Would you go to a more experienced non-playing luthier or a less experienced playing one?

Edited: August 22, 2017, 12:27 PM · My Topa was made in 2016. I understand that within a year or so, I should get its sound post (possibly the bridge as well) checked/replaced. I was also told by a professional string player that, in order to optimize the sound, I should go to a good playing luthier since a good player has better ear to the sound of a violin than a non-player. That, I suspect may not be correct. But I'd like to hear what you guys think about this.

Replies (51)

August 22, 2017, 12:39 PM · I would say you don't want to go to a less experienced anyone to work on your soundpost, can't you find an experienced luthier that also plays???
August 22, 2017, 12:40 PM · Very few luthiers I've ever dealt with were accomplished players. And very few bow makers either.
It doesn't seem to matter. Besides, you should use your own ear for adjustments, not the luthier's.
You have to be happy, not the luthier.
Edited: August 22, 2017, 12:42 PM · My ear is not your ear. What I hear in the adjustment of your violin is irrelevant. I try my best to elicit descriptions from the players rather than telling them what I hear and what should be done. The exception to that is an inexperienced player and an instrument that is very poorly set-up/adjusted. Then I suggest that we need to bring things to a state of "normal" or acceptable before we can proceed with adjustment. Also consider that some people are hightly suggestable and that we violin makers can tell them what they are hearing and, at least for a period of time, they will believe and agree.

I feel that in order to adjust the instrument for the player that I need to be able to translate what they hear and want changed into something physical on the instrument. Sometimes I think that what they want to hear is not obtainable through adjustment, and I say so.

Most players can't make instruments or repair well. Some makers came to the making side through playing, but many did not.

I would posit that a maker who plays well might just comment on your bow grip or your playing techniques and piss off your instructor! This, of course, after playing the instrument and telling you that it seems fine to them and you need to learn how to deal with it.

Edited: August 22, 2017, 12:57 PM · I would expect a professional luthier of calibre, if a violinist himself, to discount his own personal preferences, to treat issues objectively, to understand what his client wants, and to advise the client accordingly. If the luthier uses his own subjective experience (of which his personal preferences would be a part) in his advice to the client, then the client should be made clearly aware of this. This is how a professional in any field should behave when dealing with a client.
Edited: September 2, 2017, 6:26 AM · Lyndon, yes, the quite experienced luthiers I have in mind do play a little but not anywhere near professional level.

Scott and Duane, thank you for your comments and advice. They are very helpful!

August 22, 2017, 1:28 PM · I did a repair for a friend who is a concertmaster in a US orchestra (a legit, paid gig, full-time job). She was concerned about adjustments since she is a plane flight away. I gave her a name of a local who she could trust if she needed him. I asked her if she had found him in her city and she said that she found him in the first violins! He is a grad of the school in SLC and plays professionally, so they are out there.
August 22, 2017, 2:15 PM · From my experience, it is more important that the luthier listens to you and does not force her/his preference of sound. He / she is also experienced in violin setup, which is a totally different skills-set than violin building.
August 22, 2017, 3:23 PM · It's no use going to a luthier who plays violin if they aren't going to have the skills to adjust YOUR violin the way you want.
August 22, 2017, 3:35 PM · I would definitely pick the more adept one, though "experience" doesn't equate to doing the best set-ups. A luthier doesn't need to be able to play in order to do excellent set-ups, but they do need to have a good ear and an excellent understanding of what adjustments to make in order to get the sound the way you want. Great violin-makers aren't necessarily great at set-up, by the way; a luthier gets good at doing set-ups by doing a lot of them, which busy makers don't necessarily have much experience with.

August 23, 2017, 2:08 AM · Even if a maker or repair person plays very poorly (even horribly), they can still become very adept at listening, and at using their own playing to evaluate the properties of an instrument. I've run into this many times.
August 23, 2017, 4:31 AM · My luthier doesn't play but he does good adjustments.
August 23, 2017, 4:35 AM · David i love your violins in the low registers.

Well i can't post due to my poor internet connection ugh

August 23, 2017, 5:11 AM · By all means go to a highly skilled and very experienced luthier, whether they play well or not. You don't want someone with less than pretty top-notch skills making soundpost adjustments or anything else. If your car needs adjustment you want to take it to a professional mechanic. If they happen to be good drivers or not is almost beside the point. Unless it's an emergency, you wouldn't want to bring your car to a friend who is a very good driver and does some of his own 'puttering around." If they play well, that's fine for them - a kind of icing on the cake. But ultimately YOU have to like the sound of your violin, after adjustment. Sometimes, btw, a violin may need some playing-in after the adjustment. Also, some very experienced luthiers, whether they play or not, have a very good ear and perspective on sound.
August 23, 2017, 6:52 AM · I have no idea how well my luthier plays, or if he plays much at all. I first started going to him based on several glowing recommendations from fellow orchestra members. It also didn't hurt that I looked him up and found that he's a member of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers. He's done quite a bit of work on my violin to date and I've always been very happy with the results.
August 23, 2017, 7:51 AM · I guess that most luthiers can at least play a scale, and that could be enough from their part. It's your violin, your sound preferences and your prefered setup, according to your playing style

I would try to find a reputable luthier that I can easily communicate and that they can understand what I am asking.

Visit the luthier that has the most experience...or the one that you can enjoy working with.

Likewise, A good player does not need to be a competent luthier. It's a different role.

Edited: August 23, 2017, 10:48 AM · Wow, the consensus is pretty clear. Now a further question, what would be a reasonable amount of time for me to spend at the luthier's shop testing the sound? I always feel bad to take too much time from busy professionals (luthiers, musicians or profs, you name it). In the past, I just accepted whatever luthiers have done my violin and paid the bill. If I like their work, I would go back to them, If not, I look for a new one. I know, this is not a good approach. Your advice will be much appreciated.
August 23, 2017, 11:24 AM · Yixi,

The trick is to visit the violin shop when they are not terribly busy. State the purpose, ask them and find the opportune time for your visit.

August 23, 2017, 11:54 AM · Honestly i feel the same sometimes. But even more so in France because the customer service is just pure garbage no joke.

Depending on the luthier at the front desk I'll stay longer or not.

I don't know how to go about trying out their violins they're all antiques i need a catalogue tbh.

Anyways.

If you don't feel comfortable with that person holding your baby dont give them your violin.

Do some research on the luthier.

Edited: August 23, 2017, 12:12 PM · Yes, as Sung said, it would be good to make an appointment and let the luthier know in advance what you had in mind.

It so happens that I literally just came home from such an appointment and it worked out beautifully! I've had many such appointments with different violin and bow makers over the years and they were always fun and I always learned something.

August 23, 2017, 1:24 PM · I've found that 30 minutes to an hour is typical for adjustments, at least for my tastes. I've had some that have taken longer, and that have turned into "let me make a new soundpost" or "let me make a new bridge".
August 23, 2017, 2:23 PM · I have met several luthiers. All of them knew how to produce notes and tune the instrument, but none were professional players.

I once asked directly one of them if they knew how to play, to what the answer was " i know wnough to check if the instrument is OK. The rest is up to you".

I think they have a point. There is absolutely need to master playing and the manufacturimg process.

August 23, 2017, 4:21 PM · When I am asked how long it takes for a sound adjustment, I usually reply, "That depend on you!"
Some players know what they want and have well maintained instruments that we adjust when there are significant changes in the weather or with a change in type/brand of strings. Some players bring in poorly maintained instruments that require work to get to the point that we can adjust the instrument.

So, how long should you schedule? Depends on you, although I do generally stop after 30 minutes or so and ask that they let the instrument settle, play it at home, and return after that, in a few days, if they are not pleased. The instruments do continue to change after the adjustment is done.

August 23, 2017, 5:20 PM · Bruno's luthier summed it up really nice.

@ Yixi Zhang, you should not feel bad. Provided that you have let them know in advance -my luthier for example works with appointments- it's all part of their job, and you are supposed to leave the shop happy. That's the overall deal I guess. Even if they have an appointment and you have "run out of time' you should not fake being happy about your adjustments, you can continue some other time.

Edited: August 23, 2017, 11:02 PM · Though I fully understand the arguments put forth so far, supposing both luthiers are equally adept at setting up instruments, being not an advanced player myself with the experience and skills necessary to provide highly critical observations of my own instrument's performance, especially when pushed to its extremes, which I honestly can't do... yet, I'd tend to think that the professional player luthiers could put an instrument to test in what would be a "real world situation" beyond anything I or a non-playing luthier can, no? I.e. the non-playing luthier relies on my feedback, which I have limited ability to provide, hence that would make the playing luthier perhaps a more logical option?
August 24, 2017, 4:41 AM · I've heard that some violin making schools in China are in music conservatories, and that makers must play the instruments they are learning to make.
Some schools in Italy, in the past, had violin, viola, cello and bass classes too.
Good points by David Burgess.
August 24, 2017, 8:44 AM · Paul, a good set-up is something that works for you. It's the sound that you want to hear, for the physical approach that you take, which is not necessarily the optimal set-up for someone else.
August 24, 2017, 9:04 AM · Lydia, excellent point especially about the physical approach part. The problem is, while I can tell exactly how I want my violin to sound under my ears, but I'm not quite experienced as a soloist in hearing how my violin will sound in 10ft or more.
August 24, 2017, 12:13 PM · What's your priority in adjustment, though?

Historically, I've optimized for sound under the ear, and I think most people who aren't regular performers should.

More recently, with a change in violins, I've been optimizing for the listener. There are two reasons for this -- one, this violin is harsher under the ear than it is to the listener, and to get listener-optimal sound I have to be willing to accept a more brilliant sound under the ear than I'd really like, and two, I'm doing a lot more performing (outside of orchestra section playing) than I did in the past.

Edited: August 24, 2017, 12:24 PM · I am performing about twice a month in a hall with a recital group. Then there are chamber music workshops I go from time to time but I don't get to play solo with orchestra yet. So I guess I need to have the sound loud enough as a chamber player. Although I'll make the call, I still need someone to let me know how it sound in distance though.
August 24, 2017, 12:40 PM · Yixi, when I want to hear live my violin playing more as others would hear it I put an ear plug into my left ear. That cuts out a lot of the sound coming directly up from the violin and what I'm now hearing in my right ear is a less direct sound which is a little more like what an audience would hear.

Another alternative is more cumbersome: wear headphones that are good at excluding outside sound and connect them to a good quality mic about 10 feet away. I find something like one of the Zoom series recorders does a job sufficient for the purpose.

August 24, 2017, 12:50 PM · Maybe you could take someone with you whose ears you trust?
August 24, 2017, 1:04 PM · More projection maybe xdd lol.

Dig deep

FIGHT!!

August 24, 2017, 1:19 PM · Being a player is good but not essential for a maker. The maker must be able to understand what the musician wants and convert that information in sound adjustments or in the sound of the instruments he is making, this may be more important than playing.

Many modern and old makers were players.

Talking about Pietro Guarneri of Mantua, the Hills say: "We thus discover that the master had devoted his early years to becoming skilled in music as well as in violin making; and we have here the only instance yet recorded of one of the great Italian violin makers engaged in this dual calling".

The Hills presume that Pietro violin master was Francesco Orcelli, an "accomplished musician and fine violinist", who was Andrea Guarneri`s brother in law, proving "an intimate relation between palyer and maker".

Talking about Del Gesù`s mystery as to the activities of the master between the year 1723 and 1731, the Hills venture to state that: "May he not, following in the footsteps of his ancestor Orcelli, and his uncle and godfather, Pietro, also have been both a player and a maker of violins, a player of more ordinary capacity than his relatives, possessed of no desire to be attached to one of the Ducal Courts? Singing and dancing to the accompaniment of music was much favoured by the mass of the people throughtout Italy, and Cremona, the seat of instrument making, must from this very fact have inspired some members of her craftsmen families to become players. We have no doubt that such was the case, and supposing it in the case of del Gesù, his double calling would in the circunstances seem to fit in with the tradition handed down to us by the last of the Bergonzis".

In another part of the Hill`s book on the Guarneris they state that: "we regard it as certain that many of the makers wo setled in the smaller musical centers could play well enough tho take the minor parts in orchestras, and indeed would need to do so to supplement their earnings as makers. These were the days of many disdness... ..."

And Stradivari, would he be a player? I suppose so, and it seems there is one written evidence of this in Sacconi`s "I Segreti di Stradivari" and, in the catalog of the relics of the master we find in nol. 222:

Sul retro del foglieto sono tracciati alcuni righi musicali, autografi di Stradivari, con numeri al posto delle note.

I would translate this as (tradutore traditore!):

"In the other side of the paper, there are some lines of musical notes, written by Stradivari own hand, with numbers instead of musical notes".

Why would Stradivari write some lines of musical notes but for play them in an instrument?

The musical notation in numbers points out to Strad as a player that was not able to read music. Louis Armstrong was not able to read music. I remember Mozart`s irritation on the fact that many opera singers were not able to read music, so he had to teach them their parts till they could sing it by heart.

August 24, 2017, 1:48 PM · I've played in folk bands and sessions where some of the most excellent players cannot read music. I don't think it's that unusual outside the classical music world.
August 24, 2017, 3:23 PM · I would say, Yixi, that you're not likely to really get significantly variable projection through small tweaks. You do want a properly-carved bridge and properly-fit soundpost, but as long as the placement is good, projection should be roughly similar.

What you adjust for is, in my experience, individual to the instrument. My first full-sized violin (a nice contemporary) required careful adjustment in order to balance the sound of the strings, and fundamentally required making trade-offs in the qualities I wanted out of the sound. My second violin (a good antique) generally sounded fine with minimal tweaking, with the right bridge and properly-fit soundpost; it was easy to hit a balanced, resonant place. My current violin (a superb antique) is super-sensitive to every little tweak and adjustment seems more about trying to find the elusive sweet spot.

The art of the right bridge and right soundpost is significant, though -- changing either can make a world of difference in the sound.

August 24, 2017, 3:50 PM · Lydia, what you said makes a lot of sense. And as Raphael suggested, I'll take someone with me when I go to the luthier.

Thank you all for your wonderful advices!

Edited: August 24, 2017, 4:01 PM · (sorry Yixi, not wanting to hijack the thread but since its on this topic i have a concern).As a rebeginner, I personally feel too shy going to a luthier for a sound adjustment, even though I feel the G is not as clear as the other strings. I wont be able to play decently...so how would I know what to ask of her or him and when to have reached a desirable end...

ps the luthier i saw said soundpost was fine and that i needed to book a slot with his boss for a sound adjustment ...and here i thought it would be a matter of handing the violin over ..and getting it back after a brief period.

August 24, 2017, 4:41 PM · Tammuz wrote, "I personally feel too shy going to a luthier for a sound adjustment, even though I feel the G is not as clear as the other strings."

That is exactly the kind of thing I say directly to my luthier -- and that is how you get results. If you hand your luthier the violin and say "make it sound better" then I think that's more of a roll of the dice.

You don't need to worry about impressing the luthier with your playing skill. Trust me, they don't care. Play up five notes on the major scale on each string and you can hear the difference in the sound of your G string after the adjustment. GABCD then DEF#GA etc.

August 24, 2017, 5:04 PM · Note that the issue with the G might also be an issue with the nature of the violin itself. A soundpost adjustment might help strengthen the G, but it might also compromise the sound of the other strings to some degree.

August 24, 2017, 5:09 PM · perhaps Lydia. its not so much the strength as the fullbodiedness (if such a word exists)- ie although tension looks right, it feels flabbier to bow than the others- and clarity (for instance, when tuning, the G is not as clear to tune as the others).
August 25, 2017, 4:50 PM · The G string is the most problematic in the violin. Zukerman starts test driving violins playing in fortissimo in the 7th position of the G string. The same on the viola C string.
Edited: August 26, 2017, 7:35 AM · Luis, why is that so? Is it that the string is fatter and seems to have less tension in it so less likely to be as focused?
August 26, 2017, 7:51 AM · Tammuz if you think your G string is flabby, you might want to get a qualified luthier to tighten your soundpost a bit, it will slightly lower the volume of the G, but it will be a tighter sound, which I think is what you are looking for, it may also make the e string a little louder.
August 26, 2017, 9:15 AM · Thank you Lyndon. I will keep that in mind. Im also going to wait until I start with my teacher to get their opinion.
August 26, 2017, 1:18 PM · Tammuz, the G string is thick, and when it is played in high positions the vibrating part of the string is short, I think that is this that causes the problem.
Edited: August 27, 2017, 7:26 AM · the first step of my "standard test" of instruments (violins, violas, and cellos) and strings is to play a two-octave scale on the instrument's lowest string. Cellos are pretty much always the worst - in my experience - the exceptions are very hard to find in the price range of new automobiles = except perhaps Teslas.

On violins I have found that changing strings can make a big difference. I switched to Larsen Tziganes on a couple of violins that had poorly-reponding G strings in their 2nd octave and solved the problem. Interestingly the same violins' G string problems were also solved by changing out the E string and replacing whatever was on there with the Peter Infeld platinum-coated E. So far no other E string has had that effect.

One of my violas is altogether different - the C string is quite ragged sounding in it's lowest fifth but smooths out above that (its G string is exquisite sounding and the D and A are fine also). I've been using Pirastro Permanent strings on it the past year - but the C string has had this problem through at least 4 different types of strings. I got some improvement of the lower C string notes this "go-around" by tuning it down a half-step, so I replaced it with a dolce Peter Infeld C - and that helped some. I have a couple of other lower tension Cs to try in the future.

I have three cellos and none of them is great is on the C string above the lowest octave. I've tried numerous other cellos including three years of those at the "Contemporary Violin Makers of Cremona" (which this October will be at the Metzler Violin Shop in Los Angeles) and found the same kind of problem to some degree with all of them. Since I once spent a summer playing on a really great ancient cello; I know it does not have to be this way - and one is not often called upon to play up there on the C string - but it can be handy to be able to do so - especially when you can bow it the same way you do the other strings without giving it a 2nd thought.

I'm not sure why I've gone on like this - but it relates some of my experience with troublesome strings - and I guess I will post it rather than erase it!

August 27, 2017, 2:30 PM · I know of three luthiers in my area in England who have violin playing skills. One plays in a good amateur orchestra, and the other two are good folk violinists.
Edited: August 27, 2017, 2:41 PM · Victor's post reminds me of a puzzling question concerning wolf notes, particularly those on the violin G. Was the wolf note phenomenon known in instruments made in the Baroque era, and into the late 18th century? If not, are there grounds for supposing that its prevalence today could be due to the change in the construction of the violin post-Baroque - longer bass bar, change in neck angle, higher bridge, and, more recently, higher tension synthetic core strings, for example?
August 31, 2017, 6:32 AM · I would go the experienced luthier. Playing ability is not as important as a good set of ears, steady hands, and a good brain.

Cheers Carlo

Posted under my own full name, according to Vcom's rules.

August 31, 2017, 9:51 AM · The luthiers Yixi is talking about (easy to guess if you know Victoria) are both experienced, it just happens that one is "more" experienced than the other. #2 is far from being a rooky so it isn't a matter of experienced vs inexperienced, hence the dilemma.
September 2, 2017, 6:25 AM · Roger, thanks for the additional clarification. You are absolutely right that we are not talking about experienced vs. rooky. There are more than two for me to choose from though.


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