Make your own instruments!

Best Online Fiddle Lessons Forums Strings and Things Make your own instruments!

This topic contains 33 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  John Cockman 3 months ago.

Viewing 34 posts - 1 through 34 (of 34 total)
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  • #60496
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    Hey, guys…happy Sunday!  I have always wanted to make my own instruments…but it’s just one of those things that has always seemed like one of the  mysteries of the universe to me, like black holes and the second law of thermodynamics, etc.  I look up in awe to those who understand those things and have given me kindergarden explanations so I can share in the joy of admiring the mystery!  Same with musical instruments…people make them…quasi-crude and funky-sounding, or even highly polished and professional…I sit in admiration and awe of those who have unlocked those mysteries and can work with raw materials to make a musical instrument.  Anyway…somehow, someday, I’ve gotta get in on the mysteries… but it’s a busy day around here right now…gotta run and make a couple of batches of dandelion blossom jelly…yum…havn’t made it for a few years because retirement, ya know…another mystery- no time for anything…anywy…I watched this video from West Va on high speed youtube to fit it into my limited time for such tings….can we do this?  We, who are in the dark…of course those of you who have skills could easily do it..but, me and those others in the dark on this…i’m tenmpted to grow decorative gourds this years…nver have, because of limited space and hunger for edible vegetation in my small area…but… well…this guy does make it look easy!

     

    #60498
    Steve Srader
    Steve Srader
    Participant

    Cricket that’s a pretty cool video educational !

    #60500
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    I agree…I thought this feller here did a much better job explaining making home made stringed instruments than any other explanations I’ve heard.  I have a question, though…I’m curious as to how a person knows how long they need the neck…like…is there some proportion of neck to bridge that must be followed, even on fretless instruments?  I’m very tempted to hurry up and either grow gourds or find boxes or tins or whatever and try to put together a fretless banjo or fiddle.  I was thinking if you didn’t have access to skins or money to buy them (we used to have goats, but never had time to mess with the skins…our neighbors tan deer hide, but I’m not sure that’s the same…but don’t want to ask for things), a person could try a hefty balloon… make a skin top for the gourds out of balloons…but he used wood veneers from trash, etc., I think he said in some things too.  Whatever…the point seems to be it’s not as complicated and expensive as I thought, maybe…lol.  I do wanna know if you just make a neck, or if you need to have some kinda measurement that must be followed for one reason or another, acoustically.  I know once I talked my husband into making me a dulcimer…there was a lot of figuring involved to set the frets…but that’s totally different.  He made that for a class I waas taking in Kentucky history…my project was gonna be music and modes, etc.,  of old time ballads in the mountains, and I really wanted a dulcimer to be able to do a good demonstration.  So he made it for me…it was pretty nice and played in tune, etc., so he must’ve gotten the proportions right.  Anyway, after I got through the class, we took a trip to North Carolina to see his sister…I took the dulcimer with me…his sister fell in love with it…so…you guessed…lol…Merry Christmas to my sis-in-law…I thought she deserved something homemade from her long lost little brother that she rarely got to see anymore.  I now have a different dulcimer, made by a professional duclier maker in TN, which I traded for a D-18 that was cracked when I got it and I just got fed up with my first Martin, etc.  I do love the dulcimer…but, I’m off track…anybody who can keep up with my wandering speech…if you’re out there, if you’re still awake…anybody know how long a neck should be if a person just hauled off and made a fretless instrument outta whatever?  Now…on to washing dishes…got several more batches of dandelion jelly and syrup than I thought I’d get…big dirty kitchen, but lotsa good stuff.  I’ll have to be making waffles for months so we can use that stuff up!

    #60501

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    That’s really cool! I keep thinking I will eventually make my own fiddle, but right now I don’t see how I could possibly find time to do that. Thanks for posting the video, Cricket. He really does make it look easy!

    #60507
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    We got to go see our little grandson’s violin class concert this afternoon…bravo…the kids were great…8-9 year olds’ first year on violin.  The bigger kids’ classes were totally amazing…i mean…I only wish I could do what these kids can do on my own fiddle! But anyway…while we were out, I stopped in the store and got me some gourd seeds…lol.  Ok…now I just gotta find a spot to grow those in (very tough here…I’ve got the place jam-packed with plants and trees and 140 new seedlings coming up and needing places to grow and live…well hopefully I can find room for one more thing!  So maybe I’ll get me some gourds..now…gotta get me some time, and then, get me some nerve…lol.  I’ve got the tools that guy had…drawknife, scraping cards, boring thing or whatever it’s called to make the hole (which mike bought to install my tuners)…rasps…we’ve got all that…what’s stopping me?

    #60511
    rodger
    rodger
    Participant

    Cricket, concerning the exact length of the strings or neck length…to a certain extent, the neck length will determine the octave, as in how bass or treble sounding…I’m sure you know that.  So, to get the basic sound you’re after you’d probably go by measuring another instrument to get that general size.  You’re probably asking about do you have to be really exact, on what will be the length of the string.  I’d say not really, or no.  To chase a mathematically perfect pitch to length ratio isn’t probably going to make much difference when it all comes out in the wash  (pronounced war-shh).   You might gain something in an open string sound and harmonics, but maybe not, depending on what you’re making & it’s construction.  I’d say that will be among the least of the issues you’d face.   With a fiddle, these measurements have been refined to death and there’s books of measurement’s already done for you.  But when you start making a 6 foot bass out of a gas tank etc., or even a banjo,  I wouldn’t worry about it.  There’s probably books of measurements for smaller instruments as well though, and you’re going to end up with some measurement, so you could go by the book.

    #60513

    Hakan Lindholm
    Participant

    StewMac has a very nice fiddle kit to start with (with instruction manual).

    Surprisingly good results (kitchen table works fine and a few tools).

    http://www.stewmac.com/Materials_and_Supplies/Instrument_Kits/Violin_Kits/Fiddle_Kit.html

     

    #60515
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    Doing a kit like that would be a great learning experience.

    #60520
    Steve Srader
    Steve Srader
    Participant

    International violin also has fiddle kits ! They have several different ones !

    https://www.internationalviolin.com/ProductDetail/vk1_violin-kit

    #60522
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    Doing something like that would be a great intro to building instruments…in my own situation at the moment, I’m probably stuck in building from garbage and scraps, if at all…lol.  But, if I don’t get to that, or if I end up painting goofy faces on my gourds, or if I try and fail at garbage/scrap instruments, or even if I just never get around to trying…if i get some spending money…I definitely would love to have a look at one of these kits.  I knew a bunch of people who got a hold of heavy cardboard dulcimer kits and took a class on building duclimers, lap dulcimers, from those kits… they sounded good and looked good too.  I lost track of them, in another part of the state, but for years they played those dulcimers, so apparently they held up pretty good too.  But I don’t know why I’ve always wanted to learn to build instruments…but always been afraid of it.

    #60524
    rodger
    rodger
    Participant

    Some years ago I got one of those kits, I think from stewmac.  Well, the top plate was too small for the body so it was impossible to fit together.  I never sent it back, because by the time I discovered that and my list of to-do things & all, it never got sent back.  It was obviously a way to sell a mistake from a mass fiddle factory.  I ended up using the top plate to practice purfling on. But if you can get a kit that is truly parts made for each other, it would be a good way to get into fiddle making.  The other would be to attend a workshop.  I’ve been to the one in Southern California a few times.

    #60574
    rodger
    rodger
    Participant

    Well, in spite of what’s happened in the past, it looks like we finally have some excellent options in the world of violin making kits.  To be honest, to start from scratch, with a block of wood & construct a complete fiddle is a daunting task to say the least.  But a quality kit, with the hardest parts already done, is definitely do-able, if a person does their homework & learns what they need to.

    So, just a little common sense here.  No matter what route you go, there is going to be an awful lot of time & work involved.  I’ve known beginning violin makers, who ended up making 2o or 3o fiddles, that experimented with alternate selections of wood, such as poplar for one of the plates.  I had the conversation with them, about, when you factor in the long hours of work involved, to use anything less than the top grade of materials is an awful waste, because when you finally get done, if you use sub-standard materials, you end up with just that…a low quality result that will be around for hundreds of years.  But if you spend a little extra, you end up with a wonderful quality instrument.  In time, these fellows came to me and preached the same sermon…they realized what they had done, and regretted not using the best materials available.

    Please understand that what I’m talking about is not what Cricket proposes here concerning making an instrument totally on a shoestring.  That is a different field of  venture, which in it’s own right is exciting and fulfilling and can definitely come up with a very useful instrument.  So you have to understand the two completely different approaches and results.

    My comments here are in regard to a conventional style of violin or viola.  For those interested in making such an instrument, International Violin in Baltimore has some high end kits that cost $400 & $500 dollars.  Even 5 string kits. You get what you pay for and one of these kits, if done carefully can produce a violin worth several thousand dollars.  The hardest part would be setting the neck precisely.  One thing about these kits is that the purfling grove has been cut.  It’s very easy to ruin a good top learning to do that, and on these kits that is done for you.

    They also carry a great selection of violins & violas in the white, which you do the setup and varnishing.  Lots to learn, but wonderful, quality options for those with the time to do it.

    #60575
    Steve Srader
    Steve Srader
    Participant

    Rodger I agree with you international Violin is the way to go , If I were to order one ! I would order the kit with a one piece back if it were me and I would make it almost natural very light towards blonde to golden oak ! I would call them and get the Wittner pegs and other parts custom for the build , You still would not know for sure the sound quality till done ! But it would be a personal thing ! I have all the tools and experience with cabinetry , I would use the real shellac and hide glue and do a rubbed polished finish you can comb your hair and see your face in ! LOL

    #60582

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    Rodger, thanks for the great information. I’m going to check out International Violin.

    #60583

    Hakan Lindholm
    Participant

    Does anyone know if there are any requirements for graduation (tuning) of the plates for those high end kits from International Violin by the builder? Or are the plates already graduated to a good satisfying sounding level just ready to put together?

    #60585
    Steve Srader
    Steve Srader
    Participant

    I am not sure , But a little research on thickness of the top and bottom plates and a caliper to get it as right as possible , information is free , proper placement of bass bar and all ! maybe manufacture could offer guidance ? I know you need to use [ Hide Glue } to glue it together , and old fashioned shellac for the finish if you wont to go with the old way !

    #60586
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    I got my gourd seed growing…gonna try a stretched balloon for the top…for the neck…don’t know…let’s see if the gourd grows first…lol.  Where we used to live there were sawmills all around…up here, I don’t know of any. And anyway we’d have access to only green wood, unless I go to lowe’s and buy a plank of whatever they’ve got there…probably a choice between pine or oak…I would’t want either one…lol. I’d make it from dogwood if I had my choice…or maybe maple or osage orange for the neck, but dogwood for the fingerboard…from what I’ve seen, dogwood, if gotten from the part growing at ground level, is as hard as ebony.  Mike used to make mallots from it and they were indestructible…of course, being green, though…you can’t use it that way. Anyway…I’ll get my gourd hollered out and ballooon stretched over it first…if I get that far, i’ll think up something for the rest.

    #60589
    fiddliferous1950
    fiddliferous1950
    Participant

    My favorite present-day violin maker is Keith Williams from the Greeneville, Tennessee area. I’ve visited his shop a number of times. He’s a wonderful man, a preacher and a tremendous musician. Here’s a link to my website where I have a page dedicated to his talents.

    https://www.frederickwarner.com/keith-williams-fiddle-maker.html

    #60606
    rodger
    rodger
    Participant

    Hakan, the plates are ready to go as is, but most builders will want to do a little scraping here & there for their own preferences.  I can’t remember his name, but there’s a real nice guy at International I’ve talked to before, & he took time to talk to me.  He actually called me about an order I placed and talked me out of some kind of parts organizer I had in an order for some other things.  He said it wasn’t worth the cost & they were out of them anyhow.

    #60614
    rosewoodbill
    rosewoodbill
    Participant

    I hand carved a fiddle several years ago.   It was before I played the fiddle so I didn’t know what I was doing.  It turned out ok though.   A few years ago I ordered a kit from stewmac, but decided to through the top away and ordered a nice englemann spruce top from Colorado that I carved.  It turned out great!  I finished it with the oil varnish kit from International Violin.

    #60616
    Steve Srader
    Steve Srader
    Participant

    I would like to know more about the spruce top , I kind of know from research that the quality  of the spruce top is very important ?????? tight wood grain wide wood grain which is best one piece two piece and so on ???

    #60666
    rodger
    rodger
    Participant

    Steve, International Violin, and many other places have seasoned blanks to make plates out of.   Spruce has always been universally accepted for the top plate…use anything else and you are in experimental territory.  No matter what you try, someone else has already done it and no one has proven something else works better.  I’m not aware of any one piece tops…it’s the back plate that is done either way.  Tighter grain tops is usually harder and projects better, but some of the best fiddles have wider grain, so there isn’t exactly a rule that always works on that.  Ageing and moisture density of the wood is very important.  Off the top of my head, I’d say about 7 years is the minimum drying time, but a lot of makers require much more.  Some aim for 20 years or more.  Block of wood should be quarter sawed style, and split length wise – not sawed is important.  When the blanks are split they seal the ends of the grain with wax to prevent cracking.  If the ends aren’t sealed with wax, it won’t be quality cared for.  But not everyone does that, which means they must just throw the ruined pieces into the kindling box, and under perfect drying conditions the best blanks would survive ok.  The best glue joint uses the ‘rubbed’ technique.  It requires a very good plane, and knowledge of the technique for planning profile.  But with guidance can be done well the first time.  You can also buy the piece already glued and ready to carve.  Hide glue is a miracle product, and created just so we could have fiddles.  It’s hard to believe how well it works.

    #60668
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    hide glue is sorta liked jello, right?  I mean…a little stronger and without all the sugar and colorings…might taste good too…lol.

    #60673
    Steve Srader
    Steve Srader
    Participant

    Cricket Hide Glue is made from animals , Have you heard the old saying a old horse ain’t good for nothing but the glue factory . The main reason it’s been used for instruments is because , its like glass and if you need to take the top or bottom plate back off it can and will break without hurting the wood , also 91 % or stronger alcohol will remove it , a very thin hard knife like spatula can be gently taped into the glue joint and the glue joint will break like glass and separate along the glue line , It is very strong and it also has a slow setup time giving you time to check and double check that everything is aligned properly

    #60678
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    It sure sounds like the best stuff for delicate string instruments.  We have one of those hide rendering places for old horses right down the road here…I guess it’s keeping the fiddle building and repair industry in business, hey?

    #60683

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    Hi Rosewood Bill, and welcome! Do you have any pictures of your fiddle you can upload?

    #61061
    rosewoodbill
    rosewoodbill
    Participant

    Here is the fiddle I use…Stewmac Kit ( carved my own top )

    #61063
    rosewoodbill
    rosewoodbill
    Participant

    this is the front

    #61065
    Steve Srader
    Steve Srader
    Participant

    Nice looking fiddle I could not see the grain on the front picture , but no matter nice looking fiddle !

    #61069
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    That really looks nice, RWBill!

    #61072
    rosewoodbill
    rosewoodbill
    Participant

    The grain is very fine…at least 24 an inch

    #61073
    Steve Srader
    Steve Srader
    Participant

    Bill that’s very nice I like the natural look

    #61079
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    I like it too…looks very nice.  My little fiddle gourd seedling is doing great, guys…if the squash vine borer doesn’t destroy it before summer’s over, I’ll have a gourd or two to try making a banjo or fiddle out of…hopefully both…lol.

    #61091

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    Haha cricket. 🙂

    Bill, the fiddle looks great!

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