Can the sound of my violin be improved?

June 1, 2007 at 07:54 PM · I have a czech strad copy and it has a really beautifull and ringing tone, but it lacks warmth and dept and also power.

I love this violin, i got it for free, my husband found it and a violin maker put it back together as a gift for me. this violin is better than my other violin (that my grandfather's brother built when he was 80 years old)

so i'm wondering if there is anything a violin maker could do to improve this violin, what would it cost?

and another question, i use a bow that cost about 80 euros, so if i wanted a bow that would be noticeably better what would it cost?

Replies (38)

June 1, 2007 at 09:03 PM · Well, all violins have their own sound. I have a wonderful copy of a Vuillaume by Pierre Hel. Sometimes, it sounds muffled, so I take it to a violin maker to be adjusted. To adjust is to move the bridge or soundpost to change the sound. Although I live in VA, I take my violin all the way up to Delaware to be adjusted my a famous luthier, Whitney Osterud. It isn't too expensive, maybe $35. Though, Mr, Osterud's prices are cheap. Take about 60 bucks. But, remember, you have to research the makers in your area. Some people claim to know how to adjust violins but don't know anything at all. Don't take your violin to a big shop full of luthiers, or a family run business. Instead, focus on taking it to a private shop, where the person usually has more experience. They will have you play it, and make changes as needed. As for the bow, it depends on what you like. Cost has nothing to do with it. I have a miraculous bow that only cost around 3000 dollars.

June 1, 2007 at 10:01 PM · I hate to start something, but the strings on the violin play a large part. I'm ducking.

June 1, 2007 at 11:38 PM · Why duck? You're right. Sometimes a change of strings can make a big difference, and sometimes, not. But why not start by experimenting with what you can easily do yourself? The next step, of course, is to go to a reliable luthier. Sometimes a small soundpost adjustment can make a big difference.

June 2, 2007 at 04:54 AM · Truthfully and seriously, I have the crappiest violin, for a person at my level, in the world. Its about $200 net value and the bow is just despicable. But with time, I have bonded with my violin and with strenuous practice have been able to adjust my technique in order to get the sound I want out of this violin that does not have much to offer in this area. For one whole year, I worked on my sound because I hated the way I sounded. My teachers told me it was my violin and not much could be done, but I was convinced that it was not the violin, just me. Well, after that hard year, I finally have the sound that I want and the sound that many said could never be acheived on my violin. I mean I still have some bad habits due to inexperience, but I am happy with my sound for now.

My teacher is so amazed at the tone I can get out of this violin that she practically ordered me to get a new violin. She said, "I am dying to hear what you would sound like on a good violin."

So for now, I take pride in my cheap box.

June 2, 2007 at 11:01 AM · There's no way of knowing your violin's potential for improvement without experimenting. You might get a significant improvement with a simple soundpost adjustment.......free to $100 depending on the luthier and how much time is spent.

If a luthier is to chase down every last possible external improvement, you could easily be looking at a couple of days labor. This is usually reserved for high-value instruments. If a violin is worth 2 million dollars, people think nothing of spending a few thousand dollars to get it sounding its best.

Yes, this is one reason why expensive instruments tend to sound better.

David Burgess

http://www.burgessviolins.com

June 2, 2007 at 11:23 AM · Is there then any simple rule to know when to upgrade an instrument? if a player sounds better with a better instrument, is it time to change? Or do they always sound better with a better instrument?

Ihnsouk

June 2, 2007 at 01:27 PM · I read where a talented violinist can make a terrible instrument sound wonderful. and obviously an inexperienced/marginal violinist can make a strad queesy.

Through my own experience, I have weeks where it does not seem like I am making any progress, and then, I will have that moment. I have had one recently after reading the posts from Ms. Niles on Starling-DeLay concerning bowing. My violin, most excitedly, started to sound, wonderful! It wasn't my violin after all. I just stunk.

June 2, 2007 at 01:58 PM · I just completed my first sales trip, where I took instruments to a variety of luthiers and violin shops. It was striking, but not altogether unexpected, how different the instruments sounded in different hands. Weak players sound weak on everything - perhaps a little less weak on better violins. Strong players sounded incredibly good even on our entry level violins, and absolutely wonderful on our better ones. This experience just reinforces what's been said above about the importance of the player.

It's been my experience so far that players tend to move up in rather small steps, and buy instruments that are similar to what they are used to, but are a little bit better. It seems that it takes quite a bit of time and training before one can even hear the difference between a good and a great instrument.

Another thing I've noticed is that we are all striving to improve as players, and one can improve one's sound a little bit by long, hard work or very quickly by buying a somewhat better instrument or bow.

The instruments I play are a lot better than I am as a player, I think. This gives me the confidence that whatever is lacking in my sound is due to me, and not the instrument, so I am always motivated to work to improve. If I had a borderline instrument, it would be easy to blame it and thus lose motivation.

Taking an instrument apart and graduating it to a pattern that works well with the arching, and making a new bass bar can really open a trade instrument up, but for what it costs, and the risk involved (possibly no improvement) it would probably make more sense just to buy a much better violin. You can get a LOT of performance for $2500 these days.

June 2, 2007 at 02:43 PM · We are trying out a few violins for my daughter. With scales or simple pieces, we didn't notice great improvements in her playing with better/costlier instruments. But when she played the piece she is currently working on, Mozart VC, the highest priced one really stood out in terms of tone quality. It was much prettier, had more depth/layers. Does this mean we as parents should think about affording one?

Ihnsouk

June 2, 2007 at 03:05 PM · Yes. Also get the teacher's opinion.

June 2, 2007 at 03:15 PM · On a related note of sounding better, I'm a bit confused by a recent purchase that I made. I acquired a well loved 19C violin for repair, and it came with the most hideous looking wooden bow. The horse hair is very dark, and the stick is warped a bit. The hair is not as thick as my newer bows, and actually appears to be only two hairs thick, if that makes any sense. I can literally see the shadow of the strings through the hair when I play.

Anyway, to get to the point, I decided to try the old bow out on my new student violin. I quickly put some rosin on the bow, expecting to do this several times before the bow would sound. To my surprise it sounded immediately, and without scratching on the high string like my new bow.

So my big question is, why are new bows so horrible, and do violinists ever go so far as to specify the density of hair on a bow? Are bows with such little hair common?

June 2, 2007 at 03:53 PM · Thank you, Raphael for an unambiguous reply. We'll certainly talk to the teacher.

Ihnsouk

June 2, 2007 at 03:58 PM · Too much hair definitely damps the sound, but sometimes customers complain if there's not a lot, thinking that the person doing the rehair isn't giving them their moneys worth.

June 2, 2007 at 05:32 PM · Don't forget about how the violin feels to you when you play. There is certainly the issue of tone but some violins are responsive and easy to play and others just aren't. I think it depends a lot on the player's style and, of course, the strings and setup, but the neck thickness, string height, and on and on...

Anyway, don't forget to explore changes that might make your current instrument a lot more fun to play.

June 2, 2007 at 06:02 PM · No offense to anyone, but I think expectations for a factory fiddle, or any low priced fiddle, must be kept reasonable. Sure, you may have a one-in-a-million violin, but 99.99% likely it is the run of the mill. To think you will get a "signficant" improvement in sound quality simply due to a setup adjustment is unrealistic- "slight" perhaps. Sure, strings can make a difference, but for a low to mediocre violin, strings usually harshen or soften the sound: they do not turn a dud into a concert violin. I see violinists who tinker constantly with setup, to the extent of a neurotic obsession, and who truly believe time will age and improve the sound. If setup and time only were the panacea, all violins would sound like a Strad. One needs to realise the limits of the craftsmanship involved. Actually, of the millions of violins in the world (and China alone has 10mm students), whether old or new, only a very small percentage of instruments qualify as having all the desirable attributes for a concert violin (tone, timbre, dynamics, projection, ease, etc). Due to high demand these are not priced at $500 - more like $10,000 and up. Sure, you may find a $2500 violin to be "good enough" for now, but when you hear and play a much better one, you will wish to change. There is always a reason why anything good will cost more, and most material items can be placed in strata. The key is to educate oneself to recognise the dud, and duds can be found within most strata. For if your violin is dud, it will remain a dud, and no amount of tinkering or ageing will change this. So, good luck!

June 2, 2007 at 06:27 PM · A lot of questions are raised in this thread. The kind of strings on the subject fiddle was not mentioned.

Regarding improving the tone of a violin, in addition to optimization of soundpost position, selection of strings can be critical. (But before you start, check out playing the G string all the way up and see if it sounds easily.) I have tried most of the strings currently available on the different violins I have and continue to be surprised by what does and doesn't work - but I persist until the end result is decent. I can't even recommend what to use and try - different brands, different tension/thicknesses, etc. - sometimes (maybe usually) mixing different brands and thicknesses to voice your instrument the way you want. (Let me tell you, it's a lot more expensive doing these experiments on cellos!)

Optimum bow hair quantity is something that many bow technicians seem to ignore - but it can be very important. I played around with bow variables quite extensively 6 - 8 years ago and was very surprised by the results - both what I did learn and what was beyond my experimental equipment (and math) to learn (see http://members.aol.com/bowedstrings/bows-magic-wands.html ).

June 2, 2007 at 09:40 PM · That's quite a nice article, Andrew.

I've linked it below so people can get to it more easily.

Andrew Victor Article

Mr. Gorthuis, when I was working for violin dealers, I was frequently in a position of having to make a very expensive "dud" sound good enough to justify its price and the name on the label.

Many people underestimate what can be done with "tweaks".

David Burgess

June 3, 2007 at 01:41 PM · Hello Mr Burgess:

Are we permitted some frankness at V-com? In truth, when I read your comment, I thought to myself: who is this guy, who implies he can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse? So, I followed the link to your web page, and aha! I see your point and hopefully you see mine. I am very curious to see if tinkering can in some way improve the sound or action of my violin. It has a lovely concert sound, so I would not expect improvement: butch'ya never know. Anyway, Michigan is far off the travel routes I take, so a visit to your shop is very unlikely: no need to put the tea kettle on for me. Friends tell me Ann Arbor is very pretty in summer, so ya never know. I really like your web page BTW, and am impressed by the sincerity that comes through. Such is truly a rarity in our times. Best wishes,

June 3, 2007 at 03:00 PM · I've come to luthiery late in life. As part of my education / training I have been revoicing old trade violins, repairing them, graduating them to fairly standard graduations, installing proper bass bars, etc under the supervision and advice of some very good luthiers. I also have the advantage of working around world class instruments every day, along with the full range of price levels, so I have constant comparative reminders about what really good sound is.

I've learned that some trade violins can be made to sound very good indeed, but they are still just trade violins and hardly worth the expense. Some, so far, have been beyond my skill, and although improved, haven't ended up sounding very good at all. I'm learning a lot about the relationship of thicknesses to arching and the nature of the wood itself, which I believe will hold me in good stead when I finally start making.

I've also learned the importance of setup. True, it won't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but it can go a long way toward realizing an instrument's potential. Choice of strings, sound post fit, tension, and placement, cut (and fit) of the bridge, string afterlength can all have decidedly noticeable effects on the sound of an instrument. Even the choice of tailpiece and the location of a chin rest can sometimes make a clear difference.

June 3, 2007 at 04:07 PM · Ron, I don't think the violin in question is a cheapo-crappo factory fiddle--those Czech violins can be quite nice. I once had a Strad copy that said it was German but it was actually probably Bohemian, and it had a lovely sound.

About improvements to violins: you'd be surprised at how much difference the right "tweaks" can make. I've recently done some work on my violin with a famous and highly-regarded violin maker who lives not too far from me, and it went from sounding good to sounding great. The biggest difference was the chinrest! One of the main factors that influences a violin's sound is how much weight you have on the instrument and how it's positioned. Before I went to this guy, I had a big, heavy, center-mounted chinrest that turned out to be damping the vibrations quite a bit. Now I have a much lighter, side-mounted one with special super-lightweight hardware, and it just opened up the sound so much I could barely believe it.

Another big difference for my violin was switching to a heavy-gauge E string: apparently it balances out the tension across the bridge (makes sense, I just never had thought of that before) so now the lower register still has all its richness and dark tone but none of the "fuzz" I used to get.

This guy I worked with says that in his opinion, the soundpost should not be messed with much and *especially* not as a first option. Stuff like chinrest placement, bridge alignment, string balance and things like that can make huge differences if done right--leave the soundpost in peace for as long as possible unless it's actually *out* of position, was his opinion.

June 3, 2007 at 05:23 PM · Sure, proper setup is important. And, well, if after tweaking setup, people are happy with their violins, then I am happy to hear the news. For a violinist, not much is worse than being unhappy with your instrument or bow. If you believe you have a good buy for the sound quality, then all the more for you. I do not rule out a one-in-a-million find, but life has made me a tough sale. I prefer to think V-com s/b used inter-alia to help people find and select quality instruments: and not to convince people that a bad/cheap/mediocre instrument can be turned into a "great" one simply by tweaking setup. Of course, others may view things differently.

June 3, 2007 at 07:44 PM · Yeah, just to clarify, my violin was a good one to begin with, I've simply maximized its potential. He's right that there's not much you can do with a junk violin.

June 4, 2007 at 12:46 PM · Thanks to everyone!

Someone mentioned strings and i have been thinking about that lately, because i'm thinking about buying new ones. I use obligato (medium with silver G & D aluminium A & gold e)

They improved the sound of my violin. even since i put the obligatos on the sound has changed just by playing it.

BUT i don't think that they are perfect for my violin, G doesn't sound clear but that might be the violin. The A is hard to play, it's tense and doesn't sound as good as the rest of the strings. I do think i need a soundpost adjustment because the D string sounds louder, and better than the rest. But i need a dark sounding string and the obligatos sound so wonderfull. Is there a string that has the same qualities as the obligato but with a better G and A? or has anyone tried the chrome A with obligato or a different tension?

June 8, 2007 at 03:20 AM · I've adjusted cheap and not-so-cheap fiddles for many years and, well, EVERYTHING about the setup influences the sound to some degree: strings, bridge, soundpost, tailpiece (weight, material and string-length behind the bridge) and even the chinrest. The best advice is to take it to a luthier you trust and give them some time (with you there and not) to experiment with it. You'd be surprised at what can be done.

For example, I purchased a nice 1962 Roth Guarneri copy for my son. It looked great but the sound was disappointing--no volume, hard to play, too low string action. A new bridge (I had to make three to get a good one that worked well), a lighter, somewhat shorter tailpiece, and brighter strings worked wonders.

The point is that there is no substitute for experimentation and taking some time with the instrument.

June 8, 2007 at 02:02 PM · It's just that for an average citizen, experimenting and taking time with an instrument doesn't come naturally except for strings.

Ihnsouk

June 8, 2007 at 04:44 PM · Well, I'm told that fine tuners reduce the tone quality.

I'm currently "borrowing" (hoping to inherit) a violin that belongs to my grandpa, which his dad used to play. Legend has it the violin came from a garage sale. It's been restored at least once, using a hammer and nails. Check out my profile pic...it's the fiddle on the right.

Anyway, I have mechanical tuners, as you can see in the picture. They work better than pegs, because they turn with ease, and they stay where you leave them, rather than turning as soon as you're done tuning. They work better than fine tuners because you can turn them as much as you like (provided you don't pop the string in the process) in both directions. These tuners, if attached properly, should not vibrate against the violin like fine tuners do when they are too tight.

Also, if you have any sort of pickup or other piece attached to your instrument, make sure no metal is touching wood unless it's secured to where it can't vibrate. I was fiddling this week at church when I noticed my fiddle vibrating. This was confusing to me at first, since I don't have fine tuners on that fiddle. I traced it to the ponytail holder holding my cord on the scroll. (They don't seem to make black rubber bands...and this is more heat-tolerant). The metal on the ponytail holder was off-center (normally I center it above the open side of the pegbox) and touching the wood. By rotating the band a little so it was no longer touching the wood, I solved the vibration problem.

As a general rule, I have also noticed that older violins (the ones that are still healthy enough to play without falling apart and don't have holes eaten through them) seem to give the best sound. So maybe you should figure out how to advance its aging process and for fun, carve your initials in it, put a few dents in it, and wear off the varnish around the edges.

June 8, 2007 at 05:50 PM · I agree with almost all who mentioned it: Be sure to have someone who knows what they're doing fiddle (you should pardon the expression) with the soundpost. A slight adjustment this way or that can make an incredible difference in the sound.

June 8, 2007 at 08:50 PM · Hey there,

I actually got my violin 're-done' a while ago, and it honestly sounds soooo much better, both my teacher and I are very impressed.

Im not sure exactly, but i know he moved the sound-post, put on a new bridge which was slightly lower than the other one, sanded down the fingerboard (or something like that!), and put on new strings. It sounds immensely more powerful, has more warmth and depth, and responds to me much better, with much lless effort than before.

June 8, 2007 at 11:49 PM · Definitely, getting your violin checked and getting different strings are two good ways of bringing out that warm rich sound. Bow can help too.

June 9, 2007 at 05:46 AM · Changing the type of strings on your violin can change the sound dramatically. That's probably the easiest and cheapest thing to try first. Then ask your luthier about adjusting the soundpost. When you see your luthier, try a few different bows with your violin. Sometimes a better bow can make a violin sound radically better. People are often surprised about what a big difference the bow makes. It's usually cheaper than buying a new violin, too.

June 9, 2007 at 07:27 PM · This is bordering on absurdity. Let's put this into simple terms.

Setup = "optimise".

So, a dud becomes optimised by setup. It does not become "transformed".

By the comments of others here, one could reach the conclusion a dud can be magically transformed into a Strad by some combo of setup, strings, bow, whatever. A dud is a dud, optimised or not.

good luck avoiding duds.

June 10, 2007 at 04:54 PM · Ron, here's another way of looking at it (and a little wager, all in fun?)

I believe you've stated above that you like your fiddle. I bet you dinner at the most expensive place in town that I can turn it into a dud with nothing more than external adjustments.

If you agree that this might be possible, why wouldn't it be possible to have it work in the opposite direction, at least once in a while?

Yes, I can fix your fiddle afterwards, but I'll have to charge you. ;)

DB

June 10, 2007 at 03:23 PM · David:

This is one of those times when I do not know whether to frown or smile. I simply do not comprehend your point.

I thought this thread was about "improving" the sound of a violin. I don't need anyone to convince me the sound may be "worsened" by some process - this I have proven easily to myself!

So, someday I will bring you a factory made fiddle, setup by myself, and permit you to tweek away. If it morphs into anything close to a concert violin, I will gladly pay your wager. But I am a fair person, and by bringing you the violin, I admit the odds will be heavily stacked in my favour. So, perhaps we should wager on something where the outcome is truly a chance event?

The wager is not likely to occur anytime soon, as you are not on my tourist map: unless you decide to visit China, where I am soon bound. If you do come to China, contact me prior at rgorthuis@yahoo.com and I shall be honoured to greet you. No need to wager with me to dine upon excellent cuisine.

June 10, 2007 at 04:23 PM · I've heard that some people like Rene Morel can work magic with some adjustments, and can make most violins sound great. I'm sure there are things that most luthiers can do. I have a teacher who was quite gifted with maneuvering the sound post. Him and I spent a few hours doing that with different violins and it's just incredible what he was able to do.

June 10, 2007 at 06:46 PM · From Ron Gorthuis;

"David:

I simply do not comprehend your point."

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

To be more literal and less implicit, I would consider the fact that we can easily make a violin dramatically worse with adjustment;

(a) to be evidence that dramatic changes are possible with adjustment;

(b) to be evidence that these changes can go as easily in one direction as the other, because the changes I had in mind are reversible.

(c) to be suggestive that dramatic improvements are possible even on some violins which weren't deliberately messed up, because some violins are pretty messed up to start with.

I don't really think what I said before was obtuse enough to require further explanation, but "not getting it" is certainly an excellent and time-honored argumentative strategy. :-)

I understand your skepticism about BIG changes with adjustment, but is it remotely possible that some things might have validity beyond your scope of experience?

Pieter;

Rene Morel is one of the teachers at an Oberlin College program I direct. As part of the program, we have him demonstrating sound adjustment with players from the Cleveland Orchestra, Detroit Symphony etc.

He gets some impressive results. We recorded and later re-evaluated the "before and after", so we're pretty sure we weren't just seduced by his French accent. ;-)

June 10, 2007 at 07:21 PM · TOUCHE mon ami!

June 12, 2007 at 10:41 AM · David can anything be done with a violin that whistels and doesn't ring and sounds like it's having a sore throat! that is my violin nr.2 s problem. -someone give me a perfect violin!-

June 12, 2007 at 11:44 AM · Sarah, I'm sorry to say there's no way to know without trying. Money you spend trying to improve the violin may be wasted, or you may get dramatic improvements.

Hopefully there is someone good in your area who is willing to explore the potential of your violin a bit without charging too much, maybe by first focusing on things which obviously don't conform to standard setup.

As has already been mentioned here, you can experiment yourself with strings. But that can also be pretty expensive if you try every possible combination and gauge of strings with mainstream acceptance.

If you get together with a player who has experimented extensively with strings, they might be able to steer you in the right direction just by playing and listening to your violin, saving you some guesswork and money.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Violin Finder
Yamaha Violin Finder

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Metzler Violin Shop
Metzler Violin Shop

Juilliard: Starling-Delay Symposium on Violin Studies
Juilliard: Starling-Delay Symposium on Violin Studies

Gliga Violins
Gliga Violins

ARIA International Summer Academy

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Pluhar Violins

Potter Violins

Pro-Am Strings Ltd

Violin Lab

Violin Pros

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Subscribe