New Violin Doctor

Owlet has decided that violin lessons are interesting, and so she’s doing a couple of private ones with her violin teacher from camp in the afternoons. From what I saw yesterday, she works better one on one than in a group setting, which doesn’t surprise me at all, really.

The fingerboard popped off her violin last week, and since she’s interested enough to be doing private lessons, I needed to take it to a luthier — or, as I told her, a violin doctor — to be fixed. I went to a luthier about ten minutes away whom I’d never met before, but who had been highly recommended to me by a couple of string musicians in the area. I am trying to avoid going downtown, where the two other luthier shops I deal with are, since it is a nightmare of traffic and construction and detours and parking. And since I was taking her violin in, I figured I might as well take my cello in for its first checkup since I bought it about a decade ago. (Ssh. There have been no problems with it, and I can change strings on my own.)

He is awesome. His shop is one large open room, and he ran a thorough check on both instruments right there in front of me, explaining interesting things about them as he did. The reason Owlet’s fingerboard popped off the neck is because the curve of the fingerboard is opposite to that of the neck, so there is almost no surface to adhere. He showed me the different curvatures with his tools and it was fascinating. He needs to plane a bit off both to have a better match so he can glue it and it will stay. He’s also going to touch up the bridge to better match the fingerboard; he said it was a bit thick, too, and he suspected he knew what luthier it had come from, because each shop in Montreal has their own style of shaping bridges.

As soon as we took out my cello he said the neck seemed wide at the nut, but if it didn’t give me any problems like buzzing then it was just an interesting note. He explored the instrument, noting things here and there. The fingerboard has some bumps, but again, no buzzes so they’re fine. He correctly identified the luthier it had come from just by looking at the bridge (it’s like a fingerprint!) and he showed me that before it had been shipped someone had opened the top bout seams and shimmed the top block to correct the angle of the neck, which explains the tiny slices on the top under the neck and the accumulation of glue or resin around those seams. The adjustment even has a name, the New York neck reset. It was fascinating to learn about the history of my own instrument before it had even reached the shop who had sold it to me.

Anyway, he’s going to straighten the bridge and maybe reshape the curve a wee bit to better match the fingerboard; adjust the soundpost to heighten the resonance in the lower register and gentle the higher register; adjust the tailpiece for a better length of string between it and the bridge (I had no idea that distance was part of the mathematical string proportion magic like length between the bridge and nut is); and clean it (thank you, Mr Violin Doctor; I do what I can, but there are certain solvents you have that I do not). Oh, and he is going to fish out the little cork piece that fell off the top end of the endpin way back when I was pregnant and had to extend it as far as it could go. Thank goodness; it’s been rattling around for seven years.

I expected a lot more (an entire new bridge, at the least). His list of prices are a decade out of date and he still quoted me underneath them, throwing a bunch of little extra work that he kept saying “I’m not going to charge you for that” about. I said I’d happily pay the listed prices, but he waved his hand absently. I’ve never had such a casual, personal experience with a luthier before. I learned so much.

And on top of all that, my cello should be ready tomorrow. Owlet’s violin should be ready early next week. I am used to dropping instruments off and not seeing them for at least two weeks, often longer. Hurray!

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