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Strings attached



Arsenios Corbishley
Photo by Shannon Cornman

It’s a delight to watch luthier Arsenios Corbishley in action at his shop, Corbishley Violins, in the Skirvin Hilton Hotel, 1 Park Ave. Corbishley is an artist-in-residence in the Skirvin’s yearlong program, and you can visit his shop at the Skirvin and have a chat while he works.

“I focus on making instruments but do repair work as well,” Corbishley said. “The most common repair work that comes to me [is] open seams, which is most often caused by changes in weather, humidity or relative dryness.”

He said the seam is where the top and back of the violin attach to the sides, and if open or unglued, a damaged seam can make your violin sound less than perfect.

The bridge (the support structure that holds the strings up in place) is also subject to weather changes and is always fitted to each individual instrument.

“A cellist will oftentimes have a winter bridge and summer bridge or sometimes a bridge for here and another bridge for other parts of the country,” Corbishley said.

Bow rehairs, replacing and refitting horsehair over a bow, are also subject to changes in humidity.

“Houston is very humid, for example. The hair stretches, so one, I overcompensate by making the bow rehair a bit tight. In a dry environment, the hair shrinks. In a damp environment, the hair loosens. And what you want, of course, is that perfect balance between the two,” Corbishley said.

So what is Corbishley’s goal this year? “The plan right now is to have a goingaway string quartet recital in September, which would include two violins, a viola and a cello, all of which I have made myself over the course of this year,” he said.

Venture a bit north to Guthrie, to the charming Double Stop Fiddle Shop, 121 E. Oklahoma Ave. If you are in the market to buy one, try out some of the more than 300 fiddles in the shop, or bring in your own stringed instrument for repair or evaluation.

“We get all kinds of things that come in here — cracked instruments, new strings setup needed, bridge repair, etc. — and you just need to know how to put them back together. We like to set up the instruments as if we were going to play them ourselves,“ said legendary bluegrass musician Byron Berline, owner of the shop.

And just the man to do the work is luthier John Hickman. When he started playing banjo, he had to do his own repair work. Hickman met Berline in California, and after playing together for years, they both came to Oklahoma. Hickman, who also repairs violas, banjos and guitars, has his own approach to fitting violin bridges. 

“I like to take as much out of the bridge … sand a bit of the belly (center, bottom) of the bridge,” he said. “You want to remove as much of the wood on the bridge as you can so the sound isn’t blocked.”

Fifty-eight years ago, Inter-City Violin Studios, 1414 NW 30th St., opened, and this family-owned and operated studio has been going strong ever since.

“The first thing: get a good humidifier for your home,” said owner Dena Dietsch, offering advice on how to avoid cracks and other dryness-related problems.

“Open seams and cracks are common, and both have to do with the age of the violin and other circumstances, such as dropping a fiddle,” said stringed instrument repairman Nick Geist.

Yes, dropping a fiddle sometimes happens.

“A sound post repair is a very expensive repair. And, of course, everything in the violin is linked together,” Geist said.

The sound post is a delicate dowel of spruce that is wedged between the bottom and the top of the instrument, and when it is adjusted, it affects the balance and quality of the violin’s sound.

Lastly, there is a frequently asked question that also doubles as a great cocktail party conversation starter: What is the difference between a violin and a fiddle? The answer is nothing. “Fiddle” is a colloquial name for a violin, and while folk music is more associated with the term “fiddle,” they are the same.

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