Sunday, January 25, 2009

Amateur Violin Repair

Lily is enjoying her group violin classes so much that I thought it would be fun to start a beginners group for Luke. I've talked to a couple of moms who were interested, so when I saw a couple of old Suzuki Nagoya violins very cheap on ebay, I bought them. The first one arrived this week with one problem: it had been shipped with the bridge up (and without a sound post) and had cracked in transit. You can see the cracks here. The seller offered a full refund if I wanted to ship the violin back, or a partial refund if I wanted to keep it. Given the price of the violin (very low) I didn't think it was really worth shipping it back--and I thought I just might try my hand at a repair. By the way, if you happen to be a luthier please don't read any further as I am sure my methods will make you cringe. For those who are interested, this is a 1/10 size violin made in 1980.

Here's a picture of the violin as it arrived. You can see the damage done in shipping--one long crack running up from the f-hole, and another small one running down from the top right shoulder.

Another view of the cracks.

I took the strings, bridge, and tail piece off. I spread wood glue on the exposed edges of the cracks, aligned them, then "clamped" them together by tying a ribbon around the violin. I left this in place for 24 hours.

A closeup of the cracks after I glued them.

This is 24 hours later as I was getting ready to finish setting up the violin. The little piece of wood next to the violin is a sound post I scavenged from another instrument. The tail piece is from a cheap chinese violin I bought a few years back. The strings are good ones I bought for Lily's violin but didn't like on it--I ended up using a different brand.

This is my improvised sound post setter. I actually bought a sound post setter several years ago, but discovered that it was really made to fit full size instruments and was very difficult to maneuver in a small violin. This was my solution.

I used pliers to bend the safety pin. The sound post usually sits slightly behind the right leg of the bridge (or in that general vicinity) so I measured from the f-hole to the mark left by the bridge foot to know where to bend the safety pin.

Here's the safety pin inserted into the sound post.

Inserting the sound post into the violin. You can see the repaired crack in this picture.

Retrieving the sound post from the violin. The first two times I set it up I couldn't get it to stand straight. I knocked it down trying to adjust it and had to get it out of the violin and start all over twice. Getting a loose sound post out of a violin can be tricky--I basically rolled it back and forth while holding the violin up-side-down and trying to stop the sound post with the safety pin as it rolled past the f-holes.

I finally got the sound post into what seemed an acceptable position. Here's a picture looking through the f-hole.

Add strings, bridge, and tail piece. Almost done!
I fixed the chin rest in place and Tah-Dah! New violin. The real test, of course, was to get a bow and play it. I was very pleased with the result. This violin has a very smooth tone, and is surprisingly resonant for such a small instrument. It sings particularly nicely on the A and E strings. The D and G sound slightly fuzzy to my ear, I wonder if that is inherent in the instrument or has something to do with my sound post placement. I'm not planning to try moving it around, though! In any case, beginning violinists play mostly on the A and E strings, and those sound beautiful.
Altogether, I am very pleased with the results of my amateur violin repair! Hm, wonder what I can try my hand at next...


Kirsten said...

wow, good job! My sound post fell down like a week before my last concert, (and I sprained my wrist almost exactly the same time), so I was obviously a little upset... =). Ma managed to get it up after only a couple tries though, and my teacher didn't think the sound had changed much, so I was over-joyed. Not many mothers know how to repair a violin!

Rixa said...

I love your DIY spirit! Never tried that on a violin yet...

Maile said...

I am so impressed! I've been considering starting Kaia in violin lessons, but I'm worried that will be difficult since I don't know how to play the violin. I guess I'll have to get Peter to refresh his skills. :)

Kelley said...

That was impressive! I probably would have panicked at the sight of the damage.

I keep thinking it's time to start my kids on piano lessons, but I just haven't yet. Not sure why. Oh yeah, no money!

James said...

Thanks for taking the time to take all those pictures while you were doing it. Someone will find this post and be very grateful. Your safety pin is especially clever.

Beccy said...

I just watched a luthier put up the soundpost of my son's new 1/8th violin, and I think that the bad sound on the D ang G could definitely be related to the soundpost placement. At one stage he got it so that several strings sounded good, and one not, repositioned very slightly, getting a different string bad, and finally got all 4 how he liked it. I have to say that I agree with leaving well alone if A and E are okay, at least for now!

The only other comment I can make is that a 1/10th sounds awfully large for a 3 year old. My just-turned-3 year old, admittedly small for her age, very nicely fits her 1/32nd violin. Her brother, average height though skinny, used a 1/16th from when he started just before 3 till he moved up to his 1/10th at 5 and a quarter.

Paula said...

If I remember correctly you play piano yourself--could you teach your kids? I know from my own experience having an outside teacher is easier, but maybe if one of your boys showed interest...

My kids tend to be big for their ages. My 3-year-old was using a 1/16, I just switched him to a 1/10th so I could loan the 16th size to a friend for her 3 year old. I know there are several methods for determining correct size, and really it depends on what the child is comfortable with. One method is to have the child extend their arm with the violin in place on their shoulder; if the scroll of the instrument fits comfortably in their palm (fingers can curl around the end) the violin is not too large. Using this method, the 1/10 seems to fit my son just fine, the 1/16th is slightly large for my friend's 3 year old. I do have a 1/32nd, but it's a cheap ($50) Chinese one that I let my 13 month old play with to keep her happy while I help the olders ones practice. The 13 month old, by the way, just measured in at 90th percentile for height at her last doctor's appt, so I suspect by the time she is old enough to actually start learning violin she will be too big for a 32nd. I expect my 5 year old to outgrow her 1/8th before the end of the year, and am keeping my eyes open for a good used 1/4...On the other hand, I have a friend who is a Suzuki teacher and has small children--she actually found a 1/64th size violin for her daughter to start on!

Twinlinebackers said...

Wow. I wish I had any clue! I have been trying to learn violin on the 1/16th size I bought when I was due with my oldest 6 years ago. I can't even figure out how to work the thing, much less repair one! I'm SO impressed!