This is from a recent discussion on Fiddle List [click here] about various ways to obtain drone notes on the fiddle…
>The old-time sound of Sally Gooden is important to me, just the way it
>is to Glenn — not the sound a listener hears, but the sound “next to my
>ear” as the fiddlemakers say.
John mentions re-tuning the fiddle as one method of getting the “pinky drone” effect; eg. on Sally Gooden, as well as his method of fourth position playing.
Eck Robertson, in a photo I took at UCLA in 1964.
In 1976, I produced an Lp recording of all of Eck Robertson’s Victor 78s,
including his “Sallie Gooden” – recorded July 1, 1922 as a solo fiddle piece. During the process of remastering that recording for the Lp, I purchased a mint copy of the original Victor Talking Machine Co. 78 RPM disc (Victor 18956, matrix No. 26664-1) from David Freeman at Floyd, VA. I listened to that original, and my 15 IPS analog tape copies, many, many times, trying to figure out that mysterious “drone” sound which gave that performance such a haunting, ethereal quality. (It remains one of my favorite fiddle recordings.)
I believe that Eck recorded that piece in “standard” tuning (and have heard field recordings made by Michael Bass of Eck playing it the same way in 1965), and of course used his pinky to get the drone note. However, I believe also that some mechanical fluke occured that morning to add a sort of “accoustical halo” to the sound. That recording was made mechanicaly, not electricaly, using a recording horn (sort of a reverse megaphone) to amplify the sound waves enough to move the steel recording stylus across the wax of the master disc. This is interesting in itself: the force generated to cut the master came from Eck’s violin, just as in all recordings made before the use of microphones, ca. 1925/26. It occured to me that there might have been some resonance in the mechanical linkage of the horn to the stylus that resonated with the precise note Eck choose for his drone note, thus creating that ethereal effect. So we are endowed with that amazing fiddle recording, perhaps, because the Victor engineer had a scew loose. . .
PS – “Any bird can build a nest, but it isn’t every bird that can lay an egg.”