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Old 05-06-2010, 12:24 AM
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Default French Bass full restoration

Here’s an interesting project for me. Customer brought in this nice old flatback bass, found in an attic.






The button carving below, and the outline to me appears typical of French basses from the mid-late 1800's. The ugly bolt is NOT typical! This one has no immediately apparent makers mark or label. I'm thinking something like a Lamy Mirecourt bass. Any maker suggestions?




The Scroll has snapped off just below the nut and this will mean a scroll graft repair for sure.



Nice big scroll, looks original, four pegs and a very crusty set of gut strings. This was never a three-stringer. Also the volute has been broken off above the top tuner at some point and repaired but not in a very satisfactory way.



The Scroll gives an idea of the original red-brown varnish which on the rest of the instrument has deteriorated into a pobbly mess. I suspect it was a spirit varnish because of the brittleness of what is remaining, but the heat of the attic has shrunken and denatured whatever was there originally. There are a few spots on the top where the colour shows through. The wood is lovely. I think the ground is intact and I may be able to keep this by carefully scraping the crud off the surface then cleaning, when it’s time to refinish. That’s a long way off yet.




There are about ten cracks in the top ranging from these long ones to the usual short cracks near the FF tabs. And a nasty sound post crack that will come together OK but require an inlaid patch.

The top arching is not sunken in any way; it looks perfectly fine, perhaps due to a thickish top. I'll get the graduations off it when I have it apart.




Corners are worn but repairable. This is the worst one.





Last edited by Matthew Tucker; 05-06-2010 at 04:41 AM.
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Old 05-06-2010, 12:25 AM
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Inside the top block looks like a bit of a mess, and I think I can see a dowel AND a coachbolt and a split.

Bass bar is intact and attached.



The single wide centre brace is typical of French basses but has split in several places and will likely need to be replaced. Not looking forward to that one. The back seam has shrunken and there is one crack as shown but other than that the back is in good condition.



First evidence of home repairs – a weird flat fingerboard held on with a bolt. And some pine blocks underneath, nailed in :-(



Neck heel badly damaged, evidence of both professional and home repairs. You can see evidence of a dowel plug on the right near the button.



The ribs have numerous cracks, some repaired, but all the wood is there … and it is lovely wood, as per the back.




Next step is for me to open up the instrument to have a look inside!

Last edited by Matthew Tucker; 05-06-2010 at 01:41 AM.
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Old 05-06-2010, 10:46 AM
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Anselm Hauke Anselm Hauke is offline
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hi matthew,

great looking bass.
please keep us informed.
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Old 05-06-2010, 02:05 PM
Arnold Schnitzer Arnold Schnitzer is offline
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Matthew,

Nice find. The shape, wood and workmanship make me think Paul Claudot or a contemporary of his. Would you post the stop length? You are going to need to remove both the top and back to fix everything. Please take this bit of advice learned the hard way; fix the top first, and just before you re-install it, loosen up the back seams at the blocks. Then remove the back only after the top has been re-glued. I see you are in for a neck graft, button graft, neck block replacement, major crack repairs, varnish and more. It helps me, when faced with an overwhelming restoration like yours, to map out the process and break it down into logical steps. Keeps me from scratching my head too much and damaging the few remaining productive follicles. Good luck.
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Old 05-06-2010, 06:39 PM
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thanks Arnold. I have been as systematic as I can, and throughly breaking down the task into every small step and sequence is the only real way I know of estimating and explaining the cost of such a job for the client.

Yes my plan is to fix the front first. Then the ribs and block, then glue top back to ribs and attack the back. I'm not sure how best to remove the centre brace yet, it looks quite solidly glued in there, but it is split in several places.

On thing I have noticed is is is very neatly made inside; the blocks are the smoothest i have ever seen, it's almost as if the maker glued a veneer across the face of the entire block - but it doesn't seem to be the case. The linings in the C bout back edge are very hefty, too, about 12mm! and very neatly done. The break appears to start at the upper corners or just after the centre brace ends.

String length as far as I can make out is 104.5cm.

LOB 1160
UB 525
LB 675
ribs LB 197
ribs CB 200
ribs at neck 153
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Old 05-06-2010, 08:09 PM
Arnold Schnitzer Arnold Schnitzer is offline
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Matthew, what is the length from the neck joint to the f-hole nicks? As far as removing the cross brace, the only safe way is to carve it out, bit by bit.
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Old 05-06-2010, 11:23 PM
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Cool 104.5cm sl?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthew Tucker View Post
thanks Arnold. I have been as systematic as I can, and thoroughly breaking down the task into every small step and sequence is the only real way I know of estimating and explaining the cost of such a job for the client.

Yes my plan is to fix the front first. Then the ribs and block, then glue top back to ribs and attack the back. I'm not sure how best to remove the center brace yet, it looks quite solidly glued in there, but it is split in several places.

On thing I have noticed is is is very neatly made inside; the blocks are the smoothest i have ever seen, it's almost as if the maker glued a veneer across the face of the entire block - but it doesn't seem to be the case. The linings in the C bout back edge are very hefty, too, about 12mm! and very neatly done. The break appears to start at the upper corners or just after the centre brace ends.

String length as far as I can make out is 104.5cm.

LOB 1160
UB 525
LB 675
ribs LB 197
ribs CB 200
ribs at neck 153
Matt, most of these French Cello models I have seen and/or owned averaged from 42+-43" string lengths or about 107 to 109 CMs.

I have heard of smaller ones and seen only one in person but not this type model. Most were what we call 7/8ths models but yours seems to be a 3/4 from your measurements. Not so common in these parts.

From the Scroll and linings it looks a Mirecourt type bass. J.T. Lamy made many of these in all shapes and sizes, 3 and 4 string. If all 4 gears match then it was born as such. In the old 1891 Lamy catalog the 4 string was 6.50 more than a 3-string. Wholesale they started at $43.20. With fine wood and flatback it was $67.20. Claudot was probably more expensive. The good ole days.. Not that I remember them that far back..

The linings on these are about 4x the mass needed. Might be easier to just replace the linings rather then chisel them down in thickness and then half the height.

Take your time with this like you already mentioned and as Arnold replied. This is an expensive repair in these parts. Probably upwards of $20k from what I see.

Oh, and wavy type Top grain like that I have often seen on Jacquet basses. Keep us informed and post as many pics as you like along the way. My Mougenot is on the bench right now with Jeff Bollbach. Some top reshaping in a mold, bass bar, the back re-done including the center joint, some rib work, neck graft, .. the works and I just played it in concert last season!!

Still, a Bass needs what a Bass needs..
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Old 09-09-2010, 11:04 PM
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No-one ventured an opinion on my question on scraping the dark crud back to clean wood in post #32, so I made a judgement that it would be better to shave a very thin layer off and make sure I make good glue repairs, than leaving it there for the looks only. The wood is still darkened with oxidation, and there is no doubt about the age of the instrument.
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Old 09-10-2010, 12:03 AM
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Cool well..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthew Tucker View Post
No-one ventured an opinion on my question on scraping the dark crud back to clean wood in post #32, so I made a judgement that it would be better to shave a very thin layer off and make sure I make good glue repairs, than leaving it there for the looks only. The wood is still darkened with oxidation, and there is no doubt about the age of the instrument.
I think that when my basses have been restored, they were cleaned as needed but I don't know if they were scraped. Inside, the color varies. Where it was repaired, it is lighter. Where it wasn't repaired, it remained darker but without the built up dirt over the wood. On one old bass the bassbar was slightly re-shaped. The color shows where it was worked. One of the cross bars removed also shows it was trimmed down a bit half way thru its life by the two shades of color, both old. If re-graduated internally, the bass will always look lighter but that is unavoidable with the wood coming off.

On the aging, you can see how deep the oxidation goes when working on it. Some basses are so old that the wood is dark all the way through. I don't know how to date a bass by its wood color. I guess the oxidation depends on where and how the bass was kept or used.

Keep up the good work.
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Old 09-10-2010, 12:55 AM
Steve Alcott Steve Alcott is offline
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I'm a big fan of practicality-do whatever needs doing to make the repairs solid-as Ken said, there's no doubt of age here. Your photographic documentation is something I wish more luthiers would take time to do; it's educational, and provides a record for future owners and caretakers.
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