You rarely see a pretty fiddle

You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Why’s that then?

Some instruments are found in all stages from plain to ludicrously ornate. Mandolins for instance - I have one Fylde Touchstone which is tastefully elegant (i.e. plain but in nice wood), and one old Stripy Romanian which is just a little decorative (stripy back and flower motif by the sound hole), but you see some really scary ones which you fully expect to light up at night, or at least glow in the dark, and you wouldnt feel safe left alone with. A guy turned up at our session with a mandolin which looked to have been made from a fossilised pumpkin, and he assured us it had real gold on the metal bits. Sounded just like any other reasonable mando.

The same happens with Banjos and Bodhrans and Melodeons and Guitars. Gold! Mother of Pearl! Abalone Stars on the Fingerboard! Real Diamond encrusted Tailpiece!

But you rarely see a decorated fiddle. I came across one in Derby with a picture in marquetry on the back, and inlaid patterning round the front, but for the most part the only difference in appearance from one fiddle to the next is the shade of brown and the level of dirt or cleanliness.

Are fiddlers / fiddlemakers less flamboyant? Is there a strict code whereby the brotherhood of fiddlebuilders will kneecap anyone who paints serpents or naked ladies on a fiddle? What’s the answer?

Dave

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

In the 17th and 18th centuries, and probably later, highly decorated and ornate fiddles and other instruments were made, presumably to special order for a suitably special client. I know a cellist who has a very fine cello with the coat of arms of Frederick the Great on the back - he won’t let anyone touch it! Ornamentation and decoration don’t add anything to the sound quality, of course, and if carried to excess perhaps could even detract from the tone. I have little doubt that a modern luthier would decorate and ornament an instrument to the client’s requirements - but at a price!
Trevor

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Yo Trevor - I just knew you’d be first to answer on a fiddle quest.

Tell me - is the coat of arms on the cello painted on, or inlaid?

Dave

Anyone seen this one …

I recently got my hands on a CD of a collection of tunes recorded way back when by Scott Skinner (on the Temple label).

In the sleeve notes, there was a shot of a fiddle which had a highly detailed and very accurate carving of Skinner on the back.

I’m at work at the moment so can’t check the name of the luthier. However if I remember I’ll dig out details when I get home.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Norwegian Hardanger fiddles are very ornate in carving and decoration. Here’s a link to a page with some beautiful hardanger wallpapers:

http://www.hardingfele.com/wallpaper.shtml

Hardangers are different from a regular fiddle in that they have four or five extra "sympathy" strings that run underneath the fingerboard and bridge. When a regular string is bowed, they sound as well due to sympathetic vibrations.

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Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

And you can certainly get hold of *new* fiddles/violins in various colours, with tiger stripes, with motifs … among other places, here:
http://cgi6.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewSellersOtherItems&userid=elizabethward&include=0&since=-1&sort=3&rows=50
And with carvings
http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=2577045396&category=38108
or inlay work
http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=2575339173&category=38108
as to whether they could be called pretty …. ;op IMHO!

And, as Trevor said, the more labour-intensive work comes at a price.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Inlaid, I believe, (going on memory) - it’s many years since I last saw the instrument.
Trevor

And I saw one for sale not so long ago with a craving of Mr Strad himself on the back 8>(

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

What about the Hardanger fiddle?
Check this picture out
http://www.hardingfele.com/
And that’s a soberly decorated one.

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You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Oops, late again in submitting and missed the threads in between!

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Scrolls ..

.. I’ve seen fiddles with carvings of animal or human heads in place of a scroll.

You rarely see a pretty fiddle

What are rather more common with fiddles are decorative tailpieces and inlaid pegs (which usually cost), neither of which add to the tonal quality, but sometimes the effect is spoilt when the owner doesn’t keep the rest of the instrument in good condition. Sometimes I’ve seen bridges of slightly unusual design, but you’ve got to be careful with those because the bridge is a very functional item and even little nicks in the legs are there for good reasons.
Trevor

.. not unlike the one Cath posted *just* as I posted my last remark ..

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Wow. Quite decorated, Aidan. That’s all carved into the back of the fiddle?

-Max

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Decorated flutes are less common than decorated fiddles.
Are you sure that is a carved fiddle, Aidan, and not just a Photoshop job?

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

ottery - even if that’s not a genuine carving of Skinner, it’s not that it’s impossible; the carving (as opposed to ‘craving’) of Stradivarius I saw was just as extreme and almost as large. I wish I could find the photo, but the fiddle was sold.

There’s a lady makes violins with no corners:
http://www.helenviolinmaker.com/threequarter_size_violin.htm

And showaddydadito - I’ve never seen a naked lady on a fiddle, but Andersen make high end (;oD) watches depicting all sorts of intimate acts, with moving parts an’ all. I can’t find an example just now.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Fact is that most "pretty" fiddles sound/play like sh*t. I’ve seen a rare few that were actually great instruments, 9 in 10 are the work of some amateur trying to dress up the violin (probably in their own garage workshop) & the tone usually suffers. I personally like a plain looking instrument, too much decoration on anything is tacky. Overly ornate instruments remind me of a fat Elvis in a rhinestone jacket, it’s kind of funny in a way - but it’s garish & tacky.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Going off the subject just a little, you always see so many bodhrans for sale with fancy designs on the head, but barely ever see anyone playing them. Everyone (myself included) seems to prefer the plain-headed bodhrans, yet you still see decorated ones for sale quite often.

-Max

Painted fiddles

I imagine that, the varnish being so important to the sound quality, coloured pigments could easily build up to the point where they’d be detrimental … but then, I’ve heard fiddlers with a classical background make the same comment about rosin build-up, and there’s a fair few ITM fiddlers leave rosin on their bellies! :oD I saw a photo of, I think, Sean Macguire (spelling?) with a fiddle whose belly was covered in a veritable snowstorm of rosin …

And I mean no implied criticism of Mr Macguire, whatsoever. Just in case the thought police feel like coming down hard on me.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

The last 10 postings all arrived in the space of about 5 minutes - does this thread get a place on Emily’s superlatives for highes rate of replies?

Max has touched on the nerve here - is there an inverse relationship between inclination/ability to play and level of instrument decoration?

Dave

Max - sometimes the bodhran-behind-the-bar might be a patterned one

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

"Max has touched on the nerve here"

That wasn’t a bad thing to do was it? Just wondering.

-Max

Dave - if we simultaneously post a correction of your spelling of ‘highest’, and a couple of others swiftly pitch in with alternative spellings of Macguire, we’ll push the reply rate up even higher!

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

nastyweegirl — isn’t it ‘McGuire’?

-Max

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Thanks Nasty

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

We played a gig once at a local music store where a Martin Guitar sales rep was visiting with some showcase instruments, and I got the opportunity to play a $150,000 Martin "Celtic" design, replete with mother-of-pearl Celtic knots running up and down the fingerboard, and other exotic inlay on the body. It was probably only half wood,with the rest being inlay. Gorgeous, but about as acoustically live as your average clay brick.
American bluegrass banjos are about as ornate as any musical instrument I’ve ever seen, but in their case, the jewelry doesn’t hurt the sound, because the acoustic part — the head and the rim — can’t really be decorated. It’s all on the headstock and neck.
I suspect fiddle makers don’t usually want to tamper with the body of the instrument, and the necks are small, leaving just headstock and tailpiece for the fun bits.

McGuire

Max - or perhaps it’s Maguire - I’ve seen all three spellings, and kept losing track of just how many people were being talked about. And I’ve no recordings by any of ‘em, so can’t check that way. A sad state of ignorance.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Max maybe that’s for another thread - are we all becoming too fearful to say anything in case someone out there would rather snap back than take the trouble to think that perhaps no one was being nasty in the first place.

Blessed are the meek …

Dave

.. not even ‘Nasty’ …

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Sorry, Dave, but I am rather clueless. You will have to remember that I am rather new here. Always learning, though!

-Max

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Of course, we’ve all somehow forgot to mention that the unadorned fiddle is arguably the most beautiful-looking of instruments (but please let’s not have the argument). I love the suspension-bridge effect when you look at the strings from the right angle. Do I sound too mushy?

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Not at all. I love the way a fiddle looks. It’s a beautiful instrument all by itself. Now that you mention it, I think that a plain fiddle looks even nicer than a decorated one. But that depends on the decoration.

-Max

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Hardingfele, in my opinion, are the only fiddles that should be decorated.

Otherwise it looks idiotic. LIke the tigerstriped Fiddle I saw in a store a bit ago……

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

The grain of the wood itself is used so extensively as a indicator of the violin’s sound quality, maybe belly-and-back decoration was largely eschewed in favour of making the ‘figure’ or ‘flame’ the focus. Of course, a very wealthy customer of a luthier would often be more concerned with making his wealth the focus.

About the most decoration I like is double purfling, and the fact that it serves a function only adds to it attractiveness, for me. And an extra turn to the scroll.

G.P. Maggini

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

A violinist in one of my orchestras plays a fiddle with no "corners". I believe it was made in Wales.
The lack of corners should have no effect on the sound because the internal shape is the same whether or not they are present. When the violin/cello does have corners, as in almost all instruments, the interior of the corner is filled in with a block. (Thinks: would the absence of "corners" imply a lighter and possibly more responsive instrument?)
Many centuries ago instruments didn’t have corners. I don’t know the history of the corners but I would guess it’s an example of baroque decoration, BUT would the filled-in corners give more rigidity to the body of the instrument as an engineering structure? - Tish, can you give some input on this, please?
The only use I’ve ever seen for the corners is when some fiddle players use them as anchors for rubber bands holding the shoulder rest in place - an ugly looking arrangement if ever I saw one. The corners are a nuisance on the cello in particular - they are so easy to knock and damage.
Trevor

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Rosin. Yes, I know, a build-up of rosin on the belly of the fiddle is traditional among many very fine players - and perhaps among the not-so fine to show their session-cred 🙂. But the fact remains that a build-up of rosin over time will permanently damage the varnish and, in extreme cases, the underlying wood itself. This is something to bear in mind if you have a valuable (or valued) instrument, whether it is 2 or 200 years old.
I suggested once that a way round this would be, at the varnishing stage of making a fiddle, to apply a white-speckled varnish to the region of the belly between the finger-board and the bridge 🙂
Trevor

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Good grief. It looks kind of crowded and overdone. I like the plain look much better. Just my personal opinion.

-Max

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Hmmm … speaking of Magginis (well, I was), I just found this, with a castle inscribed into the back of it. Not my cup of tea, but you might like it!
http://www.netinstruments.com/picture/?p=27806.jpg

I get the impression from her website that Helen Michetschl

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

If you look at the links page on Helen Michetschlager’s website (click on "return to small size violins" and then on "links") you’ll see that she makes a full range of violins, violas and cellos, and that many of her instruments are used professionally in the big orchestras. She’ll be exhibiting at The Royal Northern College of Music 8-11 January 2004.
Trevor

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Trevor - Yes, but I don’t see any full sized cornerless violins; although she makes cornerless 13

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Nastywg, I think we’ll have to call on our luthier members for an answer to that one!
Trevor

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Check out Vassar Clements’ fiddle:

http://www.vassarclements.com/fiddle.html

They reckon it’s a painting of Sappho in the back… but wasn’t Sappho a woman?

Also, Mark Harmer’s got a decorated folk fiddle on the danceofdelight.com website which reminds me of some of the hardanger instruments.

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Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Sappho was definitely a woman! The ancient Greek poet lived on the island of Lesbos and wrote beautiful stuff about women (some interpret her poetry as homosexual, hence the word lesbian from the island of Lesbos, but no one really knows that for sure.)

I’ve seen lots of ornately carved, painted, jewel encrusted harps, and many are really nice (think about the Brian Boru harp), but mine are just plain. The grain of the wood is so beautiful as is, I’d hate to ruin it!)

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Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

I prefer the un-decorated fiddles, but have seen quite a few with inlay in the fingerboards or the backs. Lately, having colored bow hair seems to be popular (at least among classical musicains—including the professionals). Very interesting discussion.

As far as corners are concerned, yes blocks of wood are placed inside them for stability. They definately are not to be used to hold rubber bands for holding shoulder pads on, since they break very easily and are a pain in the but to repair! As far as decoration is concerned—I don’t know.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

This is a question/observation from someone who plays but doesn’t know that much about the technicalities. Where I am, surrounded by deserts, stringed (at least) instruments all dry out, and the local music shop does a roaring trade in humidifiers. Guitars are even sold with them in place.

Now, I was reading about violins without corners on the internet, the new shape. For some reason or other, they are supposedly more resistant to "dry out", well that’s what I read. I don’t understand why. Maybe, someone here does?

Anyway, my new lovely old fiddle arrived this week. It isn’t pretty, it’s beautiful - not perfect but stunning. And I went down to the local music shop to buy fine tuners for it. They didn’t have any, but at their insistance I came away with a humidifier instead. Would a seasoned old fiddle (like 200+) be as prone to dry out as say a modern el cheapo? What makes for "dry out" resistance.

It’s a bit off the thread, sorry, although it was triggered by the fiddles without corners bit.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

my fiddle has a decorated back. Don’t know much about where it’s been or who did it. Woodburned outline of clematis vine and celtic knot pattern, with subtle colour added w/dyes, so that the woodgrain shows through. It plays rather nicely tho I think the soundpost could be adjusted a bit.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

In the late nineteenth century, a lot of violins had carved scrolls (I’m buying one like that). The were usually carved into monsters etc. however I’ve seen one that was a flower. And I’ve actually seen quite a lot of inlaid fiddles around Ottawa and in CB… mostly celtic motifs and whatnot. Very cool, I want one like that too.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

HI all,

This is the one that Tish mentioned - it really is extraordinary:

http://www.danceofdelight.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=38&products_id=73

After passing from the maker many years ago (not sure of the original construction date) it then took a friend of ours weeks to ensure the work was stable. As to why there aren’t many of them around, partly they need to be done well to avoid the decoration coming loose and rattling.

Of course these things stand out, and I think you need to be a bit brave to take any unusual instrument to a session as it raises expectations - you can’t for example sneak a harp into a session and then sneak out again without playing, not as if you can hide it under your coat like a small whistle!!

Classical violin players may not find these things fit in within their string quartet or orchestra, and in youth orchestras we’ve heard that conductors can get quite sniffy about the new coloured fiddles as they do tend to draw the eye! Shame, I think they’re great (esp the tigery ones!)

Mark

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

I think fiddles can be very pretty even if they’re just plain - I think mine’s gorgeous (it’s an Anton Hertel) - but it’s not been specially decorated; it’s very old but has maintained a gorgeous red colour in the wood. The back of it has the tiger-stripe effect on the wood, with the grain lines going in to meet the centre… it looks better than most of the attempts of modern fiddle makers to do it! Most of the instrument’s in great condition, but I think whoever first owned it was a demon bower - the wood on the edge of the right hand side of it is worn away!

It’s the prettiest fiddle I’ve ever seen 🙂

Tize

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Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

This might count as a unique form of decoration— At fiddle camps I have seen kids get teacher/artist autographs on the back or belly of fiddle from a kit. I don’t know if any one has actually assembled and varnished the fiddle after the autographs filled the available space, but that would make a very ‘decorated’ fiddle.

Interesting idea, but I would never do it.

Erin

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

I should have thought conductors of youth orchestras would have more important things to think about than colours of fiddles - like persuading kids to get involved in playing music, for a start.
Trevor

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Absolutely Trevor! But not only kids and youth orchestras - whoever! Thank goodness for a bit of diversity and choice.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Regarding colours of orchestral instruments (violins, violas, cellos) there is already quite a diversity, from dark browns and reds (which can be almost black under some lighting) to a lightish yellow, and these have been around for hundreds of years. If you go to an orchestral concert the chances are that there will be some light coloured instruments and these naturally attract the eye. Orchestral wisdom is that the light-coloured violins and cellos are likely to be French, but I don’t know whether there’s any truth in that, even though my mid-19c cello is French and is light-coloured.
The new generation of carbon-fibre bows provides quite a range of colours - are these objected to in orchestras? I have two carbon-fibre bows as spares, one for fiddle and the other for cello. Occasionally I use one or the other with my fiddle in sessions (the cello bow is rather nice to use for fiddle playing actually, if you hold the stick in the right place - but that’s another story), and only once has anyone noticed.
Trevor

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

Trevor, there’s a crowd here called Epoch Violins who make coloured instruments (red, blue, green, etc) which were initially meant to be low-cost, easily replaceable/repairable acoustic instruments, though now they have professional electric models and all that sort of thing. As far as playing set-up is concerned they are supposed to be identical to normal violins, but Epoch had to get, and circulate, a published statement from the Australian Music Examination Board that their fiddles could be used for exams because some teachers were telling their students that AMEB examiners wouldn’t examine them if they showed up with one.

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Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

The fiddles without corners made in Wales are made by Tim Phillips (www.timsviolins@supanet.com). All his fiddles are gorgeous. At the moment I have a green four string, a 5 string with a red flame back, no corners and open scroll and an octave fiddle . I’ve also recently sold my sea green 5 string with 2 corners to fund one of his new electro acoustic fiddles.
Tim is always willing to discuss personal requests for fiddle designs, colour and decoration.

Re: You rarely see a pretty fiddle

I’ve just realised, if you stand a fiddle on its side on the pub table the corners do NOT touch the table, so there’s no reason why a fiddle without corners should not safely be stood on its side.
Trevor