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Where can I purchase a lab rat and a dumpster fire?

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Hello Maestros!

I played the violin my whole childhood but quit when I went to college. Now I’m trying to reacquaint myself. In the intervening years, though, there’s been a physics degree and a job fixing recalcitrant light waves and a fair bit of hobby-level woodcarving. End result is that I really just want to take a violin (or two) apart and poke things to have a sense of how it all works.

Given my skills and available spare time, I’m in no shape for serious building, and I don’t plan to make this anything more than a hobby. But I thought it might be feasible to a) get a sense for bridge-soundpost-string setups and how they might be mangled, and b) examine the guts of one of those not-worth-the-repair fellows that show up around here, to see how the construction and woodworking aspects go. Violin-fellows, I mean, not posters. 

So: questions. 

1) The Lab Rat

- will cheapest-on-amazon do for a setup test subject?

- Is there some minimum level of instrument corpus quality below which setup changes won’t do much (or won’t do it obviously enough for amateur ears)?

- am I doing it all wrong and should do some other thing instead? 

2) The Dumpster...Kindling? (Fire just sounds unkind)

- where might I find a violin battered enough to sport significant repairs, yet hopeless enough to be entrusted to me? is there some graveyard where smashed-in instruments go to die? Is it called eBay?

- are there particularly interesting repairs to look out for?

- are there any particular ways in which I’m doing it all wrong?

Thanks :)

 

 

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Welcome to the thrilling world of DIY violin maintenance and repair!   All hope abandon, ye who pass by me..... :ph34r::lol:

1.  A couple lab-rat suggestions besides Amazon or eBay:

https://www.concordmusic.com/collections/violin-violin-outfits?sort_by=price-ascending

https://www.sharmusic.com/Instruments/Violin/?pageLength=12&sortBy=PRICE_ASCENDING&cid=1342&Category=1371

Decent student fiddles can be found on eBay, BUT, at this point in your career, I'd prefer to point you at sources with some semblance of customer service, and fewer shark and weasel genes.  If you are in an area with a real violin dealer, I'd go see what they have available as well, so you can try before you buy a lot easier.

2.  Definitely eBay, but check all your local thrift stores and antique stores just in case.

And remember the mantra, "$50 and FREE SHIPPING!!". ;)

eBay is also where you will want to look for hide glue, most parts, tools, and other stuff you'll want or need.  Feel free to PM me with questions. :)

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If you are in the states you frequently find broken down old fiddles on Craigslist for next to nothing. At least in areas where you have string programs in the schools 

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Sounds like me in the 80's. Physics/engineering degree, played violin/cello and handy with tools and woodworking. I was infected with this desire to understand and make violins. I found an antique/violin dealer who had lots of old violins that needed to be fixed and they were not worth much. I told him I would fix them for material cost, and I had my cadavers to work on. Soon he was giving me better violins. I read everything I could get my hands on, Catgut Accoustical stuff (Caroline Hutchens and company). Now with internet the resources are much more. I am now making # 6, 7 violins. Had a long period of inactivity. More recently there was a guitar shop that had some damaged violins and I did the same thing there to get to look at some more violins. Initially I found that there are those who make violins and those who write about how to make violins; two different groups. Beware of the rabbit holes; you waste a lot of time in them. Today there are many who make instruments and are sharing their information. Getting connected with them through the media has been an adventure. 

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My first cello was the cheapest possible plywood thing on ebay, and I started doing setup stuff on that (I figured I couldn't screw it up and didn't want to get laughed at by the guys at the music store). It helped me learn a few things but I don't think there was any way to really set that thing up to sound good. Next cello was a Scott Cao that I got for $300 or so on CL. That was much better for experimenting with soundpost, strings, bridge, tailpiece, etc. My teacher was impressed enough with it that when I upgraded she asked if I would sell it to one of her other students. So that was my "lab rat" instrument.

My first dumpster fire cello was off ebay. I would occasionally search for "broken cello", "cello fix",  "cello repair" or "cello needs" and found a 1/2 size German thing with badly cracked top for about $65 shipped. I think they may have actually lost money just from the shipping. I took the top off that one, fixed the cracks (including the ones I made taking the top off ;) ), and stripped what was left of the finish off the body and then refinished it. I at least got it playable and looks pretty good, I need to get some halfway decent strings for it.

I did one more cello that looked like someone put their foot right through the top. I got that one playing but I would not call it a proper repair, more like field triage, but it is still holding and sounds pretty good. I got that one for $25 from shopgoodwill.com with a nice bag and a cheap bow. That is a good alternative to Ebay for project instruments of all kinds if you are in the states.

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I would probably look into bows instead.  Less investment and more potential to do something useful.  But it's said it takes 1000 rehairs to get that part right.  Might have somebody else do the hair :D

 

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1 hour ago, SingingTree Tonewood said:

Oh heck, I'll sell ya 4 80-100 year old fiddles to play with for $150 shipped !!

Great for practicing repair and set-up.

 

Ooooh, that works out to $37.50 each and Free Shipping!   You seriously oughta jump on that one.  :lol:

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6 hours ago, Violadamore said:

Ooooh, that works out to $37.50 each and Free Shipping!   You seriously oughta jump on that one.  :lol:

Nooooooo!

VdA - people can take the written word too literally. Why make more work?

I mean - seriously? I wouldn't jump on a violin even in fun.

Shame on you :-)

Now - a viola - maybe.

cheers edi

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7 hours ago, SingingTree Tonewood said:

Oh heck, I'll sell ya 4 80-100 year old fiddles to play with for $150 shipped !!

Great for practicing repair and set-up.

Dear SingingTree, I the OP do hereby jump upon you.

 

7 hours ago, Violadamore said:

  You seriously oughta jump on that one.  :lol:

am i doing it right

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When my husband was learning he was apprenticing with someone who taught him that doing a best possible setup on everything is just what you do. Like as a moral imperative. But it was a professional shop. They didn't quite get "everything" in there. The rentals were really rather nice and playable, as they should be in a professional shop.

I personally think there's a level of instrument where you wouldn't, regardless of whom you are learning from. Stuff so bad, you can't gauge whether anything you're doing is effective. Plywood violins covered in a synthetic armor, like this. But there's a world of cheap instruments that can be improved drastically. Have the fun.

2zmxrm.jpg

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1) anything NEW and cheap on internet.  Chinese might be less wrong in some respects.  This will all be horrible regardless of set up.  Or, if you want to more definitely focus on the faults of setup instead of faults of the fiddle, then you should spend more.  Cheapest way to reliable get something not completely horrible is to take your best playing friend or aquaintance to a dealer and pick out the best playing trade instrument you can afford.  This will probably end up being a new chinese or older europen trade fiddle.  If you have the budget to go this route, then don't look for a good fiddle with bad set up.  You and your friend won't be able to evaluate that.  Look for a good fiddle well set up.  That way you have a chance of pick a decent fiddle on budget.  The better your friend plays, the better your chance of evaluating. 

Once in hand, remove and lay aside the setup.  Start over and learn.

2) Find anything in a used environment that you can hobble together.  Wave it by anyone knowledge at a hundred paces to confirm it actually is junk.  Go to town.

 

*********

 

As you try to harness your scientific prowess to improve or understand, etc.,  I offer a few starter tips.

* Many have sought a simple magic bullet.  

* The violin as made in Cremona roughly from 1650 to 1750 still stands as the pinnacle choice for able artistic classical players.  The market overwhelmingly confirms this preference.

* The pattern of making those instruments developed continously through generations of slowly evolving tradition.   There was no moment of individual revoltionary design and genius inovation.  And that includes Strad.  Moreover, the development of the violin making traditions is a continuation of a couple centuries of evolving traditions for making bowed instruments more broadly.  So that pinnacle of Cremona making was achieved through about 4 centuries of continous design evolution.

* By all appearances, the 'evolving community traditions' approach of classical Italian work was only interrupted by the economic and social changes of the industrial revolution.

*A scientific approach to innovating violin design more or less begins in early 19th century France.   This is a new branch among several in the establishment of new approaches to making and dealing that emerged from the Industrial Revolution.   

* If you will, think of a violin as a "solid state vibration transducer made of wood, string, and partially enclosed air: stimulated by plucking or bow."

*While still popular, tap tones and node line focused approaches involve many dubious assumptions.  Such things still inspire many, and have been explored by many past personalities, including Hutchins.

* For a good modern view, see Gough.

 

Good luck, and good fun!!!

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On 4/27/2019 at 6:30 PM, Violadamore said:

Ooooh, that works out to $37.50 each and Free Shipping!   You seriously oughta jump on that one.  :lol:

I've bought a few instruments from him and they're great!

 

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