Today a little about one of my most successful projects ever, Old Twist the mountain fiddle.
For a little background and to see where this fiddle started from, see my earlier posts “The Mountain Fiddle” and “The Coffin Case.”
A quick recap. Several months ago, I found the violin and case illustrated above at a flea market. It was in sorry shape and needed a ton of TLC. When I bought it for forty dollars, I figured I didn’t have much to lose. Well, this violin became quite the quest. First, everything needed cleaning. Then the assembly and required refurbishing. There was a quick stop by my luthier, followed by adjustments and settling-in (the violin probably hadn’t been played since the fifties).
By mid-summer, it was finally ready to be used on a regular basis.
Note the oddly twisted scroll and strangely angled pegs. This is why this violin is named “Old Twist.” Also, it is not quite full-sized. It isn’t a three-quarter, either. It’s in a league of its own. But I digress.
I love this darn violin. It has a rich, dark sound that is perfect for mountain music and is my most comfortable violin to play. When I settle this fiddle against my cheek, it feels like I’m relaxing on the couch. Yes, it is an odd comparison, but it’s the best metaphor I can think of. This fiddle just feels right. Composed. Worn. Easy.
My instructor pointed out that Old Twist had probably been played in the past without a chinrest, and the fiddler would feel the music through their cheek. I believe it. Several people played the hell out of this violin for a century or so, and it shows. In my admittedly limited experience, I’ve never, ever seen a violin with this degree of wear.
But that’s the wonder of an old fiddle. Its age is immaterial as long as it is properly maintained and stored.
For the millionth time, I wish I had this violin’s story. Who played it, and what songs. Judging from where I bought it, I’d say the violin was manufactured and used in the Tri-State area (OH, PA, WV), more specifically in the upper Ohio River Valley. It’s a real Appalachian fiddle with a history. Just a shame I can only guess at it.
Was it played in a church? The county fair? On someone’s porch? A village band? Bonfires and wild parties, with the firewater jug passed hand to hand? I’ll never know, and this adds to my interest in this oddly constructed instrument.
All I can do is attempt to do it justice by playing the old songs as well as I can. Give it a good home. Extend its life as far as it will go.
My best guess on its age is 1800-1850, and it wasn’t factory-made. After that period, violins were readily available through mail order (Sears and Roebuck, etc.) and a village carpenter wouldn’t have bothered, as the mail order fiddles were three dollars. He wouldn’t have been able to make any money.
So, there you have it. Old Twist, the ancient mystery fiddle. It still astounds me that something so old and worn works as well as new with just a little work. This is not a concert violin by any means, but it is perfect for the sort music I like to play.
Hands down, the best forty dollars I have ever spent.
3 thoughts on “Old Twist”
I can see a story through the eyes of that old fiddle. Vignettes of its owners, the music they played and their places in history.
I have never seen such a hard-worn violin. Not abused, just played very hard for a very long time. Unfortunately, there are no markings whatsoever on the inside, the only things I have to go by are where I found it, what came with it, and the types of wood from which it is made. I’d love to have its actual story. One strong hint was the presence of the obviously hand-whittled and moveable sound post; the player would adjust the post on the fly. This is a sign of someone who utterly knew what they were doing.
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