Daily Archives: September 6, 2008

The Evolution of the 7/8 Adventure

Okay, so, yes. Where were we in our 7/8 adventure? Right; decapitated mystery cello.

The stars aligned and my luthier and I were finally in town at the same time, so I brought my cello (whose name is Adele, actually, but if I suddenly start referring to an Adele without explaining it I’m fairly certain most readers will wonder who I’m talking about) in for a tune-up, and the mystery cello in for an evaluation of necessary work.

I can’t tell you how excited Olivier was when I slid the body out of the case. (Heh — how’s that for the first line in a short story? Must file that away somewhere.) He turned the cello over and over to look at it, measuring here and there and saying, “German, this is beautiful, when it’s restored it will sound lovely!” It’s officially a 4/4, but a small 4/4, which was one of the acceptable options back when we began the 7/8 search. He measured the neck and we discovered that it’s actually a centimetre too long. That may not sound like much to you, but when the world of lutherie works in millimetres, it’s huge. It would mean I’d be playing fourth position way further down that I should be. That’s ungood for technique and playability.

So let’s see, here’s what needs to be done.

– the back needs to be taken off for the work to happen (a separate charge all its own, as it’s a huge deal)
– the two cracks on the shoulders need to be patched from the inside
– the hole/dent needs to be patched from the inside
– the button needs to be regrafted
– the two missing chips on either side of the neck block (where the neck is attached to the body) need to be replaced with newly carved bits and grafted on (alas, this was the one thing that will be new on the body itself; he asked hopefully if the bits were somewhere in the case so as to use the original wood, but no luck)
– the cracks in the neck block need to be fixed and a patch put under it all to strengthen it
– the fingerboard needs to be replaced (or reshaped, we’re not sure yet)
– the neck needs to be adjusted to make it smaller (he thinks he can shave a bit off the base where it attaches to the body to take off a few millimetres there), and some cracks filled
– the fingerboard needs to be moved down from the nut a bit (here’s where we’ll make up another few millimetres)
– a new bridge, soundpost, strings, and tailpiece (because the one that came with it is very heavy, which suppresses vibration and closes up the potential sound. I suspect we’ll end up with a new endpin too, but that’s not essential.)

While this list sounds extensive it’s really not. The basic integrity of the cello is sound; it’s a miracle that there are no cracks or punctures on the belly or the back as a result of the car crash. Olivier is anticipating a glorious sound from it when it’s in playable condition. And while he couldn’t give a firm estimate today, he thinks the repairs will cost between two and three thousand dollars. (That’s nothing, and pretty much what I expected. And as I’m sharing the cost of repair with my cousin, even if it’s on the high end of that spectrum, my share will still be less than what I’d budgeted for a new cello.) And most dizzying of all… once restored, it will be worth between eight and ten thousand.

This alone scares the heck out of me. It’s pretty equally matched by how much I’m awed by the opportunity to play it that Fate has granted me, though. Surpassed by it, truth be known. I’ll request an official certificate of appraisal once it’s all done and use that to insure the hell out of it.

He’ll email me this week with a final figure, I’ll give the go-ahead (because really, how could I not?) and away we’ll go. I have no idea how long it will take; he’ll probably give me an estimate on that when he emails me the quote. In the meantime I’ll start shopping for lightweight ultra-protective hard cases, because there’s no way I’m hauling a nine thousand dollar cello around in a soft gig case. (Also on the shopping list is a soft case that doesn’t scratch Adele. Or I may bring the current gig case to a tailor and ask them to sew in a flap of chamois or something of the sort that will lie under the zip.) I’ll also start looking at new bows, because I’ll need something better to work with than my $130 cracked-frog bow that I love for my current cello but needs replacing anyhow.

I am so very excited about this. Olivier is too, which tells me more about the quality of the instrument than anything else. And if I’m going to be playing a cello of that kind of quality, I am absolutely going to start taking lessons again this fall. Otherwise I’ll feel as if I’m wasting its potential. I’ll speak with my section leader at our first rehearsal back.

As for Adele, I’m having very basic but necessary work done: new bridge and strings, soundpost adjustment, the fingerboard crack filled and the playing surface planed to obtain the proper scoop and level out the odd bulge it’s developed. ( “Planing the warp out of it will make it much easier to play,” he said, to which I involuntarily responded, “Thank God.” The one drawback to testing new cellos is that it’s demonstrated how less-easy mine is to play.) As much as I love the Evah Pirazzi strings I don’t want to put a $250 set on it if I’m going to play the German cello once it’s ready, so we decided on the combo of a Kaplan Solutions A and D with a Helicore G and C. It’s actually a combo I’d noted down while researching new strings. She’ll be ready next weekend, although I won’t be here to pick her up; I’ll have to collect her the following week.

So there you are. What was once a 7/8 quest has evolved into the rescue of an on-the-small-end-of-full-size turn of the century German cello. I’ll have to make sure he puts his own label inside once it’s reconstructed, the luthier’s equivalent of signing your work. It’s one of the only ways people can trace the evolution of an instrument. He’ll certainly deserve the credit.