Donegal fiddle player Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh collects her hardanger fiddle (hardingfele) – with some great examples of fine Norwegian hardanger music.

Cheers
Jerry

For some while now, I have been getting an annoying string buzz from one of the sympathetic strings, so I decided that now was the time to make a new bridge.

I used the previous one I made as a rough template, but raised the centre ‘D’ a little and ensured it was completely flat across the bottom so the sympathetic strings would not move to the side. I cut small grooves for them and lined up the top profile and cut matching string notches along the top. The wood is Tasmanian blackwood – I thought I’d see what difference a harder wood would make.

The sound is more crisp and slightly thinner, but still warm. As the bridge plays in better I shall have a better idea of the sound. And yes the annoying string buzz has now gone!

Hardanger fiddle bridge

Cheers
Jerry

Well, another National Folk Festival has come and gone – and I thought I’d share some of my personal highlights. Firstly it was great to meet up with so many old friends from interstate – including most of the former Mucky Duck members who I played with in the early-mid 1980s.

I got to a number of concerts in between music sessions in the Session Bar.

Vin Garbutt – I last saw him in 1980 in Perth Western Australia and he has just got better over the years – more political edge to his songs, and hilarious repartee. I bought his CD “Plugged” just because it had “Man of the Earth” on it.

Danish band Faerd played some great traditional Danish music and Swedish polskas… the combination of Peter Uhrlbrand’s fiddle playing (also lively in the Session bar!) with Eskil Romme’s saxaphone and Jens Ulsvand’s bouzouki was stunning

The Session Bar proved popular and I had some great sessions with Bob McInnes, Scott and Louisa Wise, and Chris Duncan

And Butch Hooper and I played at the Merry Muse to a great audience – really responsive and ready to party!

The Genticorum concerts were wonderful – I love the fiddle player’s foot percussion and the trio’s great harmonies. But one thing puzzles me… are all Quebec folk songs about food and sex or some combination of the two? I loved the story about the fiddle’s time out in the winery, slinking back home to its case after a night on the town with a ukelele :-D and how when the fiddler picked it up again, he was playing tunes even he didn’t know and at twice the pace!

Trouble in the Kitchen started in Canberra a few years ago and have gone from strength to strength. I love the new direction they are taking their music. The tune “The Darkroom Fiddler” is on my must learn list. And I bought the last copy of their CD. My apologies for the poor photo quality.

Other highlights were David LaMotte and Liz Frencham – David’s guitar work was fantastic

I ran into “Gurdy Girl” Jane Ruckert playing a nyckelharpa – a kind of Swedish bowed hurdy gurdy – and we swapped instruments for a play – she on my hardingfele (eight-string Norwegian fiddle) and me on the nyckelharpa. Suffice to say I have increased my respect for nyckelharpa players – but what an awesome sound!

And speaking of amazing instruments, I saw this hurdy gurdy in the session bar

The sessions were terrific

And after trying one of David Guscott’s violins I decided that I needed an octave violin – so I bought some octave strings for my electric fiddle and mmmm love that sound! – You’ll hear more of that on our website soon!

And I have a heap of tunes to learn :-)

Cheers
Jerry

Yes, it’s been the bane of my Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele) – the lack of fine tuners for the sympathetic strings. Today all that is changed! When I made the new bridge and reshaped the nut I did try hooking a one-quarter size tailpiece over the main tail-piece to get eight fine tuners – string adjusters – but that placed the adjusters right up against the bridge – even with the tail-gut shortened.

After some measurement, I figured that if I could push the under-tail-piece back by 1.5cm I could position the bridge in the correct place, and not have the string cotton windings sitting on the bridge.

The answer lay in a 3/16″ bolt. I lined up the two tail-pieces in the vice and drilled through them both to achieve the right overhang. I then threaded a bolt up through the quarter size tail-piece, then placed a nut between the two tail-pieces to provide clearance for the upper fine-tuners to work, and then finished the top with a washer and nut.

hfidftleft.jpg

After re-assembly I can now state that the double-decker tail-pieces still clear the violin’s belly by a good margin and now allow for fine tuners on all eight strings!

hardanger fiddle fine tuners

If you have fitted fine tuners to a hardanger fiddle – please let me know and perhaps share a photo

Cheers
Jerry

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

After doing a bit of a hunt for a hardanger bridge, I stumbled across Lennart Sohlman’s Swedish Fiddle site – and he has a delightful collection of tunes in sheet, abc and midi format from all over Scandinavia – from Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Want to buy a new hardanger fiddle? Wulffenstejn has a full price list :-) But I think I’ll be happy with mine for quite a while yet.

And from the sublime to the … er… creative: This fellow makes instruments by finding ways to adapt existing ones into new forms, or, even new instruments out of old boxes, bits of PVC pipe and so on.

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

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