It promised to be a warm ride as I strapped the fiddle to the back of the motorbike for the run down to Majors Creek near Braidwood in New South Wales, about 114 km from Canberra. I dressed lightly beneath the outer armour, but hadn’t reckoned with the cloud into which I ascended on the final approach into my destination. Majors is one of the best folk festivals in Australia – smaller and more intimate than the National, but large enough to attract the major acts.

Majors Creek Folk Festival

I entered to the delightful harmonies of MusicOz 2008 winners Mothers of Intention. Tony Pryzakowski’s fiddle playing was unmistakable from the first notes, as were Rosie McDonald’s harmonies. This is a band that just keeps getting better.

Mothers of Intention

Out on the oval, a Maypole dance was being woven with a morris dance team and a crowd of willing participants.

Majors Creek Folk Festival

Bizerka’s energy and amazing rhtyms delighted the crowd, and the concentration of the fiddler was palpable as she played 7/8 and 5/8 rhythms. They ran a workshop on using phrases to make complex rhythms more comprehensible.

Majors Creek Folk Festival

The Fiddler’s Forum showcased great playing across a range of styles, from celtic to bluegrass and Eastern European.

But for me the sessions as always were the highlight. The pochette attracted attention – as did the hardanger fiddle (hardingfele). I met old friends and played music with new ones.

Majors Creek Folk Festival

Majors Creek Folk Festival

Tony and I had our by now traditional ‘dueling fiddlers’ playoff – someone thought we were from the same band! Let alone different cities. We are well matched.

Majors Creek Folk Festival

See you there next year :-)

You may have seen my posts on the pochette fiddle or backpacker fiddle that I made some time ago. And in fact I’m about to embark on another one – but that’s another story.

In the meantime, I see that some people are now making backpacker mandolins – I guess for the same reason I made my fiddle. This is one I spotted on YouTube recently – nice sound to it :-) Click on the image and hear it for yourself!

Pocket mandolin

Cheers
Jerry

After I made my pochette fiddle, I realised that I was lacking a couple of key tools – in particular, I lacked curved soled luthier’s planes to scallop down the sides of the belly rise, so I decided to do something about it at last.

I went on ebay and found a set of four lovely looking brass planes. But I wasn’t sure of the finish, how well made they would be, and whether I could get used to using them.

I put in what I felt was a reasonable bargain bid. And sure enough I was beaten to it. The next morning, however, I woke and checked my email, and there was an email from the seller offering me a second chance to buy it at my last bid price as the other buyer had pulled out. So I took the plunge.

Luthier planes

And when the planes arrived I was delighted. Not only are they of excellent quality, but I find them quite easy to use too. They will see a lot of use on my next pochette. The work with the grain or across it. But I may still look out for some serrated blades so they will plane in all directions equally well.

luthier's planes

Cheers
Jerry

On visiting Sydney’s Powerhouse museum I encountered a violin-shaped pochette in the musical instruments section.

Pochette at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

The catalogue description reads:

Description
Pochette with violin form body, maker unknown, Mittenwald, Bavaria, 1750-1790]
Small pocket sized violin,used by a dancing master for dance classes. Single piece belly of spruce and back of solid carved maple, accentuated curves with deep ribs, no purfling either side, heavy reddish brown varnish, with black discolouration across the middle of the belly and around the edges of the back. Black,[ebony] tuning pegs and tail piece, finger board of black stained pear wood, tuning pegs have small inlayed mother of pearl dots on the ends. Light coloured bridge with no maker’s mark, narrow headstock with deep srcoll carving, strung with 4 strings. – Powerhouse Museum

The whole instrument would be barely three inches wide and it is very shallow in the body so I suspect that it would not put out much sound.

Pochette at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

But it’s an interesting instrument nonetheless.

Cheers
Jerry

So, you’re traveling around the place, but still want to capture CD quality audio tracks? Here’s my solution. The key is in the choice of technology. If you have the right gear, you don’t need much of it. Essentially, you need:

  • a means to collect sound at the highest quality;
  • a means to get the sound from audio to digital to get clean sound; and
  • a computer platform with good audio editing software, and be able to burn the results to CD

In my case, that means a studio-quality condenser microphone – The Tascam LD-74 is excellent and relatively inexpensive. This is connected to a Tascam US-122L audio/midi interface which connects by USB2 to a macbook running OSX (10.5 Leopard) and Tracktion 3.0 mixing and audio production software. The US-122L is powered by the same USB cable that connects it, so you only need one lead from the mic to the US-122L. Compact eh?

travel studio

The combined system is compact and works very well. The 122L provides clean (no hum) digital sound from the analogue mic, and the macbook is sufficiently quiet that there are no dramas having it in the same room as you are recording.

travel studio

You then just need the pochette so that the whole studio can travel in the same backpack as the fiddle!

Cheers
Jerry

Many of you will have followed the making of my pochette fiddle, or backpacker fiddle and I have had a number of questions about how I might use a shoulder rest with it. This post is about my solution to that problem. As I built it, I had made no real provision for a shoulder rest, figuring I could get away with a small cushion or bean bag. But having traveled with it I found that I really needed a decent shoulder rest to avoid fatigue in my left hand.

So I thought about it and decided a simple solution would be best. I had some pine left over from making the ribs, and I figured that if I attached a rectangular plate with a small bolt and wing nut it would be able to swivel out of the way for traveling, but be quick to deploy for playing – and at the same time provide a really secure method of holding the instrument.

I also considered different people playing the instrument, so I wanted it easily adjustable.

I cut a piece of timber 200mm x 45mm x 5mm and rounded the corners with a sander. Then I selected a 3/8″ bolt and found a washer, a rubber washer, a spring washer and a wing nut and put them aside.

I held the wooden slat with a shoulder rest attached up beneath the pochette in playing position and marked a central location 55mm from the end of the fiddle and drilled a 3/8″ hole in the back of the pochette ready to receive the bolt.

I put the rubber washer on the bolt and carefully inserted it through a sound hole and into the drilled hole in the back, so that the head of the bolt was inside the fiddle.

I then drilled two 3/8″ holes in the slat at 60mm and 90mm from one end and used a fret saw to join the two holes so there was now a 30mm slot in the slat.

pochette - shoulder rest

I then attached it to the fiddle by gently holding the bolt, inserting the wooden slat and then fitting a plain washer and then the spring washer then the wing nut and tightened the slat in place. I then tried the shoulder rest. It was a big improvement, but I wanted more adjustment, so I ran a second slot perpendicular to one end of the slot to provide some lateral adjustment.

pochette - shoulder rest

The principle is simple enough to see from the photos that I felt it didn’t require detailed construction photos.

pochette - shoulder rest

At some later point I may replace the wing nut with a brass knurled finger nut. Let me know what you think of this modification

Cheers
Jerry

I like to think of Don Rickert’s Adventurer pochette as the one I inspired :-) But hear what they’ve done with it. The internal construction is way different from mine, and the sound is huge for such a small instrument. I would like to hear a comparison side by side of this instrument with a decent violin, so you can hear both the volume and sweetness of tone that comes through from the pochette.

And if you want a bargain – try the Travelmaster fiddle – another pochette of their design. They’ve just announced that they will stay in production – for the time being, but really unless more people get bitten by the pochette bug, this will be a limited opportunity – so get in there and buy one while you can!

Many of you will have followed my own adventures with making a pochette fiddle from scratch, so you know I can tell you that a well made pochette puts out plenty of sound for sessions, while being small enough to fit in a backpack or in your carry-on baggage on the plane.

Rickert and Ringholz make the best sounding pochettes of the lot – which makes them great value as instruments for the travelling fiddler

Cheers
Jerry

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