State of Idaho "Capitol Fiddle"

Several years ago, the Idaho Legislature voted to expand and restore the Capitol building in Boise, Idaho. The additions involved removing 10 old growth trees to make way for the two new wings.

 Max and Frank

Max and Frank

Representative Max Black, District 15, Boise, Idaho proposed harvesting the old trees and having woodworkers throughout Idaho submit applications to receive pieces of this wood. In return, those selected would craft an object from the wood to be permanently displayed in the Capitol when the restoration was complete. A committee was formed to review the applications and select the woodworkers who would participate in this project.

Frank was selected to make a fiddle, and he was given a piece of beautiful red oak for a fiddle back, sides and neck. This red oak tree was planted by President Benjamin Harrison in September 1891 the year after Idaho was admitted to the Union as the 43rd state on July 3, 1890.

Never having used red oak for a fiddle back, Frank found this to be an intriguing project. The oak has rather unique characteristics and figure and was much easier to carve than he had anticipated. The curl in the wood was not as pronounced or as difficult to carve as silver or quilted maple.

Frank had no idea how the tonal qualities of this wood would compare to the maple and other woods he normally uses for his instrument backs. He used Idaho Engelmann spruce for the top.

The Strad model violin — his #170 instrument — was completed in August 2009. What a wonderful surprise Frank experienced as he ran a bow over the strings for the first time. The instrument produced a very clear sweet tone, had good volume, and the projection was amazing.

Pat and Frank with #170

Pat and Frank with #170

Several musicians have had the opportunity to play #170 since it was completed. At the fall bluegrass festival at Plymouth, California, Pat Calhoun was the first person to play the red oak fiddle. The word quickly spread throughout the campground about #170. It was great to have people stop by our booth and try out #170 and provide their feedback. Most were very surprised that the red oak fiddle produced such a nice, open sound.



Frank entered #170 in the competition at the Violin Makers’ Competition in Tucson in October. It tied for 12th in tone along with four other instruments, but placed 7th in the overall category which includes tone, workmanship and varnish scores – not bad for a non-traditional fiddle. After the competition, Frank’s cousin Steve video taped Dennis Alexander, a good friend and fellow violin maker from Canada, playing #170.

On January 9 and 10, 2010 the public was invited to a re-dedication ceremony in honor of the newly restored Idaho Capitol building. As part of that ceremony, Frank was asked to have his #170 instrument (the one being donated to the State of Idaho) played as the public toured the building.

Leslie Beck, music teacher and good friend, arranged to have current and past members of the Junior Jammers entertain the public. The Junior Jammers are a wonderful group of fiddlers that Frank has had the pleasure of working with for several years. The Jammers perform twice a year at the Nampa Civic Center and are under the direction of Roberta Pearce and her daughter, Katrina Nicolayeff. Words cannot describe how proud Frank was to have this group volunteer their time to play his instrument.

Pictured below is the completed instrument that will be donated to the State of Idaho. Needless to say, Frank is honored to be a part of this project. What a legacy to leave for his children and grandchildren.


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