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The Weekend Vote

Weekend vote: How big is your mute collection?

April 19, 2013 at 6:01 PM

Recently one of my students needed guidance purchasing her first mute, to use in orchestra because they are playing the Berceuse from the Firebird.

At the same time, I'm working on an interview with Rachel Barton Pine about her new Violin Lullabies album, in which she used mutes for several of the pieces. She went on a delightful tangent all about mutes. She has a friend who has the largest collection of stringed-instrument mutes in the world: more than 5,000!

I thought I had a lot of mutes, with a half-dozen. In fact, I thought I had a half-dozen, but I only have four -- others have gone to orchestra colleagues in need, etc. At least one got thrown away because it shredded my strings. I'm also not crazy about mutes that rattle around while I'm playing.

Here are my four mutes.


The one I use most for orchestra playing is on the upper left, and I tried to find a link to it, but this mute seems to have disappeared from the universe. Anyone who knows where to buy one (all it says on it is "shield") please share the info! The one on the far right is an old-fashioned wooden mute; I remember that conductor Victor Yampolsky insisted we use these particular mutes for a muted section, I believe in a Shostakovich Symphony. The bottom mute is a practice mute.

The top-middle mute pictured above is also quite excellent and very convenient for orchestra playing, and it has a very interesting connection -- it was actually invented by Fred Spector, the gentleman with the 5,000 mutes! Spector is retired from the Chicago Symphony, where he played in the first violins for 48 years. He actually invented his own model of mute in 1947 -- made it from aluminum. Then 50 years later he put it into production, made from a rubber compound and manufactured by Super-Sensitive strings in Florida. It is called a Spector mute.

Fred Spector's mute collection is a fascinating topic. The man has mutes made from everything -- steel, leather, plastic, wood, tin, metal -- "There isn't a material I can think of that they haven't tried to make a mute with," he says. And his oldest mute? One from the 1690s, possibly owned by the young Mozart, as it was found in a case that contained one of his fractional-sized violins. Holy Ancient Mute, Batman! I found all this information on Rachel's Violin Adventures podcast (an interview in two parts, Episode 11 and Episode 13) -- it's a fascinating interview, I totally recommend it.

So how does your mute collection compare?

From Man Wong
Posted on April 19, 2013 at 6:17 PM
I like the Spector mute for this (on violin anyway), except my kids seem to lose theirs a bit too easily.

Also tried a Torte one... and one of the wired ones (w/ rubber tubing to dampen the bridge) on viola that you probably disliked.

My kids also tend to break the rubber violin practice mutes I get them.

Fortunately, mutes aren't that expensive to replace -- more of a nuisance to replace than anything...


From Samuel Chang
Posted on April 19, 2013 at 6:48 PM
In a pinch, I use clothespins. No pun intended :)
From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on April 19, 2013 at 6:49 PM
oh my, i know which one you mean about the string shredding! killed 2 sets on me when i was a poor college student, cant remember the name tho :)

oon a different note....will be waiting for that interview and hopefully contest! :) yay rachel and yay lullabies!

From marjory lange
Posted on April 19, 2013 at 7:09 PM
that one in the upper left looks like half the magnetic set up.

My favorite is the Polly mute--no rattle, stays put, moderate muting, even across the strings.

I have a few metal ones--old fashioned things.

One of my friends has one with a wavy wire standing up from it with a metal ball on the end--it produces a wah-wah muted sound, really weird.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 19, 2013 at 7:16 PM
How could I forget mentioning the String Bling mutes, decorated with crystals? Those look fun!
From William Horning
Posted on April 19, 2013 at 8:22 PM
Ok.....I really want to see the Mozart one. I've read articles that Jock Hume, one of the violinists on the Titanic, was recovered with a mute in his pocket. Always wondered what it looked like.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 19, 2013 at 10:55 PM
Tourte single-hole: the go-to.

Big rubber practice mute: Occasional use only.

Spector: bright yellow (!), works great, but it kills a lot of ring when stored behind bridge, at least on my violin. A real shame too, as this is the fastest, easiest mute ever.

Goldner: good for non-orchestral playing.

Heifetz: nice sound, tricky for fast changes.

Folded Dollar bill: Works great, easy to use, and the price is right.

I used to have a three pronged ebony mute, but it vanished many moons ago...

From Douglas Bevan
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 12:48 AM
I believe the "shield" was marketed as the "Menuhin Shield" mute. I have one around here somewhere. They seem to no longer be in production.

The "polly mute" is a similar design.

From Vanessa Gouw
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 12:58 AM
i have 3 mutes: orchestral: tourte and heifetz. and 1 practice mute.
From Patrick Tinney
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 1:22 AM
The only place I could find a “Menuhin Shield” listed is with a place called “Orfeo Strngs” if you go to their price list you can see one listed for HK$150 or just over $19USD I haven’t considered the postage from Hong Kong.

This is a link to Orfeo Strings’s mute price list

When I fiddled around with the violin some 20+ years ago I usually used a heavy practice mute. Given that I practice at home and do not play in front of people I never use a mute, though I own at least 8, I did buy the little mouse as a joke though.

Pat T.

From Paul Deck
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 1:41 AM
I think the one that abrades your strings is called the Roth mute. Its advantage is that it has a low profile so you can still see your bow contact point if you want.
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 3:07 AM
On a practical level I like the Spector mute best so far and have it on all of my violins. Any mute stored behind the bridge can occasionally cause a problem. But some experimenting in placement can help. The Spector usually stays where you put it. I never found the dollar bill trick to work. For the same dollar or two you can get a real Tourte mute. Unfortunately, that price will not get you a real Tourte bow!

I have a few oddities and antiques in my collection. One is a metal version of the classic comb type and has a built-in pitch pipe, giving you an A!

From David Beck
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 6:35 AM
There have been previous "mute" threads including
It does seem as if the Spector mute (which I don't need because I still have my Menuhin Shield) is favoured by orchestral players, but for a really good muted effect those huge wooden ones are better. And, of course, many parents will be thankful if their child has one of those heavy metal things with a tube on top (called a Tonwolf, I think) which pretty much silence the violin altogether.
Once upon a time there was a "Heifetz" mute, which the player had to park by clipping onto a string behind the bridge when not in use. These were easily lost. I lost mine.
From Jayanthi Joseph
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 7:28 AM
A friend once used a comb. :)
From Emma Otto
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 12:50 PM
I didn't know what a mute was until last year, when the conductor of my youth symphony got to wondering why I wasn't putting my mute on when the music was clearly marked, "Con Sord." He had brought his cello to rehearsal, and demonstrated the difference between a muted instrument and one that was not muted. He also told me what kind of mute I should get, as I was clueless. If it hadn't been for him, I would probably still not have a mute!
From Kevin Keating
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 1:30 PM
I have a couple practice mutes, one rubber & one wooden, and a couple wire mutes that attach behind the bridge and I don't use any of them. I only need a mute to quiet the instrument for practice but since I live out in the country that's not really a problem. However, when I take my instrument with me overnight I've used a mute. But I found that an unrosined bow is much quieter if a little hard to control. I call it my "hotel bow" :)
From Mendy Smith
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 2:57 PM
I primarily use a little rubber Torte mute. I have my original ebony one from years ago, and a wire one for my other viola.
From martin swan
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 4:29 PM
Martin and I together run Martin Swan Violins. We generally have a happy and supportive working (and indeed marital) relationship. However, there is one thing I do rather hold against him: we used to have a beautiful collection of violin mutes and one day he went and sold them on ebay. Without consultation! And for peanuts.

I am slowly re-building the collection - we buy a lot of antique violins and every so often we find a mute in the case. This is the lost collection:

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 10:19 PM
Once I saw "con sord" in the music, but mistakenly read "con sword". I broke all my strings! ;-D
From marjory lange
Posted on April 21, 2013 at 1:12 PM
Has anyone had the experience of a conductor insisting that all the violins to use the same kind of mute?

I did once, and it wasn't a simple thing like a tourte, either, but for the music (unusual 20th century avant-garde piece, probably never heard again) the effect was noteworthy.

From Lydia Leong
Posted on April 21, 2013 at 3:18 PM
Yep, that upper-left-hand one is a Menuhin Shield. They come in black and white. I have the same one that you have, and it's definitely my favorite mute. It softens the sound some, but is still reasonably resonant (which is useful if you need to play a concerto that has the soloist muted -- end of first movement of Prokofiev No. 1, for instance). It also slides on and off easily, and it stays in position when pushed back.

I tried a Bech magnetic mute, but it sounds much like a two-hole Tourte -- not as nice of a sound.

From Nicky Paxton
Posted on April 21, 2013 at 10:31 PM
I don't yet have a view on whether, apart from special effects, it is fair for a conductor to insist on the same kind of mute for all the violinists. I can understand how Mrs Swan feels insofar as I am starting to rebuild the considerable library of music which I gave away when I had a long time away from the violin.
From Matthew Dakoutros
Posted on April 22, 2013 at 8:34 PM
Wow! I like playing muted if the occasion arises. I have about a couple at any time for both my violins, I have give some to my students. Some of them have study mutes. I did not know that there were so many different kind of them! This is interesting...

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