A string that doesn't ring.

August 2, 2010 at 01:05 AM ·

 Hello,

 

I'm a 19 year old student living in Prague.  I recently bought a violin after not having played since I was 13.  I didn't really remember how to play when I entered the store, so I was really at a loss as to what to buy.  Anyways, I picked out an instrument for $500(after the case and bow everything came out to about $750).  I specifically picked this one because it did not sound like a normal violin.  I do not really like the bright crisp sound most violins have, this one is much softer, more like a viola.

 

I brought the instrument home and began to play on it.

I  originally played the violin for maybe 6 years in the Suzuki method starting at the age of 4.  Despite having asked for a violin for my 4th birthday, I did not enjoy playing it at all.  My parents where not so good to me and the violin practices where among the worst.  I could hardly play a measure before my mother would stop me and point out some mistake.  We'd often spend the whole day working on just three notes...

 

I later moved on to the viola when my Suzuki teacher retired.  I ended up spending about a year fiddling, bluegrass which I very much enjoyed.  I quit when I was in my early teens anyways.

 

I no longer live with my parents, and I have decided to relearn the violin.  I hide in the attic, where I hope no one can hear my awful squeaks.  I've been playing it for about two days now, and have noticed something "wrong" with my violin.  I guess I could probably take it back to the shop as I've had it less than a week, but I'd like to have your opinion on whether this is fatal first.

 

I'll try here to explain to you the problem.  When I pluck the strings, each rings for about a second and a half.  Starting with one tone, and then "fading" to another.  All of the strings fade at about the same rate, EXCEPT the A string, which fades almost twice as quickly.  This translates, to when bowing, I have to bow the A string quite a bit more vigorously than the others, in order to get the same tone.  

 

I don't really know much about the violin, I'll try to ask next time I'm at the shop.  It has "HOPF" engraved on the back, but no placard inside(at least as far as I can tell, it's very dusty inside, has cobwebs growing it it I think).  It was clearly a practice instrument for many years, probably at a music school, given the scaring and bruising covering it's body.  But it does have a very beautiful ringing sound(except for that darn A string!)...

 

One thing I did take note of, is that the shop put new strings and tuner pegs(mechanical ones on the tail piece) on the violin for me.  The A string is different than I'm used to in that it has a plastic tube thing on it over the bridge like the E string(unlike my old 3/4 size violin).  The A string is also tightly bound and shiny like the E string rather than visibly "grooved" like the G and D strings, which is also new for me.  The shop said there is a choice between metal and synthetic strings.  I chose metal, maybe I should change the A string to synthetic?

 

I must say, I was rather afraid of tuning the violin after the new strings stretched out.  The last time I had tuned a violin was several years ago.  My mother has a rare violin, and by this I don't mean a strad, nothing quality like that.  It was sold in a catalog a long time ago and has a mother of pearl drawing on the back.  Most of it's "sister" violins from the same catalog burned in a fire, so it's simply one of the last left in it's line.  When I tried to tune it though, two of the strings promptly broke marking the front.  It's now siting under a table somewhere and should probably be repaired.

 

Anyways, I just noticed that I had tuned my current violin wrong.  Not that it was flat or sharp, but simply because I had tuned it to some OTHER set of notes than G,D,A, and E!  Having fixed that doesn't seem to have remedied the problem with the A string though.

 

It reminds me of a lesson a long time ago when I couldn't remember how one of the songs began(I never claimed on here to be musically talented nor intelligent).  My teacher hummed for me a few bars to stir my memory, and I began to play the song with some difficulty.  My mother and teacher laughed hysterically.  Apparently my teacher had hummed the tune slightly sharp, and I had begun to play it just the way she had sung it.  Including placing my first finger down to correct the open notes...

 

Anyways,

I hope someone can answer my question, and that I didn’t just flush $500 down the drain(not really, the violin still works, it’s just a little “weird”).

Replies (20)

August 2, 2010 at 02:55 AM ·

Timothy, I may have gotten confused with what your original question was, but I believe it's possible for you to find joy in the violin once again.

August 2, 2010 at 08:44 AM ·

 To condense my question:

 

The violin that I bought has an anomaly of sound.  The „A” string(third string on the right), does not have the same level of resonance as the other strings).  I‘m wondering if this suggests some deeper flaw in the instrument, or if there is something that can be done mechanically to fix this?

August 2, 2010 at 11:56 AM ·

I would first move away the plastic tube first to see if it helps (though I doubt it'll help much), then try a set if synthetic core strings. Dominant string is a good start, it'll tell you a lot about your violin whether it need a brighter/darker sounding strings, higher/lower tension etc.

August 2, 2010 at 01:45 PM ·

Could you ask the dealer to play your violin? Sometimes it is a technical problem in the violin and sometimes it is a imperfection of the player.The price of this violin is modest and this might also indicate that it is not perfect. You may even need a small correction of the soundpost or something like that. First return to the dealer, he is liable for selling a good instrument and setup.

August 2, 2010 at 01:50 PM ·

Timothy why fiddle around on your own when you are unhappy with a purchase. Take it to someone who can play a violin for a decent assessment before you start changing on the hunches of people that have not touched or seen the set up of the violin. Leave the strings untouched till then, maybe you can get a refund on something that should be replaced. 

August 2, 2010 at 02:47 PM ·

Hi, Timothy --

Welcome back to the violin.

I know exactly what you mean about that pesky A string.  My primary violin is an old (~1900) German conservatory violin (made for the U.S. student trade).  Like yours, it looks more than a bit battle-scarred and doesn't have a label inside.  The only way I pinned down its origin was through a lot of detective work based on words impressed into the back of the scroll.

The violin came to me after it had spent many years in an attic.  It needed strings, and at the time I didn't realize that there could be so much difference in sound quality that would be attributable to string quality.  I had the cheapest ones I could find put on.  Like you, I noticed a major difference in sound between the A string and the others -- almost like someone was touching the string, keeping if from resonating as well as the others.  I replaced it (with another inexpensive A), and heard no improvement.  At this point, I took it to an excellent luthier in my town.  He made some adjustments to the soundpost and bridge, which were definitely a step in the right direction.  Major improvement, but still not quite right.  I changed the strings to D'Addario Pro-Arte.  A little better.  Still not thrilled.  I went back to the luthier, had him make a new bridge (which he'd recommended during my first visit), and changed strings once again (this time to Dominants).  You wouldn't believe it's the same violin!!  All four strings produce a nice, rich, resonating tone.  I'm even happy with the Dominant E (which sounds very shrill on my other violin).

So I guess my recommendation would be:  As others have suggested, first have a skilled violinist play your violin to see whether or not the problem could be violinist-related.  If the problem is, indeed, in the violin (and if you're willing to spend additional funds on this particular instrument), find a very good luthier and have the violin set up correctly.  You might find that with a correct set-up, the violin will sacrifice some of that soft, viola-like tone that you were originally attracted to, but it could take on characteristics (richness, darkness, etc.) that you'll find pleasing.  I thought I was happy with the sound of my violin (except for the A) before my luthier worked his magic on it, but I love it SO much more now!

Good luck -- I hope the problem is resolved soon.

August 2, 2010 at 08:53 PM ·

 Thank you for all of your advice on what to do.  I took my violin to the store where I bought it today and the man said that it's pretty normal.  He pulled out a $5000 violin and played on it.  This violin also suffered slightly from the A string being less resonant than the others.  He also seemed quite confident that the violin he sold me was fine, as he encouraged me to try out the other violins in the shop and mabe change my purchase if I didn't like the one I had chosen...

 I think I'll end up taking the thing to a Luthier to see about the bridge, sound post, and strings.  

How much should I expect a luthier to cost for bridge and sound post adjustment?

August 30, 2010 at 09:33 PM ·

  I left my violin at the luthier today and won't have it back till friday...

I'm rather lonely now :(  I've been playing a lot lately, haven't even been putting it back in it's case so it's a big change for me not to have it availible...

I'm having a new bridge put on it by a luthier I found through this web site, Ivan Švýcarský and he's going to change some other things too.  He says that the current fittings are much higher tnan they ought to be and that he's going to have to put in a new sound post too because the current one is too short.  The whole thing will cost somewhere arround $110 USD which isn't too bad considering that luthers have to eat.

He said there will be big changes in the sound.  So I hope it will be good...

August 30, 2010 at 11:24 PM ·

 I wonder if that man in the violin store had once been a used car salesman.

August 31, 2010 at 05:23 AM ·

I agree with you Trevor, used car sales. You shouldn't have to put up with a muted A string even on a $500.00 fiddle let alone the $5000.00 fiddle that was demonstrated. A lot of the problem might be that thin steel A string with the sleeve. You may have a lot better luck with say dominants as suggested. Hopefully the luthier can sort it out. 

August 31, 2010 at 12:50 PM ·

Why does these 'strange' long winded threads always come from the Czech Republic or someone new on the site, I'm beginning to smell something rotten and it is not in the state of Denmark. 

Not a  single spelling mistake in this thread, done in brilliant English from a 19 year old that should have been named Timovan Hobislavska. 

August 31, 2010 at 02:58 PM ·

Hey, guys --

Tim said he's a 19-year-old student "living in Prague" -- he didn't say he was born there.  Maybe a transplanted American or Brit???  My nephew has a German exchange student living with his family right now.  Such things do happen -- no subversive motives.  :)

August 31, 2010 at 03:05 PM ·

 Am I the only one that find this thread very  'strange', like a few others that I have come across and Not only because of the English. But maybe I should let sleeping dogs lie, it also turned out to be entertaining.

August 31, 2010 at 05:10 PM ·

I didn't notice anything unusual until you made the accusation, Dion.  It would be most polite of you to give people the benefit of the doubt first.  There's no harm being done in this thread.

Timothy, your stories have been very entertaining to me this morning.  I hope everything works out for you!

August 31, 2010 at 06:59 PM ·

  Dion,

 

Why DO these ‚strange‘ long winded threads always come from the Czech Republic

 

I have a very short and simple explanation for you.  As I said, I am a student living in the Czech Republic.  I was born in America to a Czech mother.  My grandparents left this country around 60 years ago to escape Communism and I have returned to study and care for an elderly aunt.  I was born in America, my father is American, and I spent the first 18 years of my life there.  I should hope my English is at least understandable.  Furthermore, in the center of Prague, the majority language is English and not Czech due to the large number of foreigners.  You would be surprised to hear that most native born Czechs indeed have better spelling than I.  In part, due to their meticulous nature and knowledge of a feature on some modern computers called „spell check"(Not to be confused with „spell Czech” which is really much simpler given that their language is phonetic.) :D  But no offense taken.

 

I can hope that the man at the shop who sold me the violin made a mistake.  The bridge was of much lower quality than the violin itself and new.  I suspect that the dealer could have sold the violin for more if he had sent it to a luthier himself for cleaning and some small touch ups.  And even if it is I who erred in the purchase, I like the sound so I cannot have gone to wrong.  I will see Friday when the thing is returned to me.

August 31, 2010 at 08:10 PM ·

 Timothy (alias Timoslav) I am sure you will look well after your aunt, as you have an old head screwed onto a young body. I hope you will take up the bluegrass fiddling once more, as it goes well with a viola sound. The cobwebs in the violin might hide a spider also, so I will recommend putting a mothball in your violin case. Spiders can not stand the smell and it can also kill the bow bugs in such an old neglected case. The cobwebs maybe the cause of the sound problem, as it could be interfering with the sound post which is right under the A-string. Perhaps you are expecting too much of the A-string, it is never as powerful as a G-string.

I wish you everything of the best in Prague, and I am sure you will be well looked after by your aunt and be remembered in her will. Let us know what happens on Friday.

Cheers Dion (alias Dionidov)

September 3, 2010 at 09:45 PM ·

 Well I got the violin back today.  The A string still doesn't ring as much as the others, but it's a drastic improvement.  My first impression was that the whole violin had shifted in a way, and that the A and E where now dominant in a way.  The sound is deffinitly improved for those strings, but there was a problem on the G string.  It has buzzing out of controll issue that I had on my 3/4 size violin.  After an hour or so of practicing I have modified my bowing(pressing less hard, changing the angle, speed) and I don't hear it anymore...  I also ditched the chin rest, which I think made up about a 3rd of the weight of the violin.    It is MUCH MUCH  LOUDER!  So much so that playing really hurts my ears.  So I've been trying to figure out how to play more quietly...  Maybe I'll get a mute and just leave it on full time...

By the way, the changes made where:

New bridge, reduced hight(from taller than standard to somewhere inside the standard range).

New sound post, according to the luthier the old one was too short, so he made a new one.

Polished the violin.

Sanded the nut to reduce roughness, maybe reduce hight as well, he was very concerned that the hight of the strings was much higher than normal...

The new bridge has a much more symetrical shape.  The old bridge was just.. bad.. the virtical spacing between the strings was pretty random.  Now it is much easier to shift strings...

September 4, 2010 at 10:35 PM ·

  

September 7, 2010 at 04:38 PM ·

 Hi tim, just like to share some experienced that I have which is similar to your story.

 

I used my violin for 4 years and after 4 years i realised that my violin seems to sound very bad so i was wondering why. Until the point i decided to buy another violin as a spare. After the first violin had a crack near the side of the violin. I brought it to a luthier.

I totally changed the set up of the violin and the sound greatly improved. He said new violins need a proper set up after 6mths to a yr of playing. This is because your violin will expand as you play. Thuis when it expands the sound post tends to get too short. Also the bridge that you bought seem to be inferior because many bridges are not oiled and shaped correctly.

So yup... you did a right choice bringing it to a luthier I hope you enjoy playing your violin :D

 

Regards,

Sherman

September 9, 2010 at 04:34 AM ·

About the little tube on the A string.....that's normal. They put them on E strings so they won't cut into the bridge, and some brands do it for As and some don't.

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