Tag Archives: instrument repair

Face to Face with Liz from Kennedy Violins

Today, our ongoing “Face to Face” series introduces us to, perhaps, one of the most diversely gifted members of the Kennedy Violins team, Liz Lambson.

Liz poses with her bass, James.
Liz poses with her bass, James.

Liz Lambson: string bass player, artist, luthier, and writer–and somehow she plays all these roles at Kennedy Violins! She grew up in Colorado Springs, studied music and English at Brigham Young University, and moved to the Portland area about four years ago. Besides working at KV and freelancing as a classical bassist, Liz is also a mom of two little boys.

1. How long have you worked at Kennedy Violins?
Two years. Time flies!

2. What is your favorite thing about working at Kennedy Violins and why?
Working at Kennedy Violins in itself has been my favorite thing. By far, this has been the most fulfilling, rewarding, and enjoyable job I’ve ever had, and I constantly feel so blessed to work doing something I absolutely love. As a luthier and writer, I get to use my skills and knowledge as a musician in an artistic, creative way that is both fun and intellectually stimulating. Win, win!

I especially love working with my hands, which is why lutherie is such a great fit for me. I love the feel of sawdust and wood when I’m carving bridges and nuts and smoothing down fingerboards (click here to learn more about our professional set-up). I even enjoy washing my hands after work and seeing how much grime rinses off! There’s something strangely fulfilling about getting your hands dirty while getting up close and personal with these instruments. It’s like gardening, but we’re growing violins instead of snow peas or something.

Liz poses with the custom artwork she created just for us!
Liz poses with the custom artwork she created just for us!

3. What is your favorite instrument/product that Kennedy Violins carries and why?
That is a tough question. All the violins have different features worth loving. As one who works on the instruments, I have two favorites: the Ricard Bunnel G2 and G1 violins and the Anton Gerard violins. The Bunnels are fun because those are the ones I do the most finish work on, so each one is like a little craft project–and I am a die-hard sucker for crafts.

As far as the nicer violins go for more advanced players, I really love the Gerards because they are so, so beautiful with their tiger-flamed one-piece backs. The flame is just so stunning. And they sound great.

4. What is your favorite band/musician/composer?
While I love music by classic composers (especially Bach) and modern musicians (from jazz pianist Dave Brubeck to the folky Fleet Foxes to bust-a-move Beyoncé), my favorite and most meaningful musical experiences have been with musicians I know personally and with whom I’ve had the privilege to perform.

With that said, my favorite pop artist is Fresh Big Mouf, my favorite band is Fictionist, and my favorite composer is Christian Asplund. Each of these artists has been so influential when it comes to my own musical development and understanding of creativity.

5. If you didn’t play the bass, which instrument would you play?
I would play the bass. Which I do. I seriously think the bass is the best because 1) it’s so versatile and allows you to play any style of music (classical, jazz, rock, folk, etc.), 2) it’s so big it can beat up any other instrument, 3) it can serve as a boat in a flash flood situation, and 4) I play it, so you can trust me.

Liz (and James) at All-NW.
Liz (and James) at All-NW.

6. What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming year?
I’m actually moving to New York soon. (Don’t worry, I’ll still be working and writing remotely for KV!) I’m excited to check out the East coast music scene and meet new people.

7. What is something interesting that we don’t already know about you?
I’m half black and half Korean, which means I can make both family-recipe gumbo and family-recipe chajangmyeon (noodles with vegetables and black soybean paste).

8. What is your favorite thing to do when you aren’t working at Kennedy Violins?
Eat French fries with my boys.

A Violin is Brought Back to Life (Part 1)

A Violin in Pieces

I recently began a new project: putting together an old violin that had fallen completely apart. The instrument is an older German violin, probably made around 1930 – 1950.

Violins are similar to puzzles, in that they have many small parts that fit intricately together. They are also similar to puzzles in that they are actually designed to be taken apart if necessary.
Figuring Out What Goes Where

The type of glue used in making violins, called hide glue, is purposefully used because of its unique, not-too-strong properties. During times of extreme humidity or

Clamping Linings

temperature change, as the wood shifts slightly in size and shape, the glued seams will give way before the wood cracks. This saves the violin from becoming seriously damaged. Hide

Making New Corner Blocks

glue also ensures that the violin can safely be taken apart and put back together again when necessary. Heat and water will soften the glue, and seams can be safely opened and closed.

This violin had fallen apart probably because it was exposed to lots of differing temperatures and humidities over the years, and because hide glue naturally breaks down after a certain amount of time. As you can see, there is also a big crack on the top plate that will need to be repaired.
Stay tuned for future posts, and watch as this violin is brought back to life!

Violins Are Like Legos: They’re Meant to Come Apart

The bridge, which connects the vibration of the strings to the body of the instrument, is held in place only by the tension of the strings. No glue or adhesive is necessary or even desirable. (Photo by CavinB)
You’ve seen it before. Intermission commences at the junior high orchestra concert. The suspect, a rather uncoordinated violist (who shall remain unnamed), trips over a cello and the audience gasps as it faceplants on the ground. The bridge goes flying. The strings go limp. A harried seventh grader fights backs tears as she runs to her fallen instrument thinking all is lost, her life is over, and her parents will surely disown her. And to top it off, it’s a rental.

This is usually the time in life when a young musician realizes that 1) string instruments aren’t invincible, and 2) bridges aren’t actually glued on. Who knew?

From food to furniture to clothing to vehicles, the modern era has redefined the production of life’s staples through the use of assembly lines, man-made materials, and machines. But when it comes to string instruments, there’s a reason why violins aren’t made of plastic, commercially manufactured and slapped together with duct tape.

For one, that would sound terrible. Really terrible. But has it ever occurred to you that your instrument is supposed to come apart?

For example, did you know . . .

  • The bridge is held in place by the pressure and tension of the strings. As strings stretch and tighten over time, the bridge may even lean towards the fingerboard and can be adjusted by hand. And if you were to *remove all the strings at once, the bridge would simply fall over.

*This is not recommended, especially while changing strings. Replace strings one at a time to keep the bridge properly positioned and tension on the sound post.

  • The tailpiece is suspended and held in place by the tension of the strings.
  • The sound post (the wooden dowel seen through the f-hole) is also held in place by friction and the pressure and force of the strings on the face of the instrument. Loosening or removing all the strings creates the risk of the sound post falling, which can greatly affect the sound production and quality of your instrument. The sound post can even be moved to affect the sound of the instrument for better (or worse!).
  • The endpin is not glued in but can usually be pulled out by hand.
  • Tuning pegs aren’t glued or secured in place (obviously, as you have to turn them) but are simply held by the friction created by raw wood on wood. If the pegs are difficult to turn and are sticking (sometimes creating a cracking or creaking sound as you turn the pegs), applying a substance called peg dope acts as a lubricant.
  • The face, ribs, back, fingerboard, and neck are glued in place using a water-soluble adhesive called hide glue. Hide glue, which is actually made from animal hides, has been long-used in woodworking and lutherie. The water-soluble characteristic of hide glue allows instruments to be easily taken apart and put back together without damaging the wood, which aids in both assembly and repair.

So why are violins meant to come apart? If they weren’t, parts couldn’t be replaced or repaired easily, especially without sacrificing the entire instrument. Fingerboards, nuts, bridges, tailpieces, endpins, and even necks can be replaced and restored as individual pieces of a larger and beautifully crafted puzzle.

At Kennedy Violins, we take great pride in upholding the historic tradition of handmade string instruments. As each violin, viola, cello, and bass is hand-crafted, setup, and inspected by professional luthiers, you can be confident that every piece of your instrument is expertly constructed and in its place. Top that off with Kennedy Violin’s Lifetime Warranty and you can expect your instrument to truly last a lifetime.

And that’s even more impressive than your nephew’s Lego collection, if I do say so myself.