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Christopher Jacoby

Repair as Destruction

September 13, 2008 at 1:02 AM

Next time you have an older instrument in your hands (not that newer fiddles are pristine), look around the C bouts and corners for little halfmoon dark indentations. No, they're not gouge toolmarks, left by some maker in his lamplit shop in Parma.
A repairman over-tightened his clamps when he put the top back on. Usually such dents can be steamed or swelled out. The survivors attest to how often it happens in a violin's life.
Blown off buttons, pinhole burns INSIDE the box from luthiers smoking as they worked, whole instruments stripped of varnish and rebrushed to match the touchup from a shaky hand.
And OH GOD the white glue, the titebond and carpenter glue well-meaning jerks use to 'repair' violins. Sorry-
I saw a bassbar on a beautiful fiddle today, glued in with titebond and clamped so hard to fix the bad fit that the top was crushed where each clamp foot sat. It made me upset.
There is an inherent snottiness in this business- players and dealers and teachers and makers all together! I would like to tear it down, not perpetuate it, but damnit, don't touch a single blessed violin unless you know more about it than a guitar. Here's a more workable maxim- If you're not willing to buy the Weisshaar book and call it gospel, don't 'fix' that fiddle!
It's not just the travesty of a job poorly done. A luthier does more damage to a violin in a day than a player does in a year. Well, I know a few bar musicians who trash that idea.
Here- to temper my tantrum, I'll tell you all about the Anchor Steam incident at Cafe Amsterdam, Marin County CA in 2001. One whole pitcher of the Bay's best beer tipped over and filled my grandfather's 1912 Heberlein almost miraculously, sluicing in through the ff holes in a tasty, foamy mess.
I guess somewhere in the great beyond, Gramps was thirsty.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 14, 2008 at 1:27 AM
I have a hatred of rounded bolt heads and stripped out screwdriver slots, myself.
From Giovanni Gammuto
Posted on September 14, 2008 at 4:11 PM
Bravo!!!!!! Folks commonly overlook the skill and extensive experience it takes to perform this work. There have been times that I labored for weeks on what exactly should be done to restore an instrument to it's original playing condition. If necessary, I will consult another crafsnman, for a second opinion before starting the work. As you well know, "Do no harm", and "work smart" are the keys to success. I try and put myself in the shoes of the original maker, and proceed as he would have.
We could surely write a book on what not to do to a violin. I thought I had seen it all until a customer walked into the shop with a violin packed with cooked rice. Someone told him to put rice in the instrument to clean it. Guess they forgot to tell him... dry rice... right out out of the bag.
G Gammuto
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 15, 2008 at 6:38 AM
I agree with you so strongly. I once saw and tried to played a friend's violin, German made around 1900, still with some beautiful sound. I was heartbroken after taking it to a luthier and found that it was about to fall apart because of several poor/ignorant attempts to repair it. The worst was a terrible attempt to glue the neck and the body of the violin together. Now the violin is literally falling apart at its seams. Such a destructive act done to a thing of beauty! I was really upset about it. (See my blog of August 4, 2006.

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