Mysteries of the sound post

April 26, 2013 at 05:37 AM · I have read a number of posts here about the mysterious sound post that lurks inside every violin.

I still have a number of questions about them however and am hoping members here will be able to answer them.

I have learned that violins 'should' be set up once or twice a year.

I have also learned that not only is the sound post crucial for a violin but that even a millimeter change in the post's position can dramatically affect the violin's sound.

My first question.

How can it be that I've been playing the violin for over 30 years now and I've never had any of my violins set up in this time?

This means that the sound post has not been moved in any of my violins, yet they continue to sound just fine. How is that possible?

I have a violin that I will likely be bringing in to a shop to sell on consignment.

They have indicated that the first thing they will do after appraising it is set it up (a complete setup).

I'm hesitant to sell it on consignment, but it seems this is the only way it will sell.

I'm wondering about the sound post.

If they move it (and I later take the violin back)

will I hear a difference in sound? If there is a difference and it isn't to my liking, how can the exact position it was in be re-established?

Thanks!

Replies (49)

April 26, 2013 at 11:46 AM · New violins: do require sound post replacement or repositioning during the fist few years.

Old violins: "if it ain't broke don't fix it"

A violin dealer told me once that he had seen violins with sound posts placed at angle, on the wrong place, but despite that, they sounded just fine!

If there is still a curiosity and a hunch that violin could sound better if the post is moved, let them mark this position with soft pencil and measure the distance from f-hole and bridge.

If the new position is not god, the sound post can be always moved back.

April 26, 2013 at 07:49 PM · I'd recommend that instruments be looked over by a good professional at least annually. Sometimes they can nip problems in the bud, before they become more extensive and expensive.

Regarding tonal adjustments:

If you're happy with the sound and response of an instrument which is for your own use, it might be best to leave it alone. But if you're trying to sell an instrument, a good and honest luthier might legitimately be able to recommend some changes which would make it more suitable for the general market.

Running it through a "standard setup procedure", without first having assessed which elements of the procedure it really needs, sounds a little fishy to me though. I'm always trying to save myself time, and my clients money, and fortunately, both goals work out rather well together, unless someone is churning someone else for money.

April 26, 2013 at 10:16 PM · It has only been today that I've touched the sound post of my violin for the first time since more than 30 years!

The violin maker made a new one, and it really improved the sound. Before, the violin sounded round and full, but it had no charme. Now it's more brilliant and dynamic, and the high register on the D string is open and powerful. Should have done it before, but my old luthier didn't recommend it. Glad I found a new one.

April 27, 2013 at 01:26 AM · Interesting story Rocky!

Thanks for the tip about marking the place of the sound post before moving it.

Thanks David for your input!

"Running it through a "standard setup procedure", without first having assessed which elements of the procedure it really needs, sounds a little fishy to me though."

Yes it does sound a little fishy to me too.

Pricing for this setup wasn't discussed.

I was a little surprised when I was told that the value (selling price) of the violin could be ascertained without listening to/playing the violin.

Tobias, good for you! Good luck with your new sound post. :)

I saw a fascinating video on removing/replacing sound posts yesterday.

April 27, 2013 at 03:14 AM · Mark, could you supply a link to the video? I always enjoy reading/hearing about tonal adjustments and soundposts.

Thanks.

April 27, 2013 at 04:02 AM · Edit, dbl post.

April 27, 2013 at 05:37 AM · Yes, I too have seen much baffling information about the need to continually re-fit sound-posts.

Maybe David Burgess can solve this one !

I read on violinist.com that after taking delivery of a new violin the owner simply HAS to fit a longer post within the first 10-12 months.

Of 4 new violins bought by me in the last 20 years only ONE has needed soundpost adjustment - and in this instance the post was TOO TIGHT, not too short.

The climate where I live is temperate and fairly constant in humidity. However, it occured to me that in the Bible-Belt of the USA, the "Continental" climate is more extreme. I can understand that the timber of a violin would move more with the seasons and indeed, seasoning. But why a new violin would BULGE and need a longer post early in its life escapes me, and seemed to puzzle my local fiddle-shop too.

April 27, 2013 at 11:05 AM · A violin MAY need a new soundpost within the first year or so. What happens is that when a violin is first put under string tension, some bending and distortion occur. Some of this will become permanent, with the violin "taking a set" in the altered shape.

One of the areas which changes shape is the region around where the soundpost contacts the back. Even if a soundpost is fit very loosely (just tight enough to keep it from falling over when there is no string tension), it becomes much tighter when string pressure is applied, and pushes on the back quite hard. The back bulges in that area. This can easily be seen on cross-section CT scans of virtually all old instruments.

The consequence of the back bulging is that the distance between the top and the back increases at the soundpost location, so it may require a longer post.

Some situations where a longer post may not be needed:

The setup person, anticipating the change, jammed an extra-long post in place to begin with.

The shop kept the instrument around long enough for most of the initial changes to occur, and already fit a longer post, or a series of longer posts.

The instrument goes to an environment where the humidity is lower than where the instrument was initially set up (the instrument contracts at lower moisture levels, reducing the distance between the top and the back).

The bottom line is that instruments are very unstable when first strung up, both in sound and in shape, and it's pretty useless to try to assess the sound of a violin within the first several days of having first been strung up. It will change a lot! Over time, these changes will become less and less, and eventually hit a plateau, where further changes are minimal (not that an instrument ever reaches a point where there is no further change).

Are you considering an instrument which was set up and gotten to you as soon as possible? Don't do it. You won't know what you're going to end up with.

I have two violins here which are about ready to go to the people who commissioned them. This doesn't mean that they were just finished. It means that they were essentially finished and strung up some time ago, and the rest of the time was to allow them to "plateau" and become stable in sound. It would be irresponsible for me to send an instrument to a client and expect them to make a decision, knowing that the instrument will still change a lot.

These instruments will probably go for many years without needing new soundposts, unless they go to a very high humidity environment, and the owners don't take care of them properly. In high humidity environments, all bets are off, even with old instruments. High moisture levels markedly reduce the resistance of wood to bending and distortion. Most of the old Cremonese instruments have been taken apart and reshaped repeatedly, either from owner inattention, or because until recently, it was near impossible to reduce humidity. The environment was what it was, and little could be done about it.

Guess this post got pretty long-winded. Sorry about that.

April 27, 2013 at 12:01 PM · Great info David, thanks.

April 27, 2013 at 01:14 PM · Question: If a violinist is happy with the sound of their violin, and a luthier moves the sound post to a worse position, can that be used as a defense for justifiable homicide?

April 27, 2013 at 01:33 PM · It's too bad we can't have the Harry Potter influence here and say that the soundpost chooses the violin, but like all things in this world we have to deal with what's presented to us.

David's spot-on when he says that one should not fret over the sound of a new violin. After that, every violin must be treated as an individual case. I have replaced soundposts that became too short, but since I know that shrinkage along the grain of the post is very small, it's probably due to movement of the individual plates, rather than post shrinkage.

I have two instruments in the town where I live, a viola and a cello. Last month, I moved the soundpost in the cello for the first time in about ten years. It's been a remarkably stable instrument. The viola, on the other hand, requires a post move at least twice a year. Over time I have observed that this movement actually describes an orbit of sorts, albeit a very tiny one (one or two gentle taps with the setter). I attribute this to seasonal fluctuations similar to those of the bridge or fingerboard that are present in some instruments.

Violins are very sensitive little beasties!

April 27, 2013 at 01:53 PM · "Question: If a violinist is happy with the sound of their violin, and a luthier moves the sound post to a worse position, can that be used as a defense for justifiable homicide?"

Smiley, I think homicide is justified IF you have made it clear that the soundpost is not to be moved. Then extra precautions can be taken. Regardless of what a luthier may claim, it is almost impossible to get a soundpost back in exactly the same position, if it has fallen down or moved. Just two tenths of a millimeter change in location can make quite a difference in sound and response. Marking the position with a pencil? There can be significant differences just within the width of the pencil line.

In some circumstances though, like when a post is way too short, it can be almost impossible to work on the instrument without the post falling, so please cut luthiers a little slack before killing them. ;-)

April 27, 2013 at 03:11 PM · "The consequence of the back bulging is that the distance between the top and the back increases at the soundpost location, so it may require a longer post."

Presumably the back deformation is permanent, whereas that of the table isn't - it springs back when the tension of the strings is relaxed. Interesting !!

Thanks, David Burgess for helping me understand this phenomenon.

As to "They have indicated that the first thing they will do after appraising it is set it up (a complete setup)" :- it's not simply a matter of the ego-trip of having the shop's name on a new bridge and an alleged sound-post tweak. A reputable fiddle-shop will know that there's more to a complete set-up than just bridge and sound-post. For example the fingerboard on an old fiddle might well need reshooting, and that's not simply a matter of aligning with a straight-edge. There have to be a dips in the contours to prevent buzzing - not an easy thing to achieve. And the neck angle might be out of adjustment, too.

April 27, 2013 at 07:47 PM · A lot of fiddles seem to have crooked necks... Is tht a bad thing? Just curious

April 27, 2013 at 07:47 PM · "Mark, could you supply a link to the video? I always enjoy reading/hearing about tonal adjustments and soundposts."

Trevor here are two links made by the same fellow.

In the first he introduces his sound post gauge tool and shows how to set, move and reset a sound post:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCOqXdAjaN4

In the second, longer video, he shows how to cut a new sound post:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzg3ihHt0UE

The quality of sound and video is quite poor, but the information is quite interesting (at least for me). :)

I wonder if they had tools like this a few hundred years ago?

April 27, 2013 at 08:10 PM · Thanks David Burgess for your wonderful replies here! They help to fill in many of the gaps I had (no pun intended) concerning sound post placement/adjustments etc.

David Beck:

"... it's not simply a matter of the ego-trip of having the shop's name on a new bridge and an alleged sound-post tweak. A reputable fiddle-shop will know that there's more to a complete set-up than just bridge and sound-post. For example the fingerboard on an old fiddle might well need reshooting, and that's not simply a matter of aligning with a straight-edge. There have to be a dips in the contours to prevent buzzing - not an easy thing to achieve. And the neck angle might be out of adjustment, too."

Yes David I realize that some violins will require quite the overhaul to get them into playable condition again.

In my case however, the violin is in excellent condition/shape. I'm the original owner. The neck is fine. The only things that would need to be done (I believe) are replacing the strings, possibly adjusting the sound post and replacing the bridge.

A little while ago I replaced the original bridge with one that I cut myself. I wanted to lower the action, but didn't want to mess with the original bridge.

They will likely want to replace mine with the original one.

The tuning pegs will also likely need some adjustment. None of my tuning pegs have ever traveled smoothly as they should (on any of my violins).

April 27, 2013 at 11:38 PM · "A little while ago I replaced the original bridge with one that I cut myself"

There is a chance that the sound post moved while the strings were relaxed to install a new bridge, especially if the sound post is shorter than it should be. If you are the first owner and the original sound post has never been replaced, I could bet that it is too short.

April 28, 2013 at 02:39 AM · OK thanks Rocky. That's good to know.

I'll certainly mention this to the shop when I bring it in.

April 28, 2013 at 09:13 AM · "I wonder if they had tools like this a few hundred years ago?"

I doubt it, and the tools in the videos are much more complicated than what most professionals use today.

The tools and jigs he uses are a little like a violinist using one of these to make their bow go straight. Might come in handy for someone, but you probably won't see many being used at a New York Philharmonic concert. ;-)

April 28, 2013 at 09:29 AM · Wow! I love that!

April 28, 2013 at 07:07 PM · "I doubt it, and the tools in the videos are much more complicated than what most professionals use today.

The tools and jigs he uses are a little like a violinist using one of these to make their bow go straight."

Thanks David!

I had never seen tools before like the ones he was using. They just seemed to be able to remove and especially install the sound post in a very quick manner.

They also seemed to be able to pinpoint the sound post's location simply by looking on top of the violin rather than peering in from the F hole.

Do most pro's today use any other special tools for extracting/placing the sound post, or just the familiar 'S' shaped tool that we always see?

I read that part of the reason it's quite tedious to fit a new sound post, is that the post must be wittled away bit by bit and then tried inside the violin, then wittled some more, etc.

This guy's method does not seem to go through that process. Just measure, cut and basically install. It can't be that easy right?

April 28, 2013 at 07:31 PM · "They (the specialized tools) also seemed to be able to pinpoint the sound post's location simply by looking on top of the violin rather than peering in from the F hole.

Do most pro's today use any other special tools for extracting/placing the sound post, or just the familiar 'S' shaped tool that we always see?"

_______________

Most pros use the familiar S shaped tool, along with one other simple tool for checking the soundpost relationship to the bridge.

In a musician context, some of the more complicated soundpost fitting options are a little like playing a concert, while checking and correcting every note by looking at an electronic tuner, versus learning note relationships to the point that you don't need or desire the tuner any more.

April 29, 2013 at 09:06 AM · I think soundpost-adjustments are very important if the instrument is new or if you have the instrument new and want to optimize it. I am no expert but my feeling was always, that the sound after a change has to settle a while. Every little position change should take some time and must be "played in". So readjusting the soundpost too much in a short time just may lack the time for it to settle. On the other hand some professionals may predict the final outcome.

soundpost fitting with a sawzall please! :D

May 12, 2013 at 07:58 AM · Hi,

I find ..Lucky all you who did not adjust the sound-post for years!!

I have a modern violin since 8 years now and I am suffering with it because of the humid climate there is here in Cyprus(is un Island).I adjust it once per year but always my G string sound quite dull..I tried with several Luthiers and the strange thing is that each Luthier says the contrary of the other..If one puts a longer sound-post then another luthier will say that is too long!!And I have changed the sound-post now 8 times!!And the most of it I lost any confidense to Luthiers!!I think they are all charlatans!Is in Paris that I fix my violin..they are terrible..the luthiers!!

May 12, 2013 at 08:13 PM · There are many violins where the G string sounds dull...maybe it's like that with your violin and it's not the fault of the violin makers (or the sound post)?

May 12, 2013 at 09:03 PM · Tobias, I'm curious as to why you say that.

Where would the fault be?

May 12, 2013 at 09:52 PM · Tobias Seyb

"There are many violins where the G string sounds dull...maybe it's like that with your violin and it's not the fault of the violin makers (or the sound post)?"

David

"Tobias, I'm curious as to why you say that.

Where would the fault be?"

I am in agreement with David. If there is one group of people on this planet who would have control as to whether or not your violin G string will be dull or not, wouldn't that group of people be violin makers?

Tobias, you seem to be wanting to separate the tonal qualities of violins from the violin maker, as if it is a hit and miss thing.

The luthier finishes building his violin, strings it up and tests it out. "Oh the G string is dull.

Too bad for the customer". :)

May 13, 2013 at 01:25 AM · Lyndon it appears you aren’t reading the replies carefully.

Popi stated that none the luthiers (repairpersons) he brought his violin in to could fix his dull G string.

Tobias stated that perhaps the fault was not with the violin maker, but rather the violin itself.

Mark (myself) stated that violins don’t appear from the sky, ready-made. Someone has to make them. Usually that someone is a violin maker (luthier).

If there is a problem with Popi’s G string and none of the repairmen (luthiers) that he went to was able to fix it (without re-building the instrument) then it is most likely that the violin wasn’t built as it should have been built by the original violin maker (luthier).

What other possibilities do you see Lyndon?

May 13, 2013 at 04:35 AM · I don't think we are in disagreement here Lyndon.

Perhaps each of us have interpreted Tobias brief post a little differently?

"Actaully what Tobias was saying is maybe the violin's problems did not relate to the violin maker repairmen setting it up, but rather the violin itself was defective,(hence the blame may lie with its maker, I interpret)"

If you check Tobias's post you will see

he never talked about 'repairmen'.

He only talked about 'violin makers'.

"I assume if there's a problem with the violin itself(and not the set up) that that relates directly to the violin's maker, not the repairman. Obviously the violin didn't make itself, so if it has problems that can't be fixed by set up it probably relates to the maker, or the choices he made in selecting the wood, varnish etc. "

That's basically what I was saying. :)

May 13, 2013 at 06:51 PM · David,

" it's not the fault of the violin makers" refers to the different luthiers Popi stavrinidou visited and who couldn't make his dull fiddle sound bright, not the maker who built it, who IS responsible.

The others should have stated cleary that there are limits in what one can do with a given instrument.

May 14, 2013 at 10:51 AM · Understood. I was taking "the violin makers" as a reference to the people who made the violins.

May 14, 2013 at 09:24 PM · I think it is a little idealistic to blame a problem such as this entirely on the maker. I certainly don't have David's level of expertise, but few do. Some of the blame has to rest with the buyer. Every violin I make is a little different from all the others, so I make each potential buyer try as many as I have available before making any decision. I find that different problems bother different people. And if the buyer doesn't like any of mine, that doesn't bother me a bit. I'd rather not have a dissatisfied customer. But if the customer buys something he doesn't like I don't consider it to be my fault.

May 15, 2013 at 01:18 AM · Lyndon, I don't think there was any mention of making "a bad violin". We all know that taste varies, and that a person's taste can change.

May 15, 2013 at 11:15 PM · At least I MAKE violins. Actually, I can't remember ever making one with a dull G string, but if I ever do I probably will not know how to fix it if setup doesn't work. I guess then I'll have to call Lyndon for advice, since he knows everything.

June 1, 2013 at 12:20 AM · This may sound like a silly question but what exaactly is a soundpost crack. I am currently looking a two rather expensive violins and the dealer, who is extremely reputable, says that one violin has a soundpost crack and the other violin a soundpost crack and bassbar crack but both have been beautifully repaired. What are the implications to these "defects" and why can't the soundpost simply be replaced. The violins in question are about 150 years old and in otherwise perfect condition.

June 1, 2013 at 01:25 PM · A soundpost crack is a crack in the top or back, in the vicinity of the soundost.

A bass bar crack is a crack in the top in the vicinity of the bass bar.

The soundpost area is one of high stress, so cracks there usually require more careful and extensive repair procedures than cracks which have occurred other places.

June 17, 2013 at 12:23 PM · To get away from these silly "who said what" posts!

I became a bit of a "fiddler of fiddles" out of necessity: how to get those ghastly Lark violins to sound a bit less awful. I had thought of patenting a rubber bridge, but through patience, coupled with a a good understanding of acoustics, (and a well-filled tool-box)I was able to quieten some of their most exreme faults. E.g. stickers partially covering the f-holes to shift the air resonance.

Problem: I showed my rather dull but wolfy Nicolas Morlot violin to an "expert in tone adjustment" in Paris's rue de Rome; he just sneered!

My two solutions: a viola bridge,(trimmed) to give a wider spacing between the feet, and also less "muting" wood at the top,(brighter); then a longer soundpost, almost symmetrically placed compared to the base-bar, (more equal response, with fewer near-wolves).

I don't suggest for one minute that this will improve other violins. This is the kind of experimentation we find on Maestronet. "Real" luthiers rarely have the time or inclination to try this kind of "research".

My Morlot (insured for €4000) is long, high, wide and heavy (air resonance at C-natural, like a child's viola). The tone lacks attack, so I imagine the wood is soft-grained. I can't afford another fiddle, so "necessity is the mother of invention".

Could the real experts on this thread comment on this (without hurting my feelings)?

August 26, 2013 at 07:46 AM · The soundpost and bridge keep moving whenever I change strings, and slightly (the bridge at least) when I use a fine tuner...should I just let it sit for a week? I've spent a lot of money on adjustments that seem to lose the positive effects within a day:( when my instrument is having a good day it's the best in tr world, but I'm not much for emotional rollercoasters, especially from 'inanimate' objects...

August 26, 2013 at 09:32 AM · Here is a word of thanks to Mr Burgess for sharing his insights.

While I would never argue the importance of the SP, I will say I have seen way too many violinists suffering from SP Phobia. These people are forever adjusting their SP in hopes they or the violin (or both) will somehow perform better. The results are always next to nil IMHO, because they neglect to consider the effects of the bridge et al. Finally, no set-up will magically change a poor violin into a good one. The best one can hope for is optimisation.

Back to original post,,, "standard set up" seems to be an excuse for charging you a fee.

October 23, 2013 at 06:26 PM · Hi Mark,

There is some interesting stuff about soundpost setup on this site:

Soundpost Setup

There is also a section on the bridge and peg maintenance.

Brian

October 27, 2013 at 04:40 PM · A return to Marks post on soundpost adjustment is fitting in view of the many entries in this forum on violin tone, projection, playing with feeling (esp Gerald Klickstein's comments and links), etc. I will add a few comments of my own. I believe soundpost adjustment along with player and tone evaluation are extremely difficult, much more difficult than judgment of workmanship. I agree with the comments to do nothing if you are satisfied with the tone and playability, and I share Mark's concern about leaving his violin in the hands of a dealer. There are few dealers or luthiers, if any, I would trust to do a soundpost adjustment. Even Sacconi relied on great players who came to his shop saturdays to play on instruments. He also said he had someone with him during evaluation of a cello for tone. I could possibly trust a dealer or luthier who relies on good players in his shop? David has provided useful entries on this subject, but he has more faith in VSA tone evaluations and present day dealers and luthiers than I. But I must add here my great appreciation for violin makers - such great contributions to music and civilization from Andrea Amati to Stradivari and del Gesu as well as many luthiers since. What a great contribution this little box, and a stick with horsehair has made to this world. I will will never forget a concert many years ago at the Hollywood bowl with Heifetz soloist, sitting with my mother way back. I experienced clearly the great beauty of the violin, as well as the player, orchestra and composer. Charles

September 20, 2014 at 09:42 AM · I am a Learner Violinist/Violist. There is no known Luthier on my Island. Relative Humidity and Temperature change too often.

I bought the S-shape Sound Post Setter, one end is sharp and the other end is like a star. I also bought the Sound Post Setter VS-PRO 2 "+". Using those 2 Tools makes things easier.

I have 4 Violins: Chinese, Spanish and 2 Romanians + a Czech Viola. Initially, I had problems with the Violins. After having tried the Sound Post setting nearly 90 times +, I decided to plan my Sound Post Setting as follows :

On a sheet of paper, I drew a straight line and subdivided it in cm as 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0. Each cm represented the very approximate 1 mm from the Bridge. 0 fell under the Bridge. I coded each spot as VB for Very bright, B for Bright, M for Mellow, etc. So, I achieved a visual Plan of my Sound Post setting. From there SP setting on my Violins was very easy.

I found SP Setting on my Viola more difficult ! It appears that moving the SP very, very slightly caused a lot of problems, including an unresponsive G string. Following Adrian Heath advice, I managed to reach the SP sweet spot, I would even think it is the sweetest spot. Now my Viola offers very loud sound and a very great ringing tone. The most amazing thing I noticed is that "Play ability" improved 100%.

September 20, 2014 at 03:50 PM · But Judex, there are proper luthiers on this thread! If you spill the beans like this, I shall find my posts erased, like Lyndon's..(although I am more diplomatic..)

Then no-one would benefit from my advice!

Glad you're glad, though..

September 20, 2014 at 03:51 PM · The only mystery is whether to leave it in or take it out. Sounds better when its out ...

Adrian - you should not accuse Lyndon of not being diplomatic! He studied diplomacy in Israel and holds a masters degree in the subject! He just speaks his mind. (Unlike me of course ...)

September 21, 2014 at 03:58 PM · Adrian, my Viola is now a real Baby Cello !

Thanks again !

Cheers !

September 22, 2014 at 09:42 AM · Just to be clear on one point:

Shifting an existing SP left or right changes its tension: the tonal result is completely different from trying well fitted posts of different lengths.

But I don't maintain that my own accumulated experience as a "tinkerer" will apply to other violins.

September 22, 2014 at 12:22 PM · Violas are a totally different phenonomen anyway - do they have soundposts? Maybe the ones you can just about hear do ... (!!! wink, wink, wink etc)

Sorry Adrian, you should be given a special medal for persevering with the viola. It's so damned hard to play! I tried a modern Italian one at Sean Bishop's a year back - and I just could not play the damned thing! Fiddles are so much easier. (I'm a totally failed viola player - even if I did play it professionally for some years).

September 22, 2014 at 01:01 PM · Peter, for once I agree with you (especially about about the medal...)

September 22, 2014 at 01:33 PM · Adrian - you only agree once! Now I'm very dissapointed.

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