December 2007


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

As the Lindo five string ‘hammerhead’ acoustic/electric violin emerged from its wrapping I knew this was going to be a special Christmas 🙂

five string violin

five string violin

The first thing that struck me was the excellent finish on the instrument. That, and the sensible placement of parts – the amplifier lead jack is well placed for the lead to go over the left shoulder, although the headphone socket is underneath – but not obtrusive when playing.

So what is it like to play?
I was relieved that my wolf shoulder rest fitted perfectly without a tendency to fall off, making the instrument nice and secure feeling. It is well balanced with the heavier electrics close to the chest – it is very comfortable to play.

The big difference is that with five strings running down a standard fingerboard, the placement is close together – something I addressed quickly, if partially, by moving the strings across the bridge a little. The bridge curvature is good allowing good note separation, although I need to get used to slightly different bow positions to avoid playing the wrong string.

The low C rings well despite its relatively low tension and even acoustically it is not much quieter than a fully acoustic instrument. The hollow body gives good resonance and is a long way from the ‘cigar box’ sound of some electric instruments.

My first impression is that with a little getting used to this will be a very versatile instrument, allowing good crossover into the deeper part of the sound spectrum. And for a small band this will enable great mid-range fill-ins on songs and some versatility on tune variations. I do have a viola but it’s good to be able to play the low viola stuff without having to adjust my finger position from the violin. As a result I will be able to be more versatile on stage without having to change instruments.

I love playing slow airs on this fiddle making good use of the low strings.

The electrics
The electrics are good with the low strings sounding clean and crisp through a Behringer mixer/pre-amp and Roland cube amp, although I did boost the bass a little and clipped some off the treble. Through the supplied headphones the C string fills out beautifully. Either way there was little hum from the electrics. The integrated pick-ups means that there is nothing clamped on. And the volume and tone knobs are in easy reach.

five string violin

What’s in the box

  • The violin
  • beautiful well-padded case with shoulder strap
  • Brazil-wood bow
  • set of spare strings
  • rosin
  • headphones
  • lead to plug into amplifier

Sum up
This is a well-made acoustic-electric instrument with a good sound – if a little thin in the purely acoustic mode. If you don’t mind getting used to the strings being closer together then this is an excellent value for money package with good quality accessories included in the price.

Cheers
Jerry

Adelaide was bright and warm when we landed at the airport, and Bruce our bass player was there to greet us and take us to our accommodation, then to the venue. I was disappointed to see my fiddle arrive, not at the ‘fragile items’ section, but on the baggage conveyor with all the suitcases – not a good look for Virgin Blue Airlines. At least the small crack should be easily repaired. To their credit they allowed me to take the fiddle as a carry-on bag for the return journey – this should be the norm for hand-held musical instruments.

The RSL hall in Norfolk Street off Marion Road was well appointed and served the Royal Artillery Reserve well – and it was time for their Christmas dinner dance. We used a local sound engineer and sound system so we could just bring the essentials, and spent about an hour on a sound check – this being the first time my new pickup was being used in earnest. I quickly dispensed with the pedal as the sound was great going straight into the mixing desk. I highly recommend “The Band” made by Headway – really good acoustic sound from the fiddle and without the breathy bowing sounds. And Rob the sound engineer was excellent at pulling the sound together in just the right way.

Full Circle Band

The crowd had a great time and there were presentations from their unit commander. And we sang “Only nineteen” and “Band played Waltzing Matilda” and the audience really got into the mood for the evening

Full Circle Band

After the dinner was cleared away the audience really got into the music and we took it from mood to mood, building to a fast tempo at the end

Full Circle Band

And that was just the beginning… After the show we unwound with a session back at the unit commander”s house where we were staying, and then Saturday saw us head out to see the city. It had changed a lot since I was last there.

The following night at the Sergeant’s Mess at Keswick Barracks it was like the first night had just been a rehearsal by comparison. A much bigger crowd turned up and as soon as the dinner servery was cleared away they were ready to dance – we called several dances – and sang songs and we finished up about 1.00AM – we had a great time and the audience loved every minute.

A couple of people had video cameras and we’re hopeful that soon we’ll be able to bring you some of the footage – so watch this space!

Cheers
Jerry