Making a pochette

Posted by jerry on January 31st, 2008 — Posted in Journal, Music, Woodwork

I’ve been reading Bruce Ossman’s book: Violin Making: A Guide for the Amateur. This is an excellent book showing with clear diagrams every stage of violin construction. My only minor criticism is the mix of metric and imperial measurements – thicknesses are in 1/32″ while lengths are in centimetres – but the clear diagrams throughout are very self explanatory.

From this I have adapted the techniques of traditional violin making to design and begin construction of a pochette – a kind of travel fiddle popular in the eighteenth century by itinerant dancing masters.

pochette  under construction

So far I have the mold made and the ribs cut to size and thicknessed. A friendly luthier gave me a spare violin neck with which to try the experiment – I’ll blog progress with this, my latest woodworking project 🙂


Canberra Bushfires – five years on

Posted by jerry on January 18th, 2008 — Posted in Journal

On 18 January each year since the 2003 bushfires that devastated Canberra, we photograph our garden as a measure of our garden’s recovery since the bushfires took it back to scorched earth. It is a time to reflect on our own lives and on what is important to us since confronting the fires head-on and realising that all that we had could have been snatched away in an afternoon. We were fortunate and escaped with minor damage to the house and no injuries. Our house was only three houses back from the main fire front as it crossed into Holder and Duffy. And even five years on the house next door still bears damage from that day.

One of the biggest challenges in establishing a garden from bare earth in Canberra has been the five-year drought that has left us with annual water restrictions. We recycle gray water from the washing machine and air conditioner and focus on a few plants at a time to establish them – and hope for the best.

Counsel Street 2008

We learned a great deal about ourselves that day in 2003 – how we can depend on each other, how we stand up to a crisis, and how in the face of immediate threat we focus on our immediate needs and the range of our own effort – and that in a major disaster, those services we depend on in an emergency are quickly overwhelmed and we stand or fall by our own efforts and our wits.

Counsel Street 2008

We learned too about community and how in times of difficulty the local community works together. Those friendships formed in adversity remain solid five years on.

That tree pictured in the scorched image above is now our dining table – a lasting marker of a day that changed the lives of many Canberra residents – a day that helped us to appreciate what we have in life.

dining table

Hardanger fine tuners

Posted by jerry on January 14th, 2008 — Posted in Journal, Music

Yes, it’s been the bane of my Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele) – the lack of fine tuners for the sympathetic strings. Today all that is changed! When I made the new bridge and reshaped the nut I did try hooking a one-quarter size tailpiece over the main tail-piece to get eight fine tuners – string adjusters – but that placed the adjusters right up against the bridge – even with the tail-gut shortened.

After some measurement, I figured that if I could push the under-tail-piece back by 1.5cm I could position the bridge in the correct place, and not have the string cotton windings sitting on the bridge.

The answer lay in a 3/16″ bolt. I lined up the two tail-pieces in the vice and drilled through them both to achieve the right overhang. I then threaded a bolt up through the quarter size tail-piece, then placed a nut between the two tail-pieces to provide clearance for the upper fine-tuners to work, and then finished the top with a washer and nut.


After re-assembly I can now state that the double-decker tail-pieces still clear the violin’s belly by a good margin and now allow for fine tuners on all eight strings!

hardanger fiddle fine tuners

If you have fitted fine tuners to a hardanger fiddle – please let me know and perhaps share a photo


It’s a Mandolin, it’s a Banjo… it’s a Banjoline

Posted by jerry on January 9th, 2008 — Posted in Journal, Music

Some time ago My daughter acquired a banjo mandolin – an eight-string plucked/strummed instrument with the size and tuning of a mandolin – but with a small banjo-like skin for the sounding board. Although the frets were (unusually) in tune, the instrument was in poor shape with the wooden soundbox collapsing at either end resulting in an unplayable high action.

The solution? To dismantle the instrument and relocate the neck and string courses at 90 degrees – where the body sides were still vertical. This entailed drilling some new holes for the neck attachment and relocation of the tail-piece, the addition of a button for a strap and a new set of strings. I also sanded down the frets a bit as they were sitting quite high off the fingerboard.

And here is the result – a playable if rather strange instrument!

mandolin banjo

Also known as a mandolin-banjo this hybrid instrument was invented around the mid 1890s and was popular in the 1920s in the heyday of mandolin orchestras. It has a big sound for a small instrument which made them popular in dance halls at a time when instruments were beginning to be amplified, and they would have been good for busking for that reason too.

The eight strings are tuned in four courses (same-pitch pairs) using standard mandolin or violin tuning G-D-A-E from lowest to highest.


Sydney Festival 2008 – and Shooglenifty!

Posted by jerry on January 8th, 2008 — Posted in Journal, Motorcycling, Music

It was a lovely day for a motorbike ride on Saturday – overcast, cool but not much rain – just a couple of drops – so I took off the topcase – knowing that I would be bringing a backpack, tent and mandolin back from Sydney as I was meeting my daughter there.

The ride was smooth and the bike behaved wonderfully well – a full tank at the Caltex Weston Creek then down Hindmarsh Drive and out past the airport. The clouds seemed to have kept the crowds away and road was quiet – in direct contrast to the bike. I filled up at Marulan and then onto the tollway into Sydney. As I was about to leave the last tunnel the engine faltered – I reached down for the fuel tap to switch over to reserve, but it died in the tunnel – a bare glimmer on the neutral light and no electric power. Bugger! I was in sight of the toll gate and pushed the bike off to the side and got the guy in the toll post to call for a tow.

Actually it was just a ute with flashing lights that turned up about 30 minutes later and two guys helped me push the bike out of the tunnel and up the hill to exit. With the battery rested, I found I had a brighter neutral light so I got the guys to help do a push start and the antique bike fired up again. So without an alternator I managed to limp the bike to within half a kilometre of the hostel and pushed it the rest of the way. By now the sun was out and it was hot. I actually had to ask someone to move out of the way as the young woman was waiting for a bus and wouldn’t move despite clearly seeing me push a heavy bike up the hill towards her. I guess I was definitely in Sydney!

After reaching the hostel and meeting up with my daughter Eve, I managed to get a lift from the desk guy and bought a battery from a bike shop and a charger from K-Mart and on returning to the hostel set up the old and the new battery and charged them in turn.

So then to the fun bit! We were in easy walking distance of Macquarie Street where Scottish celtic band Shooglenifty was to play – the place was crowded as Eve and I did a reccy for a good position.

The opening of the Sydney Festival began with a series of open air weddings which was a bit quirky, then they announced that they were putting away the chairs and clearing the barriers, so Eve and I bolted for an opening and with deft use of elbows – developed over the January Sales – we ended up front and centre in front of the stage.

The warm-up band was a celtic trio plus didgeridoo who performed… accurately. They didn’t once look at the audience and so the audience largely ignored them and shuffled around.

Then came the Shoogles!


Luke on mandolin, Angus on fiddle, Quee on bass, James on drums Malcolm on guitar and Gary on banjo. This is an awesome band – Luke’s playing is to be heard to be believed – he sure can make that mando sing. This progressive celtic band from Edinburgh is just amazing. Despite the very limited space most people were dancing (at least up and down) – and there were several thousand crammed into Macquarie Street for the show.





We met up with them after the show – Angus uses a Fishman pick-up on his fiddle – and we wished them well for Tasmania and then headed off for some food supplies to cook up back at the hostel – Phew I was exhausted!

The next morning, with the batteries charged, I put the old one back on the bike and the new one in the pannier, and we loaded up with Eve’s stuff form Woodford festival – where she had been performing in the Fire Event and fired up the bike to head home.

It was overcast as we left Sydney, but it quickly cleared and became very warm with the wet weather gear on, but I wasn’t going to stop unless we had to as we were just on battery power. But with a fuel stop at Marulan and then milkshakes and iced coffee at the Paragon Cafe in Goulburn, we had a flawless ride back to Canberra

Honda Bol d'Or