It does kinda look like a mandolin, but madesideways... I've never seen anything like it otherwise. Maybe someonewho knew a lot about instruments was being creative and came up withthat and didn't make any others or something.
It is very beautiful, no doubt. I work at a prep school and we at leasta dozen faculty that teach in our Music Department because of all thedifferent instruments. Surely one of them will take great delight intelling us what it is.
I'll ask at school tomorrow. It'll be fun to find out.
Here's what the retired head of our Music Department said:
"It's a handmade folk instrument most likely made in Appalachia or cameover from Central Europe. It's a bowed instrument, not amandolin. Anything that has to be struck by a plectrumusually has frets on the board where you put your fingers.The top right hand part of the instrument is to accomodate a bowbecause it couldn't handle the pressure of something that would have tobe struck. It looks like it's missing a piece in themiddle. It's part of a violin, it's a 4-stringinstrument that is probably held on your lap. It's made tosound like a viola/violin/or fiddle with the way the body isshapped. Clearly it's a handmade instrument and is missing abridge and tail piece."
He referred me to a gentleman in the area who's family is very big intofolk instruments. If you wish me to find out more about it, Ican call the guy and probably find out exactly where it came from.
thanks! That's more or less what I figured, although one theory is thatthere IS no top piece and the flat bridge fits on the two tiny supportsattached to the sides.
I also guessed that it is played on the lap, held like a small cello.Hopefully it will be playable soon--I find it entertaining to take itapart and put it back together. Very different from working on violins.
Anyway, if someone in your area knows more, I'd love to hear it!
Well, I just heard back from the gentleman who's family has studied folk music and instruments for generations.
He agrees with the teacher above that it was probably from Appalachiaor Central Europe. He also said there are so many different versions ofthe violin and many different areas come up with their own style-as I'msure you're aware, although he hasn't seen this instrument before inhis background, he's certain it's a folk instrument. (Theretired teacher above had stated that the folk musicians will oftentimes just make their own instruments to experiment.)Although he's never seen anything like it, it could be a one-of-a-kindinstrument that was custom-made.
He said if you really wanted to find out more about it, the best placeto go would be the Library of Congress in Washington. I'm also checkingwith one other person who has specialized in building and repairingScandanavian violins. Maybe he can tell us something.
From what the wife of the gentleman that makes and repairs theScandanavian violins told me today - as best as I could describe it toher on the phone, many tried to combine two instruments into one in thelate 1800s to early 1900s. They were experimenting.
She said that it may have been played upright as well. Let's see what the gentleman that makes them says.
If you wish, I'll ask him if I can give you his name in case you wish to question him on your studies.
The great thing about messing with old instruments (and I work withviolins from the late 1800s) is that they can be taken apart at will,old glue cleaned off, and reglued because of some wonderful stuffcalled hide glue that dissolves in hot water, yet holds wood in a tightbond until dissolved or shattered with a sharp blow. It's been used formany centuries, and is still used for all reputable repairs. So if any"experiment" doesn't work...the glue is dissolved and the whole thingis back to its original state.
Anyway, it had so many hairline cracks that Igently broke andreglued so it will bear the weight of strings. My main task has beenremoving old faulty bonds with hot water and gluing cracks. It's in twopieces right now, waiting to be reglued.
Making a top involves a bit of detective work and some fine carpentry.What was the maker's intent? Are there clues in the body of theinstrument as to the shape of the piece? How is it supposed to beplayed? How are the pieces attached? How will it sound? How manymillimeters thick should it be? The answers are all in the instrumentitself!
It's an old and amazing craft, lutherie! Violins (and their odd relatives!) are fascinating.
Here's the reply from the gentleman whose specialty is making and repairingviolins.
"I have never seen anything like this instrument - thephotos are a bit hard to decipher but it looks like aone-of-a-kind experiment by someone who took a violin orviola neck and stuck it into part of a cut-apart viola body.From the photos I can't see how or even if the stringsmight be attached or supported, or where anything like abridge might be. If I saw it in person I would be ableto decipher some more, but what I can say now is that it is anoddity."
A few things we do know though: It's not cut down from any otherinstrument. The back is made of a composite of hardwoods, obviouslyintented to support pressure from front to back. The back is about 1/2inch thick. A cutdown would be thin wood ribs, like a mandolin orviolin. There are two tiny wood blocks on either sideintendedto support either a top or a bridge, or both. A violin tailpiece fitssnugly into a small cutout at the end.
The peg holes are done with a Morris taper reamer, which could indicateamateur work. As does the coating of linseed oil, an often-triedexperiment which is thought to increase tone (but really only does itvery temporarily). Also, neck and scroll are pine, not hardwood.
Are Brown and Wesleyan two separate universities? And if so, which ones? I found several!
I'm waiting for the okay for you to contact the gentleman that I toldyou about above.? I'm certain he'd love to talk to someone asenthusiastic and intelligent as you. Will let you know when I hear fromhim, but won't be at the address he has until next week.
The contacts at Brown and Wesleyan should prove helpful.