Violins


I was staying with friends in Havant, UK and they took me to a local Celtic music session at a tavern in King Street, Portsmouth.

The first thing I noticed as I pulled out my pochette (travel violin) is that in fact none of the other fiddles were standard violins either!

A group of unusual fiddles

A group of unusual fiddles

in addition to the viol-like fiddle, the top-corner violin and the guitar-shaped violin, there was my pochette and a baroque-style violin (not pictured).

After introductions I quickly found that I had about 60-70 percent tunes in common and quickly settled in for a very enjoyable session.

Session at King Street Tavern, Portsmouth

Session at King Street Tavern, Portsmouth

Here is another view of the musicians

Session at King Street Tavern, Portsmouth

Session at King Street Tavern, Portsmouth

I was invited to join them at a session in Winchester a few days hence, but sadly, my plans led me in another direction. I had a great night and our friends enjoyed the music too :-)

With the violin complete all that is left is to string the instrument and tune it up. It will develop more tone with time and playing, but I’m very pleased with the sound. This is a fine 3/4 size Michel-Ange GARINI made in the Vosges Mirecourt region of France for the workshop of Jerome Thibouville-Lamy (JTL) in the early part of the 20th century – probably around 1903-5.

Here once again is the ‘before’ photo

Garini violin before photo

Garini violin 'before' photo

And here is the first tune after restoration:

So it’s been quite a learning journey for me, and worth every step and mis-step.

Cheers
Jerry

It occurred to me that once the top is on the violin, I will need to make a new sound post as the repair will have slightly changed the profile of the interior. There are two ways to ensure the correct length of sound post: firstly, you can guess and risk wasting precious sound-post timber, or you can measure the space and cut to size.

My book on violin repairing – which has precious little on repairing cracks! – recommends buying a sound post gauge. Luckily Atria’s book illustrates the principle quite well. And just recently I replaced the windscreen wiper blades on my car…

violin sound post gauge

You see, the spine of the old wiper blades consisted of two thin strips of mild steel about 1 mm thick and 3 mm wide and about 300mm long. I decided to get dangerous with a pair of pliers.

Once I bent the two pieces so they would nestle into each other with opposing ends (already rounded so they won’t scratch the violin timber) I found a piece of clear plastic tubing (fuel line) – although you could use a drinking straw – and bound the two strips together with the tube, and then bent the ends over so they would be easy to grasp and slide the two pieces against each other to make the measurement. I also inserted a small timber wedge from an offcut so as to provide a good friction fit that would retain the measurement while extracting the tool from the F-hole.

And here is the result – a functional sound-post gauge.

violin sound post gauge

And it works well. Happy luthiering :-)

I ordered and received some spruce 3mm sheets – perfect for making repair cleats. There is probably enough to last me for a lifetime of violin repairs!

The extensive cracks on the violin top certainly required reinforcement. I cut a series of 5mm squares and lightly sanded them to fit the curve of the inside top plate and glued them in place along the largest cracks with hide glue. Then I shaved each of them down to a low pyramid.

This process took a couple of hours as I needed to get each one in place and clamped and set, then when the glue was set, I began shaving them down with a very sharp chisel.

Here is the result

violin repair cleats

This last one is a little different, and is known as an ‘eyebrow patch’ which involves removing some of the original timber and inserting a piece of spruce and carefully shaving it down to be flush with the surrounding wood. This makes for a strong repair, and as it is still spruce – the same as the rest of the top, there should be little impact on the sound. It is the strongest way to repair an F-hole failure.

violin repair cleats

With spool clamps made the next job was to begin the process of gluing the cracks ready for the reinforcing cleats. First I had to mix up some fresh glue. Elsewhere I noted that I had converted an old coffee drip machine as a double heater for the glue.

coffee pot as glue pot

coffee pot as glue pot

The glue granules were dissolved in water for about an hour, then heated by immersion in the coffee pot which held plain water on the hotplate. The glue was mixed to the consistency of honey – and that is when it is ready to use.

A further examination of the back revealed a separation between the lower bout and the back. The best tool for this is a thin palette knife.

The knife both found the gap and was used as the means to convey the glue into the gap.

Garini violin repair

Garini violin repair

The excess was quickly wiped off with a damp rag and the gap was held closed by a few spool clamps. Four hours later and the back-ribs seal is complete.

Garini violin repair

Garini violin repair

With that job done, I set aside the body on its cushioned surface and set to work on the top.

There were several issues to address which had to be handled quickly, so photos are sparse.

The first one was the F-hole crack that would otherwise prevent proper clamping of the other cracks. I made a temporary cleat from a popsicle stick and glued and clamped this one with a spring clamp.

At that point I went off and had some lunch and a coffee and came back to find it had held well and was nicely aligned.

Using the palette knife for the most open part of the first major plate crack I worked quickly under a warm lamp to get glue into the join as far as possible. But to avoid opening the crack further, I then pained glue on the rest of the crack and tapped it into the crack with my forefinger.

Then I used the edge-closing clamp to hold the edge and applied a full top-plate clamp to close the rest of the crack.

You can see both clamps here – they are specialist luthier clamps bought from Pilgrims Projects online.

Garini violin repair

Garini violin repair

Having sealed the bass-bar crack I did the same with the upper plate crack and glued that up too.

After several hours the top plate is almost solid again. But the top plate will be weak. And the F-hole repair is only temporary as I really need to do a full ‘eyebrow’ cleat – which entails removing some of the original wood to about half the thickness of the plate, and inserting a spruce cleat to match it and then shape it to fit so that no timber stands proud when it comes to rejoining the top to the ribs.

At this point I will have to put the repair on hold as I need to order some spruce material for the cleats online – it should be about a week or ten days coming from the USA.

In the meantime I hope to make some detailed drawings traced from the violin so that I can use the measurements on a new one.

Cheers
Jerry

With the violin apart I realised that I only had half enough spool clamps – so before proceeding with the repair I made another 15 clamps bringing the total to 30 – which should be more than enough to reassemble the violin.

I know I’ve shown you before, but I thought a step by step view might be useful. Here’s how I made them

First get some threaded rod – I used 3/16″ whitworth – as that was standard at Bunnings®. I also bought nyloc® nuts, washers (double the quantity of the nuts) and wingnuts. I also had some 1″ dowel – like the sort used for broom handles.

Tools
hacksaw
saw
grinder (or file)
vice
8mm wrench (for the nyloc nuts)

I used nyloc® nuts as they have a nylon insert that grips the thread so it won’t unwind with vibration – you can use normal nuts but it’s best to imobilise it on the thread eg by using Loctite®

First cut the threaded rod to length – in this case about 100mm/4″ with a hacksaw

spool clamp

spool clamp

Next I smoothed the ends on the grinder – you can use a file – this will take the sharp edges off the ends. Just rotate so you have a light chamfer on the ends.

spool clamp

spool clamp

Next I cut the dowel into approximately 1.5-2.0 cm (about 1/2″) slices – two per clamp.

spool clamp

spool clamp

Now drill a centred hole through each pair of dowel rounds to fit as a close but sliding fit over teh threaded rod sections.

spool clamp

spool clamp

Now take the threaded rod and add one nyloc nut to one end. Using the wrench, make sure the nyloc nut is on tight so that the ed of the threaded rod just emerges through the nut. Then add a washer.

Luthier's spool clamp

Luthier's spool clamp

Now add the two dowel rounds

Luthier's spool clamp

Luthier's spool clamp

The washer will keep the pressure even across the dowel so it won’t break when you tension the clamp – of course you don’t want to over-tighten either. Now add another washer and the wingnut and the clamp is complete

Luthier's spool clamp

Luthier's spool clamp

And you can add that clamp to all the ones you made earlier!

Luthier's spool clamp

Luthier's spool clamp

Total cost was about AU$16.00 – making them actually less than AU$1.00 per clamp because I have enough material left over to make several more.

With the top plate removed I gave the inside a thorough brushing with a soft brush to remove any dust so I could see if there were other issues that might affect how I went about the restoration.I was looking to see if there was any insect or fungal damage, and I wanted to see clearly if there were old repairs or previous unsuccessful repairs that might complicate the process.

Garini violin repair

Garini violin repair

A close visual and tap inspection of the back revealed no cracks or loose glue joints and the blocks appeared sound. The next thing was to remove residual glue from the linings and bouts so as to ensure a smooth surface for replacing the top once it is fixed. This was done with a scraper.

Garini violin repair

Garini violin repair

The instrument is nicely finished inside and will not require any regraduating. The blocks also appear to be sound, and they haven’t shrunk so the top is really the only issue.

A close examination of the top shows a number of large, but clean cracks. They will need reinforcing cleats. There is evidence of previous repair being attempted on these, but without reinforcement and the cracks have failed. At a guess I would say the damage is a typical crush injury – the sort of damage sustained when heavy luggage is placed on top. It does not appear to have been the result of a drop onto a hard surface as there is no impact damage on the plate overhangs.

The most worrying one is the one running parallel and close to the bass bar.

Garini violin repair

Garini violin repair

The bass bar itself is sound, and there does appear to be sufficient room for some small cleats that will help to reinforce the crack. It looks as though someone has tried a thin hide glue and it has not set properly, or was of insufficient strength to hold.

The next main crack is on the treble side and will also require reinforcement. The crack is about 100mm (4″) long and is clean with no wood missing.

Garini violin repair

Garini violin repair

The only worry here is that the crack extends up to the F hole.

The third is one of the more common cracks, being at the F hole, but as it goes all the way through it considerably weakens the top at this point. It will also need reinforcement with cleats.

Garini violin repair

Garini violin repair

This should be fairly easy to get glue into, but the clamping will be complicated.

The dark stain is where the original luthier pained on some hide glue as a reinforcement for the F holes – that is common practice and is fine – it does not denote  previous repair there.

The beauty of using hide glue is that it is acoustically transparent – it does not inhibit the sound the way, say, PVA glues would. The other beauty of hide glue is that as it dries it actually draws the wood together making an almost invisible join. And given both of these factors, you can see why luthiers put up  with the hassle of having to heat it for use. It is important to make up a fresh batch for each repair session as it can ‘go off’  and lose its bonding strength.

After this I will need to clean off the rosin residue beneath the bridge area and give the whole instrument a thorough clean with violin polish. I will not attempt to re-varnish the area beneath the fingerboard as that unfinished zone is part of the original construction, although I may give it a light French polish.

The biggest challenge will be to sequence the repairs and to work out how to clamp them so they hold.

Last weekend I also bought more dowel and threaded rod to make about another fifteen spool clamps for the final reassembly. I have some specialist crack repair clamps bought from a luthier supplier.

Cheers
Jerry

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