Friday, January 28, 2011

Can't See the Forest for the Trees?

     I both love and hate those pithy little adages!  My mother always had one on tap that she would throw out at us.  My brother found himself on the receiving end of "IF you fly with the crows, you'll get shot with them!" This was of course in reference to the very questionable friends my brother was in the habit of making.  I recall myself responding heatedly to mum's comment and telling her "You can't reduce life to a series of damned old adages!" I stand by that even to this day, but as it turned out she was right about those friends and it was fortunate that my brother launched out in other directions and severed those connections before they led him into serious trouble.
     There have been several times in my life when I can say I haven't seen the forest for the trees.  I can get so embroiled in the detail that I miss the big picture.  Maybe it's a near-sighted thing?  I do try not to make a habit of it, but it does, nevertheless, come back on me from time to time as I have plied my trade as an auto mechanic, a camera technician, and most recently as a luthier.
     Something that I learned in the camera repair world was that there's no accounting for the importance of a sentimental attachment to a piece of equipment, and I find that that follows in the stringed instrument world.  Louise brought me a violin to repair, a lower bout had opened, and general set up was needed.  I looked the violin over and commented that it really wasn't a very valuable instrument.  The top wasn't fine old growth spruce, the maple wasn't highly figured, in fact it was hardly figured.  The scroll looked like something chip-carved out of pine.  Louise told me that the violin had belonged to the client's grandfather, and had been brought from Germany in the early 20th century.  She wants it done!  OK, I'd see what I could do.
     It was necessary to remove the top cover for the repair after doing which I discovered, no label, no corner blocks, really not a vestige of finesse in the instrument's construction. Upper and lower blocks were completely unorthodox, cleating work was very crude, and the top cover - with the exception of what could be seen through the f-holes - was not graduated at all, and no bass bar had been installed. Clearly an amateur piece.  The "tree" I fastened  on was graduating the top plate and installing a bass bar.  There was some room in the estimated price, although in all honesty, I would be working at a loss.  I just wanted to do it!
     To make this long story shorter,  The graduating and bass bar were completed, the bout repaired, instrument cleaned, and I was pleased!  That is until I began the set up of the instrument.  It needed a new bridge and I was surprised to learn that a stock bridge would not work.  The fingerboard was so low that set up would mean cutting the bridge to somewhere into the middle of the "heart".  Looking "less" closely I then observed that the neck actually veered off to one side. Not good.  What was needed was a complete resetting of the neck, and shoot, the upper and lower block should probably be replaced at the same time.  Not something I was willing to undertake on an instrument of that mettle!
     Here's what I did do : A 3/4 bridge was installed to achieve the low height required, and a much lowered price was charged  to the client.  The instrument was better than it had been, sound improved, and still playable.  I had spent some 20+ hours, and charged $50, including bridge and had been reminded that I need to look carefully at the forest, before getting lost in the trees!  

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