Ceilidh's Bass Rebec (her third instrument)

The bass rebec was illustrated in the middle 1550s as aprt of a family of rebecs.  While no illustrations exist prior to that, at least 100 years previous mention is made of a court music ensemble playing rebec, rebecina, and a few other instrument with rebec as the root and suffixes possibly denoting size.  The violin family superceded the rebecs almost immediately upon introduction - after all , the violins had 4 or more strings, while the lowly rebec only had 3 or less (usually)

Ceilidh has grown a little more independant, and I like to think that the confidence she has that she can build stuff has helped.  For this go-around, she wanted to do something that we haven't done before, something dad has wanted to do for a while, but to do it first.

So as a relatively simple instrument for Queen's Prize toruney, she agreed to build the first bass rebec in the house.

A large piece of box elder gave its all for this project, with a spruce soundboard and various other parts.  The design cam from the work of Bernard Ellis -a famous modern rebec builder (deceased, unfortunately) and some known information, like the vibrating length of the string of a 1/2 cello.  Yes, cello strings.  Grimfells is missing bass in their ensemble, and we want to give it to them.

So the project starts.  Little did she know what she was getting into.  No lathe for this one - my lathe wouldn't handle it.  Hand shaping, and everything that goes with it.  But man, it should be neat.

Starting out with safety first - the first project I let the girls use the bandsaw on meand the first bandsaw project is bandsaw safety equipment - featherboard and pushstick.  Here Ceilidh cuts the fingers on the featherboard

And cutting out the pushstick.  2 important tools, because we really don't want to have her end up a member of 3 finger woodworkers local 387.

Now to lay out the templates.  We designed the instrument around 1/2 cello strings, which makes it a bit longer than 32".  Nice size for a lap-able bass instrument - easier to carry than a cello.

At the bandsaw, cutting out the masonite templates.  Not the best tool for the job, but I wanted her to get comfortable working with thin and easy to cut material before we went to the big block.

Sanding the template pieces on the OSS (Oscilating Spindle Sander), both the girl's favorite power tool.

Cutting the side profile.  Gotta love gear reduction and a good resaw blade.  Box elder is medium hard, and cuts fairly cleanly.  A good choice for a first bandsaw project.

After the cut-offs are carpet taped back on, the top is layed out on the block. 

And the cutting begins.  This is the best way to make a blank for a thing like this - a little trick model airplane builders taught me in my youth.

Sand the outside to shape.

And the body blank is done.  A big step - now she won't have to man-handle around the big block anymore.

Now to start rounding the body.  We tried a rasp, and that went over OK but was a lot of work.

Then a spokeshave, whish was good for tight areas but didn't take off enough wood.

Then that last flight of the Ryobi 4 inch random orbital sander.  It gave it's life removing wood for her (actually, a longer story you will have to ask her about.)

Using the end of the belt sander to shape the neck.  It is a good way to make really long passes at once, which makes things more uniform.

And 3 abrasions from the edge fo the belt - arm got just a little too comfortable.  No blood, a few tears, a real trooper, and back to work.

And the NEW Porter Cable 5 inch random orbital sander, with 120 grit, to do a near-final smoothing.

Same process for the neck.  It is really starting to look and feel like something you want to use, to play.  Dad is getting more excited than daughter to see this one finished.  Well, maybe not, but it's a close race.

And once more into the breech, with the modified forstner bit and th drill press to hollow out the bowl.  Lots of wood, lots of work, box elder doesn't drill easy.

After the forstner bit, since this is a really odd round shape and Ceilidh doesn't have the hand strength to drag the spoon plane through the box elder, we fitted the drill press with a coarse grit twist-lok auto body sanding plate and disk.  By using the edge, she was able to do a good job smoothing.  It is not a mirror finish, but it is a terriffic job for a kid who has to stand on a stool to get up to the drill press...

Part of the aftermath of the sanding process.  That disk makes dust.  Lots of dust.  And this box elder dust is almost as white as snow and fine as cake flour.  And it tastes bad and doesn't wash out of hair easily.  But Ceilidh loved being "Dusty the Snow-girl"

Sanding a stick of cedar to use as a brace.  The soundboard is bigger than 6 inches wide, which is my cutoff (no reason except experience) for an unbraced carpathian red spruce soundboard.  So it gets 1 brace, crowned less than 1 mm.

The brace must be stiff, light, and must not touch anything except the soundboard.  Cedar is good - if it were heavier, it would absorb vibration instead of passing it.  The brace has to be close enough to the bridge to support the top, and far enough away not to act like a mute.

Now cutting the soundboard.  I have a stack of spruce dreadnaught guitar top halves that I buy directly from the cutter, and they are usually just the right thickness and need only hand sanding to finish.  ~32 lines per inch on this piece at it's tightest.  Good wood.

A quick search on google for starfish clip art - she chose one and we drew it, and off to the jigsaw.  There is a predominate nautical theme in her life, not just her instruments.  And since we don't have any instrument to go by, we just decided that the aesthetics were up to her.  Build a very period basic instrument and dress it up however you want.

Gluing and clamping the brace.  I usually use hot hide glue, but in this case I used liquid.  It's not the same, but it will work, and it is easier for Ceilidh to get everything positioned and clamped without a whole lot of extra hands.  She is learning techniques, but some things take a little more practice than she has at this time.

The hollow body and the rough soundboard, ready to be joined after the bracing glue dries.  This unusual shape will require a different approach to clamping - using a really heavy weight seems the thing to do.

And here's that weight.  A very heavy, 4U RAID bay equipped redundant power supply steel computer server.  On a flat floor with waxed paper down, glue squeexeout all around.

Shaping the fingerboard.  A diagonal slice off a half cylinder of the right size to start.  Then the matching to the neck begins.  You have to make sure that the strings have the same action heighth from the fingerboard at every step - so starting out with a cylinder is almost mandatory.  On the neck of a violin, which is rather straight, the curve can be constant.  But on a flat neck like a rebec, with deeply curved sides, it is hard.

Removing wood where it might touch the resonating surface of the soundboard - under the tail end of the fingerboard.  Using the roll at the end of the sander to match the top profile.

In keeping with her nautical theme, Ceilidh uses a small sanding drum to scallop the end of the fingerboard.

And now for the last major part of the construction (everything else is pretty much add-on).  Gluing the fingerboard to the neck.  This always ends up a bit gappy - but we have cheats to fix that.  And as long as you thve 95%+ bonding surface, it will be plenty strong.

Glued and taped.  Now to let it dry.  This is one of the first pictures after the sad, scary incident involving Ceilidh the Acrobat, a chair, a nose, and a concrete floor.  You will have to ask her.   <shudder>

Now to sand the fingerboard to match - rough stock removal done on the oscillating spindle sander.

And the random orbital takes care of a lot of the rest, including blending in the edges of the fingerboard at it's top surface.  The geometry seems strange, and looks stranger on an instrument as large as this, but it works.

Cutting square blanks for the tuning pegs and the tailpin.  She wanted to use redheart for the fingerboard - we tried but an unfortunate accident ruined the blank.  But we had enough left to make the pegs, pins, and tailpiece, so she gets red on her instrument.  Too bad there isna a wood called 'aquaheart'...

Now at the lathe turning tuning pegs and a tailpin.  Redheart turns so well, it was a breeze to make the parts.

Finishing the grip end of the pegs.  A simple shape, round at the top and concave on the flats for easy grip.  Primitive and somewhat fitting.

The tapered hole and the tailpin.  Ceilidh was so afraid of messing up the instrument that she got dad to drill the hole, then she used the reamer slowly by hand to fit.

Finishing the tailpiece before mounting the fine tuners (anachronistic, but almost mandatory).  Clear Briwax original.  Works great.

Dad has been lucky enough to start having local musicians bring their instrument to him for minor (and major) repair - and thus he has started to collect things like wood to make bridges.  I don't have anything as fine as the good German Maple wooden bridge blanks, but this hard maple blank will do, and Ceilidh is cutting it to something like the shape Bernard Ellis used to use.  As close as we could tell from a picture of one of his older instruments.  But it should work.  And now all that is left is to put it all together.

Not a lot of pictures during the set-up - all hands busy holding strings, keeping bridges from falling over, all that.  But in the end, after a very productive Thursday night, we let is sleep overnight with some tension on the strings and a song in it's heart.  It is tuned to C-G-D right now (tuned in fifths as it should be, but modern tuning will demand D-A-E, but after it has had a chance to experience some string tension.  This is the morning shot, Friday morning, Ceilidh taking her new baby to school (did I mention she attends "Benton County School of the Arts"?

The range of this instrument is the same as the bottom 3 strings of a 1/2 cello.  It is nasal and powerful, but not as expressive or vairable as a violin.  It resonates forever.  And it needs better strings and a more precise bridge to really get the most out of it, and we will do that after we actually determine what better strings and bridge design to use - by experimentation.  My wife looked at Ceilidh Tuesday night and said "You do realize you are building that instrument for your dad, don't you?"  Ceilidh laughted - told me I couldn't have it, but she could obviously see how really cool I though this one was from the beginning, and I think she was just a little complimented.  But one thing is for sure, now I really have to have one.  So I guess it will be off to the shop again, darn the luck...

Be sure to visit Ceilidh at Queen's Prize Tourney on January 10 to see and hear the instrument and find out how much she's learning.