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Soundpost adjustments.

Performing: Opinions from performers.

From Andreas Preuss
Posted September 1, 2007 at 07:08 PM

Some violinists get a soundpost adjustment every month, some before each concert, others once in their lifetime.

1.The question is how much can a soundpost adjustment change the sound?

2.is it rather for the ears of the performer or for the ears of the listeners?

3.When and how often are they neccessary?

4.Do you go to a luthier to get the soundpost moved or do you move it yourself?

From Larry Rhodes
Posted on September 1, 2007 at 11:33 PM
You can adjust your soundpost yourself, but you'll want to get the little tool made specifically for it. Also, if you're extremely partial to your instrument, and you don't want to risk cracks in the belly, you might not want to practice such adjustments yourself on that particular instrument. If it falls, and your strings are tightened (which they absolutely should NOT be when making such an adjustment, but it could very well fall later if not placed/fitted properly), well, anyway. ;)

As for the effect soundpost adjustments can have on the sound of your instrument, it can be rather dramatic. There's a reason it's called a soundpost, after all. The French word for it is basically "soul." :)

I had mine done about a week after I got my violin. It originally sounded almost muffled in the lower frequencies, with the highs being entirely too prominent. One of the local guys messed with it for a couple of hours, and he finally figured the best spot for it required a slightly longer soundpost to fit there. We managed to get a very good, balanced tone, and the overall sound of my violin is, as it turns out, rather...not sure what to call it...throaty? It reminds me of Kathleen Turner's voice--sultry, yet powerful. *grin* Gonna throw some Helicores on there now and see what happens. ;)

Of course, I took another poster's advice and marked the spot with a pencil the other day, just in case it ever falls. I wanna make sure we put it right back where it was, considering how long it took to figure out the placement the first time. :) However, now that that's been done, if it does fall, I'm fairly confident I can reset it myself.

You might be pleasantly surprised at the variations you can get in your instrument's sound from even the tiniest movement of the soundpost. By all means, experiment with it (though, again, it's best to have someone with experience do this if damaging your instrument would devastate you). Best of luck to ya! :)

From Ian Burkard
Posted on September 2, 2007 at 04:19 AM
When I was setting the post on my violin, the quality of the sound was greatly impacted by the post position. Too close to the bridge, and the sound was hard and tinny, too far away, and it’s flat and wooden.

I’ve found that the humidity does fluctuate quite a bit in NY, and frequent adjustments might be necessary.

This diagram shows one luthier's post position (obviously not a universal ideal, but a good starting point):

http://www.violins.on.ca/luthier/photos/soundpost/diagram2a.gif

*hours later*

It just took me an hour to turn a set a new sound post tonight. I should have waited until the morning, but I'm impatient.

I usually say "Oh, do it yourself," but it would be easy for the most seasoned hands to slip and damage the top or scrape the finish around an f hole (even with the proper tools). I recommend NOT doing soundpost setting or adjustments yourself, unless you're good with your hands, and good at covering your tracks.

From Leonid Sushansky
Posted on September 2, 2007 at 05:02 AM
If you have a luthier with great ears and talent for adjusting the soundpost, it can be a huge improvement. I used to go to Rene Morel regularly before performances for an adjustment, when I lived in New York. He was a wiz with the soundpost. As I recall most of the great artists of our time like Stern, Perlman and Zukerman used to come and see him as well as many many other recognised violinists. A good adjustment can really open up the sound of an instrument as well as making playing easier by balancing the tension in the instrument. It just added another level of quality to the performance. I remember being frustrated on several occasions with the sound and response of the instrument, and Mr Morel really improved the tone and ease of the response which helped one to get some piece of mind in the performance, but you have to really trust the luthier, I have had adjustments elsewhere that didnt offer much improvement, and others that were fine, so make sure you know something about the person youre going to first.
From LUIS CLAUDIO MANFIO
Posted on September 20, 2007 at 01:48 PM
With a new post adjustment, the sound can change under your ear and for the audience too.

Playability can be changed also, mainly the response time and how do you feel the instrument while bowing.

Two different players sometimes will ask different post adjustments for the same violin, that means that there are no fixed rules, the set up will depend on the instrument and how the player interacts with it.

I would take the instrument to a luthier to do the job. In general a good luthier will understand words linked to sound such as "tight", "I would it like more (or less) aggressive", "I want the sound more open", etc; and try to cure the problem.

Yes, some players are compulsive about posts, but that's more a problem for the psychologist than a lutherie question... once the right place and "tension" is found, there is no necessity of constant changes and the instrument can be played for many years (perhaps decades) without tinkering with it.

Soundpost obssession and the "do it by yourself" approach can lead to damages to the inside of the instrument, mainly in the internal part of the top, which is soft.

If you keep taking your instrument to luthiers asking for "what do yo think about it", many of them will make you a new post or bridge, in some cases without a real necessity. Just some few will say "I think your instrument is ok and it's getting the sound within it's possibilities and characteristics".

The set up can improve drammatically the sound and playability, but it will not turn a Chinese VSO in a Del Gesù.

From Nigel Keay
Posted on December 13, 2009 at 10:12 AM

 A couple of recent experiences have confirmed to me just how much difference a sound post adjustment can make to an instrument.  The first was a violin that was sounding unclear or fuzzy adjusted by a local luthier Stephane Bodart who clearly knew what he was doing and radically improved the sound of the instrument in terms of clarity and projection.

The second adjustment was to my viola, done by my own luthier. My understanding was that adjusting the lateral position could put more pressure onto the bass bar side therefore reinforcing the lower frequencies, so I asked him to do this. This certainly seems to have worked. Friedrich commented that favouring the bass end might risk losing some highs, though this doesn't seems to have been the case so far.

From David Rose
Posted on December 13, 2009 at 01:46 PM

Yes yes to all the above posts!  It makes a huge difference, although I agree that doing it yourself is not advisable if you have little to no experience.

I usually know I need an adjustment if weeks, sometimes months go by and the instrument just seems 'flat', and strange to me.  Any time I've ever had an adjustment, it has gotten me over a big hump, and the change in the instrument was usually likened to a sunny day after many rainy ones.

I've only had 1 soundpost adjustment which left the instrument worse off than I brought it in - and this adjustment was made by a young, but experienced luthier (hence my advice to think twice before doing it yourself).  The other 20 or so adjustments have all been very positive experiences.

 

David

From Andrew Victor
Posted on December 13, 2009 at 10:36 PM

According to Itzhak Perlman in the video "The Art of Violin" Mischa Elman would try to get his soundpost adjusted every week to make his violin sound better.

My experience with my smal violin collection has been that different violins can have greatly differing sensitivity to soundpost placement. Some may be relatively unaffected by soundpost placement and with others the sweetspot locus is smaller than the soundpost radius.

I own both scissors and S-type soundpost setters and find the scissors-type handy for small adjustments, and the S-type essential for resurrecting a fallen post.

Andy

From Heidi Bentley Karod
Posted on April 12, 2011 at 09:15 PM

 My teacher recommends that I have my sound post adjusted as the sound of my A and E seems to be too bright now. I have had my sound post adjusted on another instrument with tremendous results. A luthier told me over the phone that this time of year, in a cold dry climate turning warmer and wetter with spring, it may need more than an adjustment. He said it may need an entirely new sound post.  Does this sound realistic or is he looking for extra work?

From Joshua Blevins
Posted on April 13, 2011 at 03:28 AM

sound post adjustments can make a great deal of difference. but not once a month. at most twice a year. once for the warm weather and once for the cold. and should only be done by a good luthier. players tend to do more harm the good by playing with the sound post. Greg Alf had on his web sight a Guanari he restored for this very reason. the sound post adjustment had been abused and he had to put a patch because the post had started to wear a hole in the top.

From John Cadd
Posted on April 13, 2011 at 12:35 PM

If you live in California does the wind direction play havoc with your violin? Wind coming off the ocean left to right.Plenty of humidity.  Turn it around with wind from the Nevada desert. Dry as a bone. Is that a constant worry?

From N.A. Mohr
Posted on April 14, 2011 at 04:05 PM

I just had my first sound post adjustment ever (not including the one that fell) on my 'good' violin.

OMG...what a difference!  My violin is back!  Sounds beautiful.  I thought it was the strings, or me...but it was the soundpost.  It hadn't shifted out of postion, but it had angled over the years. 

Wish I had had it looked at when I first noticed something was 'off'.

 

From John Cadd
Posted on April 14, 2011 at 04:57 PM

If a violin was a person you would still recognise the voice after a sound post correction.  The character will be the same but with more clarity and definition.

From Casey Jefferson
Posted on April 14, 2011 at 05:35 PM

Give the violin 1 week the least to settle in. What can confuse the result is that the strings being untensioned and tensioned again, and the stress on the plates being released will result a more flexible plate producing more vibration but may or may not remain after the settling in period.

By the way, it doesn't seems to be possible that the soundpost angled (which to me literally means it's moved/shifted) if no big impact on the violin (and I mean that kind of impact that can damage the violin). Unless the violin has had the strings completely untensioned, then the soundpost most probably will not have a chance to shift. What's changing is probably the plates being settling in, not at all uncommon if the violin was new.

From John Cadd
Posted on April 15, 2011 at 02:21 PM

Carl Flesch recommended slackening the strings by an octave occasionally.He said it helped to restore the tone. It`s in his online book. However ,  I have never tried it myself .  I only read that yesterday.

From Diane Allen
Posted on April 15, 2011 at 03:09 PM

Adjusting the soundpost is just one step in the fine art of bringing the most out of an instrument. This soundpost discussion on a luthier's forum I'm sure would be quite different! It's a high art to tweak a violin! 

As a player - I've worked with great intensity with my luthier to bring out the most my violin has to offer. In addition to adjusting the soundpost, we've moved the bridge, tried different wood and placement of the tailpiece, even a different chinrest.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely!

How often? If you've got new strings, good horsehair and your violin still doesn't sound right - it's time.

Do it myself? No way! Once again - that  on a luthier's forum....

From Scott Cole
Posted on April 16, 2011 at 04:34 PM

 "Carl Flesch recommended slackening the strings by an octave occasionally.He said it helped to restore the tone."

He was right. Kind of. The problem is, it's a short-term solution. This is exactly the reason that violins in a shop often sound so much better, at least for a couple of days: shops often store violins tuned down so that they sound open and resonant when you try them. That's why I'd never buy one without at least a week with it (preferably two).

From Allan Speers
Posted on April 16, 2011 at 05:05 PM

 ^  Interesting.

The problem is, while that may be good for the violin (lets the plates settle?) it is REALLY bad for the strings.  Every time you loosen & re-tighten wound strings, they get worse.  This is an absolute fact. My guess is that it's because when you re-tighten them, the winding changes position relative to the core.

About the tension:  I once read a book by a world famous classical guitar luthier.  He said that whenever he got one of his guitars back for work, he would always remove / replace the top, even if the repairs didn't warrant this.  He felt strongly that this let the body take the shape it wanted, thus relieving tension when the top went back on, and thus allowing for better vibration.

I've alway thought this made sense, though I've never heard of anyone having it done as routine maintenance.


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