FiddleFix Introduction

A while ago I was playing for a square dance down the road. Because I had a somewhat sore shoulder, I started out the evening playing mandolin instead of fiddle. Things went all right, but when I switched to the fiddle, there was a very noticeable increase in the energy level of the dancers. Scott Odell, banjoist and widely experienced musical conservator, remarked that the excitement of the fiddle's sound was the reason for its role as the king of instruments for country dancing, despite the fact that to keep a fiddle in good playing condition required much more skilled maintenance than is needed for plucked instruments.

Like many self-taught fiddlers who live in rural areas, I went along for years whittling bridges with my jack-knife, struggling with baling twine to get my sound-post right, and occasionally enlisting the aid of a local self-styled "Fixer-Upper" to do more serious damage to my instrument.

Scott, who was a conservator of instruments at the Smithsonian for many years, says that far more instruments are damaged over the years by inept attempts at repair than by neglect. It's never a real good idea to try to fix something when you have no idea what you're doing, but with something as delicate as a fiddle, unskilled maintenance can be truly disastrous.

Then I inherited a fine fiddle that had been originally my great-grandfather's. I knew it was a good instrument, but it hadn't been played in over thirty years. The strings had broken, the bridge and sound-post were down, the bows had no hair, and things were in a sorry state. I wanted to play it, but I didn't want to try to get it in playing condition myself. When it comes to fine woodworking, my skills don't go much beyond using a chainsaw. 

What I needed was a luthier--a highly skilled maker and restorer of violins. There probably isn't anybody like that closer than Boston, I thought, which is about two hundred miles away and anyway, I don't know how to find a luthier.

Then a neighbor remarked that I ought to go see Thurmond Knight, a violin, viola and cello maker who had recently moved to town. A luthier! And only four miles away!

He soon had the old fiddle in good playing condition. It needed work on the pegs and fingerboard as well as general set-up (bridge, sound post, and tailpiece adjustment and new strings.) As well as a fiddle doctor, I also discovered a good friend who gradually taught me quite a bit about how to take care of my beloved instrument.

And I got to thinking about how much easier it would have been had I known these things many years ago when I first started playing.  Hence this book.

                                                                                                                                      Burt Porter


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