Violins, violence and a guy named vince

So one day last week someone commented to us that while we like to talk about guitar fixin’, we always have lots of vioins and cellos hanging around our repair bench. “Next time you do one of your TV shows, you should do something about violin repairs” he said. While we didn’t have the heart to tell him we don’t have our own TV show, it did seem like a good idea. Thanks Vince.

Wow, we skipped a lot of steps on this one, but that’s my documentation skills for you. Well, rewind back a little bit and this is a nice student violin with 3 serious cracks with some major separation. They’re all on the treble side, one from the shoulder to the edge of the f hole, one about an inch away and parallel, and one from the f-hole to the bottom of the violin.  The cracks were severe and the top distorted from whatever trauma caused the cracks. We got them closed, glued and cleated, but the top was uneven and didn’t look right.  To do the job right, we had to scrape the top level and refinish it. But since the instrument was finished with a thick unfriendly clear coat, we decided to take the whole thing down instead of matching the student-grade orange.

Here we are taken down to the “white”. We left the nicely worn finish on the back of the neck. Since we’re going for  an aged look anyway, might as well keep the legit part.

Here’s a look at the repaired crack, post finish. The second one is harder to see.

Here we are all strung up and ready to go. This is actually going to be a 12″ viola, converted for the next player in the family. Thanks again to Bob for letting us do this job.

Next up is a cool early 1900’s restoration. Lots of previous repairs, dried up hide glue and broken seams. Unfortunately some of the older repairs didn’t clamp properly and set badly.  Lots of gently prodding, some steaming, and good old fashioned luck allowed us to realign this guy.

This was a student grade German model with an ebonized fingerboard that faded to reveal the rosewood underneath. Higher end models always used Ebony fittings, but the worn rosewood board looks so cool.  The finish is all original but suffered from years of rosin dust and other unsightly contaminants.  After lots of gentle cleaning, we polished the finish up to a high luster and this violin looked bee-yoo-tee-full. After a new tuning peg was fitted, (2) new fine tuners and a set of fresh strings installed, this violin is now ready to enjoy. But wait, there’s one oddity to this story. Rewind again about a month and someone asked us to install an ebony sound post in their violin. Usually these are soft  maple so that a soundpost setter can spear it to insert into position. For those unfamiliar, a soundpost is the support post located just behind the bridge on the treble side to reinforce the top.  This customer thought the dense soundpost would brighten their instrument to bring out a stronger high end response.  We made an extra one just in case and ended up putting it in this one. After modifying our forseps on the bench grinder, we were able to set the post without having to poke it (’cause you just can’t poke a hole in ebony.  That’s tough stuff). We had to grind them really thin and put a steeper curve in the tool to fit into this f-hole from the bass side to properly install the post. No one else might care, but I thought it was cool.

One more thing before we go. Sometimes we find a guitar with absolutely no relief (or worse, a hump) and the truss rod is all the way relieved. This makes the first 5 frets or so virtually unplayable with lots of buzzing. What to do? Or more importantly, what to do that doesn’t involve a bi-flex truss rod  installed or fingerboard planing? We don’t want to do any modifications that may devalue the instrument. I know that goes without saying, but I like to type. Well, we found a non-invasive  solution thanks to a customer who told us what he did to his old Martin that had this condition. Years ago he rocounted this story. He was told to, ” hold it over a fire and bend the neck by hand for 20 minutes”. That sounded ridiculous, so we made a little jig and tried the heat treatment ourselves. Well, we’ve had success with a bunch of guitars over the years like this, so we jumped at the chance to help our friend Dakota with his Ibanez Custom Agent…

If you cringed and looked away, don’t worry. It looks awful but works like a charm. We gradually add relief to the neck while being heated by our handy iron. NO STEAM.  Thumbwheel adjustments made at the headstock end let us move very slowly and gradually so as not to damage the neck.  After setting to an optimal position, we let it cool in the jig.  With some luck, the neck will hold its newfound relief for years to come and allow this guitar to play buzz free with a nice straight neck.

Just don’t put an iron on your guitars at home. Please. You can melt binding, inlays, unseat frets, and I’m sure other bad things can happen.

Success! When he picked it up, Dakota wowed us by playing the solos from “No One Like You” and “Rock You Like A Hurricane” at the same time! And you thought Chet Atkins’ “Yankee Doodle Dixie” was cool.

Thanks for watching.


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