I have long been interested in the concept of travel fiddles – they have a tradition dating back at least to the eighteenth century when ‘dancing master’ or ‘kit’ violins were popular. They were designed to enable itinerant dancing teachers to travel to the client’s home and be compact enough literally to fit in a pocket. Some were concealed in walking sticks, others were quite decent instruments with enough sound to fill a drawing room, but not enough to disturb the neighbours.

One of the best examples is Neil Gow’s instrument now contained in Scotland’s Burrell Collection in Glasgow. Copies of these are being made by Rickert and Ringholz instrument makers in the USA.

I photographed a couple of such instruments in the Victoria and Albert museum in London last year, and have often felt that most copies are actually too small to make a decent sound – the Rickert Neil Gow copy is an exception to this rule.

The pochette pictured below is one I photographed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

When considering making one myself, I thought that it should be at least as wide as the narrow part or ‘waist’ of a normal violin – about 4 inches or 100mm to have a reasonable sound-board area. I like the round-shouldered rectangle shape so I have begun the first stages of construction with this in mind.

I began by cutting some melamine MDF (medium density fibreboard) to the length of a normal violin, and 100mm wide (4 inches). This is to be the mould around which the instrument would be assembled – a traditional violin making technique.

I then planed some pine down to just under 2mm thickness for the ribs. This was done by cutting two thin slices and then attaching them to a larger board with double-sided tape and using the jointer to thin them to the correct thickness.

I also cut some blocks (they are yet to be fully shaped) which will provide support for the neck and button at each end of the fiddle. Again this is a traditional technique. The neck and fingerboard were supplied by my local luthier who had an irrepairable violin.

And that is the stage I’m at now. Not bad for an evenings’ work! The real challenge will be cutting the maple back and belly from a log I’ve had sitting around since the Canberra Bushfires five years ago – the tree was in our yard and was dangerously burnt, and some segments of the trunk remain in my garage.

Next weekend I’ll cut a couple of slabs and begin the real lengthy process of shaping them into arched plates for the fiddle.

Cheers
Jerry

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