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bernie the hobbyist

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  1. Hello! First, thanks to @Rico Suave, Nick Allen, Brad Dorsey, Mark Norfleet, FiddleDouge, Michael Darnton for replying to my prior thread on bow wraps. The 2" cutoff of saran wrap worked great (surveyor's tape and grafting tape probably do too, but the grocery store was right there). And the Rodney Mohr vidceos are excellent! I've watched two fo them (out of 10 I think, so plenty to go). The nuggets of essential info are mixed in to the longer tasks so I find myself rewinding to pay close attention again when he gives out the info that I really needed. I have several questions I'm combining into one thread: VIOLIN BODY REPAIR: top removal-- a local luthier advised to simply cautiously go around with a kiridashi knife to open up the seam. I've practiced this twice now, and it worked both times without cracking the top BUT I end up with flakes of wood left stuck to the ribs here and there where the knife didn't go in quite perfectly straight. I'm wondering if the top was glued with rabbit-skin glue, could I just wet the seam and use a heatgun on low setting to release it? I guess the risk there is that I would also weaken the binding, neck joint, and any other nearby glue that I also heated up. same question applies to removing the fingerboard. a chisel seems to break the rsg just fine, but wondering if heat and water would be even lesstraumatic. or worse, due to causing the wood to warp or adjacent joints to weaken. french polish-- I'm refinishing or at least cleaning up the existing varnish with a few passes of french polish-applied shellac. It's turning out really well, especially the top and back which are smooth planes. The sides and scroll, not so much-- I'm finding myself brushing it on, and then sanding out the orange peel because it went on too thick. I'm thinking I'll make myself a tiny little tampon at least for the sides? nothing to do but suck it up for the scroll? and then as a last step, a heavily-pigmented 2# cut with a fine round brush, brushed directly along the seams where the ribs meet the top and back to give a clean line. ... no real question here, just if you have some tips and tricks for a hand-rubbed finish on these smaller areas. pizzicato damage-- a consistent theme is a hole worn right through the varnish on the right side of the fingerboard, where the hand would rest for pizzicato. another spot repeatedly damaged is directly under the tailpiece under the fine tuner. careful as we might be, a bridge falls over one time, and that's what you get. guitars use pick guards to prevent damage to the soft spruce or cedar soundboard. does anyone use thin plastic laminates to stick on by the fingerboard and under the tailpiece fine tuners to guard damage to the finish in these two sensitive areas? I'm sorely tempted to do it, even if it's not conventional. spent too much time french polishing to perfect to just have it get scratched up so easily. button repair-- my sister's viola has the button cut off and new maple laid in. This is now a weak spot, I understand, because the neck block which should be pulling on the back in a pivoting action just lost a significant bit of its already small surface area. If everything seems stable, it's probably fine? I've got a book on the way that should explain how to do a proper button repair, so I should probably wait for it to arrive, read it, and come back if I have any doubts/questions BOWS: (some of this might be buried in Mr. Mohr's videos, I apologize, I'll get through the whole series). context: I have about 20 practice bows from an ebay lot I'm exercising on. all need re-hairs, some need more. Most are generic german-made, perhaps 1970s and newer. weight: Mr. Mohr specified about 61 grams weight for a bow after hair and winding and the frog. The hair, he said, weighs about 5g. Frog weighs... 15g. So I'm guessing a bow stick should be about 38g to leave some weight for the winding? And when I'm choosing 'worthy' bows out of the pile of sticks to rehair, if there's one that noticeably not stiff, or 5-10g overweight, it should get chucked? is the stiffest wood for the lightest weight, generally, the better bow stick? I should go through the pile, check them all for straightness, weigh all the sticks (I do have a scale), then gently flex them (I don't have measuring equipment to be more scientific at this time) to identify the best sticks? Two of them were obviously trash not-serious bows, not even hardwood and distinctly soft to flex, so those went into the scrap wood pile for future dowel rods or some such. But the rest are harder to distinguish quite so obviously. winding: silk winding for heavy bows, silver winding for light bows, and if I choose to make the leather thumb grip the entire length of the winding (no winding, all leather), there's nothing wrong with that, merely fashion and good taste mean all-leather no-winding is for cheaper bows? balance: balance point should be where exactly? (and is your answer with or without the frog) leather wrap up at the tip: I've seen this in photos of three separate bows now, where there appears to be a 3" long wrap of leather almost all the way to the tip. does this mean that the bow snapped at the tip, where the wood is thinnest, and this is a poor attempt to hide the repair? or is there a playing technique involving holding the bow from near the tip? or is it for balance, to add some weight at the tip for a playing style? lastly, maybe it's some kinds of protective guard for when the bow goes into the instrument case? removing the old grips: most of the leather was so old, a knife just shaved it off like dried corn husks or mummy wrappings. But if that's not the case, or if the bow were too nice to risk a knife to cut off the old wrap, is a heat gun and water the better solution? round vs octagonal: taste, style, and tradition but one is not necessarily better than the other? black vs white bow hair: I've read both that the black hair is stronger and grippier, but coarser, for better and worse; and I've also read there is no difference, but fashion prefers white hair (maybe rosin looks ugly on black horse hair too, as a yellowish powder). what's your opinion? I've never used a black horse hair bow, so I don't know (yet). grain orientation: the pile of sticks i have seem to favor flatsawn straight grain (looking top to bottom). quartersawn if you look at the stick from the side. But not every one. grain angle: I'd assume straight is best, but is not-quite-straight grain necessarily ruinous? One stick did crack a little at the base when I was cleaning it up, and I realized that that one had grain going at a 10-15 degree angle. chuck it? or for a dense wood, grain direction doesn't matter quite as much? For softwoods like spruce, the mechanical properties are SO anisotropic that grain direction is paramount, but maybe for bow wood it's ideal but not make-or-break. I've also seen photos of bows for sale where the angle of grain at the tip is so clearly angled, even 30 degrees; I don't know if the tip was glued on separate from the stick which was maybe straight, or if the whole stick has angled grain and is therefore weak and should be avoided.
  2. I obtained some scraps of snake leather to redo the leather portion of the grips on some entry and mid-level bows as practice. My google foo isn't quite up to finding the answer to "how to glue leather grip on violin bow." I see there's synthetic bow grips already formed into a tube, as the usual approach, and that's what I'm finding on youtube. For using real leather, this is what I'm trying out first on a cheap bow that is getting 3-4" of leather, no wire wrap: cut to have 1/8" overlap, scuff and clean the wood immediately under the leather, use wood glue applied to the leather, use string wrapped around dozens of times to 'clamp' the leather evenly while the glue dries. thoughts on a better result: cut the leather *exactly* to size, no overlap? stitch the leather into a tube before ever rolling on to the bow stick? (this adds... a lot of labor time) the leather has a thickness, maybe half a mm. use a razor blade to chamfer the underside of the leather at all the edges, so it has a smooth transition where it overlaps itself and where it meets the wood/wire wrap. ...for overlap with the sterling wire on a better bow, I'm not sure wood glue or rsg would be appropriate to stick to metal wire wrap. maybe a drop of epoxy only at the end? It'll get cut off for the next servicing, anyway, so being reversible maybe isn't a concern? Thanks for the help! Bernie
  3. Hello! Like all newcomers here, I'd like to learn the violin* and I don't know where to start as far as acquiring an instrument. My actual budget I'd like to stick to $1000-1500, which should be achievable. Some of the following is hypothetical out of interest. I'd like to get the elephant in the room out of the way: what's up with the Chinese instruments? I'm a hobbyist and a beginner. Would you recommend one, and if so, any make/brand/dealer particularly? ...They can't all be garbage, can they? And the woods and finishes tend to appear stunning, at least in photos.** I observe three categories: 1. anonymous on ebay, sometimes visually stunning instruments (at least in the photos) with top grade curly maple and seemingly flawless gloss varnishes. Same question applies for bows. Prices for identical-looking instruments range from $300 to $2500, and from a photo and ebay listing, I can't tell what the difference is. 2. obvious Chinese distributors, with brand names and some degree of warranty/support like D Z Strad, Cecilio, and on and on. There's a local fellow selling an 'andre tellis' badged violin for $750, for example. It's a Chinese import that was distributed by a single store, Hammond Ashley. There are $300 ebay instruments that look identical, and $1500 dz strad instruments that look identical to his 'andre tellis 400'. Hard to say where its quality actually lies, though I could see it in person. The exact same instrument that's $500 from China, is $2000 from DZ Strad. It's possible there's a quality control that the distributor brings to the table. Like when I was into woodworking, and delta, jet, harbor freight, and grizzly all sold the same clone of a bench grinder. But Delta enforced a little bit stricter standards, while harbor freight got last pick in the draft. It's also possible that the distributors contribute nothing at all but fat profit margins over the factory-direct. I don't know. 3. advertised 'masterwork' instruments through the same (ebay or branded distributors both) that carry a high price tag, like $4000 for an instrument or $1000+ for a bow. Still Chinese manufacture, but will boast 'aged european wood' and 'award winning luthiers' in the description. additionally, named Chinese luthiers or brands and asking prices in the low to mid thousands instead of the low to high hundreds. For example, there's someone locally (so I could see the instruments in person) advertising "Zheng Shu Mei"-made violins for $2000. All of the same questions apply to: Bows. Unbranded wood and carbon fiber for literally $10-20/bow direct-shipped from china. Vingobow direct-shipped bows for cheap, DZ Strad bows (might be re-badged vingobow? look strikingly similar) for inexpensive, CodaBow carbon fiber for not cheap. I'm thinking: unbranded might be actual junk? vingobow==dz strad, and is okay; codabow might be made with strict quality control in a league of its own? Also, parts and accessories: pegs, endpins, tailpieces, bridges, etc etc. I think there's less that could be wrong with these parts, and I'm having trouble finding any that are explicitly made in the West at all for that matter. But distributors like International Violin might enforce stricter standards on the imports they validate and resell, versus a fly-by-night ebay drop shipper. * off-topic backstory. I'm coming from piano, which is NOT portable, and I move every 12 months for work and travel frequently, hence the interest in something compact. I self-moved my 9' concert grand twice, not a pleasure. I am also a dabbler in all manner of hands-on arts and crafts, so I have an eye for visual indicators of craftmanship. I do not trust, however, that I have an ear for a good sounding violin (yet). Like asking a teenager learning to drive a car on the expressway for the very first time: "so, did you think the suspension offered good handling control? how responsive was the clutch?" ...they won't know. I can find a pretty violin but don't know what to look/listen for. ** assuming very reasonably that I don't yet have an ear for good-sounding violins, what are some visual cues you look for when assessing build quality? besides the obvious indicators of craftsmanship such as fit and finish and symmetry and straight necks and so on. I feel I ought to visit a shop and listen and try out a dozen models, of course. Why not tomorrow, for that matter-- I'll do that.
  4. I've ordered the wittner with the fine tuners; figure I won't go wrong. Will try wooden tailpieces in the future, but if it's fussier I'll have a good baseline with the composite.
  5. hello! I picked up a used viola off facebook marketplace and wish to give it some TLC.* The tailpiece has a cracked nut under the C string and I've decided to replace it. But I'm spoiled for choice and need some help choosing options. Google "viola tailpiece" and it's as bad as trying to choose the perfect kind of paper towels at a big box store. Other observation: the soundpost is below the A string side of the bridge (seems correct). Estimating center to center, the distance is perhaps as much as a centimeter between the bridge and soundpost! But edge to edge the gap between the bridge and soundpost could be 3mm. I read online that "the general guide for sound post placement for full sized violins is that the near (front) side of the sound post should be 1/8" { 1/2 the diameter of the sound post} behind the back side of the bridge" ...as long as 1/8" refers to the gap between the two, it seems the bridge is correctly positioned and needs no adjustment? Back to tailpieces: The viola is 15.5", and is already fitted with a 125mm tailpiece: google tells me that is correct sizing. My material options seem to be: wood (boxwood, rosewood, ebony -- genuine, or just stained boxwood?, and more exotic offerings as well) plastic (carbon fiber, or unspecified composite) metal alloy (I'm guessing-- aluminum) my sources I'm finding seem to be: wittner from Germany generic no-brand chinese, either through a clearing house like internationalviolin or drop shipped from china directly. There may or may not be anything wrong with these of course. bois d'harmonie: not an option, lol. Is there no middle-ground between $15 chinese and french handmade for $300+? my shape options are: hill (classic?) straight across french/harp with a swept curve up to the A fine tuners: A string only, A+D, or all four? I'm leaning towards just the wittner aluminum or plastic one. I love the look of real wood, but there's no danger of cracking with the plastic or aluminum, and I read that the main thing with a tailpiece is to simply be as light as possible-- which the plastic+aluminum ones are. *It's an old trade instrument of no particular value, so it'll be great to learn some basics on. This is my standard modus operandi... I like to lavish attention on the initial setup of any equipment I acquire, modding/upgrading/repairing to make it mine, and ensuring the initial setup is correct. Originally I was just going to slap new strings on, but decided to upgrade the plastic chinrest to real wood. No questions there, can't go too wrong on a chinrest. Then I noticed the damaged tailpiece nut, and while I'm doing that.... I'm contemplating replacing the endpin and tuning pegs to match cosmetically. I'm less eager about this, as I understand I'd be dropping $100 in reamers, peg shaving jigs, and taking a chance that I don't get it quite right when I go to use those tools.
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