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.

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. Unfortunately, I had some repairs to do; but I did complete the varnish prep work on the most recent five-string violin. Then I rubbed into it the mineral ground I use to fill the wood pores and prevent excessive varnish saturation.

The mineral ground (a suspension of fine particles of Gypsum, in coffee) dried rapidly. This allowed me to accomplish the final rubdown before varnishing began. Consequently, this evening, I applied the sealer, (a solution of rosin in turpentine) which is designed to soak in, and lock the mineral in place. After  the solvent evaporates, leaving only the resin in the wood, I can begin varnishing. I rubbed off the excess with a rag and alcohol to make sure no unwanted residue was drying on the surface.

Next Step: Varnish!

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!) I will post varnish progress soon.

This is the “sister instrument” to the earlier one I made of off-cuts from the  Five-string Double bass I had made. This one is from the other side of that Bass back plate.

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.

Drying Time

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. It really pays to allow sufficient time between coats, for the varnish to get dry.

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

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!

 

 

5-string fiddle from bass back

5-string Fiddle Back from Bass Back Scrap!

I don’t like wasting tonewood!

So, when I saw that there were two sections of “scrap” left over, near where the neck end of the five-string double bass back was cut out, I realized that a 5-string fiddle back could fit into each of those two pieces.

So, I salvaged the wood, and not only got two backs, but also the neck blanks for two 5-string fiddles.

Five-string fiddle back cut from the scrap left from a 5-string double bass back.

Five-string fiddle back cut from the scrap left from a 5-string double bass back.

Arching the Plate

Five string fiddle begun, with back and neck from scrap from a 5-string double bass back.
Five string fiddle begun, with back and neck from scrap from a 5-string double bass back.

 

I really like the look of the Oregon Big Leaf Maple back wood. I enjoyed arching the plate.

Five-string fiddle back arching nearly complete.
Five-string fiddle back arching nearly complete. It is sitting on the five-string double bass garland whose back provided the scrap for the fiddle-back.

Purfling the Plate

On all my five-string instruments I usually include a purfling weave. It is a modified fleur-de-lis I designed for my first five-string fiddle and have continued to use on subsequent work.

Five-string fiddle back with purfling slots incised and ready to complete.
Five-string fiddle back with purfling slots incised and ready to complete.

In this photo, the slots for the purfling have been incised, but not cut deeply, so the next step is to slice deeply enough that the waste wood can be removed from between the cuts, and the purfling strips inlaid in the resulting slot.

I will include the purfling process in subsequent posts.

 

Thanks for looking.