Description of the instrument
The label: "Fabrikeret/af/Erik Johnsen Helland/ Bø I … ", greatly abraded.
No pegs or tailpiece. The neck was separate. No bow or case.
The fingerboard was faced with horn. It had several pieces of bone and pearl missing or greatly damaged, and some horn chipped off. The end piece of bone was missing. No particular signs of playing wear, such as grooves from the strings.
Several cracks in the top. Full-length crack in the back, with considerable discoloration around it for about a centimeter on each side. Minor crack in the back near the button.
The neck had been glued to the ribs, with no mortise or other woodwork. The pieces of the upper ribs met at the centerline; the foot of the neck had been glued to the ribs, and the bottom of the foot to the button. The neck, coming out, had somewhat shredded the ribs where it had been glued, but the button was not damaged.
The instrument was filthy, especially where glue had been left on the surface. The top upper bout on the treble side was abraded and filthy, although not actually cracked. The rosing was worn away in many places.
No teeth or tongue in the head. No definite signs that there ever had been teeth or tongue. Minor cracks around the lowest peg holes.
The ribs were in good shape. Note the rounded ends of the ribs.
Inside: Bass bar one piece with the top; very slight. Linings at the bottom, but not at the top, although there were signs that there had been linings at the top. Very small corner blocks, not tightly fitted to the ribs. End blocks (upper and lower) with grain horizontal.
What I Did
I took both the top and back off the ribs.
Several of the cracks in the top I opened up and reglued, to improve the alignment. Some of the other cracks - the one coming downwards from the upper bass eye especially - were glued with a glue (epoxy?) that I could not open up. The abraded area on the upper treble bout I cleaned and filled somewhat. Most of the cracks seemed stable enough, after gluing, that I did not cleat them.
The minor crack in the back near the button I cleaned and reglued. The lengthwise crack was badly aligned. Probably glued with epoxy. I tried many solvents, but could not open up that crack to correct the alignment. The bottom end of that crack was open too wide to close with clamp pressure. I finally glued in a thin splint of maple to fill the
opening. I inlaid a patch across the crack at the center, and cleated it elsewhere. I cleaned the outside around the crack as well as I could, although the area remains highly visible. The same for an abraded and dirty area in the center of the lower bout.
I replaced the upper block by spruce with the grain running vertical, since I was going to mortise the neck into the block in the usual way. I put in upper linings, and replaced one lower lining that was damaged in opening the instrument. I then glued the back and top back on the ribs. The margins (top and back overhangs over the ribs) are uneven, but the ribs seemed quite brittle, and I did not want to risk breaking a rib in forcing the margins to even out.
I replaced missing horn, pearl, and bone in the fingerboard, and added wood to the underside.
I glued a "shoe" onto the end of the neck, to give me the necessary extra length to mortise the neck into the upper block. The bottom end of the neck foot was cracked, and had been glued with considerable misalignment, so I sawed off the misaligned part and replaced it. I set the neck into the body with a projection of 27+mm, and an overstand ("epui") of 6mm.
I bushed all the peg holes; the lowest three with spiral bushings, since there were some cracks there. I put in new ebony pegs, half-size violin pegs, 7mm under the collar. The new peg locations are very different from the old peg locations, to even out the spacing of the pegs. I put an understring guide in the peg-box.
I cleaned the instrument everywhere. A lot of dirt came off, and a lot of rosing. I made no attempt to replace missing rosing; matching the look of the old pen and ink is very difficult.
I made a tailpiece. Horn veneer over maple; bone and pearl pattern to match the fingerboard. The horn is quite black; I could not find horn to match the brown of the fingerboard. Fine tuners for all the strings, both the playing strings and the understrings. (One of the pictures shows an earlier tailpiece with a fine tuner for only the E string.)
New nuts, bridge, post, saddle. Chin rest that fastens over the end block; my modification to fit over a Hardanger fiddle tailpiece, of light-weight wood. Set up with 11-weight playing strings, with a gut A, and 22, 22, 24, 26 understrings.
A good player tried it: We both instantly heard that it has a very special warm sound. I will be studying this instrument - the archings in particular - to see if I can duplicate this sound.