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Don Noon's bench

Don Noon

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Whats in the sauce?




For this specific set of maple, I found that nitrite and UV worked well, creating an orange-brown color.  In the past, all I had gotten with nitrite was a dim gray.

Added to that was a water-based dye mixed up from a bunch of other dyes, with a little arabic added,

Then my "normal" fumed silica thickened varnish-like stuff to seal it all up.


I'm no expert, but it seems to me that for the most dichromacy in the flames, there has to be some color in the wood, either natural or added.  The devil is in the details... what colors, how much, what consistency, etc. etc.  There are infinite amounts of variables, each of which can vary infinitely, so there will never be an end to the varnishing topic.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The body to #18 is now complete; I'll post more info about it eventually.  About at this phase in the build, I look around for anything to do which avoids starting the scroll.


I found something.




It's a cheap old German student fiddle, a Maggini model, probably early 1900's.  These are the kinds of fiddles I used to regraduate for practice, and I thought I'd try it again as a change of pace from the things I've been doing more recently.  It's certainly not a profitable use of my time, but I thought I might learn something from the old wood.


The top regrad is nearing completion, and the lessons learned thus far:


 - Cheap fiddles usually are made from wood I would never choose to use.  Notice in the photos above that the winter growth (dark bands) occupy a large percentage of the total, and are very distinct and dark.  I don't have an actual density measurement, but from the thickness and weight of the plate, my guess is that it's around .47 density.


- Due to the high density, the top plate is going to be heavy, even with relatively thin grads.  Originally, the top (with bar) was 96.5 grams, the heaviest I have ever encountered.  Yes, it was thick, but even as I thin it down, it still looks to end up ~15g heavier than I would get normally.


-Cheap, poorly built fiddles need a lot of work to put into what I'd call decent usable condition.  I probably shouldn't do this again.

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  • 1 month later...

Now it's nearly 2 months later, and I managed to get the scroll done, then started getting the fingerboard prepared...

... another long story.


I have always hated preparing the fingerboard, hogging off large amounts of ebony and trying to create a uniform radius.  A while ago I made a fixture so I could turn a fingerboard on my lathe; it worked sortof OK, but there were problems with it.  So this time I thought I'd try it again with had tools, having picked up a Herdim fingerboard plane.


After a day or two of frustration, I went about designing and constructing a new lathe fixture.




It works pretty well, and does two at once.   There are lateral locating tabs at the ends, and the hose clamps keep the fingerboards down.  I do have to slide the clamps back and forth to complete the process, but that's not a big deal.


Now... on with the construction.

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Do you start with commercial fingerboard blanks, or with an unshaped piece of ebony?  (the bottom of the fingerboard looks like it has been hollowed)  How do you machine in the relief (scoop)?  Do you have a some kind of template, or do you put the relief in by hand later (after the fingerboard has been attached to the neck)?




Once upon a time I used a large stationary belt sander to radius guitar fingerboards, which were attached to a pendulum-type fixture mounted above the 6" wide sanding belt.

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The fixture is to get pre-shaped fingerboards into a reasonably close starting condition (they're often very far off).  The fine-tuning and scoop will be done as the last step after it has been put on the instrument.  If the pre-shaped boards were accurately made (and didn't warp later), I wouldn't have to do this.  An inexpensive, perfectly-made graphite fingerboard seems like it would be a nice alternative.


I have seen the Grizzly fingerboard radius fixture for guitars, which looks handy if you're in guitar production.  It's a bit too much for a 1-car garage violin operation, though.

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  • 3 weeks later...



All the varnish is on (I think), and it's on the solar barbie.  I wouldn't have tried this last week when it was scorching hot, but now it's much cooler.


I think this will be my last violin from normal, unprocessed wood, unless someone specifically commissions one.

Regardless of whether it make a tonal difference or not (and that is as yet uncertain), I just can't stand trying to tone down the blindingly white wood with various chemical treatments and dyes... and it still glows in a "new violin" kind of way, and contrast is not as good.  The dimensional stability of the processed wood is another thing I like.  I probably won't be going with the strong process to get the ultimate acoustic factors, just moderate to get color, stability, and slight gains in the acoustics.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The antiquing of the back and sides didn't go so well, so I stripped them (leaving the top and scroll alone), and I'm in the process of trying a bit of shading.




I got a new mold made up, which I am labeling "P+".  It's basically a Plowden, but scaled up from 351 to 355 mm back length.  Like the Strad mold I've been using, it was made to hold pre-shaped neck and pin blocks using a screw.  Both molds are collapsable; the Strad had full-height sections, the P+ only 2/3 height.


For tonewood, on the Strad I'm going to use .365 density Engelmann and .64 Euro maple; on the P+ I'll use .355 Euro spruce and .55 Euro maple.  Mike Molnar probably recognizes the pitch canyons (giant pits) in the Euro spruce.  That will be interesting to repair.  


All the wood is processed, but nothing that is testing the boundaries.  The primary variable of interest in this pair is the back wood: one toward the dense end of the spectrum, and one on the light end.  Both sets of maple are cut quite far off quarter, which should make for some very low crossgrain stiffness, so I guess that's a test, too.  It was a good thing Sam Z had an excellent violin at VSA that had similar off-quarter maple, otherwise I might be more hesitant to use it.  The processing also reduced my concern about warping, as the processing pre-shrinks and pre-warps the wood.  The wild grain, low density maple for the P+ model warped significantly, but it should be much more stable now.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I finally got tired of beating up the finish on #18, and calling it done.  Or over-done.  And I set it up as a fiddle, for my own use for a while.  



One reason to keep this one for myself for a while is to see what happens over time to the tone, as this is normal, unprocessed wood (but still pretty good stuff, over 10 years old).  


The impact spectrum shows an odd peak around 1300 Hz.  It doesn't seem to be a tonal issue, and bowed scales don't show anything quite this peaky, although there is a bit of power in the region.  There is also a little less power than I usually get in the 2500 - 3500 Hz range, perhaps due to the unprocessed wood.  This seems to come through as a slight lack of sparkle and brightness, but that's not a big issue (or maybe even desirable) for a fiddle (that's another reason I'm holding onto it),



This is a freshly varnished, freshly assembled fiddle (today), so I don't think it's unusual to be lacking a bit of brightness.  The tone is good to my ear, though, and if it brightens and opens up as I think it will, it should be even better.  This is just a snippet of what it sounded like today:

Violin 18 tune.mp3



Garlands are assembled for #19 & #20, but I'm tearing apart my VSA entry violin to try to fix some tonal/playability issues (too boomy and hollow).  I need to add wood, which is not my favorite fix.

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