Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Don Noon's bench

Don Noon

Recommended Posts

Rather than add onto my Jackson project thread, I'll start a new one for my other stuff.


This fiddle was at one time my competition entry for VSA 2010.  It was my #3.  At the time, I thought it had a killer sound, with plenty of power and projection.  Yes, it did... it killed the player's ears. 


As I slowly discovered, loudness and even projection and quick response do not necessarily make for a happy player.  In this case, the major problem was the strident E string and the weakness on the A string, which made for a shocking transition between strings.


Subsequently, I have had this thing apart half a dozen times, trying various extreme measures of struts and stiffeners to try and tame the tone, with only minor success, but offset by newly created dips and bumps in the response.  Net effect, zip, except for gradually accumulating damage to the way overcooked, brittle, low-density top.


So, it has become basically a trashbin fiddle.  I thought I'd give it one last go to make it a playable fiddle and test out my current acoustic ideas (without putting in too much time and effort), and then use it as antiquing practice.  This is the first phase, trying to make it playable:




The first step was to take off the previous stiffeners and bassbar.

plate only:  51g, M5=261Hz


Then I skimmed off ~.5mm or so around the edge, where the splintery, weak wood had been damaged from repeated removals.  Now 45.8g, M5=269Hz


Next, I vacuum-bag laminated a 1mm veneer of newer, denser quartersawn spruce onto the island and selected other areas, then a doubler of cooked maple around the edges.  I used the dark maple to try to color match the overcooked spruce, and didn't want to use more of the dark spruce and have the same problems as before.  I also added some more spruce at the upper and lower blocks, and glued and cleated some huge splits that happened during all this work (it's really brittle stuff).  Anyhow, the final plate came in at 58.8g  M5-290Hz, and with bass bar 63.3g, 351 Hz.  Note:  I did absolutely no "tuning" on this... everything was just done to what looked right to me at the time.  I only wrote down the numbers, in case it ever means anything later, which I'm becoming increasingly convinced it won't.


It's now together, and well beat-up in the process, which is OK because it's a start down the antiquing road.  I'm thinking of grinding up some rosin to sprinkle all over the top, to give it the proper geezerfiddle finishing touch.  However, that will have to wait until after the VMAAI competition.  This one I'll put in as a "tone only" entry, and see how it does.   It's better than before, I think... not the shocking A/E transition, and definitely playable, but with instant transient response, like shifting a race car with no flywheel.  Maybe someone thinks that's good?


...to be continued...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 1k
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

It's hard to quantify, as the times, temperatures, and pressures are all different.  However, if you blindly apply the 10C doubling of reaction rate rule, this stuff was 2 - 3 times as cooked as what I'm doing now.  And, starting with relatively low density Engelmann, this one ended up very delicate, and might dent or split if you sneezed hard.

Link to comment
Share on other sites



I process the wood because the properties measurements look significantly improved, and (more importantly) my ears tell me it sounds better.  No, I have not made any from unprocessed wood in the last 2 years, but even comparing the sound of the two unprocessed instruments to ones made around the same time from processed wood, I think there is a difference.  And two fiddles that used very lightly processed wood sound not as lively as the more strongly processed wood.


I do have a couple of sets of quite old wood, where the measurements show they are similar to processed wood, and I will likely not cook that.


Another reason for processing wood is aesthetic... new wood is way too white, and adding color kills off the beauty.  I process maple primarily for that reason.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 ...definitely playable, but with instant transient response, like shifting a race car with no flywheel.  Maybe someone thinks that's good?



As it turns out, I think it's good, at least for my playing.  At the moment, it is my favorite of the 10 fiddles lying on the diningroom table.


The impact response looks a bit different:



There's the big B1+ peak, but below that are several little moguls that are the CBR, B1-, and some other bump I can't identify immediately.  It's very misleading though; a bowed spectrum shows very strong response around 400 Hz, and nowhere near as much around the 526 Hz B1+.  And bowed is what really matters.


The higher end of the spectrum is also a bit different, without much of a "transition hill", and just a modest rise at the "bridge hill" area.  In general, it is much more level than most.


Played impression is similar... very even all over, with nothing jumping out anywhere.


With all the new wood and bass bar I put in, I was expecting it to take a while to settle in, but it doesn't seem to need any settling.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

The highly modified #3 came in 7th out of 17 in the first round of the VMAAI tone competition.  It would have been 5th if my #12 and #7 weren't in 1st and 6th spots.  My notes from the playing read:  "Funny tone G & D, ultra-clear highs.  3!"    I was quite certain upon hearing it that it was mine, as the highs are very distinctively laser-like.  The "funny tone" could be due to the steep dropout in response around 700 Hz.  As usual with my "favorite fiddle", after I get used to the new sound, it drops out of favor.  Now I like my #14.


But, moving on...

This is not a hugely interesting photo, but represents a few things:

1)  I'm carving again, 3 months after carpal tunnel surgery on my right hand.  So far so good; the real test will be when I start scraping.

2)  An excuse to take a photo with my new camera.  The real test will be taking good photos of a finished violin, where the old point-and-shoot left much to be desired.

3)  Not really obvious yet, but I'll be incorporating the things I think I learned from VMAAI and the 6 fiddles I had in the tone competition (only two for the real competition, though).


Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is processed, about the same time and temperature of a more recent batch of maple that came out darker. 

I think some variations in the wood chemistry make a large difference in the color, and it's impossible to tell ahead of time (without sample tests) how it will come out.  There's the same problem with chemically reactive treatments like nitrite or dichromate, and perhaps a test spot of those chemicals might give a clue about how the wood will react to thermal processing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


I think some variations in the wood chemistry make a large difference in the color, and it's impossible to tell ahead of time (without sample tests) how it will come out.  There's the same problem with chemically reactive treatments like nitrite or dichromate, and perhaps a test spot of those chemicals might give a clue about how the wood will react to thermal processing.

There is also a problem with ending chemical processes. I suspect that some reactions continue for years. I guess controlling pH would be one method to neutralize them - maybe.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Back on my bench for another experiment:


A little background of why...  earler this week, I went to see a very good fiddler play (previous national fiddle champion).  During the performance, he commented about how he came by his current violin, which he just HAD to get because of its tone.  After the show, I asked to check it out, which he let me do. 


It was a Roth, but I think it was regraduated to get a deeper tone.  One thing I noticed was that there was a strong, loud resonance at G on the D string, which I presume was the B1-, and at ~400Hz that would be an extremely low pitch.  I doubt it was the CBR.  The A and E were not much for power or projection (not necessary, as he is always on mike), but clean and I didn't notice any strong wolfs anywhere.  Anyway, this was more evidence of what fiddlers prefer, even though I'm sure it wouldn't get out of round 1 of a tone competition for violins. 


I got to thinking about what it would take to get a very low pitch, but strong, B1-, and had my "Ugly Duckling #2" fiddle hanging in the shop looking like it needed some more abuse.  So I spent a whole morning taking baseline readings, regraduating it, and slapping it back together.  The top was already thin and light, so I only took a little bit out of the top and bass bar, which went from 65g to 64.2 (with the bass bar).  I didn't bother with taptones, as I was certain that I wouldn't use them for anything.  The back I thinned out the lower bout from 3mm to ~2.2 - 2.5mm.


The results?  Not much difference. 


It looks like there are less dropouts now in the lower notes, but semitone scales on the G and D strings don't confirm it. 


As usual, after playing it for a while, I think it sounds pretty good... probably better than before, and I like playing it better than my other ones.  But that ALWAYS seems to happen after I play something for a while, so it means nothing.  I have before/after recordings, and they sound the same to me.


Well, at least I didn't waste too much time on it.





Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have never been to the GRAND NORTH AMERICAN OLD TIME FIDDLE CHAMPIONSHIP COMPETITIONS held in Canada. I see almost all winners are Canadian. That would be a real treat to attend. Since there are many styles of old time music, I wonder if this contest is open to all the many styles popular in Canadian fiddling.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Back plate done, so now it's time to start on the top.  This is just a varnish/ground test, using only a clear (copal) coating.  The bare wood looks dull gray/brown/red, but with a clear coat it lights up and looks more yellow... nice, I think.  This is wood that has been cooked on the dark side; not as dark as some, but darker than my most recent processing.


Properties: .38 density (medium), 5800 m/s speed of sound (medium high), Q = 173 (high). 

Crossgrain speed of sound is slightly over 1900 m/s, which is higher than anything I've used before, so that may be interesting. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not quite done with the top plate yet, but it's coming into the expected range.  Presently 62.3g and 332 Hz (no bass bar), and I'll probably take it down to ~58g or so.  I was hoping to get the body closed up before left-hand surgery, but with only one day left (and some non-violin stuff to do), it's looking doubtful.  Oh, well.  No real deadline.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oy! That's light!

I'm sure you've examined this, because you're a methodical man, but how do you account for the effects of age when you're choosing to modify your plates to seek your peaks and tweaks?

If it's 58 grams to get to the profile you're after, are you endangering the life of that fiddle?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Naaah, that ain't light.  #6 was 51g, #7 was 52g, and they're doing just fine so far, no warping or sound changes that I can detect (although it has only been a couple of years).  My estimate is that the Jackson Strad top is right around 50g, and that has been doing OK for 300 years.  Yes, there is some distortion... so that's why I'm leaving mine heavier than that.


"Peaks and tweaks" doesn't really describe my method... it's more of a fuzzy neighborhood.  The zone just below 60 grams, with a M5 between 310 and 330 Hz seems give the power and balance I want.  But I don't mess with the graduation map to get there, just go thinner everywhere... and the wood has to cooperate.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Top (without bass bar), calling it "done":

58.3g  M2=134  M5=313


Cremonese average from Curtin's article:

60.5g M2=134 M5=314


This is just a curious coincidence, as I did NOT intentionally tune to anything.  I only used a graduation map that I had drawn up beforehand.  And it will all change with varnish.


I suppose it is really semi-tuned, in that I would have stopped thinning if the taptone was dropping too much, or continued going thinner if the taptone looked too high.  Everything looked OK, so I just went to the dimensions.  It was only afterwards that I looked at the Cremonese average and saw that the numbers were so close.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I got the body together for #15; ~214 grams for those that might be inteested.  As usual, I hooked up a voicecoil driver to play violin music through it, and it seems to sound OK at this stage.  Body modes also seem to be in a reasonable range for a body-only measurement.



In the many breaks I took from carving, I practiced antiquing on my old junker #3, the inside of which you can see in post #1.  For many reasons, I would never sell this one anyway, so I figured it would be good for beating up.

Caution:  those who are sensitve to bad antiquing should avert their eyes now.

 post-25192-0-73791700-1384541554_thumb.jpg post-25192-0-93592900-1384541552_thumb.jpg

The "before" photos were using an old camera, and look way too red.  Most of the major damage and cracks in the top happened during the lamination process (post #1), and it wasn't worth my time to fix them any better than that.  Now, I just need to let a huge pile of rosin build up on the top, and the effect will be perfect for old-time fiddling.


But, I won't be fiddling for a while...


... or doing much fiddle building, but I can work on the design for my VSA 15" micro-viola.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...