Harbour Breton — Allison Baker Sr. picked up the fiddle as a young man growing up in Rencontre East where he learned the basics from George Sheppard.
Back in the day, in small communities like Rencontre, residents who could play an instrument would usually be invited to house parties to liven up the festivities. Baker played the guitar while Sheppard played the fiddle.
“I quickly adapted to the instrument and started to love playing it,” Baker said.
He moved to Harbour Breton in 1967 and brought his love of music with him. Over the years he has honed his skills and today is quite a good player.
But he’s always had one key problem — he’s left-handed and could never find a fiddle made for a southpaw.
“I’m not saying they’re not out there,” he said, “but I could never find one. Even when we were down in Nashville several years ago, I failed to come across a fiddle made for a left-handed person.”
So, after years and years of adjusting strings on bought fiddles, he decided to make his own.
Now, it’s easy to say you’re going to make a fiddle, but it’s quite another thing to actually accomplish the feat. Measurements have to be exact, and one wrong move could mean countless hours of delicate, sensitive and tedious work washed down the drain.
Baker was undaunted and today has a fiddle that he says sounds better than the store-bought versions.
“I decided a number of years ago to make my own fiddle,” he said.
“After doing some research on the instrument, I began the project that became a labour of love over the countless hours I spent on the project.
“It’s very tedious work, of course, and the thickness of the face and back have to be a certain thickness in different places. … If a part is too thin, the instrument will bend when you tighten the strings; if it’s too thick, the instrument won’t carry the required sound.
“So, when I was working on the project I just had to keep measuring and chiseling until I had the required thickness.”
The trim around the fiddle is in a groove about one-eighth of an inch thick and had to be created carefully, as did the scroll, which is hand-carved.
Baker got to work with two types of wood.
“The back and sides of the fiddle are made of birdseye maple … (and) I made the fingerboard from ebony, which is hard, black wood that probably came from some part of Africa,” he said.
“Ebony is needed for the fingerboard, as the wood won’t wear away after hours of pressing on the four strings of the fiddle, as most types would over a period of time.”
Baker’s fiddle looks good and sounds better.
“I’m really pleased with the sound this instrument can produce,” he said.
The fiddle has been popular for centuries in many parts of the world.
Because of the fiddle’s mobility, it made for a popular instrument for immigrants coming to North America.
It is used in several genres of music, including Cajun, Irish, bluegrass, country and Canadian folk.