amateur DIY repair of a humble student violin

Edited: September 17, 2022, 12:35 PM · I'm an adult beginner who joined this forum for sole purpose of seeking advice on the issue here.

Back in the August heat, my violin came apart one night. The neck popped out. No pieces were broken. But neck, fingerboard, nut and bridge were all dispersed and sundered from the body.

A luthier convinced me that the cost of repairing the instrument would be greater than its original cost. I ended my journey to the repair shop with a new lovely second violin better than I had ever dreamed of owning or playing and the carcase of the broken fiddle.

Now I want to repair the broken instrument. It was good enough to give me pleasure as a beginner; I'd like to be able to restore it into being a playable instrument, or else at least learn something trying, even if only more admiration for the experts.

I read up on hide glues & successfully used carefully applied moisture and a scraper to remove the old glue.
The fingerboard, neck, and space where the neck fits are now smooth bare wood apart-- from a very few spots that did not respond to moisture or careful scraping. (I suspect these may have another adhesive.) I could attack these more vigorously, but it seemed safer to let them be.

The neck fits the body very snugly with no wobbliness.

However, I can see that there is small void inside between neck and body.
Also, there was space on both sides that was packed out with slivers of wood. I haven't removed those. The void must have been fully filled with glue, since there was an area of very thick glue.

If I succeed in gluing the neck, fingerboard, and body back together, I will still need expert help, I assume, by paying a luthier, for the bridge, post adjustment, & to supply a new nut.

Any advice would be most welcome.

Either random suggestions or offers to mentor the process.

I have a number of clamps and expect to be able to rig up some way to put pressure on the pieces if I glue them....

Should I use medium strength hide glue, or strong?
(I understand not to use the premade kind.) I can get hide glue, but already have rabbit skin glue. Is that satisfactory or too soft?

Should I attach fingerboard to neck first, let that dry, and then neck to body? Or neck to body first?

Replies (9)

September 17, 2022, 1:18 PM · The usual order is to glue the fingerboard on the neck first, so that the projection of the fingerboard can be checked while gluing the neck in place.

Rabbit skin glue is tougher than the usual hide glue, so it may be a good choice for setting the neck. Glues are all different, so you need to see that it is not lumpy when melted in water, and test glue some scrap first.

September 17, 2022, 2:13 PM · Don, thank you for replying.
Should I try to pack the void with something like sawdust mixed with glue, or just apply the glue generously? (This void is a small space, but enough so it had the equivalent of a generous layer of
butter on a piece of toast instead of a mere smear.)
September 17, 2022, 7:12 PM · Glue doesn't work well as a filler, since it shrinks a lot (I won't suggest epoxy). The "right" way would be to carve the pocket bigger, glue in a solid chunk of wood, then carve that out for the proper neck set. However, that's a bit much to expect at this point, so I'd suggest some thin slivers of wood to fill the gaps.
Edited: September 17, 2022, 9:03 PM · As Don said, filling the gap with glue is not a good option. Hide glue works best with pieces of wood that have a large surface area in which they meet. If you have such a surface, then it will Bond well, even if there are other gaps. Without the wood to wood contact, you will not get a strong bond.

You could make sawdust filler, if the rest of the bond is strong. But that filler will largely be cosmetic.

I should also add that if the wood is sealed, by other adhesives, etc. then the hide glue may not Bond well.

If I were you, I would give the hide glue a shot. Do not use filler. If it holds great. If not, the cleanup will be easy.

Edited: September 18, 2022, 5:57 PM · How much did you pay for it? I had a violin my son broke that cracked in several places. I held it together and dripped glue down the inside via the f-holes and it's held together since and is our backup violin (affectionately named "Cracky").

You can buy a violin soundpost-setter inexpensively if you wish. If you have the original bridge and nut, they're likely still usable, or you could also DIY those parts.

There's a cost-benefit equation. My violin was bought 2nd hand for $130 (new $600), and it seemed silly to put a couple of hundred into it. I do think having a cheap/broken violin can be helpful in learning about the instrument (straightening the bridge, changing strings, etc).

September 18, 2022, 4:14 PM · Its going to cost a few hundred for soundpost and bridge, you would be better buying the tools for the sound post and doing it yourself, as for bridge I would position that myself as well, if you still have the original bridge that is.
September 18, 2022, 5:02 PM · If you have a decent amateur maker nearby you might get a good deal on the repair. I did that in 1990, when a local mechanical engineer whose violin-making hobby had matured to the point that I asked him to fix my old (1877 German) cello that had been badly damaged in our 1962 move to California. He repaired for $10/hour (11 hours total). That about what he was getting for the violins, violas and cellos that he made and sold. (By now he has made 101 instruments and sold 99 - he has kept his first and last - a personal friend, we keep in touch.)

In 1964 I had taken it to a major Los Angeles violin shop and got a $500 repair estimate (about what the instrument in good condition would worth at the time) so instead I bought a $500 cello from them for $350. Both cellos are still both in the family.

Edited: September 19, 2022, 3:02 PM · Further to Ron's contribution, if you don't have the original bridge, there is a trick to fitting a new one. Get a template bridge of the quality you require (Student quality bridges are cheaper than intermediate, which are cheaper than top), and lay sandpaper on the belly of the violin (the more flexible the sandpaper, the better). Then rub the feet of the bridge up and down the sandpaper - This begins to shape the feet to your instrument. Finish, of course, with fine sandpaper. Further adjustment to the shape of the feet will be finer than it would otherwise have been (I think my Dad taught me this one).
September 19, 2022, 3:37 PM · The only way sandpaper will work is if you move the bridge left to right with the strings on at low tension being very careful to keep the bridge standing straight up right, what you suggest will never work and will only round off the feet of the bridge so the feet will never be perfect

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