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

After a great welcome at Brendan Mulvihill’s session on Monday I was recommended to try the Tuesday session at McGinty’s Pub - 911 Ellsworth Street Silver Spring. And I wasn’t disappointed. The place is easy to reach on the red metro line and the session runs from about 8.30pm.

McGinty's pub, Washington DC

The pub has Guinness on tap and about 18 other beers if Guinness is not to your taste. The session was in an alcove room around a long table – very close and intimate and away from the distractions of TV and much pf the pub noise.

McGinty's session

Again I was welcomed and introduced around, and there was a lot of curiosity about my pochette fiddle when I pulled it out from the backpack. Some tried to describe it as a cigar box fiddle, but I guess they hadn’t seen the real thing – my pochette is more shaped and has a sculpted belly, unlike the cigar box fiddles. Many commented on the surprising amount of volume I could get out of the instrument.

I’d had dinner at Romano’s Macaroni Grill and welcomed washing my food down with a pint of the good stuff at McGinty’s.

I knew about half of the tunes played and was pleased that they welcomed my starting a couple of tunes – some of which they didn’t know.

And all up I had a great time and even managed to navigate back to the metro station in time to catch the train back to Faragut about three blocks from my hotel. Once again, many thanks for the warm welcome – would that all sessions were as open as the ones I found on my travels this time :-)

Cheers
Jerry

1:00AM somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, just after crossing the Dateline at about 33,000 feet I put the pochette fiddle through its paces – with a mute. The aircraft – a Boeing 747-700 had plenty of room in the door bay by the galley for a few quiet tunes. I had no problems using the short ¼ size bow – even for slow airs. And the mute was very effective in ensuring the sound didn’t get over the ambient sound of the engines.

pochette fiddle on aircraft

The flight attendant was concerned that it may be noisy as the other passengers were asleep, but after the first few notes those concerns were quickly allayed. Perhaps this is the first ‘mile-high’ pochette? Maybe this will be the start of a new movement – let’s see how many unusual places become pochette fiddle moments :-)

The only difficulty I had was actually getting the thing back in my backpack afterwards – I dislodged the bridge and the sound-post fell over. It took me the best part of 45 minutes to re-seat it. Luckily the two sound holes were just big enough to get two fingers in to manipulate the sound-post. For future design modification I would enlarge these holes a little – my left index finger was rubbed raw. The alternative would be to provide struts like inside a mandolin, but the sound-post I think works better to carry the sound through to the back plate for extra volume.

Also, if I narrowed the body a little I could fit it inside a PVC tube thus ensuring there would be no knocking against the bridge.

With the scroll removed the overall fiddle length is now down to 22cm which just brings it within the international standard for a carry-on bag without sacrificing playable string length or the traditional placement of the tuning pegs.

At no time did I have any difficulty with Australian or US security checks on the bag – even with the tip of the fiddle poking out of the top of the bag.

My box-style pochette (travel fiddle) attracted quite a lot of attention when I took it to the National Folk Festival in Canberra. I’m still thinking through some further modifications, and no I’m not going into commercial production – others like Rickert and Ringholz already make fine box pochettes – but here is mine being played by Sydney fiddle player Tony Pryzakowski

Cheers
Jerry

While the glue was drying I cut some rosewood to make a nut to guide the strings over the fingerboard, and then carefully measured and cut some dowel for the sound post. I didn’t bother with a bass bar as I figured the body was narrow enough to take the strain without the extra support of the bass bar.

I then shaped the bridge and soon it was time to remove the clamps and fit up the instrument. With such a narrow instrument (only four inches wide) I chose a chin rest that mounted over the tail-piece.

And quite suddenly the instrument was finished.

As I tightened the strings I could hear that at least some of my wild guesses were right, and I was rewarded with a warm sound almost as loud as a normal violin. In fact it is as loud as my Maggini copy. That was my first surprise. The second was that with the first tuning up the wood moved to accommodate the strain and the strings quickly went out of tune. But after a couple of hours it stabilised and I was rewarded with quite a reasonable sound at good volume. Not too bad for a first attempt!

Here is the instrument that inspired mine

And finally – what does it sound like? I’ll let you be the judge!

Cheers
Jerry

I’ve certainly made some progress this weekend – with the clamps sorted it was time for some finishing work on the back and top plates and then it was time to see if it all fitted.

I began by gluing the back to the ribs

And then I set the neck in place. As suggested in Ossman’s book I decided to secure it with a screw through the rear block, and a dowel through the tab on the back, then I hung it up to dry.

When dry I drilled the hole in the end block for the button and reamed it to a taper to fit a spare tuning peg – I cut the flat turn-plate off the peg leaving a round pin for the tail-gut.

In the meantime I varnished the top plate and set that to dry. I used a two-part alkyd finish (Rustins) which goes on thin and dries quickly to a nice deep lustre.

Now it was time to glue the top plate and suddenly it starts to look like a real fiddle is emerging!

There is still a bit of work to do – I need to cut a sound post and carve a nut for the end of the fingerboard, but I’m close enough to finishing that I went out to Davis Wheeler Music and bought a tail-piece, a bridge and a chin rest.

I have no idea what this thing will sound like, but it’s been a fun journey so far and I’ve learned a lot about how violins are made in the process.

I am amazed at how strong the box structure is – it is really a stressed skin construction in which every part of the instrument is designed to distribute the tension of the strings along the neck and around the body in dynamic repose.

So there’s still a few finishing details to do, and I have increased my respect for those who make instruments like violins and pochettes (like Don Rickert!)

Cheers
Jerry

I carefully scalloped out the inside of the top and back using the arbortech woodcarver in my angle grinder, then used a small sureform curved shaper and then a scraper to smooth out the inside.

Then I thinned the boards with the planer thicknesser, taking care to check the thickness between each pass to ensure that it didn’t break through into the concave portion.

I used a forstner bit to cut the two round sound holes and shaped the convex surface with the wasp belt sanding attachment mounted on the drill press. There is still some way to go yet, but the shape is emerging in a fairly satisfactory way – I suspect there will be a couple more evenings of shaping before the top is ready to fit onto the ribs.

But here is the progress so far

And to give an impression of how the whole thing might look when it is complete…

Cheers
Jerry

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