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Improving the Plywood Bass

Improving the Plywood Bass

by Frederick C. Lyman, Jr.

Originally published in American Lutherie #10, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000

See also,
Our Great Spherical Friend, Part One by Frederick C. Lyman, Jr.
Our Great Spherical Friend, Part Two by Frederick C. Lyman, Jr.
Our Great Spherical Friend, Part Three by Frederick C. Lyman, Jr.



In our quest for a way to build an inexpensive but musically useful string bass instrument, we have gone on a brief detour. We have decided to explore a bit further an area mentioned in previous articles: the plywood bass. Could there be a way to improve an existing bass of this type, to raise it above the barely acceptable level in tonal response and playability?

Our conclusion, after one experiment, is yes and no. Yes, we think that an average Kay bass (the most common brand) can be altered so as to broaden its range of tonal capability and extend its useful register. No, we can’t work a miracle, it remains basically a hunk of plywood. The job we did on it turned out to be quite a lot of trouble, and like many such experiments it suggests further ways to proceed with the quest. But it seems unlikely that we can ever give this fiddle any real quality.

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An Experimental Tenor Violin

An Experimental Tenor Violin

by Frederick C. Lyman, Jr.

Originally published in American Lutherie #18, 1989



Building a musical instrument always involves making decisions. Even if the instrument is a familiar model that has been built many times before, the actual pieces of wood are unique, and require unique treatment. Obtaining predictable results, even such as might appear to be instances of mere routine uniformity, usually requires a surprising degree of conscious, intelligent control. In respect to quality of sound, the more an instrument is produced by an invariable automated process, the more variable and inconsistent may be the result. That is because we are dealing with subtle differences which add up. The more intelligence that can be applied to the many decisions that have to be made, the better the cumulative result can be.

Of course, wrong decisions can also be made. This can happen easily when the project being undertaken is one-of-a-kind, where the lessons of past mistakes cannot be applied to the problems.

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It Worked for Me: Violin Bow Hair Storage

It Worked for Me: Violin Bow Hair Storage

by Al Stancel

Originally published in American Lutherie #25, 1991 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Storage of violin bow hair might be a problem for some. Here is how we solve it at Casa Del Sol Violins.

We make a wire horseshoe, insert it into the big end of the bundle of hair, tie it with dental floss, lightly superglue the hair ends, bend the wire back as shown in the drawing.

Hang the bundle from the ceiling with a plastic bow tube slipped over it as a dust protector. The tube can be slid up and over the bundle for cutting individual hanks. The hair never gets dirty or tangled.

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Violin Setups, Part One

Violin Setups, Part One

by Michael Darnton

from his 1990 GAL Convention lecture

Originally published in American Lutherie #35, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004

See also,
Violin Setups, Part Two by Michael Darnton



Setups represent one of the most important aspects of violin work. They are the most changeable part of a violin and can make the difference between a customer liking or hating a violin. People who do setups for a living in large shops do a lot of them — countless numbers of bridges, pegs, posts, and nuts. If you’re making one or two or twenty instruments a year you’re not going to be doing many setups. For the people who do those things everyday, it’s a very specialized art and they have very rigorous standards. With that in mind I’m going to try to communicate to you some of those standards, along with some actual “how-to” hints.

Tools

A bench hook (Photo 1) is simply a piece of wood that has a strip nailed to the bottom on one end and a strip nailed to the top on the other end. It hooks over the front edge of the bench and gives a stop to work against. On the under side of my bench hook I’ve glued a piece of sandpaper (Photo 2). If a tiny, thin piece of wood needs to be planed thinner, I flip over the bench hook and use the sandpaper as a traction area.

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Violin Setups, Part Two

Violin Setups, Part Two

by Michael Darnton

from his 1990 GAL Convention lecture

Originally published in American Lutherie #37, 1994 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004

See also,
Violin Setups, Part One by Michael Darnton



Bridge

When fitting a bridge, the first thing to determine is the proper placement. Ideally the bridge is exactly centered between the inner nicks on the f-holes. This assumes that the holes are centrally located on the violin, which is not always the case, and that the fingerboard is pointed at that position, which it commonly isn’t. The most important aspect of bridge placement is that the string path should be in a straight line. That is, the bridge should be directly between the nut and the end button. In this centering I would expect a maximum total deviation of about .5MM, and I would try to compromise this adjustment the least, assuming that the strings remained pretty much over the center of the fingerboard. If the neck was pointed really wrong I might consider resetting it. Also, I always check to be sure of the position of the end button, and I’ll move it if necessary. In some instances this can be an easy method of correcting for a slightly-wrong neck set. If the f-holes were really off center on an old instrument and I had the time and money, I’d consider resetting the neck and end button off center to match, possibly replacing the neck so that the heel would still point (although crookedly) at the button at the top of the back, minimizing changes to the button.

Anyway, with an understanding of the problem and the possibilities, find a good place for the bridge to sit in the “east-west” dimension, then determine the proper “north-south” location. Ideally, the length of the neck from the nut to the edge of the top next to the neck on the E-string side should be 130MM, and from that point to the middle of the bridge 195MM; a ratio of 2:3. Consistency in this ratio keeps the positions of the player’s fingers relatively the same compared to the edge of the body, no matter what the total string length — an important factor in finding notes in the upper positions. If the length on the neck is off, the position of the bridge should be altered to compensate. For instance, if the neck length is 128MM, the distance to the bridge (the “stop”) would be (128/2)×3=192MM. This is the theory, at least, but I should also warn you that like most things in the violin world this is a subject of controversy, because some people believe that the total length of the string is the most important thing and would deal with the 128MM neck by making the stop 197MM instead. These people maintain two things. Firstly, that the player will quickly adjust to the new ratio. This is true — just ask a viola player. Violas are notoriously nonstandard. Secondly, they assert that the proper string length is important for the tone of the instrument. This is possibly but not necessarily true. Now you know the logic; the decision is yours.

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