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TITLE
Donald Riddell, fiddle craftsman (8 of 17)
EXTERNAL ID
GB1796_SINCLAIR_DONALDRIDDLE_08
PERIOD
1980s; 1990s
CREATOR
Donald Riddell
SOURCE
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
ASSET ID
41183
KEYWORDS
fiddles
violins
violin
craft
crafts
carving
audio

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The late, great, Donald Riddell BEM, from Kirkhill near Inverness, was a fiddler, composer, and fiddle maker. He was also a Pipe Major in the Lovat Scouts. His pupils include Duncan Chisholm, Bruce MacGregor and Iain MacFarlane.

In this audio extract, Donald goes through some of the fiddle-making processes. The image shows Donald outside his workshop.

'When I go to make a fiddle the first thing I do is carve the neck and scroll - which is a good day's work - and I lay that aside. And then I build the set of ribs. Now they're built - there's two kinds of moulds: you can use an external mould or an internal mould, you see, and it works either way. You can bend them round the mould using heat - blow lamp on a copper pipe to - what they call a bending iron, to bend them to the required curves - or you can build them inside a mould, you see? In any case, the mould is only to hold them in shape until, until they're made and they, they're fitted up with corner blocks and linings and end blocks. Now that's laid aside and then you make the back, you see?

Well, the back is a - starts off about roughly five eighths of an inch thick, in the centre, you see, and you cut out the - it can be a one or a two piece back - you cut out the outline, approximately to the place and then you do the contours of the outside of it to approximately what you want. Then the inside has to be all hollowed out and the mean thickness is roughly about three sixteenths of an inch at the centre, where the sound post meets the back eventually, tapering to about roughly half that in all directions towards the edges. The front is shaped the same way but the speed of taper on the front is totally different. The front is never more than an eighth of an inch thick, almost less in the centre and the speed of taper's very different, it's not nearly so fast.

And, of course, on the front you've to glue in a bass bar, which is a specially shaped piece of wood which runs below the left leg of the bridge. It's a piece of wood about ten and a half inches long and seven sixteenths in depth and three sixteenths in thickness, you see? But it's got to be specially shaped and tuned after it's glued in position and after the fiddle's put together, immediately behind the right leg of the bridge there's a little post of wood connecting front and back and that's very, very important. The French called it the 'soul' of the instrument. A hair's breadth out top or bottom in any direction can drastically alter the flow of the vibrations, the distribution of the vibrations, and it's not exactly the same place in any two fiddles. There's an approximate place where it goes but you usually -, it's trial and error to see which is the best place. With me I can tap the plates and know which way to go, to distribute these vibrations evenly'

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Donald Riddell, fiddle craftsman (8 of 17)

1980s; 1990s

fiddles; violins; violin; craft; crafts; carving; audio

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Bill Sinclair Audio: Donald Riddell

The late, great, Donald Riddell BEM, from Kirkhill near Inverness, was a fiddler, composer, and fiddle maker. He was also a Pipe Major in the Lovat Scouts. His pupils include Duncan Chisholm, Bruce MacGregor and Iain MacFarlane.<br /> <br /> In this audio extract, Donald goes through some of the fiddle-making processes. The image shows Donald outside his workshop.<br /> <br /> 'When I go to make a fiddle the first thing I do is carve the neck and scroll - which is a good day's work - and I lay that aside. And then I build the set of ribs. Now they're built - there's two kinds of moulds: you can use an external mould or an internal mould, you see, and it works either way. You can bend them round the mould using heat - blow lamp on a copper pipe to - what they call a bending iron, to bend them to the required curves - or you can build them inside a mould, you see? In any case, the mould is only to hold them in shape until, until they're made and they, they're fitted up with corner blocks and linings and end blocks. Now that's laid aside and then you make the back, you see? <br /> <br /> Well, the back is a - starts off about roughly five eighths of an inch thick, in the centre, you see, and you cut out the - it can be a one or a two piece back - you cut out the outline, approximately to the place and then you do the contours of the outside of it to approximately what you want. Then the inside has to be all hollowed out and the mean thickness is roughly about three sixteenths of an inch at the centre, where the sound post meets the back eventually, tapering to about roughly half that in all directions towards the edges. The front is shaped the same way but the speed of taper on the front is totally different. The front is never more than an eighth of an inch thick, almost less in the centre and the speed of taper's very different, it's not nearly so fast. <br /> <br /> And, of course, on the front you've to glue in a bass bar, which is a specially shaped piece of wood which runs below the left leg of the bridge. It's a piece of wood about ten and a half inches long and seven sixteenths in depth and three sixteenths in thickness, you see? But it's got to be specially shaped and tuned after it's glued in position and after the fiddle's put together, immediately behind the right leg of the bridge there's a little post of wood connecting front and back and that's very, very important. The French called it the 'soul' of the instrument. A hair's breadth out top or bottom in any direction can drastically alter the flow of the vibrations, the distribution of the vibrations, and it's not exactly the same place in any two fiddles. There's an approximate place where it goes but you usually -, it's trial and error to see which is the best place. With me I can tap the plates and know which way to go, to distribute these vibrations evenly'