Rickman Violins : Custom Repairs

Violins in various stages of repair.

Gary Rickman's philosophy of repair can be simplified into one straight forward statement:

Luthiers make and repair musical instruments not furniture.

An approach to a repair must of course consider the physical durability of the materials and of the technique used, but must ALSO consider the acoustical effects of the repairs.

This may seem obvious, but some common repair techniques that are structurally sound, may also be unnecessarily detrimental to the resonance of the instrument.

The following photos of several recent double bass restorations provide easy to understand examples of this approach to repair.

Rickman Violins Custom Repair

This is an 19th century English bass, made by John Lott, which is having the top re shaped to its original specifications. This is a slow process that is done over a period of several weeks and requires the careful use of clamps and sand bags in conjunction with a plaster cast of the instrument.

Rickman Violins Custom Repair

Before the Restoration:

Although this 19th Century Double Bass, attributed to Thomas Dodd, had well crafted and solidly constructed repairs, it was determined that the repairs themselves were likely hampering greater potential in what should probably have been an even more amazing instrument.

The repairs seen here were very strong, but were probably so solid that the top was no longer able to vibrate as freely as it once had. By finding a better balance of strength to flexibility, Gary thought more sound could still be unlocked - and he was right.

Rickman Violins Custom Repair

During the Restoration:

The restoration began with the making a custom plaster mold of the top to be used as a stable work surface. All the cleats, bracing (strip cleats) and bass bar were then carefully and painstakingly removed. This was complicated by the discovery that everything was glued in with PVA type glues (such as Titebond or Elmer's), which are NOT water soluble glues.

Rickman Violins Custom Repair

After the Restoration:

New lighter weight cleats were then installed, of which each cleat spans only ONE crack each - not multiple cracks - and a new bass bar was fitted. Traditional HIDE glue, was the only glue that was used as it is completely and easily reversible, dries solid, does not creep and does not dampen the sound.

- The total weight of all the old cleats was
- 250g or 8.82 oz.
- The total weight of all the new cleats was
- 15g or 0.53oz

This was less than 10% the weight of the cleats
prior to restoration and a difference of over a half pound!

The power and resonance of this bass has
improved immensely as a result of this repair.

Rickman Violins Custom Repair

This Gasparo da Salo bass also had solidly constructed repairs which Gary Rickman determined was likely inhibiting the potential of this 17th century Italian bass. The top (left), sides and back (not shown) were all reinforced considerably with commonly accepted repair techniques.

Rickman Violins Custom Repair

These next two photos are of the inside of this Gasparo da Salo double bass after the restoration was complete.

This work included re shaping the top and back of the instrument; removal of over 50 cleats, removal of excess bracing; removal of the bass bar; removal of excess rib reinforcement; opening, cleaning and re-gluing old cracks; fitting of a new bass bar; installation of a number of modestly thin cleats (including 8 "Dutch" style inlaid cleats) as well as some varnish restoration.

Rickman Violins Custom Repair

The end result of these changes was a substantial increase in the amount of resonance and the amount of volume that this instrument had to offer. The owner of this instrument was delightedly astonished.