate.

Garland leveled and Front Plate installed!

(Unfortunately, I neglected to get photos of the bass-bar process. I made it also of Douglas Fir, from the same billet. I hope to 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.

 

Well…I’m tired. I nearly completed the graduations for the back plate, but today was a long day. So, I will simply have to finish them tomorrow. However, the progress stands here, 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 have to 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!