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One Morning, that Morning

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Today, I am up a little earlier than usual. It’s Monday, and since I worked a long day on Saturday, I could consider today, my Sunday. Often, I do.

Not everything is shaped liked a violin – pretty close though , if one applies a metaphorical kind of Golden Ratio to the machinations of an ordinary life. In my case, the Dog wins out today, as the balance has shifted away from the backlog of work, which will still be there for me on Tuesday, which is my Monday. We hit the trail.

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It’s been raining. And while that is not unheard of for December in Massachusetts, it’s a little suspect, and rankles, given that our first serious snowfall happened nearly a month ago.

This morning, the fog is heavy as we set out. Dog has already been disappointed by the drive-thru bank teller who has failed to dispense the requisite milk bone with the return of my deposit slip. She, Dog, doesn’t know yet that the universe will be restored with the slice of American cheese proffered by the woman who will buffer my own reentry with a 12 oz dark roast. This will happen, by the way, in about an hour and a half, at the crest of Mountain Rd, where the sun will have broken through the clouds.

In the meantime, the water is high, where we walk along the Mill River. It’s been a spectacular season for fungi of all stripes. The late corn crop sits with its feet in a transient lake and someone has decorated a trail side hemlock sapling with Christmas ornaments.

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Beyond the woods and back into the farm fields, Dog tolerates my need to poke and ponder. “Oh, jeez, she’s got the camera out again”. We have an understanding. I indulge her nose and she indulges my eye. But I wonder, does she think in metaphors the way I do?

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Maybe not. Today, among other unexpected things on a frequented path, there is a farm harrow mired in the mud alongside the trail. A lovely blue in a palette of greys.  Oops, nasty flat tire. I wonder if the farmer will be back to extract it before the earth is frozen, or will complacency set in, or other unavoidable priorities. I’m heading home now. I can feel my brain shifting. I have a lot of work to do, an increasingly unpredictable environment and a disgraceful president.

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We walk here a lot. Sometimes the corn crop is a sunflower crop. Sometimes the path is snowy or icy, almost impassable. In the spring, hard to imagine now, the fields are spread which such a delight of richness and promise that there is nothing to be done but roll in it. Always there is the river, the woods and a way forward.

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At one end of the spectrum is the mixed metaphor – relatively harmless, but wrong. At the other end is the potentially deadly* mix of seemingly tame cleaning agents found under many a kitchen sink – ammonia and chlorine. The back story here is that when I was in fourth grade (ancient history, I know), a classmate of mine’s brother landed himself in the hospital, having torched his respiratory system, and not by spouting mixed metaphors.

Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum lies the conventional wisdom, luthier version, that if you introduce a metal structural element into the wood and glue universe of the violin, you are asking for complications, eventually. There are inconvenient exceptions, of course, but as far as I know, they appear only rarely in the context of making. Violin making, that is.

As far as restoration goes, screws, nails, metal anything – big no no. For one thing, we don’t want to disrupt the synergy between various parts of an instrument by relying on a material, so radically different, that it won’t move with the wood. Secondly, it’s hell when you hit a screw with the chisel you just honed to a razor edge.img_0676

Recently, a project came to me that might have been a straightforward neck and button graft. Is there something on that Restorer’s Mind page about “a never ending stream of firsts”? I may have to edit, if not. This 18c Testore family cello had at some point had full edging replacements, top and back, attached all around with glue and small nails. It’s possible that purfling (characteristically only etched in) was added to disguise the joint. When I began this project, the neck was broken, the button compromised and the upper back edges were a mess.

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When I started removing deteriorated wood, this is what was left! I found it useful to go exploring with a magnet, before committing my nicely sharpened tools to wood.

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It might not be possible to know the circumstances that resulted in this odd and unlikely wedding of wood and metal elements. The edges were not underlaid, but simply glued and nailed with the aid of some judicious kerfing  on the interiors of the more extreme curves. When? Long enough ago for the upper back edges to deteriorate dramatically.

I replaced those edges with new wood underlaid into the back in a manner that would preempt the need for additional, need I say, nefarious reinforcement. Much more comfortable for the player, I should think, and easier on the sweater, too!

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*I do not, in fact, know if this chemical combo is deadly. But to the 9 year old brain, it was a sensible conclusion.

And about the nails, there are plenty left in the c bouts, and the lower bouts to provide many years of puzzlement and consternation to future restorers.

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Might as well start

with a BANG!

Thunderstorms in the area mean the two cats are huddled on the cellar stairs and the dog is warming my feet. The dog will continue (or at least try) to warm my feet even as I walk about the shop, so clearly, the only thing to do is stay put and write while this thing blows over.

Today I launched my first ever website and blog – after being in business for 17 years. I am a professed Luddite, so this is a big deal.

I repair and restore violins, violas and cellos for a living. I love what I do. It’s wildly interesting, visually beautiful, historically fascinating AND dovetails eloquently with other luscious areas of human endeavor like music performance and fine art and craft.

I’ll be posting lots of photos. Maybe I’ll cover some interesting repair procedures or highlight an instrument I’m working on. Otherwise, you’ll find the sometimes serious, sometimes humorous and occasionally irreverent take on things that catch my attention, busy my brain and occupy my hands.

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