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Old French "music school" violin ID and suggestions for proper rib repair?


Kev N
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Hi Guys and Gals. Let me start by saying thanks to all those who have shared their expertise here. I have not posted often but have learned much from what many of you have contributed these last several years. Whether my skills have improved from it is yet to be decided......

I recently managed to pick up a possibly awful, but interesting (but maybe not awfully interesting) violin to practice more of my psuedo-restoration skills on. First, however, I want to make sure it isn't a Strad, just in case he made some violins while vacationing in France (like I have heard here that he did in Germany sometimes). I would love to know what it really is and what era it belongs to.

Second, I would welcome any expert suggestions on the best approach to repairing it. The lower bout/rib on the treble side appears to have been very poorly repaired/misaligned at one time and needs to be pulled apart and properly repaired again. I assume that taking out the bottom block, shaving the ribs to about a 1/2" taper and splicing in a new piece behind them is the best way to fix that? The ribs could be much better aligned with the plates in this area too.

Also, the areas under the bridge feet show what looks like, and feels like alot of wear down into the top plate wood. However, measuring with a makeshift feeler gauge under a steel rule only shows about .006" (.2 mm) wear in this area max. Should I be concerned enough to add any wood under this area when the top plate is off? It feels and looks much deeper than that measurement!

What I know about the violin. ...

The label wants to infer that it is French (Caussin Luthier, Neufchateau (Vosges)). It gives every impression that it had been used quite a bit and is very worn, almost to the purfling where the chin goes and the hand go. No evidence that I can see that a chinrest was ever attached (interesting). It has markings on it that make me wonder if it once was a school violin. It has an eight digit number scratched into the back below the button (school violin???). It also has a very small number (2778) stamped into the ribs near the end pin.

I do not have decades of experience, but looking at the violin in person leaves me with the impression that the belly plate and the back plate have been made with noticably more care originally than the scroll/neck were. This is because what is left of the original plate edges, surfaces and purfling just seem more carefully done. The plates are smooth on the inside (however there are no cleats on the belly plate, even though it is also made of two pieces). Cleats on the back plate in the French style I think. Bass bar is a separate piece. It has 4 corner blocks and linings. From what I can see the corner blocks look like the wider versions that allowed more clamping area, like I believe was more common on French work? The rib miters seem to meet, best as I can tell, on the C-bout side.

When you get to the scroll and neck, you quickly notice that the scroll is quite noticably out of alignment with the neck laterally. The scroll carving/fluting stops well short of what you would hope to see on a better violin. Actually, the location of hole for the endpin is measurably off to the bass side by a bit, so I guess that the scroll and neck are not the only things done a little sloppy.

Some measurements...bottom bouts measure 203 mm, top bouts measure 163 mm, C bouts measure 106 mm, length of back plate (not including button) is about 357. Rib height in the C bouts is 32 mm. Top plate height is about 14.1 mm. Bottom plate height is 14.7 mm.

The neck seems to have been cut a bit thin originally, being around 17.3 mm thick, including fingerboard, along most of its length.

I cannot see any "embossing" effect on the label to indicate older printing methods, but then it is a little hard to be sure. No other visible labeling or marking inside that I can see. No "France" or "Made in France" labels to date it to the 20th century. No signs of missing labels I can see.

The rosewood pegs look old, or at least show evidence of much handwork in fitting.

The finish seems to be a thin feeling alcohol-solvable one.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.....

 

Kev

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...and got a little bored today waiting for a customer to get back to me, so I went down to my shop and took the top plate off. This is what I found. Top plate with bass bar measures 64 grams for what it is worth. All surfaces inside very smooth.

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I am far from being an expert but there are several features of the construction, including the corner blocks, careful work on back/belly, square back seam cleats and pegbox that would make me think it's French factory work. Some of the other people who often comment on here may well be able to give a more definitive answer.

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I would assume made with an outside form, the joints are mitred but in the center.

Nice Mirecourt violin, but I'm not sure if it's a real Caussin.

The best would be to chisel out the lower block, patch the rib and install a new made block. In this area it won't be necessary to make an inlaid patch IMO, because it will be half covered by the block anyway; at least at this kind of violin I won't do it..

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1 hour ago, Blank face said:

I would assume made with an outside form, the joints are mitred but in the center.

I am curious because they look more like "Built on the back around corner blocks" construction to me with the join in the center and the block longer inside the C-rib. If outside mold, I would not expect the joins to be in the center. What are you seeing? 

Thanks.

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 I too had assumed that it was a BOB work, having read that bit on the subject, but then I know less than anybody here. I did discover something that may be of interest though. The label appears to be a fake. Color me stunned....:-) I noticed something hard like an old glue remnant or something from a previous label that I could distinctly feel under the present label. Upon looking much closer in the best light, I am sure I see the shadow outline of a previous label slightly off to the right and above the present one. Hopefully this picture will show what I see, as well as the telltale glue remnants just above the current label. Guess I didn't look close enough before...

And the ribs to seem to meet in the middle, mostly, so I was wrong in my original post. Thanks for pointing that out Blank Face.

Also, there is an ebony(?) locator pin visible on the bottom block. Remember that this violin was reworked (badly I feel) once before, so I would not if that was original.

I would assume that the disparity between the quality of the work on the plates and the work on the scroll indicate factory work specialization? Would this be in or around the turn of the century Mirecourt? 

 

Thanks for all the help.

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10 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

I am curious because they look more like "Built on the back around corner blocks" construction to me with the join in the center and the block longer inside the C-rib. If outside mold, I would not expect the joins to be in the center. What are you seeing? 

Thanks.

It can be difficult to decide sometimes, but from a "built around blocks" I would expect the outer bout ribs covering the C bout endgrain completely and not only partially, and the lower rib is usually made of one piece, often with an inserted saddle. So it's more alike that it's an outside mould construction, which would fit more into the assumed period of making, roughly late 19th century.

The style of making reminds me of Grandjon shop (or "school"), which would fit to the more hastily made scroll.

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1 hour ago, Blank face said:

So it's more alike that it's an outside mould construction, which would fit more into the assumed period of making, roughly late 19th century.

Thanks. I appreciate your reply and the OP's pictures. This is one of those ambiguous violins to me.

Could those corners be regular BoB that have been filed back and blocks added?

Does the presence of the locator pin in the top bottom block give you any pause to think it may be from outside France? 

Also, does the purfling seem to be inlaid much closer to the edge than the usual Mirecourt work?

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26 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

Thanks. I appreciate your reply and the OP's pictures. This is one of those ambiguous violins to me.

Could those corners be regular BoB that have been filed back and blocks added?

Does the presence of the locator pin in the top bottom block give you any pause to think it may be from outside France? 

Also, does the purfling seem to be inlaid much closer to the edge than the usual Mirecourt work?

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I was wondering the same thing. Because it look BOB, but the blocks fit perfectly, so the ribs were formed around the blocks, not the other way round.

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22 hours ago, Kev N said:

...I would welcome any expert suggestions on the best approach to repairing it. The lower bout/rib on the treble side appears to have been very poorly repaired/misaligned at one time and needs to be pulled apart and properly repaired again. I assume that taking out the bottom block, shaving the ribs to about a 1/2" taper and splicing in a new piece behind them is the best way to fix that? The ribs could be much better aligned with the plates in this area too.

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For a minimalist repair to the rib, you could just fit a new block wide enough to reinforce the crack.  A more ambitious repair would require removing the rib; making a form to do the repair in; opening, cleaning and regluing the crack; and reinforcing the crack with a doubling.  Then the ribs might need shortening to re-align them with the plates, and you would probably fit a new block.

 

22 hours ago, Kev N said:

...It...has a very small number (2778) stamped into the ribs near the end pin...

This is probably a dealer's inventory number.  I can't find any instrument listed under this number.

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2 hours ago, sospiri said:

Because it look BOB,

A rib corner being mitred inside like this simply can't be built on the back in the Saxon/Boheian etc. way,, maybe slightly tapered; otherwise it's not possible to leave it long enoughfor attaching a clamp.

The French building around blocks is a very differnt approach and more close to using an inside mould, therefore the joints are usually far more into the C bouts, covering the complete endgrain of one rib, as I explained before, and usually leaving the lower rib as one piece, what's just more economical, because it's unneccessary to cut it apart. Theoretically the OP could have been made this way, but that's very unprobable, especially considering the period when it was (also most probably) made.

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3 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

Does the presence of the locator pin in the top bottom block give you any pause to think it may be from outside France? 

Also, does the purfling seem to be inlaid much closer to the edge than the usual Mirecourt work?

1.) No.

2.) Looks to me like an average distance  for Mirecourt work, which can be both more close or far from the edges. Even the purfling joints and bee-stings are pointing slightly inwards the C bouts, what's another French feature.

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On 3/17/2021 at 2:31 PM, Blank face said:

A rib corner being mitred inside like this simply can't be built on the back in the Saxon/Boheian etc. way,, maybe slightly tapered; otherwise it's not possible to leave it long enoughfor attaching a clamp.

The French building around blocks is a very differnt approach and more close to using an inside mould, therefore the joints are usually far more into the C bouts, covering the complete endgrain of one rib, as I explained before, and usually leaving the lower rib as one piece, what's just more economical, because it's unneccessary to cut it apart. Theoretically the OP could have been made this way, but that's very unprobable, especially considering the period when it was (also most probably) made.

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I think I'm seeing something different. There doesn't seem to be a cosistent rib thickness in all 4 corners, or method of joining, making some of the ribs corners look pinched.

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4 hours ago, sospiri said:

I think I'm seeing something different. There doesn't seem to be a cosistent rib thickness in all 4 corners, or method of joining, making some of the ribs corners look pinched.

Yup. They probably tested for each corner a different construction method. Or one simply has to assume the most less unprobable.

 

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I few days ago I started to prepare this violin (using the advice kindly offered here) for the rib (re)repair it so badly needed. So, I began by cleaning off all the old glue crude with hot water, cotton swabs and small scrapers.

I have attached better pictures of the four (now cleaned and hopefully more visible) corner blocks, in case anyone is interested..

One of the first things I discovered after the glue was cleaned away was that the thin "ebony pin" that I thought was located in the bottom block was not wood at all, but a very small little nail. Oddly, it seems to align with a place on the ebony saddle, not any place on the plate proper. I have attached a picture, just for kicks.

Looking closely under the fingerboard at the top block, I think I see the remnants of a similar nail up there too. Not sure if that tells us anything other than a factory way of holding the plate in place while the clamps could be applied?

So far I have decided to use what I believe to be, or what Blank Face seemed to imply, was the better method (perhaps not justified for a violin of lesser value than the ones you guys normally work on, but I am having fun with this one...). So I decided to try and do the 1" taper method to the rib and the replacement rib stock. I removed the linings from the damaged rib and loosened it up from the back plate all the way back to the middle of the C bout (the glue was very weak to this point anyhow, and needed to be redone). This gave me the flexibility I needed to bend the rib out enough to create the desired taper on the inner face safely. This effort was aided by the use of a simple wooden fixture that supported the now fragile rib while I shaved, sanded and scraped the desired taper into it. The other side of the broken rib was unglued from the end block and tapered also. I have yet to make the 2"-ish (new rib stock) piece that will connect them. The plan is to make a proper form to glue these pieces together in so that they will assume the correct finished rib shape and (more or less) thickness. However, I may let the block end of the repaired rib run a little thicker on the back side and simply notch the new bottom block slightly to accept it where it occurs. I figure a tiny bit of extra thickness here can't hurt much.

The main question that I have run into has to do with the bassbar. It has a surprising amount of curve in the bottom end where it has pulled away from the plate by nearly 1/4"! What's more, this bassbar seems low and thin compared to what seems to be common practice in today's violins.

The original bassbar (from the later 1800s we assume??) has a measured a thickness of .175" (4.4 mm). The height is .370" (9.25 mm) in the center, tapering in a fairly traditional manner to the ends, which are about .030" thick. These dimensions all seem much smaller thancurrent practice. Would I be well advised to use a replacement of larger dimensions? What effect would that have on sound, as compared to replacing this bassbar with a new one of original dimensions (minus the strange curl)? The restorer in me wants to keep it the same as it would have originally been, but not if the effect on sound will be too detrimental. Opinions?

I assume that gluing in the original is out of the question due to the stress it would put on the glue joint, and that it would just fail eventually.

 

Thanks.

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54 minutes ago, Blank face said:

Though in this case I would seriously consider to change the bass bar (which is nearly falling off anyway):).

 

18 minutes ago, Kev N said:

Thanks for the sage advice guys. Then a new, but identical (except for the warp...:rolleyes:) bassbar it is.

Why not just reglue it? Does it no longer fit?

 

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5 minutes ago, sospiri said:

 

Why not just reglue it? Does it no longer fit?

 

For two reasons: The spring seems to be exegerrated, and it's questionable if it needs spring here at all. The proportions, very high in the center, extremely thin at the outer regions aren't the way I would like to see it.

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  I dont know if it would bear upon the decision, but I measure about 600 grams, maybe 20 oz of compression to force the bar back onto the plate face that it had lifted from (perhaps many decades ago?) when I try and squeeze the lifted end back down. I am a bit of a beginner at this, but that seems like an awful lot of force. Which makes me want to believe that the bar had warped for some reason in a way not originally intended? I assume?

I do know that there has been discussion in the past by some that "preloading" a bassbar might have some advantages....but surely this would not be an early case of that? 

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