October 2008

MY pochette fiddle has been travelling with a friend, and it has made another mile high debut – this time on land at the Everest Base Camp in Tibet. This yak herder’s hut provides perfect shelter from the cool winds, although it’s hard to imagine what the locals would have thought of Irish music being played on this instrument.

Pochette at base camp

But the pochette held up well, travelling unprotected in a backpack all over Tibet and Nepal, and aside from a few tuning problems with enormous changes in temperature and humidity, the fiddle has held together and proved to be a practical portable instrument. My friends have been sending me ‘gnome’ pictures of the fiddle in exotic places. Watch this space for more🙂


Blogger Singaporean-in-London has photographed this busker playing a violin on a slack-rope! Amazing work – buskers like this work very hard for their living. I hope he gets good hats!

busker on tightrope

Here is an improvised tune on what Kevin C Neece calls a ‘not-a-strumstick’ – for reasons he explains an another video. But as a home-made instrument of the three-stringed fretted guitar-like form it sounds pretty good!

Dean Shostak first heard about a glass violin in 2003. Since then, he has travelled to Japan where he had one made by the master craftsmen at the Hario Company. It took 6 months for a team of fourteen craftsmen to build the delicate instrument. It took a special heat-resistant glass to get the material thin enough for the instrument, and each component was hand blown. The body of the violin is all one piece of glass about 1/4 inch thick. It is hollow inside and has sound-holes on top. The whole instrument weighs 1.5 kg – considerably heavier than its wooden counterpart!

glass violin

Listen to the glass violin here.

I was having a look at some luthier sites the other day and came across Mandolins by Peter Coombe, and thought it would be good to review a local Australian luthier from Canberra.

I’ve seen and admired Peter Coombe’s mandolins at the National Folk Festival – they have a beautiful sound, and look great – making excellent use of Australian timbers, such as Tasmanian myrtle and Queansland maple.

He has an extensive website, and with the high quality sound and finish on his instruments, it is no wonder there is a two year waiting list. He works with his clients to identify what type of sound and what timbers would best suit the individual. You can hear sound samples of his mandolins on the website.

I particularly like the detailed step-by-step construction process he has on the website so you can see how your instrument will be made. It is also a great help for the novice maker such as myself, to see how certain aspects of the construction should be done. And I like the refreshingly honest way he describes how construction doesn’t always go entirely smoothly, and how to adjust things if there are minor mistakes, or flaws in the timber.

I also like the way he deals with the sensitive issue of rare or endangered Australian timbers, such as King Billy pine used on his Goldfinch series – that such timber is not to be wasted even if there are minor flaws – the occasional visual blemish must be tolerated as long as tone isn’t compromised – and after all it is the sound that sets Peter Coombe’s mandolins apart from the Korean factory imports.

If you are looking for a superb instrument with the distinctive look of Australian timber, then I highly recommend checking out Peter Coombe’s mandolins. And check them out at the next National Folk Festival if you are in Canberra around Easter time.


In Poand the humble and fascinating hurdy gurdy is making its mark in the eternal quest for a different sound – this time in full rock mode! Here is is Polish band Ich TroLe

I love the energy of this piece and the effective use of the gurdy🙂

The hurdy gurdy is an amazing instrument – functionally like a fiddle, bowed with a rosined wheel and strings stopped by keys rather than fingers, it has an almost bagpipe sound when played well. Cheap versions can sound like blow-flies on a summers day, but in good hands this instrument sings!



On Friday 26 Sept violinist Eugene Fodor played a record five historic violins, including Stradivarius and Guarneri del Gesu instruments. This is something of a record – last year it was four! The instruments are collectively worth in excess of US$20m, with one being considered one of the top four or five Stradivarius violins in the world – it is in pristine condition. You can read the full story here.

Thanks to the Strad online for the story.


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