Violin/Fingerboard repair

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Question
Hello,

I bought a violin over the internet, yes I know not a great idea, to say the least, let's just say it was an "impulse" buy.  It was about $600 and of course the pictures looked really nice.  When I finally saw it in person, it looked like it needed a bit of "cleanup" work.  I took it to a local luthier who wanted to do a bunch of work - all of it I think needed - replace the fingerboard, reduce the neck angle, fix the pegs, ...  He said it looked like a German factory made violin from the 1920s maybe, and that with this work, which would be about $500, it would probably sound as good as a $1000 - $1,500 violin so I said ok.  Well after taking the fingerboard off he found by looking through the end button hole, that the bass bar was loose and that he would need to take the top off toe repair and so the repair cost would be closer to $800, which was a bit over the limit of what the potential of the instrument.  So I said forget it.  I still got charged $70 for the work done (I didn't complain about that but probably should have).  Anyway now I have a violin with no fingerboard or nut, he said the fingerboard was already "split", like it was it two laminated layers or something - I can't recall exactly what it looked like beforehand unfortunately - but that anyway the fingerboard and nut were kind of ruined in the taking off process so he threw them away.  I still think he should have kept them around to show me, but I didn't complain.

Well finally my question - I'd like to try and repair the fingerboard myself, since I already have "sunk" so much into the violin and at least try to get something out of it, an instrument to play (I'm currently using a student violin but need something better).  I called the same guy and he said $170 to fit a new fingerboard, the parts - fingerboard and nut - are $70 and the rest is labor.  So, I'm wondering if it's feasible to buy the parts, somewhere else that's cheaper if possible, and try to put the fingerboard on myself?   Again, I'm all for the professionals doing it, but if I can save some further investment at this point and still get a decent playing instrument out I might go for it.

Answer
Hi Robert
If you have the woodworking skills and a good and super sharp block plane, you can do a fingerboard yourself.  Fingerboards come as blanks and are much too thick, too long and too wide, all allowing for adjustment to the specific instrument and because wood warps over the years, so that may need to be corrected. A quality blank fingerboard is around $30-40 and you can certainly buy one from some place like International Violin in Baltimore. Don't get one of their $12 fingerboards as the wood grain is very low quality and you will certainly have difficulties. Nuts are really cheap and again come as blanks, you will need a very fine file to do the grooves.

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David Lashof

Expertise

I can answer questions on violin, viola, cello and bass making, repair and maintenance as well as supply general violin value ranges and information on instrument makers’ assuming the instrument's as labeled. I don't give values for modern makers as many of these modern makers are yet unknown to me. I can only give you feedback based on what information you give me, and no authority on the instrument can know every maker's work that ever lived. I have access to many books on makers and auction prices on over 25,000 makers, as well as having 36 years of experience with selling and appraising violins. Without having the instrument in hand, any estimate over the internet is just a guess as the label inside an instrument is more often wrong than right, so just having that information is not very useful. Pictures can sometimes be helpful but only so much, as the "feel" of the instrument along with small clues in workmanship and varnish cannot be seen in pictures. Any pictures should be high quality close-ups of the top and back. Additional photos of the front and treble side of the neck are also useful. It is always best to have an instrument seen in person at a violin shop that does appraisals. I can also provide advice on bows, rosin, strings and other string instrument accessories. As I am now retired, I have no bias towards selling anything; I only wish to share my knowledge and experience by providing information for those that may be getting confused by misinformation, misdirection or conflicting statements. (While I have seen many thousands of instruments and have performed numerous appraisals; if I have not evaluated an instrument in person, any information I set forth in an opinion is just that, an opinion based solely on what you have provided. Thusly, no financial decision should be based on that opinion, but rather, further investigation should be performed by having the instrument examined in person.)

Experience

I am a retired violin maker and repairman with 35 years experience having worked in Chicago and Maryland at 5 different violin shops and music stores including the first violin repairman at William Harris Lee in Chicago, the head repairman at Weavers Violins in Maryland, and in my own shop of 25 years. I have made 160 instruments and have restored countless professional level and student grade instruments. I am an accomplished violinist having performed with semi-professional as well as amateur groups although I haven't played for years and mostly stay away from questions about playing. I have taught violin making and restoration to about 20 students; three of which have gone on professionally and now have their own shops. I know violins from playing, selling, repairing, making and teaching.

Organizations
Violin Society of America (VSA). American String Teachers Association (ASTA)

Education/Credentials
I graduated from the prestigious 4 year Chicago School of Violin Making in 1981 under Master Violin Maker Tschu Ho Lee. I also studied with violin maker Willis M. Gault in Washington DC from 1973-75, who was the former owner of the oldest known example of an instrument from the modern violin family, an Andreas Amati Viola.

Awards and Honors
2008 Chester Petranek Award for service to the music community. ASTA award for service. Top All Expert in Violin for 2014 and 2015.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked with many professional musicians from DC area Symphonies as well as players from all over the US. Here are just a few, Leonard Slatkin - Former conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. Doris Gazda - Nationally renowned string specialist and composer. Bernard Greenhouse, Tanya Anisimova - Internationally renowned Solo Cellists. Jody Gatwood, Mark Pfannschmidt, Lori Barnet, Doug Dubé, Judy Silverman - National Philharmonic Orchestra. Robert Blatt, David Hardy, Glen Garlick - National Symphony Orchestra. Eddie Stubbs, Brendan Mulvahill, Nate Leath - Professional Fiddle Players. David Basche, Pat Braunlich, John Knudson, Romano Solano, Ed Ferris, Fred Lieder - freelance musicians.

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