MY VIOLIN. Faciebat anno 2004
A little background.
Violinists have been in the family for many years.
My dad played, his dad played, and I was given my first violin by my dad at age nine. I remember going carol singing with friends and playing it, and earning untold sums of money. A half crown in those days to a nine year old was real wealth!! We even bought a torch so as read the words on the carol sheets.
Later at about age eleven I ended up in a school orchestra. The Northampton Grammar School teacher told my parents that I should take private lessons because of my "outstanding" talent as a young violinist. The lessons were duly put in place with a Mrs Duncan and I well remember the first lesson. I recall going there, and more than anything I recall hating every moment of it. So - it was the one and only lesson I ever had in my life.
A real pity really because I kept playing but did not really develop the necessary habits to become a master. In fact a whole heap of irreversible bad habits became ingrained.
Hindsight is wonderful! I was given the chance - and ditched it!
Years rolled by with only sporadic attempts to play fiddle. After about 20 years of RAF life then several jobs after choosing to live in New Zealand the violin became an 'escape' once again. In spite of my largely "classical" upbringing I chose to join a country music club where I played and practised like there was no other past-time. So the bad habits were all quickly renewed. For over 15 years I played in two bands and we earned some useful pocket money. We also made the inevitable recording. Country music awards were entered and won and I really owe a vote of thanks to my wife whose support made it possible and enjoyable.
Remarkably the violin which my dad had given me at age nine surfaced again. It turned out to be a very fine Paolo Fiorini and the bow, which I used to swot flies with on stage, was a WH Hills one!! (I sold it.)
I grew more knowledgeable and soon bought a Wolff Bros violin 1888, a very good German made instrument, and which served me well for over ten years. I still have these instruments and a few others!
But I wanted to try and build my own violin. Here is the result. I did not really expect it to be playable but it is happily rather more than that.
Building my own
From the internet I compiled a thick folder of information on building violins. I read far more of course. I took many measurements from the two best instruments I all ready owned. Eventually I arrived at a set of values and set out to find timber. Hewitts fiddle shop (Auckland) sold me the traditional wedges of spruce and maple, the purflin strips and willow pieces. The big wedges looked great and were well seasoned. For the neck I was sold an old maple piano leg which was just big enough to make a neck and scroll in one piece. I paid only NZ$150 for nearly all the required wood, excellent value - a "gift" really.
Cath at Stringed Instrument Shop supplied the hide glue and lent me a taper reamer to help with peg fitting. She might have thought I was mad.
For a one off "experiment" I could not justify buying very expensive specialist tools. They had to be made first.
The maple back was one piece, the spruce top plate was two piece which I joined down the centre line using hide glue, the only glue ever needed in making violins.
On the left are most of the tools made for the job.
Click on links for a bigger pic in a new window.
Click to enlarge pictures during construction.
Wood was heated with a hot air gun prior to applying hot hide glue from glue pot. Speed is essential, the glue cools/sets quickly. Steel weights or clamps were applied whilst cooling. Much of the hollowing out was done on my drill press to a pre-set thickness. The scraper and the curved chisel did nearly all the "finishing".
Plywood profile templates made from my best violins were used to check the
curves of back and front.
The purfling slot was cut initially with the purfling cutter then scraped out to depth with a modified sharp file tang shaped into a hook.
The scroll was a challenge, it is bigger than usual but I quit while I was winning! Inside the bass bar was "sprung" slightly for claimed tone improvement, the swiss pine sound post was fitted as usual, with care. The ebony finger board was one I had from an old derelict violin. It needed little work and was quite suitable.
Far from perfect but of the many things I have made this violin is the one that gives most satisfaction. It is the best sounding violin I have ever owned and the only one I play regularly. It is unlikely I could make another as good. I am not going to try. It took just over two months, finished Oct 2004. Neither did I realise how the imperfections are magnified after varnishing! I'm an electronics eng.
Unfinished, 'can see some of the drill press indents remaining, and the faint join line down the middle.
AUTOLYCUS violin pickups have stood the test of time. I have tried most of the others but yet to find anything better even after many years.