Violin acoustics Handbook

Edited: October 26, 2017, 9:46 AM · The other day, while unsuccessfully looking for my copy of Harold Berkley's Bowing book, I came across my copy of a "Violin Acoustics Handbook"
( http://www.schleske.de/en/research/handbook-violinacoustics.html )
that I must have downloaded and printed 13 years ago. It seems a bit more difficult to print a volume (as I did back then) now - but it is still possible. The only addition I find since my original download is a rather lengthy chapter on "Sound Analysis Examples" that can also be downloaded.

German luthier Martin Schleske's website is certainly informative and (in my opinion) enlightening. It certainly helps to explain string-instrument experiences I had in ages past. I'm sure wider distribution of the information therein would have improved the focus of the record-length discussion of the "Paris Experiment." So, I link to it above for those who might be interested in some accessible scientific information relevant to discussion of violin tonal properties and human perception of them.

The only thing that needs be added to this reference is information on "psychoacoustics," which can also be found on line.

Certainly not the whole story, but better than we have done so far.

Replies (11)

October 26, 2017, 11:33 AM · Thanks a lot for that Andrew - I'm anticipating total enlightenment/bafflement.
October 26, 2017, 3:34 PM · Martin Shleske has certainly been a valuable contributor in the realm of violin tonal research. Whether his investigations have resulted in an ability to make instruments which sound better on average than those of other makers, I do not know. I've only heard two or three, and only from recordings. (Don't recall ever having played one, or hearing one "live".)
Edited: October 30, 2017, 7:07 AM · Unfortunately total bafflement easily won the day. To comprehend and digest this would cost even a scientifically minded lay-person like me an immense effort. Some kind of summary of findings and conclusions is surely desirable. How much of it is actually important and how much simply "Here is a graph" I have no idea. To start the Handbook on violin acoustics with a section on fingerboard acoustics seems particularly perverse, leading me to suspect an abstruse joke...
October 30, 2017, 8:31 AM · Steve, I agree digesting and comprehending all of this would be a time-consuming and major course of study. However, within the topics presented are many accessible ideas about violin physics/engineering that most violinists are completely unaware of and that critically influence the acoustic results of their violin-playing techniques.

I don't know if the "Fingerboard Acoustics" chapter is really where the handbook "starts," since it is presented as unconnected chapters. My own home-bound copy starts with "Criteria for Rating the Sound Quality of Violins." Try sneaking into it more gently!

Edited: October 30, 2017, 9:49 AM · @Andrew. Many thanks for bringing this research to our attention. The only small fly in the ointment is that the chapters on the Bridge and the FF-Holes refused to be translated into English on download. So back to the technical German I've forgotten since I went on a course all those years ago!

@Steve. The violin neck is an integral part of the vibration system of the violin, and so therefore is the fingerboard which is attached to the neck. I know from my experience as a classical guitarist many years ago that if I gripped the guitar neck tightly the tone would dull slightly. The same applies to the violin, but of course a good violinist would not grip the neck when producing a note; however, if the weight of the fingerboard is altered (e.g. by shortening) would that not therefore have some effect on the tone?

Edited: October 30, 2017, 9:18 AM · Could it be Stradivari's secret?
October 30, 2017, 9:54 AM · A few of the things I have learned over many decades of string playing came mainly from cello playing, where the vibrato is bigger and bolder and the effects of weight changes to the instrument are larger and a bit more numerous.

1. Back in 1963 my only cello (at the time) broke shortly after we moved to California and I had to play a couple of principal cellist solos in a community orchestra concert on the orchestra's (former Navy Band) cello - KAY* cello, known for being made of plywood (top and bottom) and for tonal dullness. (You could tell it was former NAVY BAND, because the letters "U.S. NAVY" had been embossed on the back.) Not having had a chance to work with this cello before the concert I found myself vibrating so hard to get "my" tone and projected sound into the room that my left hand actually flew off the fingerboard. -What I know - and can learn from the "Handbook" is that good instruments have closer spaced and higher amplitude overtones. If you want to get similar sound from a worse instrument you still have to find "those" overtones when you vibrato.

2. A dozen or so years ago, when I was still trying to find the ideal endpin for one of my cellos, I took the plunge and bought a Japanese-made "Bell steel" endpin (about $250, list price) at a small discount. It made a big change in the tone, but it made the cello so unnecessarily heavy that after a year I cut it down to the maximum length I would ever need - and immediately all sonic advantage was gone. In a way this addresses part of the mass issue of fingerboard, neck, and scroll weights.

3. The handbook also addresses the issue of why so many factory fiddles, cut to the exact apparent dimensions of classic Stradivarius and Guarnerius instruments are junk. Because no two pieces of wood are the same and it is the training, experience, and artistry of a great maker that finds the perfect contours to make the best possible instrument from the materials at hand.

* My first cello (for only about 2 weeks) 12 years earlier and even before my first cello lesson had also been a KAY and as soon as it was replaced with a "real" cello I would remark that I should have stuck a broomstick in it as a mast and sailed it on our farm pond - but I never got a chance to do that. That was 68 years ago. That real cello was the one that broke in CA and it has had an interesting life both with me and without me since. But I do have it again and it was fixed, finally.

November 8, 2017, 10:53 PM · This sounds interesting; I will read the material. You might also add this resource for practical violin acoustical advice, from tap tone tuning for specific parts of the violin to wood selection using Wood Tone and Rub Tone information. About 300 pages and 100 videos accessed through several methods. Might just answer some age old questions... see www.violinresearch.com .
November 9, 2017, 12:58 AM · Luvely stuff.
I have turned to the cello with avengance, and enjoy my entanglement with this instrument more than I can say.
I also have an interest in making a fiddle (then a cello), and am assisting a woodcrafted design graduate do the discovery work for me. That is, she is doing the work, not me.
With great respect, I note that some luthier people insist that the best tone comes from reduced mass. I can't defend their claim, but it suggests that cutting off the endpin was not the best decision of the day.
Thank you for linking us with the handbook.
November 9, 2017, 5:25 AM · @Graeme, in my experience the cello's end pin connecting with the floor can enable the floor to act as a resonator for the lower frequencies. This depends on the floor structure - floorboards on joists, good; concrete, no. When I played cello in a dance band I was the only one who usually didn't need a mic, depending on the platform we were playing on.
November 9, 2017, 7:35 AM · Schleske has definitely done a lot of good technical work. I have read it all and understand what he's done... but the problem with all of this (and all other) research is that, in the end, it's all personal taste about what is good or not. And the other problem that personal beliefs trump someone else's facts and logic.

So, there will never be an end to the debates, as far as I can see.


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