Can a dull violin be made to sound open

September 8, 2016 at 05:22 PM · Hi,

mi first topic here. The first paragraph is

I wanted to ask if a dull sounding 1/2 violin can be made to sound more open. The violin we bought is easy to play, plays equal across all strings, but sounds very dull/nasal. We changed the strings (D'Addario prelude) into Dominants (and as a side note, viola strings as my 6 year old daughter plays viola). Bridge ais Heller one star, according to our teacher it has a nice (carbon) tailpiece. We're quite certain that the luthier has made it himself, and apparantly his instruments are more towards the nasal sound.

But the question is, can you make a dull sounding instrument more open, or do you just buy another (better) one?

For who's interested in the full story:

Background: when we were in my wife's home town, we went to a luthier with a decent name - We contacted him in advance, we also contacted a local viola teacher. The luthier said he had a few instruments in stock.

Initially, the plan was to go together and buy one together with the teacher. Getting all parties together appeared to be difficult, so we went alone...

To discover that he had a nice stock of 3/4 violins (in the email, we talked about 1/2 violas), and had an old 3/4 case lying around for if we wanted to take one with us. He was not expecting us to search for a 1/2 violin. And thus, there was only one (made in 2015). Agreed with him that, if the teacher would not approve of it, we would return it and get our money back.

Teacher there (clearly less critical than the one in my home country - both in teaching as in instruments), found it nasally sounding, but in general didn't like the luthier. She didn't find the instrument bad but thought it to be too expensive for what it was. She prefers Chinese instruments that were improved by a luthier on the other side of the country. And cost half of what we paid.

Our home teacher is always more critical: lacquer could be better (agree with that), purfling is not good. We discovered (when changing the strings), that the builder switched the location on the notches on both sides. He noted that it could handle the dominants (apparently many of the 1/2 size don't like the dominant C), has nice pegs and a nice tail piece.

But then I wonder - is it possible (and economically viable) to turn a dull instrument in a more open sounding? Does anybody have any such experience?

Replies (15)

September 8, 2016 at 06:08 PM · Wait, are you saying that you strung a 1/2 size violin as a viola? I think that's your problem right there. Violins are intended to be strung with the proper tension, which viola tuning most certainly does not qualify as.

If your daughter needs a fractional viola, please, please, get her a proper fractional viola. Not a violin with viola tuning.

September 8, 2016 at 06:09 PM · Hi! Welcome! :)

Has it had the soundpost adjusted?

I believe that if any notable improvement can be made, it will be with a soundpost adjustment. Maaaaybe different strings, but you could spend quite a lot on a quest to find the right strings for it, and could still be in vain. Some instruments are just what they are.

Wait, is it set with viola strings?

September 8, 2016 at 06:43 PM · It has been strung with the correct size viola strings. (basically, it doesn't have an E, but a C string). Violas do not exist below 11" size, my daughters new instrument is one step smaller than that (she's currently playing on a 1/4 violin, also with viola strings on it, the smallest "real" viola we could find, would be a nice cello for her). Tension is right, and it's a dull sound, not a rubber band C string (which is one of the few pro's the instrument has).

The sound has not changed much when going from prelude (violin setup) to dominant (viola setup). Slightly better in the viola setup, but certainly not overwhelming.

The soundpost was placed there by the guy that made the violin - we haven't done any adjustments to it.

September 8, 2016 at 06:46 PM · Carve a new top? I did that for my son's 3/4 violin. Made a world of difference.

September 8, 2016 at 06:50 PM · The G,D,& A strings should be fractional violin strings to have sufficient tension; for the C you need a thin, taught string for clarity and to avoid the sick cow effecvt whe you play loudly! Maybe Helicore.

The nicks in the bridge and nut have to wide an deep enough for the thicker strings.

A fractional viola hes deeper ribs and a wider body than the same sized violin. The lopsided models from my own luthier Bernard Sabatier (Paris) are a great success tone-wise.

September 8, 2016 at 07:09 PM · I know the Bernard Sabatier - I think he's one of the few luthiers in the world that make really small "real" violas. Have not had the chance to hear one in real life. In her school, nobody plays on fractional violas until they are big enough to handle an 11-12".

In practice, I also wouldn't buy it - too expensive regarding to my daughters talent and dedication, she'll only be able to play a few years on it (market for second hand small violas is non-existent in here), and I don't think she's old and careful enough to have an expensive instrument.

The price I paid for her instrument is more in line of what you would pay for some medium-higher end tiny Chinese violin.

September 8, 2016 at 10:08 PM · The answer is no. Don't waste too much $$ trying to make a 1/2 size any better. It is what it is.

Be glad it doesn't sound worse.

September 8, 2016 at 10:19 PM · She's only 6 years old and will be moving off of it soon enough that it won't matter. If you have dealers nearby that offer it, why not rent? That way you don't have to buy a new instrument every time and build up rental credit in the process. You can usually get a nicer instrument this way too, as well as the possibility for maintenance/insurance coverage for a couple bucks extra a month. At least that's how it is where I live. In all reality I don't think you will find a pleasant sounding fractional sized instrument without investing a good deal of money, let alone be able to upgrade yours into one. Nor is it really worth it because the others her age are probably worse off.

Other solution is to just switch your daughter to playing violin and you don't have to worry about that c string nonsense :D

September 9, 2016 at 01:03 PM · Er, six-year-olds are not usually as deaf as us!!

September 9, 2016 at 02:15 PM · The key elements for a beginner violin or viola is: easy to bow, easy to tune and comfortable to play (correct size for the player). Adjustments in sound post and bridge can have some noticeable change, but overall the instrument's basic sound is not going to change.

September 9, 2016 at 03:20 PM · Go for the Chinese. The tone sounds unacceptable to me.

September 9, 2016 at 05:16 PM · Unless the bridge is overly heavy, I agree with Scott Cole... there's nothing I've found to make dull into open.

September 9, 2016 at 09:14 PM · @ Bailey: last year, on the national Suzuki day, I thanked many of the major and minor gods for the existence of the C string. After hearing a group play "twinkle twinkle screeching star" on a variety of 1/8 - 1/4 violins, I consider E strings on small violins a torture device.

@bailey - renting is difficult around here - most people rent from the music school (low end instruments) or buy (high end). Shops don't offer that. Also, this violin would be cheaper if she can use it from 6-9 yrs old (or if my youngest starts expressing his interest), and I won't have any troubles if she drops it, neglegts it, ...

@carmen: it's easy to bow, keeps its tune nicely, has 4 good fine tuners, and is still too big, but will be usable in approx half a year. It just sounds like somebody hunched together. Quite nice actually, if we could throw the blanket off.

@don: if anything, I'd say that the bridge is too thin. I don't have a micrometer here, but the top appears to be only slighty thicker than 1 mm (like 1.2 guestimate mm), the bottom around 4 mm. The bridge of her current 1/4 size chinese factory made, but luthier checked instrument is 1.5 mm at the top and 5 mm at the bottom. I have no clue what a "correct" bridge size should be. I don't know what a too thin bridge does to the sound?

September 10, 2016 at 12:30 PM · The bridge could be of a too soft wood, or too cut away, i.e. needing more rigidity? I got the best out of the old skylark vso's by fitting an Auber bridge, thinned but not cut away in the ears and heart.

September 10, 2016 at 03:04 PM · I'd give up on the violin and see if you can return it. Perhaps run several Chinese violins by the more demanding teacher and go with whichever sounds best. It sounds like you are planning this for six months from now, so there's still time to pursue another option.

Our son is on a half-sized Yamaha V7, which is his teacher likes and which seems to project well to my ear. Good luck!

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