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KPPA Newsletter Articlefor June/July

Dear Ask-A-Luthier,

   My wife is an orchestra director for a high school in Frankfort, IN and has been now for 38 years. She brought home a 4/4 Engelhardt cello she said was in the school inventory when she started in the 70's. I first noticed that there is a small "bump" on the top and bottom plate where the soundpost has exerted pressure over the years. I then noticed that on the top plate where the bridge rests, the top plate is depressed and even "wavy" and has lost its original curve from when it was new. It even has made the bridge warp and not set even on the top plate. I suppose this is from years of the strings putting pressure on the bridge and thus the bridge pushing down on the top plate just in front of the sound post. Is there anything to I could do to resurrect that shape?
   It would be possible to take the top off, carve a mould of the original shape of the outside of the top and then blow steam and put bags of hot sand on the inside of the top to bend it into the mould. I have done that to an old Kay bass. It was very time consuming and it didn't do the plies of the plywood top any good.

This was not an expensive cello when it was new, and plywood does not improve with age. The main interesting thing about your cello is that it might have a Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard and tailpiece. Brazilian Rosewood was embargoed in 1968. Brazilian is the greatest wood for carrying vibrations. It could be worth $50 recycled into (2 or 3) guitar bridges.

   It is also possible that one or both ends of the bass bar are loose. It is possible to reglue these, working through the F holes, using mirrors and magnets and specialty clamps. But, chances are good that a lot of top warp will need to be held straight by the new glue joint between the top and bass bar. Removing the top allows the use of tougher glue and bigger clamps.

   I would strongly recommend making a new bridge that would fit the warp of the top. The upward pressure of a new sound post should stop the top from warping more. The top is warped, but it is probably not the least bit weak. Chances are very good that the fingerboard is warped and needs to be planed. There is nothing that you can do to make this cello pretty or make it sound good. But, new strings, a new bridge, new sound post, a planed fingerboard, and an action set  would make it play comfortably, and make it into a fine camping cello.

   In a professional orchestra they shoot for a ratio of 7 violins to one cello. Cellos are much louder than violins. So, this would make a fine bluegrass cello. The fact that it is less resonant and less powerful than a better cello will make it less likely to drown out other instruments in the jam session.
Steve Mason

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