Hardanger fiddle modifications

Posted by jerry on December 30th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Music, Woodwork

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!


Five string acoustic-electric violin – review

Posted by jerry on December 28th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Music

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.


Building a lumber rack – Wood stash reduction challenge

Posted by jerry on December 27th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Woodwork

If you’re anything like the kind of hobby woodworker that I am, you will now be finding it hard to get to various benches and tools because of all the bits of lumber of various lengths left over from various projects, like dining tables or stilt legs.

It is time to get o r g a n i s e d !! Actually I was inspired by Sharon’s fabric stash reduction challenge – although I wasn’t going to weigh my stash!

I did, however remove every scrap of timber from my shed and thought about how best to organise it so I could get to all the bits of timber I need for different projects on my new years list of things to build.

wood stash

The rough-sawn timber is ribbon-gum – the remnants of the old gum tree that burnt in the Canberra Bushfire of January 2003; the pale timber is radiata pine, and the red timber is jarrah – a Western Australian hardwood, sometimes called Australian mahogany. I also have a few camphor turning blanks, and some cherry wood and crab apple branches – also for turning.

I decided to improve my wood rack by adding a couple of additional supports, and that entailed modifying the two half-pallets I was using as a base. In the process I also reduced my stash by two bits of lumber – neat huh? 🙂

wood rack

The two additional supports are dowelled into the shelf supports and screwed to them for additional stability. The supports are made from timber recycled from old brick pallets.

And I have decided that I will machine up all my lumber before returning it to my shed so it’s ready for use when I need it – and no excuses like “I need to dress this timber – heck I’ll just buy some from the hardware store…”

But this year, along with Sharon my aim will be to use up a good portion of my wood stash, rather than expand it.

And I turned around my jointer and thicknesser so that the work flow is better, and I have better access to my work benches. So a good day’s work all round 🙂


It’s a verb… It’s a noun… It’s Facebook!

Posted by jerry on December 21st, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology, Writing

With 200,000 sign-ups daily, Facebook has become the social software phenomenon of 2007, according to New Scotsman newspaper. Facebook has been added to the 2008 edition of the Collins English Dictionary as both a trademarked noun (the site) and as a verb – ‘to facebook’ – meaning to search the Facebook profile of someone.

This underlines the way in which social software is fast becoming mainstream, as opposed to a youth culture fad. Businesses are rapidly developing Facebook profiles and developers are producing new applications for Facebook each day. And that is part of its success – its open architecture enables it to grow organically as people see new ways to use the medium to make new socail connections and build larger or more specialised relationship networks as appropriate.

Alongside Facebook, related words have also been added – like an extension to the current definition of ‘poke’ to take account of its specific usage on Facebook. According to Collins Dictionary, Facebook was recommended ten times more than any other word in the dictionary’s webiste for a new listing.

It just goes to show that the dynamic nature of English is undiminished – in fact, quite the reverse!


Slow Craft

Posted by jerry on December 16th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Theory

Sharon has been blogging lately about the notion of slow craft and slow cloth – as aspects of the Slow Movement. The aims and aspirations are laudable, because there is so much emphasis these days on craft in the fast lane – make this thing in 15 minutes and watch it break the record for the fastest gift to go from wrapper to bin…

I guess my table is an example of slow craft – showing respect to the origins of the timber (the tree that burnt in our yard during the Canberra Bushfires), and producing something irrespective of the time taken to produce it, and with the greatest of care in the making. And sure, I use machines where my hand skill is not up to the task, leaving me the time to do the processes I can do well by hand.

Years ago I had a blacksmith’s forge in my back yard and made some nice fire tools and brackets for hanging baskets and stuff like that. I guess that too could be called slow craft – I knew the sources of all the materials, I even built the forge myself using an old metal desk and a vacuum cleaner working in reverse. Using coal and coke I could get welding temperature on that thing!

There is an environmental aspect to the slow craft philosophy. And here is where I wonder if I come unstuck? It’s great and very satisfying to make something yourself. And it’s great to take the time to develop a real skill, like playing your own music. But my forge? I was burning coal – very inefficiently which would have produced more greenhouse gases in in a hour than my car ever would in a week. Now imagine if everyone did that! At least big industry has SOME regulations about operating cleanly and safely – and they have the resources to develop catalytic converters to reduce the bad stuff. I certainly don’t – not for a home-scale forge. I was in Papua New Guinea some years ago and found that out in the villages you could rarely see the stars at night – because everyone had open cooking fires, and home forges – it was as polluted as any major city I’ve been in!

And my table? Yes I used ethically produced timber, but the machines I bought in order to do my own processing – imagine the resources used in China to make my jointer and the drill and the circular saw and the industrial processes for making the sandpaper I used and the electricity to run those inefficient home-level machines – I wonder if my table cost more than I realised, not just in the investment of money on tools, but in the environmental impact of producing these specialised machines for me to use rarely and on occasion just because I feel like making something with care myself with fresh tree timber or recycled pallets. Hmmm…

Now don’t get me wrong – this is not to denigrate the slow craft movement – and part of it is to make something once. With care. For life. And that is a great way to live. One of the reasons we bought just one car, and have driven the same car since 1984 is that the resources that go into producing a car can’t really be justified for the sake of change of style every couple of years. I guess my point is that we need to look carefully at the cost – including to the environment – of individual production versus well-resourced larger production. And to make reasoned informed choices.

I think Linn makes a good point – that there are some things we produce quickly to satisfy a need – like a quickly made blanket to keep out the cold, and there are other things that are produced quickly as a step in another process, so as long as it is fit for purpose it can be made quickly and without elegance – it does the job. Then there are those things we make because there is meaning in it – like my table, or my violin – and these are made with care and as much skill as can be brought to bear and taking as much time as it takes to do it right the first time. And these will last a lifetime. I guess the idea is to strike a balance based on the purpose and meaning that each object has, and to be aware of all of the resources that go into things – then make the decision as to whether or not to consume it, or to make it, or to keep it simple.

With my table I made a conscious decision that it would not be a Malaysian rainforest timber mass produced number, but balanced that with the knowledge that the power tools I have mean I can get sufficient accuracy to produce it myself.

The same goes for textiles: if you are quilting – sure assemble it with a sewing machine – especially if it frees you the time to hand-embroider the seam embellishments.

My jointer means I can recycle pallet timber that would otherwise have just been burnt. It also meant that I could produce a professional edge to make a seamless table top and allow me to make something beautiful in honour of the tree that saved our house. And I think that is what it’s all about. Doing it reflectively and with consideration.