Aluminum Fiddle

Re: Aluminum Fiddle

I own one of those basses.

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Aluminium, guys, it’s aluminium! Let’s settle it once and for all:-)

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Re: Aluminum Fiddle

Allo-min-yum.

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‘Are you copper-bottoming ‘em my man?’
‘No, I’m alyu-minyu-ming ‘em Mum.’

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Thanks Gam, Science was never better served!

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I understand that in a museum in or near Cooma (just south of Canberra, Australia) there is a galvanised iron fiddle, allegedly made by a shearer who got sick of drunks crushing his fiddle at parties. I’m told that the sound quality is "everything you’d expect of a galvanised iron fiddle".

Terry

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Jascha Heifetz in his younger days played an aluminum violin for a (very?) short while, but I understand he didn’t make a career out of it. This was probably in the USA, hence my deliberate spelling of the 13th element in the Periodic Table ;-) - a spelling that I prefer anyway and always used in my technical work.

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I have the original LP of "The Brass Fiddle" (Claddagh Records CC44, publ. 1987), complete with sleeve notes and a most informative 4-page insert about the tunes, the musicians and their respective backgrounds. There is no suggestion in these texts that the "Brass Fiddle" shown on the cover was used for the recording, the only specific mention of the instrument being in this extract from the sleeve notes:

"The brass fiddle on the cover was kindly lent by Charlie McDevitt from Kilkar. It was made in the 1920’s by Frank and Johnny Cassidy (Charlie’s uncles), both Teelin fiddlers. The body of the fiddle is beautifully made from heavy brass obtained from a brass drum washed ashore at the bottom of the cliffs at Bun Glas near Sliabh Líag, site of some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. The fiddle is quite heavy and has a quiet, soft - almost dull - tone, due to the acoustic properties of the brass. It is by any standards an outstanding piece of craftsmanship."

The sleeve notes say only this about the recordings:

"Vincent Campbell, Con Cassidy and James Byrne were recorded in The Highlands Hotel, Glenties, County Donegal, 14th to 16th April 1986. Francie Byrne was recorded for RTE in his house in Kilcar in August 1983 for the Radio One programme, The Long Note. Francie Byrne’s recordings are in mono."

Some, at least, of the recordings in the compendium were therefore made at different venues and dates.

I have the LP playing as I write this, and to my ear it is not the playing of a brass fiddle but the playing of the acoustic instrument crafted entirely from wood. I had the privilege some years ago of being in a couple of sessions with James Byrne in Kilcar, and his sound then was very like that on the LP recording.

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I saw a small guitar last year that was made for travelers (I think it was a Martin), which was made of some sort of wood composite material that was supposedly completely waterproof. The salesman said that you could paddle a canoe with it and not change the sound quality. I didn’t try it out, as I wasn’t sure that sound quality would be too good in the first place…

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I imagine it would make a pretty useless canoe paddle too.

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It is useful to read the generally insightful comments on that YouTube video in which important issues are raised. It depends what you want a fiddle for. If you mix classical and folk, as some of us do, then a carbon fiber (CF) violin is probably not the best choice, certainly for important solo work, because CF fiddles are still a technology under development. But, who knows, in 10 years time there may well be CF fiddles that are tonally the equal of most violins.
If your fiddle music is exclusively folk and includes all sorts of gigs then I agree, CF is probably the way to go now, especially if durability under all conditions and a fair degree of projection are important.

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Trevor - All these years I have been labouring under the impression that the Brass Fiddle was used for playing all the tunes. I have an old cassette of the same album and I thought it said that. Years since I’ve played it or looked at the notes so it’s quite possible I’m wrong. Thanks for correcting me if that is the case.

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My impression is that carbon fibre instruments can be made to sound pretty good, but the making process is likely to make them very expensive for a while yet - more expensive than what most people would pay for wood.
http://gizmodo.com/5843276/why-is-carbon-fiber-so-expensive

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Can’t one print a fiddle yet?

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The debate rages…….but it’s only a name………..let’s call the whole thing off…….

http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/aluminium.htm

Two variants of the metal’s name are in current use, aluminium (pronunciation: /ˌæl(j)ʊˈmɪniːəm/) and aluminum (/əˈluːmɪnəm/)—besides the obsolete alumium. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) adopted aluminium as the standard international name for the element in 1990 but, three years later, recognized aluminum as an acceptable variant. Hence their periodic table includes both.[61] IUPAC internal publications use either spelling in nearly the same number.[62]

Most countries use the spelling aluminium. In the United States and Canada, the spelling aluminum predominates.[16][63] The Canadian Oxford Dictionary prefers aluminum, whereas the Australian Macquarie Dictionary prefers aluminium. In 1926, the American Chemical Society officially decided to use aluminum in its publications; American dictionaries typically label the spelling aluminium as "chiefly British".[64][65]

The various names all derive from its status as a base of alum. It is borrowed from Old French; its ultimate source, alumen, in turn is a Latin word that literally means "bitter salt".[66]

The earliest citation given in the Oxford English Dictionary for any word used as a name for this element is alumium, which British chemist and inventor Humphry Davy employed in 1808 for the metal he was trying to isolate electrolytically from the mineral alumina. The citation is from the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: "Had I been so fortunate as to have obtained more certain evidences on this subject, and to have procured the metallic substances I was in search of, I should have proposed for them the names of silicium, alumium, zirconium, and glucium."[67][68]

Davy settled on aluminum by the time he published his 1812 book Chemical Philosophy: "This substance appears to contain a peculiar metal, but as yet Aluminum has not been obtained in a perfectly free state, though alloys of it with other metalline substances have been procured sufficiently distinct to indicate the probable nature of alumina."[69] But the same year, an anonymous contributor to the Quarterly Review, a British political-literary journal, in a review of Davy’s book, objected to aluminum and proposed the name aluminium, "for so we shall take the liberty of writing the word, in preference to aluminum, which has a less classical sound."[70]

The -ium suffix conformed to the precedent set in other newly discovered elements of the time: potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, and strontium (all of which Davy isolated himself). Nevertheless, -um spellings for elements were not unknown at the time, as for example platinum, known to Europeans since the 16th century, molybdenum, discovered in 1778, and tantalum, discovered in 1802. The -um suffix is consistent with the universal spelling alumina for the oxide (as opposed to aluminia), as lanthana is the oxide of lanthanum, and magnesia, ceria, and thoria are the oxides of magnesium, cerium, and thorium respectively.

The aluminum spelling is used in the Webster’s Dictionary of 1828. In his advertising handbill for his new electrolytic method of producing the metal in 1892, Charles Martin Hall used the -um spelling, despite his constant use of the -ium spelling in all the patents[58] he filed between 1886 and 1903. It has consequently been suggested[by whom?] that the spelling reflects an easier-to-pronounce word with one fewer syllable, or that the spelling on the flyer was a mistake.[citation needed] Hall’s domination of production of the metal ensured that aluminum became the standard English spelling in North America.

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A restored brass violin in the USA doesn’t sound bad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slpJsOXe3pA. A search for "brass fiddle" didn’t find this video - you’ve got to search for "brass violin".


I would like see the Brass Fiddle of the eponymous 1987 LP being played on YouTube by a Donegal fiddler. I suppose - hope! - that that 1920s instrument is still around, perhaps privately owned or possibly in a museum in Donegal. If it is in the condition as its photo on the LP suggests then it will certainly need restoration and setting up by a luthier. For instance, the bridge is unbelievably close to the tailpiece, and the soundpost (if there is one) would presumably be about halfway between the bridge as shown and the fingerboard; not the best recipe for any sort of tone. New strings required of course, and the pegs would almost certainly need attention - for starters.

Glass violins are around, expensive and not recommended for sessions or pub gigs. There are several on YouTube, but in my opinion the tone of most of them wasn’t all that impressive.