Ever since I was just a kid and was introduced to the world of string music, I have had a love and passion for fiddles. At one time I owned over 20 instruments. Most were the old and rather inexpensive ones that I found at yard sales, flea markets and antique shops. There is just something about this instrument that intrigues me. I bought one fiddle at an antique store in Asheboro, NC several years ago. It was an old Sears-Roebuck fiddle and it had a cow horn that had been split to make a replacement tail piece and a piece of hay baling wire to hold it to the end pin. It had the most beautiful back (well flamed Maple) of any instrument I have ever owned and probably sold for around $2 brand new.. Maybe it is because in the hands of a great artisan, the instrument comes alive and the emotions of my heart find a release.
There are those who search for an illusive Stradivarius. From all I have have been able to learn, all of his work has been accounted for by those in the know and study such things. The prospects of finding as genuine Strad is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. There are other instruments much sought after by masters such as Amati, the violin maker for whom Stradivarius worked and Guarnieri among others. The Italian violins were great instruments with unique and powerful tones. A friend of mine who builds hurdy gurdies and viols, told me the instruments of this period were designed for small venues such as parlors and not like instruments crafted today that will be played in large concert halls and most of the woods were obtained as discarded scrap from ship yards.
We are blessed to have great builders in the USA. One is my friend Jack Branch from Bristol, Virgina who began building fiddles at the age of 54. He was a rock mason by trade and an accident forced him to find a new career. He served his apprenticeship under famed Appalachian fiddle maker, Albert Hash who also just happened to be his brother-in-law. I met Jack in Blountville,Tennessee about 12 years ago and he is now a young 83 years old and continues to work in his shop turning out some of the sweetest sounding fiddles in the world. He will only use 100 year old maple for his instruments and has instruments in major philharmonic orchestras across the South.
I have three of Jack’s fiddles and each one is very special to me. The last one he built for me has an Adirondack spruce top and the old Maple. I had him stain it dark because the piece of spruce I had for my top was a slab cut versus the normal butt cut grains.
There is just something I like about the sound of fiddles.The sweetness the tones soothe me and enable me to give expression to my feelings. I especially love the hymns of the church and waltzes. I am no great fiddler and my arthritic fingers will not allow me to play many of the tunes I wish but I find playing my fiddle to be relaxing.