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set-up fee?


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My sister, the acknowledged "Queen of the Thrift-Store Shoppers" found a violin in a local thrift-shop the other day. She paid $60.00 for it.

The wood looks very nice, an amber-gold color all over.

The sound post is missing

There is a chip about 3/8" off the treble C-bout point. (There is NO daylight showing through the chipped point).

It needs a bridge as well as strings.

I now do find about a 1.5" gap in the seam between back plate and ribs right next to the neck button, open enough for maybe an exacto knife blade to slip into.

The tailpiece is there as well as a Hill-style chinrest. There is no label visible through the f-holes. I suspect this should be a good back-up fiddle for me to use when leery of taking the "Baby" into a rough situation. This looks SO MUCH NICER and more mellowed than my 1968 Roth violin ever did. ( But not at all up to my Kriner Baby)I THINK it is probably 50+ years old.

Is it worth the set-up fee? (for that matter, what is that likely to cost?)

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I now do find about a 1.5" gap in the seam between back plate and ribs right next to the neck button, open enough for maybe an exacto knife blade to slip into.

If you decide to test it that open seam should be fixed before you string it up. If you don't have it glued the tenson on the neck could tear the button and pull it forward.

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The cost of a set-up depends a lot on who does it. I had a bridge cut for my son's 1/2 size for $25 locally by a good repairman who is primarily a music teacher. It was a decent job. A new bridge by a Cremona-school graduate luthier cost me $125 for my violin. It would have been more except that he did it at home on the side instead of doing in in his employer's shop.

A factor of five for the difference in cost.

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Chances are, almost any "attic" violin will need the following done:

cut new bridge

new bridge blank

fit soundpost

new soundpost stock

check and adjust fit of 4 pegs

new tailgut

new strings

Also inspect instrument and glue any open seams

That's without any cracks or anything "wrong" with the instrument.

I usually recommend budgeting about $200 for setting up an instrument. It will often be less, but sometimes there are more open seams or a peg needs more work than first appeared, and it's easier to surprise the customer with a lower bill than to have to add to it.

If there are cracks (or in this case, a damaged corner) it will be more.

BTW, regarding the wide spread of prices to cut a bridge: Most luthiers will offer a "student cut" and a "professional cut". A student cut bridge has feet that conform to the violin, and holds the strings at the right heights. Other than that, it probably is cut to a standard set of measurements. A professional bridge has more care taken with the fitting, and is cut with the tone of the violin in mind. This may take hours. Also, the bridge blank may vary from as little as 2 or 3 dollars to as much as 20 or 25. The most expensive blanks are probably unnecessary on most instruments, but the difference between a $3 and a $10 blank is often quite noticable. So I find the range of $25 to $125 for a bridge quite understandable (though the $25 figure is very low, especially if it includes the blank. That's not a fee, it's a favor).

Many luthiers have hourly fees in the same range as what a car repair shop in their area charges. (And usually less than the local plumber). That should help put the luthier's bill in perspective.


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I'd add planing the fingerboard (and reshaping the nut) to Claire's list, as it's something rarely done correctly (especially on less expensive instruments) in the first place... and the surface just gets worse with time. Makes a big difference in playability and string life...

It's been said several times, but I'll add my voice; How much a setup costs depends greatly on the level of the shop or luthier. As Claire mentioned, some shops do offer more than one level of service (student/pro). Some do not.

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So- might I be OK to take this particular fiddle to a lesser shop that does student level repairs?

Come to think of it, the lesser shop is the one who last rehaired my bow, and it's doing great, 2 years later.

At least that way I could get an idea whether I want to put aside some savings for a more complete overhaul, or sell it on ebay as a student fiddle?

And having had to cut my own bridge a couple of times, I DO understand the hourly charge on that seemingly endless piece of work. I'm just in the position of having to really squeeze the pennies just now. So if I was smart, I'd just put it in a closet and forget about it until I have a better paying job.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Okay, I did take the thrift-store fiddle to my luthier. He seemed a bit interested at first, but emailed me today that it's not worth putting the money into. For sure, it's not worth his time.

I know I can learn to do the sound-post setting, and I already know how to cut a bridge. The main remaining concern for me is the open seams. Does the top have to come off to glue and clamp those correctly? I am NOT willing to go that far on my own yet, but if I could reasonably and fairly correctly glue and clamp the top to ribs, I might try it as a project on my own.

Whaddaya think?

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If you want to repair the broken corner, that is a kind of fun repair. At least I enjoy them. You select a slightly oversized piece of spruce with as similar as possible grain, and edge-fit it to the plate, so as to get a perfect fit, then use hot hide glue to attach it to both the plate and the block.

After the glue is fully dry and hard, you painstakingly carve the corner to match the opposite side (or the back on the same side, if the violin is assymetrical). Patch in missing purfling (matching, of course) on a bevel, so it won't show, and matching the style of the other corners. Scrape it to a perfect surface, and proceed with touch-up.

If you do it right, no one will ever be able to see that you have replaced the corner. I get a kick out of it, because I have occasionally done it when the owner (a friend) had not specifically known I was going to do so, and when they got it back, they didn't notice, as it looked so "original" they forgot it had ever been missing.

(Obviously this was on a low-end instrument, and I knew the limitations of what they had actually wanted done-- I would never presume to do this without the owners approval.)

Anyhow, I think you have an excellent opportunity to do a lot of tinkering without danger of hurting anything.

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No, only desperate measures are called for in removing the top - but if you try and get a knife in there, you might ruin the ribs. I drisel thin hot hide glue on the edge of the knife onto the seam instead of trying to shove a thin knife in. You can squeeze lightly up and down and it gets into the seperation good enough - then wipe clean with a damp cloth lightly. Then clamp it straight away using edge clamps (ebay do 'em cheap enough)with spongy things on them. But not hard as it will mar the edges of the violin top.

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I vote for "do it yourself". This is a pefect fiddle to learn on and other than the corner repair, nothing should be too daunting.

Stewmac has a violin set video for about 50 dollars that's objective is setting up a yard sale fiddle. It isn't fantastic, but it is visual which can help.

Another alternative is spending the same 50 dollars on the Big Book of Luthiere volume III, also available from Stewmac. This contains Michael Darnton's violin set up articles, which are naturally much better than the Stewmac video, but a tad less visual.

Have a go, it's great fun!

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<<What all do you use for color matching?>>

It depends on the original color-scheme, and whether the instrument wood was aged noticeably.

If the instrument wood is aged, I stain the new wood with a little coffee, allowing it to dry between coats, until it seems close.

After that dries, the grain will be raised, so you need to level it with micromesh or something similar...still, to match the original wood-- if it has a raised grain, you may not want to do this.

I seal the repair wood with a yellow varnish, if the original calls for that, then gradually build up the color using spirit varnish and alcohol-soluble dyes. When it looks really close to right, I add a couple of clear coats to cap it.

One thing to consider, is how obscure the purfling has become on the other remaining corners-- if they are dark and obscure, you don't want the new one shining out like a neon, so try to match it to the others.

The one I mentioned where the guy didn't know was one where it was his grandfather's violin, and I had been given the "do whatever it takes" green light. He had not specifically asked for that repair, but was delighted by it, and amazed that he could not detect it. I'm pretty careful not to do anything an owner has not agreed to in advance.

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