The surprise wasn’t quite total. I figured that my wife had some idea that I was building a violin in my shop, but it turns out she thought I was making a small-scale instrument for our daughter. When she held the new instrument in her hands she looked delighted.
First steps in building the electric fiddle. The tiny sketch was my concept thumbnail drawing. I used the x-ray of a Stradivarius to create the design on graph paper. Then I enlarged my design to full size to make the half pattern. Carefully cut out, I used the full size design to make the plywood template. I only cut the holes in one half because I can flip the template over to make the other half.
I decided to see what I could do with a plank of Big Leaf Maple from a tree that blew down a few years ago. It was warped and ugly, but in a short section it cleaned up nicely.
Run through the band saw and table saw, the board shows an attractive pattern. I traced the design onto it, using nails to permanently mark the center line.
I roughed out the cut-outs with a drill press and chisels, but I wasn’t pleased with the results. The shapes were too irregular and the chisel strokes tended to crush the grain
Next time I’ll go straight to the scroll saw, using a spiral blade. On this instrument I was able to clean up most of the bad cuts. The rest serve to testify to my learning curve.
Before trimming the plank I roughed out the electronics chamber, with a drill press followed by the router. I used a plywood cutout to guide the router, but I ended up doing a fair amount of free-handing, too.
I cut to within a couple of millimeters of the pencil lines defining the shape of the fiddle. The rest required sanding and filing.
The fingerboard and neck blanks were pre-shaped, but they still required carving on both the bottom and the top.
I used a hand plane and a custom-made file to smooth the top surface of the fingerboard. Flute maker Casey Burns gave me several luthier tools he made years ago, and I’m finally putting them to use.
I needed files and chisels to adjust the shape of the machine-made neck blank from a luthier supply house. One of the more challenging tasks was cutting the angle of the foot.
Cutting the precise shape of the mortise into the body of the instrument was a task that surpassed my skills. Here I have glued in my first shim. I will trim it to size and continue adjusting the fit meticulously over the next few days. Eventually I’ll do another shim on the other side. Tomorrow I will try to level the cheeks and bottom of the cut to keep the fingerboard true to the center line.
Truth to tell, the neck joint has been the most challenging part of the whole project. After revealing the gift to my wife, a dental lab technician, she spent a couple of hours attempting to level all the surfaces using a lathe with a burr. Unfortunately, her work exceeded the tolerances for the measurements at that joint, so I had to glue in another couple of shims. This time I opted for decorative work, using a scrap of exotic hardwood that will definitely stand out.
I built a jig to hold the neck square, then I tilted the band saw table to cut the angle of the foot. The neck in this picture is reversed from the actual cut.Then I used a fine-toothed saw to trim the sides, followed by carving with chisels.
I dry-fit the neck in the hand-cut mortise countless times as I worked. I still don’t have it quite right, but this morning I used hide glue for the first time, to permanently glue the fingerboard to the neck.
There is still plenty to do to finish the instrument, but I’m now at the stage when I need to consult with the ultimate owner. Together we’re deciding on how to dye the wood and how to finish it. I’m explaining how the bridge will be set and I’m putting on more of the fixtures, like the saddle and the nut. Both of these and the bridge will require a few days of labor to make perfect. Then comes dying and varnishing. In the end, though, I expect success!