Three Years with a Mezzo Violin
May 20, 2013 at 8:11 PMViolinmaker Bob Spear has said that playing a mezzo violin will make a better violin player out of you. In my case, he is right. I don’t know if I would have practiced as much and kept playing on my good German trade fiddle from the twenties. My Chinese mezzo designed by Bob is only a high grade instrument. But this is an instrument that responds easily and allows one to realize the art of violin playing. Like a really good hand made violin it demands better technique than the basic high grade trade fiddle.
The mezzo violin, right, is perfectly scaled up from the Strad grand pattern instrument. For reference, my 1920's German fiddle, left, measures perfectly to the grand pattern. Although the pictures appear to show more difference, the mezzo body is only 1/2" longer.
My old violin has a nice little dark tone but not the easily produced projection of the mezzo. Both are on the same basic quality level. I am one who picked the violin up again in retirement. In many ways I am better now but the vibrato still isn’t working. Maybe it is in the chin-rest shoulder-rest collar-rest setup that I don’t have right quite yet.
Until the beginning of this year I stayed in first position in order to work on intonation. But slipping into third was beginning to come more frequently where a phrase worked better in third. But shifting just came back and was just right there naturally most of the time. When I was a kid, I didn’t think that practicing Flesch scales had done me that much good.
The instrument has continued to bloom in fullness of sound quality. It’s sound quality is in the middle of what one expects a violin to be. Neither dark nor shrill. It is equally strong on the G string and E string with only the expected note to note variations that all string instruments have by the laws of physics.
An anomaly happened this year. About three of four months after installing new strings (two sets of Pro-Arte and one of Karneol) the open A string would develop something like a loud wolf tone. And the first and second fingers on A would sound strange harmonics. At last, I noticed that when the G was plucked violently, it had a rattle. Of course I looked in all the usual places to no avail. Soon, I noticed the silk wrapping on the G string. It was half way up in it’s radiused groove of the nut. The thickness of the silk was lifting the aluminum winding just a few thousandths above the groove at the edge of the nut. That was the G rattle. When the G string resonated sympathetically while the open A was being played vibration in this minute gap caused those strange sounds.
The resolution was simple, I carefully cut the silk back about ?th of an inch being careful not to nick the aluminum. The reason is that on my mezzo the nut to bridge length is 16 mm longer than on a normal violin. Since the G string peg is closest to the nut, there isn’t very much allowance to give the string makers any extra length to shorten the G string silk. At this time, there aren’t enough mezzos in the world for the string makers to create a special G string for the mezzo but using a small viola G might work. In the future, I will just trim the silk back.
It is reassuring to read the trials, tribulations and solutions from you string players who share your experiences on V.com. I know now that I am not alone when I have a problem here or there. I thank you for your sharing and also to Laurie and Robert for keeping this site on the net.
If you are shopping for a strong violin at a modest price trying out a mezzo made or designed by a student of Carleen Hutchins is well worth your time. Possibly you want to leave your valuable instrument home when you play on a cruse ship. An imported mezzo might fill in.
ABL (aka the Mezzofiddler)
This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.
Hear more from the world's top violinists in The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1, which includes our exclusive conversations with Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, and David Garrett, and others, as well as a foreword by Hilary Hahn.
Enter to win Rachel Barton Pine's just-released recording of the complete Mozart Violin Concertos and Sinfonia Concertante!
Allan Lewis is from Dike, Texas. Biography
Please consider supporting Violinist.com by becoming a sponsor, and reaching our dedicated community of violin professionals, students and fans!