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Thread: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

  1. #1

    Default Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    All, A kind lady in my neighborhood gave me an old hopf violin that belonged to her dad. She knows nothing about it, but that it, along with a bunch of other really beaten up instruments were in his barn. Look at how worn out the fingerboard is. How in the world do those grooves form? (especially since it looks like they are elevated where the strings lie). I have heard that what one can normally do is simply plane the fingerboard to get it flat again. These grooves are too deep, so that wouldn't make sense. I am planning on removing the fingerboard and replacing it with a new one. Any great reasons why i should NOT attempt this? I have built a few mandolins, so feel comfortable with this operation (assuming that they used hide glue).

    Also, the holes for the pegs look pretty worn. The current pegs flop all around in there, not sure if new ones will fit or if they will also be too small. I am thinking of drilling out the holes and sticking a dowel in there, then redrilling the dowl to make new holes. Is this a HORRIBLE idea?

    Again, really just looking for someone to tell me i am not crazy for wanting to do this.

    Unless someone can convince me otherwise, i am pretty sure it isn't a real hopf, and i dont want to spend real money on the violin, as I could see myself spending more than it is worth (and I like the challenge).
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    Fingerboard replacement on a violin is simpler than on a fretted instrument.
    You may want to use a little heat to aid you in removing the old board. The new board is intentionally left thick and heavy from the supply house so you can thin it as desired and, if necessary, taper the back of the board to correct any discrepancies in the neck angle.

    I have always purchased my supplies from International Violin Co. and Metropolitan Music.

    The standard method of repairing over-sized peg holes is to regularize the hole with a tapered reamer, insert tapered bushings to fit, redrill the holes, size them with a tapered reamer, and fit new pegs. You will need a tapered reamer sized for a violin and a peg shaver. These are available from a violin supply house, along with boxwood bushings that are "preferred" for filling peg holes.

    I recommend ordering a soundpost stick, soundpost setter, and 2 or 3 medium grade bridges when you get your fingerboard, pegs, and anything else you need.

    There are a profusion of books available on repairing and setting up violins. The books by Henry Strobel and H.S. Wake are well respected.

    Many violins have been made by the Hopf family. They are still in the instrument business. The quality of their violins has always varied considerably.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    Replacing a violin FB is more complex than it might appear. There are a lot of criteria to consider when planning and executing the replacement. I highly recommend you read these two articles.
    http://www.darntonviolins.com/violin...book/setup.pdf (scroll down to the section on fingerboards)

    https://trianglestrings.com/newfinge.../#.VQJOg4b3arU

    And use some caution when removing the board to prevent trips to the ER.

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  5. #4
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    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    Bridge height is critical to the tone quality of a violin, and must be taken into account when repairs are performed.
    The accepted figure is 33 mm. between the violin and the top of the bridge at center. The margin of acceptable error is only +/- 1 or 2 mm.

    Minor adjustments in neck angle can be performed by tapering the back of the new fingerboard. Major adjustments are best performed by resetting the neck. Another technique called "slipping the end block" is sometimes used, which requires opening a portion of the back or top seam, but the range of adjustment using that technique is also limited.

    I suggest you study violin repair techniques in depth before you proceed. Beware of what you read or view on the internet. Some of the info on the net is good, but a lot of it is not. Shy away from anything written by anyone who uses anything but hot hide glue for violin repairs of any kind. I prefer to lean heavily on printed books that have been in publication for a long time.

    And the only way to learn to set a soundpost is to get in there and do it. It's kind of like trying to thread a needle with your eyes closed. An accurate fit is essential. I use a combination of a traditional setting tool and a scissors style setter. An angled probe with a thin, sharp point can also be handy.

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  7. #5

    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    All. thank you very much. I will definitely dig in to many of the references that yall have mentioned. Excited to do some experimenting. Actually, i came across this violin because i posted on the 'Next Door' App asking if anyone has broken instruments that they are looking to give me (opposed to throwing away). I convert many of them into 'upcycled' instruments (ie. cigar box guitars, etc). First a woman offered me her 300 dollar guitar that simply had the bridge that had come off. I fixed it for and offered it back to the family but they told me to keep it. I have no use for it (as my wife is more than content with her gibson she got as a teenager), so we will donate it to a fundraising auction at Montana Fiddle camp. Next, another woman gave me a broken dulcimer (not sure what to do with that one). Finally, the woman with the Hopf violin gave me that, and an old stella small-body guitar that is TORN TO SHREDS. She had an old ukulele that her dad left her and it needed strings, so i strung it up with a new set. When i returned the set she gave the a banjo neck and body that her dad got from a friend years ago. This thing is easily 100 years old. The wood looks like it belongs on the set of the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland. Pretty neat.

    thanks again for all of your guidance.

  8. #6

    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    without knowing the measurements its hard to tell. but it is possible that if it is thick enough you may just be able to plane down the fingerboard, tricky at best , but it takes me about 3 or 4 hours to do a fingerboard from the blank, a lot of work and then there is the scoop,

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  10. #7

    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    From the pictures it looks like a fine quality instrument of value. I do a lot of violin repairs but am not a properly trained violin master. I limit major repairs to student level instruments with valuable violins just not being my turf. Major repairs on an instrument like this should be done by qualified craftsmen. If this instrument were brought to me by a client, I would refer the client to a true violin repair person. However, if it were mine, I would attempt repair of the existing fingerboard. That is the path of least risky outcome because if you can do it, the instrument remains original. If you try and fail, you are no worse off. I've done a bit of this sort of thing on violin and cello fingerboards and found the process intuitive using a precision straightedge and a microplane scraper. Its tedious but for me a real generator of that zen thing -- I enjoy that. I'd buy a set of high quality ebony 4/4 pegs and then determine if the holes are already too far gone. A good quality peg shaper and a reamer is a bit of an expense if you're not going to be engaged in future peg fitting but its not a big expense to have this done as it takes less than 30 minutes to fit new pegs if you have the tools. Maybe consider having the peg fitting done by a shop. Do the fingerboard, have new pegs fitted and the soundpost checked. If you don't see the soundpost, hopefully its rolling around inside. If its rolling around inside, don't loose it. It takes an experienced violin guy just a couple minutes to position it roughly and if it needs to be replaced, having the old soundpost saves a lot of time when making a new one.

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  12. #8
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    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    To me, this looks like an opportunity for the OP to learn a little about the art of repairing and setting up violins. Remember, he has some mandolin building experience.

    Those grooves look like they are close to 1/8" deep!! Probably due to a combination of soft wood, fingernails, poor technique, and an acid body chemistry. I'll bet a dollar that the fingerboard is not ebony. For me, it would be less time and work to replace the fingerboard than it would be to repair it.

    In my experience, most of the instruments with a brand stamped into the back are of moderate grade at best. The only exception that I have seen was a Lowendall shop violin that was quite good, but still not a master grade instrument. I also have not seen much concern in the violin world about the originality of fingerboards, except perhaps on instruments of great historical significance.

    To the original poster, if you decide to dive into this, you'll learn a lot about some of the myths concerning violin set up. So much has been written about the "magical" qualities of soundposts. The truth is, that a well fitted and located soundpost is a definite improvement over one that is poorly fitted or located, but it will not change the basic nature of the instrument. I have found that the height and thickness of the bridge has at least as much influence on a violin's tone as the soundpost. And the discussions about the "after-length" of the string between bridge and tailpiece just make me laugh-- most of it is pure fantasy. We do like the back of the tailpiece to line up with the tail edge of the violin, though.

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  14. #9
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    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    Information comes quick and easy on the internet. This job is far too hard for an inexperienced violin repairman.
    Guitars and mandolins are 'another animal' altogether. Which is what gets people in trouble, thinking that that experience translates to violins. I can count about fifteen things that will screw up on the project and I've only thought of it for a few moments. Not that I'm a master luthier, but it really looks like you're gonna trash a decent violin. Sorry.

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  16. #10

    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    That violin is worth about $20. You could pay to have a new fingerboard put on for about $200, and then you’d have a $220 dollar violin. Those tuning pegs look like they were carved with a pocketknife.
    The cheapest strings you can buy are super sensitive steel strings, and would be fine if you want to call it a fiddle.
    Do you have a violin bow? It might sound crazy, but a bow could easily be worth more than a violin.
    Having said all that it might sound decent when it’s all put together. One other thing, violins have a sound post which connects the top to the back, its about 1/4” in diameter and is cut to just the right length to be wedged (no glue) between the top and back.
    Without it you’ll get almost no volume. I mention it because it’s likely not in place. If you shake the violin you might hear it rattling around inside. There’s a learning curve, but you can learn how to re install one .
    It could be a fun project for you, take some careful measurements of the existing fingerboard, make your replacement to match it (without the wear patterns of course) and install the knew one. If we assume it was assembled properly then they used hide glue, and a combination of warmth and water or alcohol and patience you should be able to remove the old one with damaging the neck. The peg holes should be re reamed, and larger pegs installed. Plugging the old holes is ok also, but you’re still going to need to taper ream them. It’s possible you could do that with sand paper glued around a tapered plug the right size.
    Good luck.

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  18. #11
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    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    A pre-cut, pre-shaped fingerboard of moderate quality costs $15. Plain pegs start at $1 a piece. The unmarked European bridges are $5 a piece and are generally of good quality, considerably better than the low cost branded bridges. Soundpost sticks are $4 and $5, and are long enough to provide a dozen soundposts. These prices are from International Violin.

    A traditional soundpost setter is $5.25, the scissors setter $8.50. I use both. The peg hole reamer [$59 and up] and adjustable peg shaper [$82.50] are expensive. Hardware store reamers do not have the right taper for violin work. If you're crafty enough, you can just get a reamer and make your own shaper. I use the violin reamer sometimes for fitting endpins in guitars and mandolins.

    I am nearly certain that you're going to have to bush and re-cut those peg holes.

    If you've built instruments, I think you will find fitting and tuning a bridge and soundpost more difficult than replacing a fingerboard. Pulling and replacing a board is pretty straightforward carpentry. The bridge and soundpost are an art and there's a bit of a learning curve. And there's not a lot of good written info on "tuning" a bridge.

    Good luck.

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  20. #12

    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    I look at these pictures and see what could actually be a wonderful instrument regardless of its market value. If its 50 years-old or if its 100 years-old, The quality of the wood is superior to any violin that you can buy for under $600. Certainly there were inexpensive violins made in the distant past and these pale in comparison to the highly desirable violins but there was a general ethics of craftsmanship that exists far less today. What we consider high quality old-growth lumber was less of something that was of economic challenge to a manufacturer. Brazilian rosewood was used on student guitars and it was a different world. The fact that this old worn out violin has no cracks in the top or the back speaks of the hint of mojo. It has real purfling that was inlayed by hand and structurally it seems to be intact. From my perspective, its in great shape. I also would consider that the excessive wear on the fingerboard may very well be due to the players of the past actually enjoying the instrument. If I get a very old instrument on my bench with no indication of wear, I can't help but suspect that the instrument was never loved. Either it was owned by someone who never really played it or, it had some issue that made it unpleasant to play. The fingerboard on this violin has been played to death so maybe that might be saying something.

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  22. #13

    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    Thanks all. I completely understand that the monetary value is likely minimal on this instrument, but i love learning how to repair and restore instruments. Will it be a keeper when all is said and done? Will find out soon enough. And, i am trying to find as many books, articles, and videos as i can (thanks for the references above! have already begun reading some of them).

    I was messing around with the violin and started to bring it up to tension, at least on one string (it did have a soundpost in place). On doing that i noticed that the neck joint was extremely loose. (this is where the fun begins. It is like a mystery novel, but please pardon my poor terminology). Anyways, i watched a few videos from a couple luthiers on how to reset the neck. I then proceeded to remove the neck. Well, as it turns out, this thing didnt even really have any sort of block for the neck joint to sit in. Two small grooves were cut into the neck joint and the ribs of the violin were glued directly into the grooves. Those of course had come loose over the years. In addition to that, there were no corner blocks at all on the instrument (just in the back, by the tailpiece). I have blueprints for a violin that has a block for the neck joint to sit in, so i am using those blueprints to add more strength to the neck joint. Fun little process. The instrument did still have the soundpost in-place, so i marked where it was roughly and will fight that battle when i get to it.

    Another interesting fun fact. The closest thing i saw to a corner block was a small dwelling that a couple of wasps had built in the corner of the instrument.

    Seriously.. this is a fun project. Hoping it at least partially resembles a violin when all is said and done

  23. #14

    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    This is also an old Hopf that was discarded. It took a lot of TLC but it makes music again!
    LD
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  25. #15

    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    nice work Riverview! seriously. That one went through a complete transformation!

  26. #16
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    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    I'm a violin luthier, and I would advise against working on that fiddle. It's a decent one, certainly worth a several hundred dollars when properly set up and after only routine repairs, and unskilled work can do a lot of un-intentional damage. The wear on the fingerboard is just from a lot of playing by someone who didn't cut their fingernails. The dents look deep, but they might plane out. The fingerboard is definitely ebony. Replacing the fingerboard is the most expensive repair it might need, and that takes several hours for someone with skills and practice, but is regarded as routine. Hide glue doesn't soften with heat; heat will make it more brittle, but it doesn't melt. The pegs are whittled, but there's no telling how big the holes are; they might just need a little cleanup and fresh, properly fitted pegs installed. If the holes are too big, spiral bushings would do the trick. Notice that there's hardly any wear where the bridge was, and apart from some really easily repaired scratches on the back, there's hardly any wear on the varnish. I can't tell how the neck projection is on that fiddle, but I'd bet it's all right. If you want to learn how to work on violins, get a junker that you can't hurt. Don't learn on a good one.

  27. #17
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    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    Quote Originally Posted by Levi S View Post
    That violin is worth about $20.
    I'm in the trade, and confessedly cheap, and I'd be happy to have that instrument for $75 or so. Once I repaired it, I'd probably price it between $500 and $800, depending on how it came out.

  28. #18
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    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    Quote Originally Posted by jazzjune18 View Post
    Thanks all. I completely understand that the monetary value is likely minimal on this instrument, but i love learning how to repair and restore instruments. Will it be a keeper when all is said and done? Will find out soon enough. And, i am trying to find as many books, articles, and videos as i can (thanks for the references above! have already begun reading some of them).

    I was messing around with the violin and started to bring it up to tension, at least on one string (it did have a soundpost in place). On doing that i noticed that the neck joint was extremely loose. (this is where the fun begins. It is like a mystery novel, but please pardon my poor terminology). Anyways, i watched a few videos from a couple luthiers on how to reset the neck. I then proceeded to remove the neck. Well, as it turns out, this thing didnt even really have any sort of block for the neck joint to sit in. Two small grooves were cut into the neck joint and the ribs of the violin were glued directly into the grooves. Those of course had come loose over the years. In addition to that, there were no corner blocks at all on the instrument (just in the back, by the tailpiece). I have blueprints for a violin that has a block for the neck joint to sit in, so i am using those blueprints to add more strength to the neck joint. Fun little process. The instrument did still have the soundpost in-place, so i marked where it was roughly and will fight that battle when i get to it.

    Another interesting fun fact. The closest thing i saw to a corner block was a small dwelling that a couple of wasps had built in the corner of the instrument.

    Seriously.. this is a fun project. Hoping it at least partially resembles a violin when all is said and done
    I replied before I read your last post. You have what's known as an integral neck block. That was a practice in Bohemia up until the mid to late 19th Century. Sometimes called a "Spanish neck" If you have the neck completely out, re-assembling it becomes a bit problematic, but is probably easiest with the top off. If it were mine, I'd just reassemble it as it was originally built.

    Lots of Bohemian and even some Italian violins were built "on the back" without corner blocks, and they've held up just fine, and the integral neck construction has been used in classical guitars for centuries. I used to think that there was only one way to do things, but I don't change things any more unless they have to be changed. I just tend to leave things the way they were originally built, unless they just flat don't work.

  29. #19
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    Default Re: Replacing Violin Fingerboard

    Here is another luthier advising not to mess with this fiddle. If the neck joint is firm and does not move under string pressure, leave it in favor of other needs. I understand your interest in learning about violins and that is cool. But doing it yourself (with online information) will not get very far. Too bad you can't work with someone on the project. That would boost your learning about ten fold!
    And you'd have something that would be playable.
    Decipit exemplar vitiis imitabile

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