English Square Fydell
Medieval fiddles came in an abundance of shapes. In fact, a survey of fiddle iconography reveals that no two fiddle depictions are ever alike in all their details. While many fiddle reproductions these days are of a long waisted pattern, Dan Larson and I wanted to try something different. We used an image of a fiddle in Gloucester Cathedral as our primary source.
Angel musician in Gloucester Cathedral, c. 1280. This is the principle source for this fydell, providing outline, proportions, number of strings, soundhole shape, and bridge placement.
This carving in Beverly Minster dates from c. 1335. It has a similar outline and soundholes to the Gloucester instrument. The pairing of the strings at the tailpiece is interesting, perhaps suggesting strings tuned in courses. The incurved ribs are suggestive of a carved body, and are similar to later extant instruments such as the lyra de braccio in Vermillion.
This is a bench end in Altarnun carved by Robert Daye, 1510-1530. Note the rectangular outline, bridge placement, and number of strings.
These are parts from two fiddles found on board the Mary Rose flagship. The Mary Rose, Henry VIII's favorite ship, sank with all hands on deck in 1545. It was rediscovered in 1967, and many of its priceless artifacts recovered.
Large pattern fydell with owl head
The development of this model fydell is a collaboration between myself and Daniel Larson. Its body is constructed with back and bent ribs, as opposed to the carved body instruments I usually make. Medieval lutes were being constructed from thin bent ribs by this time, so the technology was available, even if the evidence now seems to indicate that even the late date Mary Rose fiddles were carved body instruments.
The spruce soundboard is bent over the ribs, as I believe the British Museum citole to be constructed. There is no soundpost.
detail of tailpiece and bridge
I have build square fydells with a peg disc or a peg box. The difference is largely aesthetic, but the peg box is more trouble-free. I was inspired to make the owl peg box after rescuing and helping a baby great horned owl grow up in our back yard.
detail of peg disc
detail of owl pegbox
I make two sizes of square fydells. The smaller size has a body length of 32 cm, a vibrating length of 34 cm, and is tuned C, g, and d. The larger size has a body length of 37 cm, a vibrating length of 40 cm, and is tuned G, d, a, as the lowest strings of a violin.
The price for a square fydell is $1500. This includes a case and an extra set of strings. Bows cost an additional $350.
For more information, see Ordering Instruments.
Extra strings are available from Gamut Strings.
Ross Duffin, ed. A Performer’s Guide to Medieval Music (Indiana, 2000).
Timothy McGee. Medieval Instrumental Dances (Indiana, 1989).
Jeremy and Gwen Montagu. Minstrels & Angels: Carvings of Musicians in Medieval English Churches (Berkeley, 1998).
Christopher Page, ‘Jerome of Moravia on the rubeba and viella’, Galpin Society Journal (1979): 77–98.
Christopher Page. Voices and Instruments of the Middle Ages: Instrumental Practice and Songs in France, 1100–1300 (Berkeley, 1986).
Mary Remnant. English Bowed Instruments from Anglo-Saxon to Tudor Times (Oxford, 1986).