I recently had a violin come to me for repair that had seen a pretty major mishap… the neck had been broken clean off! The customer didn’t really know if it was repairable, but I told them I would have a look. Made in West Germany, that would indicate something in the late 1940’s or the 1950’s. Something about the quality of the wood, especially the beautiful grain of the maple back, made me think it was worth a try. Plus, a challenge like this doesn’t come my way every day!
With the mislaid confidence of someone who has never attempted something like this before, I fearlessly began by doing what I usually do… I consulted YouTube.
The biggest problem was that the button, the ‘backbone’ of the violin, had been broken off along with the neck. I soon learned that a ‘button graft’ was the proper way to do the repair. While quite involved, the procedure would be possible, but would require removing the back of the violin. I assessed some of the repairs that had been done in the past, and suspected that the back had been removed at some time in the violin’s life. Worried that the glues used may not have been animal hide, I was afraid removal might cause irreparable damage. The fact that the body of the violin was sound (no pun intended) caused me to opt not to do a ‘button graft’.
The other serious thing I discovered by inspecting the bridge was that the previous neck angle was completely wrong, so while putting it back together, I would also have to do a complete neck reset… quite a bit more work than first thought.
Resetting the neck angle is tricky, as specifications are quite explicit and precise. Here, I’m using my handy-dandy, homemade jig:
I noticed some esthetic damage, specifically that a couple of pieces of the top had been chipped off, so decided to attempt these repairs as well:
Here’s the best I could manage. Matching colours and varnishes is extremely tricky:
The final result. In lieu of a proper button graft, I opted to ‘dowel’ the neck to the front block. I’m sure luthiers will cringe at such a repair, and I don’t think the instrument would survive another such mishap, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. So far, it seems strong and solid.
A Nico polish and a new set of D’Addario Ascente strings, fresh bridge, new chinrest and shoulder rest, and the customer is set to do some serious fiddlin’ !!!!
I played the violin a bit to see if it was as good as I had hoped, and after some soundpost adjustments, it shows some promise. While it is not overly loud, it has a mellow quality even after what is probably years of disuse.
The complete outfit: