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Soundpost Adjustment - Worth the risk?

Instruments: Worried that any adjustments might make things worse rather than better, and then can’t be undone.

From Anthony Barletta
Posted October 9, 2009 at 04:57 PM

I own and love an “advanced student” instrument and am not yet looking to upgrade. But I’m also one of those perfectionist types always looking to make things better by experimenting with different rosins and strings and anything else that might it sound even better.  So I sometimes wonder if my setup is “maximized.”  Is it worth bringing such a violin into the shop for some experimental adjustments?  The “if it works don’t fix it” part of me says no, but still I wonder.  The problem is that I read about superstar violinist X who trusts only superstar luthier Y to make soundpost adjustments to their zillion dollar violin.  And I’m worried that any adjustments might make things worse rather than better, and then can’t be undone.  Any advice?

From Casey Jefferson
Posted on October 9, 2009 at 06:06 PM

I move the soundpost only if I'm not happy with the sound. Or, the sound somewhat changed due to various reason like humidity and plate expanding/shrink/settling. These are very good chances to explore the potential the violin.

If it's nothing wrong to begin with, I wouldn't touch it. Adjusting soundpost will only change character, but not quality. It will not magically make a advanced student violin sounds like professional violin. To me, soundpost adjusting is more like a problem fixing, than enhancing.

You can learn about your instrument's potential by experimenting, but prepared to spend a hell lots of time to get back the good old setting. It's very difficult to get the exact same spot before the adjustment. Unless the luthier is highly skilled.

Do it or not, it's up to you.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 9, 2009 at 07:08 PM

If you find a good luthier GO FOR IT!!!  Sound post adjustments MUST figure in a good "health routine" for any violin. My maker keeps telling me how bad it is to have it stuck in one place for many years. The wood becomes hard and... your instrument can "die".   It's always a pleasure to have an instrument back from a maker that does sound post adjustments since they always put it to its maximum "sound post" fit.  Depending on the seasons, humidity of a specific period in the year etc it can become too tight or too loose.  It has to be just ennough of the two for the ultimate performance of your instrument.   I presently play on a "cheaper" violin that she has kindly lend to me since my violin is having his "yearly check up".  But she put it at its best and I swear it's very very playable and sounds ok even good.  The same thing baddly adjusted could be a nightmare so I think it does a big difference.  But some try to do it at home and... almost always miss their shot.  This is not recommended!!! Good luck and... nice cat!

Anne-Marie

From tom utsch
Posted on October 10, 2009 at 03:05 AM

If you elect to get somebody to tinker with it, get somebody who will jam it in there ala Rene Morel.  There will probably be people who object to this suggestion but I am not kidding and you will notice the difference (for the better).  Tom

From Bruce Berg
Posted on October 10, 2009 at 03:57 AM

I normally have my 1626 "Brothers" Amati adjusted 2 times per year on account of weather change in TX.  This is a normal amount for  any instrument. A soundpost adjustment done by a qualified repair person is totally reversible, if you are not satisfied with it. The violin makers on the site can discuss why periodic soundpost adjustment is necessary, if they feel inclined. My  very general understanding  is that when the weather gets wet, tighten the post, when it is dryer, loosen it. mine currently needs adjustment as the weather here in Waco TX is turning from frightful summer to rather nice autumn.

From Faye Davidson
Posted on October 10, 2009 at 03:28 PM

"If you elect to get somebody to tinker with it, get somebody who will jam it in there ala Rene Morel.  There will probably be people who object to this suggestion but I am not kidding and you will notice the difference (for the better).  Tom"

----------------------------------------------------------

Wouldn't be so sure about that!  I knew a certain man (now deceased) who once held the position of "top salesman" in Morel's shop. Said that he  personally watched as Rene Morel SPLIT the back and belly of a Stradivari violoncello by "jamming it in there".  Also stated that Morel showed him a fine but unlabeled Italian violin while saying: "You know what ------? I can make this violin become anything I want it to be."  What goes on behind closed doors....

From David Burgess
Posted on October 10, 2009 at 07:05 PM

Faye, the Rene Morel story, as told by the salesman, is a little suspect strictly from a practical standpoint. While it is possible to do damage to an instrument by making the soundpost too tight, I'll say with some certainty that damage to the top and the back wouldn't occur at the same time.

My own approach to sound adjustment is a little different from his, but I think we verified that Rene gets good results when we brought in some high level players who wanted their instruments adjusted, and he satisfied almost all of them. In addition to "live listener'  and player opinions of the changes, we also did "before and after" recordings. These reinforced the initial impressions.

As far as how soundpost tightness changes the sound, this will vary from one instrument to the next.

From Royce Faina
Posted on October 10, 2009 at 07:15 PM

How often should someone have a soundpost readjustment?

From Anthony Barletta
Posted on October 10, 2009 at 07:26 PM

Thanks for the replies so far. I'm wondering if there is a consensus re: Bruce's statement: "A soundpost adjustment done by a qualified repair person is totally reversible, if you are not satisfied with it."   If so, it seems worth a try with nothing to lose. If others have had a different experience, I guess I'm back to square one. Thanks again.

Anne-Marie: Kimbu thanks you for the compliment!

From Melvin Goldsmith
Posted on October 11, 2009 at 01:03 AM

Anthony writes....

Thanks for the replies so far. I'm wondering if there is a consensus re: Bruce's statement: "A soundpost adjustment done by a qualified repair person is totally reversible, if you are not satisfied with it."   If so, it seems worth a try with nothing to lose. If others have had a different experience, I guess I'm back to square one. Thanks again.

Well Anthony, writing as a luthier,...a very good adjuster will put your post back within  0.25mm or so of where it was..should sound similar to before...depending on how sensitive you are...if you can find a good adjuster that is.....

.In your case I'd not try to fix what ain't broke if you are happy with your violin now . If you came to me I'd not move your post. I'd tell you to go home and carry on loving your violin. If you had a specific problem like balance between the strings etc I'd happily fix it.

Quite often players and some adjusters think that a quick tweek on the post is a cure for all ills. Sadly this is not the case. Lets look at this in several steps.

First it is damaging to the post and the instrument and totally wrong if the post is moved with the strings at full tension.

Second consider that a violin strung to full tension is like a loaded spring with some lag. Simply taking the tension off the strings for a minute or so, not touching the sound post and re tuning the instrument will make it sound different . This makes a short term evauluation of an adjustment very difficult for the ultimate fine tuning but is less of a problem when the post is very obviously wrong.

Third it's a well known phenomenon and source of mirth for luthiers though the ages that a placebo adjustment.....ie one where the violin is simply taken into a different room while the player waits10 minutes while   nothing is done to  it at all  and it is then returned to the player often has miraculously joyous results.

All the above being said the post IS important and needs to be in the right place for both the sound and the structural health of the instrument. In climates of extreme variation as already mentioned an instrument might need not just a post but a bridge adjustment twice a year.

One thing a luthier will look at even if you are happy with your post is how the post fits in with the structural integrity of the instrument...if it is too short and the belly is sinking or the instrument has moved and the post is pushing the belly up too much ......a slightly different length post in the same place might be suggested.

For very obvious faults caused by a soundpost a skilled adjuster will have a faster solution. The most subtle adjustments for very good reasons can take quite a lot of time and expense.

 

 

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on October 11, 2009 at 03:54 AM

This is an interesting topic and I think it touches something perhaps goes beyond adjusting the sound post...  I tried to adjust the soundpost many times in the past but I don't any more.  If my violin doesn't sound good, it's either me or the violin or both. When in doubt, I'd hand my violin to my teacher and ask her to play it and the answer would come to me clear and loud with no discussion needed.

But is it really about the soundpost? I can only speak from my own experience, but when I catch myself trying to fiddle with something normally would call for a professional job, such as trying to trim my own hair or to adjust the setting of my violin, I know something else is going on that I'm not happy with.  Just thought to share my $0.02.

From Bruce Berg
Posted on October 11, 2009 at 04:26 AM

In response to Yixi:

All too often I have students beating themselves up about being unable to play something when the problem lies with the instrument itself. The various instrument problems are not only related to soundpost adjustment, but to other factors. These can include string height and length, condition of the fingerboard, bridge construction, etc. It is important for a student or professional for that matter to know that the equipment they are relying on is at its best level. I like to use the analogy of a carpenter. If his saw is not sharpened, then it will take him a lot longer to accomplish his task.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on October 12, 2009 at 05:55 AM

Dr. Berg,

Thank you so much for your response and my own experience with a few violins that I played adds confirmation to what you said.  I believe that initial proper setup and teacher's monitoring to ensure proper instrument is used at certain developmental stage are absolutely essential.  Once these have been established, if it doesn't sound good, my default assumption is it's either the bow arm, or something else in life, or both:) 

Yixi 

From Erica Thaler
Posted on October 12, 2009 at 05:20 PM

"Third it's a well known phenomenon and source of mirth for luthiers though the ages that a placebo adjustment.....ie one where the violin is simply taken into a different room while the player waits10 minutes while   nothing is done to  it at all  and it is then returned to the player often has miraculously joyous results."

I love this quote!  I have never had my soundpoint adjusted on my 15 month old 2006 violin, but I have messed with the strings to finally find a set that I love.  I am scared to mess with the sound post however!  I figure if it's not broke...
That said, at some point I suppose it needs a tune-up...but how to know when?  So far, she's a steady fiddle...

From Charles Lane
Posted on January 19, 2011 at 02:51 AM

I've actually installed a new sound post in my violin, but I'm a beginner and my violin was $130 new!  Not that I would want to treat any instrument poorly, but I guess now is the time for me to experiment with something like that while the cost of a mistake is not too high. I even made my own tool to help with the task:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/soundtech2010/5361404541/in/set-72157625839737528/

Admittedly, I copied the design of a sound post setter being sold for $75.  Being a person who enjoys crafting things, the price was a bit too steep for me.

As for why I was messing around with it in the first place, my violin was set up by the seller from whom I purchased it.  As I got to know my violin and learn more about the sound post and its proper placement by researching online, I realized that it was positioned very crooked.  I can't say for sure whether it was originally in that position because I didn't take note of the sound post when I first got the instrument.  As it turned out, while trying to straighten it up I found that it was in there way too tight.  I had it pretty close to the "correct" position when it finally fell over while trying to make that "one last adjustment" because I couldn't leave well enough alone!  That was just as well, since as I already mentioned it was very tight -- I corrected that later. I removed and inspected it and that is when I was surprised to see that the grain was not properly oriented. This was based on my observation of the location of the tell-tale hole made by the luthier's traditional sound post setter tool, as well as the angle at which the ends were cut in order to match the top and back plates. So, even if it they initially intalled it without the tilt, it was in there too tight and the rotational angle (grain orientation) was not correct.  I will be writing an email to the seller to notify them of the incorrectly oriented sound post, since they did advertise that the setup work is "superior."  Anyway, I was using some probes that I already had in the home workshop to try and push the post into position while it was still standing, but once it toppled over I needed to have the proper tool to get it in there standing up again. That's when I found the device online which I proceeded to copy at home.

That's my experience with a sound post thus far and I don't regret having rolled up my sleeves to go in there considering my particular circumstances.  I guess what my message offers is that maybe you should buy a low-cost violin to practice with if you are at all interested in learning more about this aspect of the instrument. This way you can get comfortable with the traditional tool.  Of course you could buy the original of the one I copied.  It is the Gemini Sound Post Setter.  I have to say it is really easy to use and is probably worth the $75 if you want to adjust your own post, but definitely practice on a cheaper violin if you want to use the traditional setter tool because it looks to be more of a challenge doing it that way. There are youtube videos that make the old way look easy, but I didn't even try. Now that I'm thinking more about it, you still have to use a tool to push the post around. Either way, there will be potential to ding the edges of the f-holes. On the traditional tool, one end gets the post in there standing up.  The other end has notches that are used to push/pull the post into final position.  So you'll still need to perform those push-pull maneuvers with a notched tool even after you've used the Gemini setter.

One caveat based on my research so far, if not already mentioned in the thread.  You really need to fashion the sound post properly so that the dimensions and angles are correct. If not, you could cause scarring/deformation where the sound post makes contact with the back and top plate if anything is too far askew.  This is especially true of the softer spruce wood that is used to make the top plate.  The sound post itself should be spruce, I believe.  Anyway, no sense ruining a really expensive violin if you don't have everything right.  Good luck.

Regards,

Charles

From John Cadd
Posted on January 19, 2011 at 10:04 PM

Here`s a question / suggestion for luthiers in very changeable climates.Assuming a post falls down when strings are being changed ( most likely scenario ) the post may need adjusting or replacing with a longer one.OK so far so good. But when the weather dries out the wood pulls in tighter and the post will not fall down .But the pressure on the back and belly must increase. How does that affect the sound?  Is there a type of gauge to measure the external thickness of the body to indicate when the time has arrived for a post check.    Oddly , with the post in position , the length will not change , so .the best place to measure would be maybe the opposite side of the bridge, The indication of "some " movement is what you would be interested in.Do players hang on to Summer Posts and Winter posts and save the violin a lot of stress ? Each post embodies work done and has more value than the wood itself.    I have a lovely warm feeling that I have set millions of players off on yet another obsession.Daily humidity and belly measurements .Charts and dates checked held on clip boards. Lovely!

From Michael Darnton
Posted on January 19, 2011 at 10:36 PM

 I adjust the post seasonally for quite a few players. I get to see them at least twice a year, near the beginning of winter, when it turns dry, and again when it turns wet in the spring, and we use that time to check for loose seams and other problems.

Usually pulling the post east in the summer and west in the winter, by less than 1mm, does the job, if the post was done right in the first place. If your violin is unresponsive in the winter when it's dry (this shows up easily on the lower strings at light pressure) the post is probably too tight. The symptom of too loose is harder to recognize in a definitive way--players say the violin has lost some of its usual life and sounds relatively feeble, but that's not a great way to describe the problem.

Regarding the original question, few violins are at their tip-top all the time, so someone who knows what he's doing can usually make things better. Someone who doesn't can make them worse, so you have to choose carefully who you let try.

From John Cadd
Posted on January 21, 2011 at 05:23 PM

Don   Mr Darnton`s answer will be more useful for you. A snug fit without string pressure is the sort of idea. Try to make an open ended box with slanting top and back.Then see what it feels like.Do all the experiments on scraps of wood.The small movements will be easier if the angles are correct.If they are wrong the post will try to twist around.

This is one for the experts now.  When tiny seasonal alterations are done , is the post moved more at the back or back and belly together? The belly shift will affect tone the most. It gets trickier as we wade deeper.

From John Cadd
Posted on January 24, 2011 at 12:41 PM

Lovely post just there.For such a delicate ,important job a luthier doing it for a living will give you much more satisfaction than all the frustration guilt and worry when you are quietly spoiling the sound holes. Don`t feel as if the luthier is ripping you off when you pay him / her.Or should that be her / him?  Look on it as a regular health check.It`s good to talk about it though.


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