You’d better grab a cuppa for this one! This is a tale of a bridge, a nut and two tail-pieces…
My eight-string hardanger fiddle was made for me over 20 years ago and in those days there was little or no information about bridge construction or shape or about how the sympathetic strings ran between the tuning pegs and the tail-piece. So despite its wonderful sound I was left with a puzzle.
The way the instrument was set up the sympathetic strings ran from the tuning pegs through four tiny holes, then beneath the fingerboard and through another four tiny holes in the bridge from where they were looped directly to the button at the base of the belly.
The problem was that I had no idea how to change those strings if they ever broke – and after 20 something years the rust alone was giving cause for concern.
I also wanted a means to attach fine adjusters to the sympathetic strings – and that’s how it all began.
At the music shop I bought a one-sixteenth size tail-piece with built-in fine tuners – I thought maybe I could do a double layer thing with two tail-pieces each with four fine tuners. Good theory. But how to change those strings?
I also had a problem with the nut (the ridge at the end of the fingerboard nearest the tuning pegs) – after 20 years of wear I had buzzing strings as the grooves in the nut had worn down almost to the fingerboard. I sought the advice of a friendly luthier who suggested I either make a new nut or add a small wedge beneath the nut. He assured me it was an easy job – one I could do myself – or he could charge a small fortune for a new one.
I decided to have a go. I still had the third problem of the bridge and the tightly wedged strings. So. Three issues to resolve and they all had to be tackled at one time.
I took on the bridge first – a quick search on the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America and found some size and shape notes with drawings of hardanger bridges – one in the pattern of Sverre Sandvik, and one in the pattern of Olav Viken – two makers of hardanger fiddles:
I chose the former (sandvik version) and headed off to the shed to find some wood – and there I found an off-cut of some Tasmanian Oak which looked about the right density. I scaled the drawings and printed them. Then cut out and glued the sandvik one to the timber and used a fretsaw to cut the main outline. Then drilled holes at each end of the ‘D’ opening in the centre and cut out the shape, finishing with some fine files and a sander.
Some levering with a chisel removed the nut with surprising ease – it came away cleanly. With the hobby bandsaw I carefully cut a ‘U’ shape to the height of the string holes and then glued a thin shaving of jarrah (Western Australian mahogany-like timber) and re-glued it in place at the end of the fingerboard after a little re-shaping on the slow-speed sander. With the nut and the bridge, my hardingfele was now like a traditional hardanger fiddle.
I won’t go into the several hours it took to replace the soundpost after I dislodged it, but at last the fiddle was ready for re-stringing.
By looping the smaller tail-piece loop around the larger tail-piece I was able to get the smaller one to sit ahead of the main tail-piece, and began by attaching the sympathetic strings to the smaller one. Then added the top strings and the hardingfele could sing again.
Yes the tone is different – a little brasher – with the new bridge and nut, but the buzzing is gone and I have fine tuners on all strings. I have had to insert a small piece of felt between the two tail-pieces to stop a small vibration there, but I’m happy to have solved the main structural issues.
One thing remains – I think I need to make a single tail-piece with eight tuners – so the rig is a little shorter and this will enable me to position the bridge closer to the soundpost which is about a centimetre back from the ‘E’-string side of the bridge. And I have a piece of jarrah that looks just right for it!