What work would you be willing to do on your own instrument

June 14, 2011 at 04:09 PM ·

Today , after wrestling with horrible sound for days , I decided to take a crack at soundpost adjustments.  I fashioned a tool from an old coat hanger, and began prodding.  Moments later you could hear my soundpost rattling away inside of our soundbox.

In desperation I took another stab at it and impaled the post on a bit of bent up coat hanger with a point on it .  I managed to set the soundpost back into position.  After playing , I discovered I had done no harm, but had made no improvements either. SO !  I went back in for another round. This time I move the post a matter of millimeters to the position I felt like would be "about" right.  Played a bit , and voila , I had the sound I was looking for.

A very valuable lesson was learned for me today.  Be willing to push the boundaries , as long as you are prepared to accept the consequences.  Never attempt the act , if it cannot rather simply be undone by a qualified technician. I also experiemented with bridge placement ( fairly simple) to see the changes in tonality , and it seemed to work well together.

So what would you be willing to do to help your instrument if no other option was available to you to get the work done ?

Replies (25)

June 14, 2011 at 04:34 PM ·

I have a sound post setter, and I would use it to adjust or set if needed, but I would also mentally schedule the next appointment.

When I first got a fair student violin, I wanted to... well... fiddle with it. It was too important to me to ruin, si I found a cheap VSO (Violin Shaped Object) on Craigslist for $30.00, and experimented with that. I made all kinds of adjustments, reset the soundpost, etc. and basically mangled the thing to my heart's content.

I have changed chinrests, strings, pegs, tailpieces; I have smoothed peg holes, fit a bridge.
The chinrest and strings I feel that are fairly simple, and can be easily done. Peg fitting sometimes.
Fitting a bridge, and correctly setting a soundpost I would only do as 'emergency surgery'. I have the good fortune to see what my best effort brings, relative to what a good luthier can bring; there is a significant difference.

June 14, 2011 at 08:39 PM ·

Joe, you're WAAAAAAAAAAAY braver than I am!!   I've got my luthier on speed-dial.  :)

June 14, 2011 at 09:05 PM ·

June 15, 2011 at 06:12 AM ·

 Joe,  I ask this since you obviously had little knowledge of the procedure:

Did your post end up in the correct orientation, relative to the curve of the top?

I ask, because many times the top of the post is cut at a slight angle, to match the top.  If you managed to spin it, it would no longer be fitting flush, and would currently be doing minor but  irreparable damage.  

You probably should check.

As soon as possible.



June 15, 2011 at 06:25 AM ·

I'll change my strings and tilt the bridge. The rest - well - I recognise I am untrained and leave it to someone far more skilled than I am. I know the theory, I've read the threads, I've seen the pictures, but for me that knowledge has left me confident that it's best to let  a specialist handle it. 

June 15, 2011 at 02:27 PM ·

The most I've done was swap the tailpiece and replace the bridge, but I always put the bridge ever so slightly off.. so I have not trusted myself to do anything like that again.

June 15, 2011 at 04:51 PM ·

 When I've had to take the bridge down – for whatever reason – I always first place tiny pieces of adhesive cellulosic tape on the belly of the violin at the four corners of the bridge, so that I know where to place it when the job is finished. The tape is easy to remove without marking the varnish. Actually, I don't do that on my old violin because the belly is so battered and marked in that region that it's obvious where the bridge goes, but it's a useful trick for a newish violin.  And then a final check, looking down the fingerboard from the scroll, from the side, and from above to make sure the bridge is in the correct alignment and placement from all directions.

June 15, 2011 at 10:22 PM ·

I did that with post-its. I thought I put the bridge back in the right place, but it was just a little too far towards the treble side.

June 16, 2011 at 12:23 AM ·

I personally would never touch the soundpost without guidance or proper training. The possibility of doing serious damage that occurs over time without even realizing it is far too great. I will change the strings, adjust the bridge, put compound on the pegs but it ends there. I would also advise that before entrusting your violin to a luthier, make sure that he or she is fully trained as well. There's a butcher masquerading as a luthier in my town and I often see his victims in orchestra. It's appalling.

June 16, 2011 at 10:59 PM ·

As a post setter, I saw a friend do it with a dining fork. Just the right curve to go down easily through the f-hole, and if necessary, splay out the middle tines slightly. Makes it a bit strange to eat with afterwards, but it worked a treat!

June 17, 2011 at 03:43 PM ·

Beyond string changes, bridge adjustments, and peg lubrication, I recently removed the end-piece button on one of my instruments.

This shouldn't have been hard at all.  What made it challenging was that the end-piece on this 1883 instrument had deteriorated to the point that the material split in half.  The outer part detached -- the part that held the tailpiece harness in place -- leaving the base of the pin in the instrument hole.

After getting some input from v.com luthiers and players, I slow-drilled through the remaining material and got it out cleanly, leaving all other work for the luthier.

Soundpost?  You're way ahead of me -- that's an item I'll definitely leave to a pro.

June 18, 2011 at 12:48 AM ·

I wish I could leave sound post setting to a luthier.  I tried ; I honestly tried to get a luthier to do it !  Upon receipt of my new fiddle , I immediately dropped it off at the luthier. I explained to him that I need a proper initial setup.  The violin was brand new , so the sound post and bridge were packed separately from the violin in a small ziploc baggie.

I left the gentleman with my complete confidence , my violin, sound post , bridge and a new set of Helicore's.  I called to enquire about the instruments status , and his assistant told me that it was ready to be picked up.  Awesome !

I got it home , and played for a few moments before thinking that something doesnt sound right.  I looked the violin over top to bottom , and discovered that the sound post was still in the bag in the case.  My luthier , had placed the bridge , strung ,and tuned the violin with no sound post installed.  When I called to inform him of his mistake , his assistant assured me she would let him know , but that he would not be back for 10 days.  He was going to some "strings camp" , and he was presently packing everything into a Uhaul.  Is it just me , or is that a huge mistake for a luthier to make?

Long story short , I have set yet another sound post.  Now I have a dedicated tool for it .  I fashioned the tool out of heavy gauge copper wire , and  hammer forged a spade into the end to insert into the post.  I have already done this far more times than I ever wanted.  But it looks like until I can find another luthier , I may be stuck with the job.  I mean jeez , if all the guy was going to do was put new strings on , and set the bridge....I could have easily done that myself.    GRRR !     1 more shot is all this guy has , then Im off to luthier school.... I cant do any worse !

June 18, 2011 at 01:00 AM ·

June 18, 2011 at 05:05 AM ·

 Bill, FWIW,

A violin maker or repairer IS a luthier.  It's in every dictionary, and most books on the subject.

June 18, 2011 at 10:32 AM ·

@Joe ;

Joe am I reading you right? Are you saying that he did not make his own soundpost and that there were no soundpost inside the violin besides the one in the packet?

If that is the case then he made an unpardonable mistake and if it was my violin he would never get another job or mention from me again. He could have cracked the top of your violin, but in any case I would have been absolutely livid. When he  placed the bridge he should have looked at the relation it has to the soundpost , and when he tuned and played the strings he should have observed if was in the best position for optimum sound.

You hear stories about the dumbest crook, but this is the dumbest luthier. 

June 18, 2011 at 11:44 AM ·

 andre, he was saying the dumbazz whatever you call it forgot to install the sound post first--doesn't matter whose, really--and proceeded to crank up the tension on the front plate by installing the strings and the bridge.  

chances are this one time goof leaves no everlasting damage, but it belongs to the hall of fame of violin horror stories.

you can just imagine this job was not done wholeheartedly because after one puts on the bridge and strings, one always look inside the F hole to check the location of the sound post in relation to the bridge...

with this, sorry, sound post traumatic stress disorder, any jury later will clear joe of any hideous acts, hahaha:)

June 18, 2011 at 01:54 PM ·

June 18, 2011 at 02:13 PM ·

one poster earlier made mention of something i think is quite important for joe to  keep in mind (bear in mind i am no pro:)

it cautioned the orientation of the sound post as it is being inserted.  the 2 bevels if you will of the post need to align correctly with the shape of the inner plates.  another mistake is to insert it upside down--an almost guaranteed poor fit.  with time,  sound post areas are at higher risk.

also,  one can look into the end piece button hole-to take the end button off first may be more helpful- to check for another type of alignment...not saying "vertical" is necessarily "correct" or the "best".  without much experience, one's sense of having the sound post sitting "upright" when viewed and judged from the F hole may be challenged factually through a look from the end button hole.

June 18, 2011 at 07:49 PM ·

June 18, 2011 at 10:24 PM ·


Frequently neither the bridge nor the post included with a new fiddle fits properly (bridges more often than posts), so just setting them up isn't enough anyway.

All I'll say is, Union Grove isn't that far away.

June 18, 2011 at 10:37 PM ·

 When I was little, my sound post fell and my old orchestra teacher (was a trumpet player) didn't know what to do. So we were playing a spanish piece and decieded that a violin with a fallen sound post makes a great maraca! So I was in the back shaking my violin to the beat :)


June 19, 2011 at 12:29 AM ·

Here's the skinny guys.  Yes , everyone read correctly.  The guy actually tuned the fiddle with no sound post installed.  As far as him check the orientation of bridge to soundpost ;  he assumed he didnt have to .  The bridge position was clearly marked from the factory where they had test fit the bridge ( i.e. setting the bridge in soft finish).  So I figure he did the exact same thing I would have done.  I expect there will be no long term damage as the fiddle was only under tension for a few hours without soundpost.  Now , here is the icing on the cake ;  in addition to the afformentioned fiasco.  The E string has a clearance of  1 mm or less from the fingerboard at the closest point.  This may be perhaps a factory discrepancy , but at the least it was complicated by sanding the bridge in the pretense of lowering it.  The upside to this , is that it makes for very fast fingering.

Since the incident , I have since taken the bridge down , set the soundpost  ,and re-tuned.  The sound post is the one that was sent from the factory.  Also , the grain of the sound post is running across the grain of the plates , and not parallel to.  I truly expect that a new sound post will be cut and set professionally in the next week.  I will be making phone calls on Monday in search of a decent violin maker-er and fixer-er type person.  I really dont care what you call them as long as they get the job done correctly.  The guy could wear  fuzzy slippers and a thong in front of me , as long as he was able to competently improve my violin without being dismissive.

June 19, 2011 at 01:02 AM ·

when I was a kid (age 10-12) I would routinely service my own violin - chinrests, strings, bridge refitting and my father fixed the cracks with epoxy (yes, you can all faint now),

Now, very little - the little things strings, chinrest change, peg treatment and thats about it.  But with my current violin I would be nuts to do anything more...

June 19, 2011 at 09:52 AM ·

@Joe ;

"Also , the grain of the sound post is running across the grain of the plates , and not parallel to. "

Joe that is correct, the grain should run cross wise to the top plate.  The E  string should be 3.5 mm above the end edge of the fingerboard, measured to the bottom of the string.

June 19, 2011 at 12:59 PM ·

 A violin maker/luthier I know told me that fitting and setting a violin sound post can reduce a grown man to tears. So the only work I do is to fit chin rests, change strings (and tailpiece on a couple of occasions – without anything falling over inside) and make sure the pegs turn properly and the strings slide easily in the nut grooves – which is something I check out when changing strings. 

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