Written by Allan Lewis
Published: May 21, 2015 at 1:19 AM [UTC]
Nearly every day I read the comments of a frustrated a v.com reader trying to find a really good student violin in the $1500 price range. And in the back of my head, a little voice is screaming tell this person to investigate one of Bob Spear's imported mezzos. But by writing every time I am sure that it would sound as if I was commercially motivated. I am just one of Bob's satisfied customers.
There are several reasons that these instruments are different. First is that Bob has refined a design from the inventive work done by members of the Catgut Acoustical Society in the last half of the 20th century. The result is an instrument that has a main body that has dimensions increased 5% from the Grand Pattern Stradivarius. 21St century woods react differently from 17th century woods therefore the need for the size change. Design parameters copied from the great old instruments are frequencies of acoustical resonances, not measurements of a caliper.
As for playing, mezzos project better than an equivalent high grade14” violin and speak well in the full range of the instrument. But, of course due to resonances and impedances, as in all violins, each note has a different db level. Yet the sound is that of a true violin.
Instruments that Bob contracts from the Chinese violin factory are required to meet the specifications of his mezzo drawings, including graduations, and quality as well as many other parameters. Even the varnish is required to be thin so as not to impede resonances of the instrument. (This is in contrast to wholesalers who order a quantity of violins from a factory without defining any specifications, just that they have bright shiny varnish and look good to sell quickly.) Currently Chinese makers have the ability to supply everything from vso's to some really great instruments.
What I have just written I intend as an advocate for amateur players and students. If there were another modest cost source for these instruments I would tell you. If, I have a goal, it is to lead fellow string players to the availability of advancements, and possibly rediscoveries, to the art of violin making realized by the Catgut Acoustical Society, whose most prominent member was Carleen Hutchins. (And Bob was one of her students.)
Another subject; all types of violin included:
In the past year, I have read discussions in v.com where violin players have removed the tail piece fine tuner/s and installed instead a geared peg for the E string for an improvement in tone quality. All strings then are attached to the tail piece.
Logically, side to side movement of a bowed string is transferred to all of the other strings through the bridge, driving them to form many harmonics. The widest oscillating point of movement is at the top of the bridge. But, that movement tapers in both directions to the nut at the end of the fingerboard and the saddle below the tailpiece. Any mass in this moving system can cause an out of phase movement which will change or diminish the sound. (Fine tuners acting as mini mutes?)
Therefore I invested in a set of Wittner fine tune pegs. There are other fine tuning pegs are on the market that you should study to find which are most appropriate for your own use.
The result: is, like all other adjustments to a violin, just another small but important increment in the quest for a better sound. And tuning all strings becomes much easier and more precise due to the gear multiplication.
Another subject; problems of playing.
We have moved to a NE Dallas suburb and finding a church where I can play as a DIY offering nearly every Sunday is turning into an extended quest. I enjoy playing, but want something that requires me to practice. Therefore the fiddle is in its case and the bows are hanging on the wall to save the hair. I now understand the problems of v.commers who want to play in church but have not found a way to fit in.
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The Mezzo that I heard up close sounded great. It is an interesting idea. In some ways it is a no-brainer. Make the plates larger and they are going to speak. Violas are always richer sounding than violins. By making the ribs shallower in the Mezzo the Helmholtz resonance is kept where it belongs but the bigger plates give more projection. Pretty simple really.
(If I remember correctly, the only reason Carleen did the Mezzo was that after doing all her painstaking work on the whole family, she outdid herself and the violin was a bit weak. By supercharging to a Mezzo, it balanced out.)
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