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.

hardanger fiddle bridge

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:

hardanger fiddle bridge line drawing

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.

hardanger fiddle bridge

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.

hardanger fiddle nut

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.

hardanger fiddle tail-piece with fine tuners

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!

Cheers
Jerry

One of the highlights of Copenhagen was the musical instruments museum. It is broadly arranged along a timeline from ancient instruments to the beginnings of electronic music. But the biggest drawcard was the variety of unusual and experimental violins. Some of these I have seen as images elsewhere, but I always thought they had been photoshopped and distorted. But having seen for myself, I can attest that each of these fiddles is as I saw them!

violinarpa
This is a ‘Violinarpa’ made around 1800 by Carl Claudius Samling

It seems that Samling was a particular violin maker in Cpoenhagen in the early 1800s who liked to experiment with different shapes, and a number of his instruments have ended up in this museum.

Philomele violin
A ‘philomele’ violin made arond 1800 by Carl Caludius Samling

The National Museum of Copenhagen had a good collection of hardanger fiddles, including these four

four hardanger fiddles (hardingfele)
Hardanger fiddles (hardingfele)

I was told in no uncertain terms that hardanger fiddles are Norwegian instruments so I would not find many in Denmark. The Danes are very much Danish rather than Scandinavian, and took great pride in the distinction.

Adjacent to the National Museum is the violin maker Emil Hjorth & Sons in Copenhagen – of some distinction – and found that he had a fine example of a hardanger on the wall – but it was not for sale! The violin maker was good natured and allowed me to photograph the instrument. This was the closest I would get to a live hardingfele – no glass to impede the view. This gave me an excellent opportunity to photograph the bridge in some detail – because the photos from which mine was copied were not sufficiently clear to allow the luthier to cut a fully traditional one.

hardanger fiddle (hardingfele)
Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele) photographed in Copenhagen violin makers shop Emil Hjorth & Sons

Hardanger fiddle bridge (hardingfele)
Hardanger fiddle bridge (hardingfele)

More soon on this fascinating place

Cheers
Jerry

Actually the start of a four day weekend for me wooohooo! Up at the crack of 8.30, leisurely breakfast of cereal and coffee, then a browse through the latest Australian Woodworker magazine – good piece on Egyptian lathes and the questions over evidence they had them, and a good article on Angel Polglaze – a chainsaw sculptor. Also a good readers tip on converting a jig saw to a scroll saw.

While my partner busily packed for the Southern Cross Crazies quilting retreat, I put in a bit of practice on some strathspeys – now have Monymusk down fairly well – though probably still too round and Irish sounding for the discerning Scottish ear.

Second breakfast: Apricot lattice (or Danish as we call them) and coffee

A quick bound out to the shed to cut a length of rod for a quilt, and put a couple of grooves in the ends to stop the hanging string from slipping off, then back for more tunes – damn need more waltzes too…

Lunch – some cheese and honey on crusty bread, and coffee

Then late afternoon expedition to cart stuff to the quilters retreat – held at GreenHills at Birragai on the Cotter Road (a beautiful location, even better on the motorbike). They seemed pretty well set up there for the weekend.

Back home, polished the fiddle (it really needs stripping back and re-varnishing – maybe after the China tour), hammered out some more tunes (repaired my old shoulder rest – now about 28 years old and the rubber feet had perished, so I did a quick repair using old bike inner-tube rubber. It’ll do the trick. I use another one on the hardanger fiddle, but it’s convenient to have one on each fiddle because different tunes sometimes demand different instruments.

Prepared some satay and rice for dinner – I love the Pataks simmer sauces – they make life so easy: just chop up an onion, some capsicum, a potato or two into cubes, add some Chinese stir-fry vegies throw the lot into a pan with the sauce and a half-sauce-jar of water and simmer for about 20 minutes (meanwhile dump a couple of cups of rice, dash of salt and a couple of cups of water into the rice cooker and set and forget). The smoke alarm tells you when it’s ready ;-) …er actually no, you remember to stir the satay occasionally and cook until the spuds are no longer crunchy, and serve when the rice is cooked – easy!

Then off to the bus depot to collect my daughter from her trip to Sydney where she is appearing (briefly) in a movie being filmed there – the “Mary Briant”. Eve was most appreciative of a hot dinner after a week of 4.00AM starts and a long cold and wet ride home on the bus. We shared a cup of tea and a exchanged news – her costumes look fabulous… but what have they done to her hair!! I guess the 1780s were a time for big hair and bustles…

Otherwise just a normal day really

cheers
Jerry

Who would have thought that my hardanger fiddle would end up being discussed in Norway eh? Well, my good friend Enok in Norway asked me in 2000 about my music so I sent him a couple of photos – and within minutes they were on his website :-0

I thought I might share them with you too …

So, what is a hardingfele? Basically it’s a violin with eight strings (don’t try this at home folks) – it has the normal four strings tuned the Australian way (G-D-A-E – which spells “G’day” – the classic Aussie greeting) plus there are four sympathetic strings that run beneath the fingerboard, through the middle of the bridge, and these are tuned various ways – my favourite is D-E-F#-A. The effect is like having a delay pedal – accoustically. When you play strings normally dampened by fingers, the sympathetic strings keep vibrating, giving a haunting echo-like sound. There are some sites with recordings of hardanger fiddles – one of my favourites is this one: Hardingkvartetten – the hardingfele quartet which has some mp3 downloads of hardanger music.

So how did these amazing instruments come about, and when?

The story I heard is this: Back around 1750 music was undergoing a revolution – Bach was playing with the new well-tempered scale which allowed fixed tone instruments to change keys without too much clash; and, due to government cut backs, orchestras were being scaled down – the problem then was to make the same amount of sound from fewer instruments. The solution went in two directions:

* firstly, the whole music scale was raised by nearly a semitone – “A” went from about 360 cycles per second to 440
* and secondly, instruments grew more strings and better sustain – like the hardanger.

Urban legend has it that the hardingfele (named after the Norwegian town of Hardanger – already famous for its distinctive white-work embroidery) was invented by a Norwegian schoolteacher from that town. Whoever invented it, there is some debate about the dating of the oldest known hardingfele – the “Jaastad” fiddle (allegedly 1651) with subsequent hardingfeles known only from the mid-1700s.

And so to my hardanger, eight years in the (partial) making (in South Australia), and subsequently expertly rebuilt properly (with larger internal structural blocks) and beautifully completed by Scott Wise of Perth (now Margaret River), Western Australia.

The first photo is from the Canberra Times newspaper of Easter 2000:
Jerry at National Folk Festival 2003

And now the hardingfele:
Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele)

hardanger fiddle (hardingfele)

hardanger fiddle (hardingfele)

Hope you enjoy – I may put up some sound files later
In the meantime here are some music samples from the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America
Cheers
Jerry

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