Friday, June 08, 2007

Roll Over Max Jaffa

Homework, originally uploaded by Colonel Blink.

My next project: a recently acquired single string phonofiddle. Made somewhere between 1910 and 1930. Manufacturer (as yet) unknown. There is the remains of a torn paper label below the soundbox which although unreadable is sufficent to recognise if I see another complete one. It was found in the back of a dryish garage.

The string which is played with a fiddle bow sits against a soundbox at its base which amplifies the sound through a horn. Homemade ones were often made utilising the soundboxes (and horns) from phonagraphs. This one, which appears commercially made, connects the string to the mica diaphragm of the soundbox using a piece of cork.

Whats wrong: It is missing its horn. The body is in terrible cosmetic condition. The soundbox needs attention; the mica diaphragm is fine but the pieces of rubber that hold it in place although still intact have perished and become hard thus losing the necessary pliability to offer the best sound. The cork which should be attached to the diaphragm (?using beeswax?) has dropped off. Five woodworm holes in the wood of the body although these appear to be old. It is currently strung with what appears to be a plastic string from a child's toy ukelele.

What next: Acquire a reproduction Phonagraph horn. These are available in brass, enamalled tin and aluminium. Attend to the wooden body. Fix and tune the soundbox. String.

Questions I am minded to get a brass horn because it will look better than an aluminium one. Will the weight make it impractical to use? The price difference is only about seven pounds. Which will sound better?
Which is the best violin string to use?
Anyone done up one of these?
Any tips?
Anyone recognise the manufacture from the remains of the label?

What after that: Learn to play and become a rock god. After all if Norfolk's own Bruce Lacey could play one in legendary band The Alberts I can surely do it too.

1 comment:

Jo3hn said...

Hi thar, Mister Phonofiddle Man.

I recently got one of these sweethearts too, and have been teaching myself how to play. String-wise I can recommend a high E guitar string tuned to D. The thinner the better. Obviously a violin string is best, but the violin fiends don't make them long enough. I also hear a ukelele string will do.

The finish on my phonofiddle (it's a G. Houghton & Son) is slowly chipping off, so I'd love some advice on restoring it if you have any suggestions. Also, where do they sell new horns? Mine's a little sad, and seems to point in entirely the wrong direction.

I can help you out with a tutor, if you're interested. I got a copy of a Japanese fiddle tutor, which is almost the same instrument but without the horn. It's got sheet music and exercises and whatnot.

Anyhow, let me know if you've got any tips for restoration, and I want to hear how your own endeavours are going. I think they're very beautiful instruments and I get such a thrill out of playing mine.

Yours triskaidekaphobically,