Soundpost Thickness...How Important?

June 14, 2008 at 05:02 AM · I am curious as to what is the optimum thickness for a soundpost.How does a luthier derive the "correct" measurement for it?

Is the corelation that simple(i.e thicker post gives thicker sound and visa versa?) or ,as I suspect,its much more complicated?

Replies (38)

June 14, 2008 at 08:58 AM · I was taught that you should use a thicker post for a thinner belly, and vice versa. Thicker posts brighten and focus the sound, while a thinner post will make it darker; more "hollow"

Though I don't know of many repairmen that bother too much with this subtlety. It is "old school" knowledge.

gc

June 17, 2008 at 01:15 PM · Thanks for that Graham.I have a 5mm soundpost and we are going to try a 6mm today.I'll keep the old one in case Im not happy with the results.I guess you can wax analytical all day long but in the end you just have to try it out and take your chances.

Im looking for a thicker,softer feel to the violin.The present soundpost is in the right spot but one gets the feeling of silver wire instead of "old soft wood".I realize that it sounds different to the listener from ten feet away but one needs to "sink" into the instrument when playing.

June 17, 2008 at 12:58 PM · Hi Peter,

If you are experimenting with this yourself, keep in mind that a thicker sound post may require a slightly differnt position than a thinnner one.

I would have thought that a 5mm was a bit on the thin side for 4/4 and 6 to 6.5 mm is typical thickness. but as always when it comes to violins there is always a standard answer "it depends"

Good contact on top and bottom is important as poorly fitted is not much better than a thin post

Hopefully we can try to encourage the great setup folks to chime in.

June 17, 2008 at 01:52 PM · Hi Rob

I have a professional luthier working on the violin.This is something I wouldn't dare try myself.He has made great efforts to ensure a proper fit and I have always been very happy with his work.

Im also wondering how much the density of the wood in the soundpost contributes to the overall sound...

June 17, 2008 at 03:11 PM · I think that the position and "tension" of the post will have more importance than its thicknesses and material, but I may be wrong.

June 17, 2008 at 07:18 PM · I absolutely share the Manfio’s opinion that more important is the “tension” of the post.

About the time of finding the correct place of the post –depends on the instruments. If it is an old violin can be quite fast. When the violin is new is different –often with the development of the violin’s sound the position of the sound post needs to be changed.

June 17, 2008 at 09:42 PM · In my experience,the luthier will get it mostly in the right spot and then the "twikking" begins.We usually use a 'bank account' system where all the strings share in the "sound money" until there are no deficit accounts (i.e the G is great but the D is weak and flubby).

It makes life easier when you go to a luthier with your own concepts of sound or else they will just set it up to their own liking(what else have they to go on?)

June 17, 2008 at 09:53 PM · You sure your old post is 5 mm, Peter? Sounds a little small to me...

I do play with posts between 6 mm and 6.5 mm, depending on the instrument (modeling) and the players desires. I take special notice of the rest of the setup before trying a different diameter, however, as I don't believe much about the violin is completely "stand alone". In other words, you can get different results changing one, another, or all, of the components... and the relationship isn't always linear.

Jeffrey

June 18, 2008 at 12:34 AM · I'm of the opinion that all these things, thickness, tension, position, fit and material will count. And the better the violin the more these details make a difference.

Much of this is trial and error, with a pinch of similar experience.

On cheaper violins you can move a post a mm without much result but on the high end stuff it can throw the sound off.

I'm interested in the results.

June 18, 2008 at 10:44 AM ·

June 19, 2008 at 06:03 PM · Using the "if it ain't broke,don't fix it" philosophy,I had the soundpost backed off slightly thus relaxing the instrument.Its interesting how the E string feels softer with the bow on it yet its projection is much more pronounced than with the soundpost in the tighter position.I think we've kept the "soft butter" and "sizzle" combination intact.Now all I need is a couple days of cold weather and everything will go back to the way it was!

Speaking of set ups,can someone explain the "New York" set up? I hear this term being thrown around but have no idea what it means...

June 19, 2008 at 09:31 PM · "I think that the position and "tension" of the post will have more importance than its thicknesses and material, but I may be wrong."

You're not wrong. :)

As for the "New York" setup, I think this tends to mean tighter soundpost, and sometimes a higher nut to create some edginess. Maybe someone else can chime in here, but this has been my understanding of it.

June 21, 2008 at 02:58 AM · very good discussion!

June 21, 2008 at 11:45 AM · If thats the case Joe,I dont understand that a tight violin sounds loud under the ear but "uptight" and "tinny" from the audiences' perspective.Who would want that type of sound?

June 21, 2008 at 03:20 PM · I think there may be a vocabulary misunderstanding here. When a player says a violin is "tight" that usually means that the setup is loose--loose post, lower string angle, etc., and the other way around; a loose feel usually involves "tight" setup features. The NY setup simply permits the player to push harder on the instrument, which itself is set up to push back equally to resist the player's force. Usually something is sacrificed at the other end--pppp playing and response--but fiddle grinders often don't consider that end of the spectrum to be important, and don't check it as carefully as they do the other end.

This is not the same as a tight sound, either, which can come from other sources. So, we have "tight" setups, "tight" sounds, and "tight" response, which use the same word but are variously related or unrelated in ways that aren't necessarily obvious. Also, respect is rarely given to the fact that there are optimum settings for each of the adjustment factors which take the player and violin into consideration, and that you can't push these things on forever, gaining and gaining. When you said that loosening the post improved aspects of your violin it could easily mean that the post was way too tight for any player or violin under any circumstances, but that after being loosened it still remains tight relative to most situations.

Or, as you initially stated, yes, it is a whole lot more complicated. :-)

June 21, 2008 at 03:22 PM · Thank you Michael! Perhaps the luthier snugged up the soundpost on the E string side which in my subjective opinion,actually makes it feel softer.Would that be an accurate statement?

June 21, 2008 at 04:36 PM · It's a possibility. Some other things could also account for the change. When I adjust, I don't necessarily tell the player every single thing I do, I do many small things that the player wouldn't credit as important, and I often make moves that are the exact opposite of what the player's language suggests. The result could also be completely accidental, if your adjuster isn't in complete control of what he's doing.

June 21, 2008 at 04:55 PM · This person is very similar in style.He doesn't give me a 'blow by blow' description of everything he is doing but does take my comments into account.

June 21, 2008 at 05:22 PM · Then you have a good thing going.

June 21, 2008 at 07:46 PM · Your explanation about tightness could perhaps explain why my violin sounds best in humid weather because the wood swells and causes the soundpost to become more snug.Is that logical Michael?

June 21, 2008 at 09:47 PM · I usually do a bunch of adjustments at season changes here in Chicago, both when it moves from dry to wet, in the spring, and back to dry again in the early winter. There are two things going on, though. The other, besides expansion and contraction with humidity, is that some violins just seem to do better in some particular humidity. . . more often in more humid times. . . and I don't think that's connected with adjustment, necessarily. I haven't really scoped this out in detail, though.

June 22, 2008 at 02:44 AM · Although this is getting a little off topic,how would positioning the bridge in relation to the soundpost change things? If the bridge is moved towards the scroll and away from the soundpost(of course this would be in increments of millimeters or less),would this tend to create a deeper,softer feel when playing?

June 22, 2008 at 03:43 AM · You were probably wanting Michael's response, but in the meantime, as a consolation I will give my humble opinion.

I often move the bridge just a bit north or south to see how things will change. And if it does change to the better, then I go move the post in the opposite direction that I changed the bridge and put the bridge back.

It is near. impossible with old violins with a foot impression

June 22, 2008 at 02:28 PM · I find that there's usually, with most violins, there's one single right place for the bridge, and it's a very sensitive adjustment--measured in tenths of a mm. One of the things that happens is a purer, smoother, less dissonant sound.

June 22, 2008 at 01:19 PM · Thank you Ken and Michael! Would that optimum spot for the bridge be where the maker notched his f holes?Is there room to "play" with this adjustment?

June 22, 2008 at 03:17 PM · Traditionally there's the thickness of the bridge, relative to the nicks as a tolerance (that is, the bridge can be moved about 4mm north and south), and this is used to establish a proportion with neck length. The nicks aren't located based on tonal reasons, but both by design (the nicks are located relative to the length of the f-hole) and for playability (so that the player can predict where the higher positions will fall).

Virtually all makers and shops are very careful about putting the neck length vs stop (bridge distance down the top) in a strict 2:3 ratio and this does not consider tone at all. I find that most players will happily tolerate a bit of "mispositioning" of the bridge in exchange for the tonal benefits of doing so.

June 22, 2008 at 08:59 PM · Thank you for this information Michael!! I assume that lateral placement of the bridge has some flexibility also?

June 22, 2008 at 09:26 PM · There's the technically perfect location for the bridge, which is equidistant from the f-holes on either side, with the board pointed directly at it, and the string path running directly down the geographic center of the instrument. This is a desirable target, but not always possible to attain (when, for instance, the f-holes are not centered) and is often a compromise in one or several ways, and this compromise is a big part of setting up an instrument, initially. Then there's the tonally best location, which may or may not be precisely where we have aimed for it to be, and there are ways to accomodate this, also.

In short, yes. :-)

And while you're at it, don't forget the north-south position of the feet relative to each other.

June 23, 2008 at 12:13 AM · I'm talking in terms of tenths of mms, not halves, by the way. The "right" place for any of these is probably within a half mm of the theoretical spot most of the time for east-west, a mm north-south, and just tenths on rotation.

June 23, 2008 at 12:42 AM · I asked you about the lateral movement of the bridge because more contact is needed on the G string side of my violin.The luthier has moved it,as you described,in half millimeter "clicks".The bridge is now situated approximately two millimeters over to the bass bar side so the bridge is not perfectly symmetrical when looked at head on (it doesn't bother me...)

Im still not thrilled with the G string.Its good but I think it can be better.As you have written,you can only push it so far.Maybe this is the best it will be.

Could you describe the "north south" moving of a bridge Michael.When would this technique come into play?

June 23, 2008 at 01:03 AM · "more contact is needed on the G string side of my violin"

I don't understand what you're saying. What needs more contact? Can you clarify? Two mm is pretty far, especially since it doesn't seem to have solved the problem. I suspect the problem isn't being addressed by the right method. If the problem is that you don't feel like you're driving the G string properly, I'd fit a longer post, farther inside the bridge foot.

The N-S issue rests entirely on perceived tone quality, and you have to have a sharp ear and listen carefully--I don't have meter readings for what you should listen for. :-)

June 23, 2008 at 02:15 AM · Sorry Michael.My descriptions are so subjective.Perhaps a more colourful description of my complaint is the G sounds like milk chocolate whereas I'm looking for that dark,"80% cocoa" chocolate sound.As you wrote,it needs to have more "drive" to it...good description.

I haven't measured the lateral bridge movement over the bass bar with a ruler.Im just guessing while I look down the fingerboard.The luthier has recorded his work and could give a more accurate answer to the exact distance.Anyways,you're correct when you say this is probably not the way to go and other venues must be investigated.The longer post suggestion sounds excellent!

June 23, 2008 at 02:18 AM · I would guess that you're saying that the bottom end lacks density, and perhaps you feel like the bow has a hard time moving the system as broadly as you want--as if the bottom is more closed in; not quiet, but restricted. That would be post territory for me, not bridge.

June 23, 2008 at 02:41 AM · "I asked you about the lateral movement of the bridge because more contact is needed on the G string side of my violin."

Hmmm... I agree with Michael. I'd look at the soundpost first... but if the instrument still seems to require side-to-side bridge compensation, I might (possibly) consider trying a different width (at the feet) bridge.

June 23, 2008 at 02:16 AM · usually,there is an optimum point of

placement[in trials ] for the soundpost

at the beginning of the adjustment procedure

of a new fiddle...

the 'normal' adjustment starting off point

is 1/8 of an inch behind the bottom foot

of the bridge...

once this placmemt is acheived,the maker usually

adjusts the soundpost [by just a few mm] in any

direction--until sounds are produced that

are pleasing to the maker...

then,the maker showcases the fiddle for sale...

if a prospective buyer is not happy with

the sound produced,then the maker can adjust

the sound by slightly moving the soundpost

or bridge..

up for a more brilliant sound and down for a sound a bit more subdued...

bridge placement is normally a given,to a certain extent..

soundpost adjustment is the key[usually] to a good sounding violin...

i've seen a maker adjust EVERY ONE of the soundposts on violins for sale,based on comments from players testing them [me and a friend]..

makers are the crafters of the instrument;they

should know how to adjust the sound to your

edification...

what makes a 'perfect' sound to a maker

may not be in your realm of sound...

sometimes,makers do not even know HOW to play

a violin to a degree of great efficiency...

they do not have the gift of playing--sometimes---they can only MAKE a great instrument...

violin makers are a different breed;they make

we play....

thank the heavens for your maker....

without a maker,then where would we be ???

June 23, 2008 at 10:48 AM ·

June 23, 2008 at 12:07 PM · Relative to bar position, what you're saying could be construed to be saying that the bar is positioned widely. I wouldn't assume this without measurements (it could be that the f-holes are close, not the bar wide), but I want to comment that I have not found a widely-placed bar to be the impediment that it's often assumed to be, and this should not necessarily be the cause of the problem, as far as I'm concerned.

......

Just for a start, you might try having your guy move the post in a bit, without cutting a new one, and see what happens.

June 23, 2008 at 12:36 PM · Thats great advice Michael and I'll pass it along to the "repair guy".

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