Advice on Mutes

February 23, 2012 at 05:21 PM · This season in orchestra we will be playing the theme from "Schindler's List" with a guest violin soloist. In order for us not to "drown her out", we need to use mutes on our instruments, which I've never done. I'll have to go out and purchase one -- just wondering which kind would be the best for quick and easy installation and removal. I assume they come in different sizes for fractional violins -- yes??? I've seen some that just slide (toward the tailpiece) out of the way, but I'd rather get one that would be totally removed when not in use.

Replies (31)

February 23, 2012 at 07:29 PM · Tourtes are most common. I'd recommend the Polly mute; it's more expensive, but it DOESN'T RATTLE at all. Here's a link to one source

They come in colors (woo-hoo!) but they are really useful mutes. It slides on easily, mutes nicely, and remains on the instrument (like the tourte) but (unlike the t.) stays where you put it, doesn't rattle...

February 23, 2012 at 10:02 PM · Think twice about the type aren't attached- they're much easier to lose, drop, have in the case while you're on stage, or otherwise be a nuisance. Any of them are quick and simple to take off and put on if you want it off the instrument after the concert. Anything should fit a 3/4.

February 24, 2012 at 05:40 PM · Thanks for your suggestions. LET THE SHOPPING BEGIN!!! :)

February 24, 2012 at 06:33 PM · Wow, I have never seen the polly mute before. I can't seem to find a picture of it in use. Does anyone have any more info on this?

February 24, 2012 at 06:37 PM · If it's style you want, look at the ones from Baroque Bling- link in the list of site supporters to the right. Had they been less expensive I would have bought them for the whole viola section I play in. Different colors for all!

February 24, 2012 at 07:13 PM · Just watch out for the dreaded after-mute effect. LOL

February 25, 2012 at 02:50 AM · Okaaaaaaaaaay..... Exactly what IS "the dreaded after-mute effect"???? Should I be having nightmares????

February 25, 2012 at 03:14 AM · I would think the "after mute effect" is when you take a mute off, and the violin sounds nasally. I don't know if it actually is, or just sounds that way because you were just playing with a muted sound.

February 25, 2012 at 04:14 AM · @ Shawn...doesn't the link in my post (first one) work?

February 25, 2012 at 04:55 AM · I don't see how they connect to the bridge.

February 25, 2012 at 02:33 PM · Shawn -- I was wondering that, too.

February 25, 2012 at 11:20 PM · There's a little lip, not quite as pronounced as on the Tourte (I generally deepen mine a tad).

February 27, 2012 at 01:35 PM · NEED TO VENT!!: WHAT IS WRONG WITH "MUSIC STORES" THESE DAYS??!!!

Until last Fall, there were two music stores in my area that carried orchestral strings -- neither in my city. I usually travelled to the more distant one. It was larger -- sort of a "Disney World for Musicians". My beloved violin came from there. At the time, they only had one employee who knew ANYTHING about violins, and he was very helpful. Then, suddenly, he was gone. From that time on, I could depend on crashing into a wall of frustration any time I went there. Bows that were for sale were left tightened for God knows how long after being tried. I kept mentioning to them that someone should be appointed to check the bows regularly to make sure they weren't left tightened. **Crickets** Instruments weren't kept in tune (in case anyone wanted to try them) -- it wasn't unusual to find a violin or viola with visible slack in the strings. Instruments were mis-identified in the signage. Employees who didn't have a clue were "setting up" violins they were selling. It got to be downright frightening. Then the store closed and moved operations about 120 miles downstate.

The other store in my area is still here -- in a neighboring city. It's part of a chain of stores through the Illinois/Northern Indiana region. They carry both band and orchestral stringed instruments, and have a fairly large clientele within the local school systems. The local store was recently remodeled, adding a very impressive "climate-controlled orchestral strings room". I went there on Saturday afternoon to check out violin mutes. I had a few questions. I was approached by an employee who asked if I needed any help. I asked if there was a "strings person" who could answer some questions for me. The reply: "Uh... No." So I asked if she could at least show me how to install the mute I'd chosen on a violin. She said she could "probably figure it out". This place prides itself on being the area experts on stringed instruments, yet on a Saturday afternon -- the only time many working people would be able to get to there -- there's no one on staff who can supply any expertise concerning those instruments. I've gotten a far greater sense of employee expertise from Shar Music employees -- over the phone! -- than I did from an in-store visit to these "experts".

I'll miss the excitement and sense of awe that SHOULD be present when visiting a store that carries stringed instruments and accessories. But after Saturday's experience (and a few other issues I've had with the store over the past couple of years), I guess I'll have to resign myself to the fact that there's simply no place to shop around here where I can feel confident about getting the advice and assistance I might need. Bummer!!

February 27, 2012 at 04:34 PM · If you forget your mute just take the sound post out. (It's easier than taking out the bass bar which is more effective but involves using a knife and taking off all the strings and then the belly off).

(Don't do this, I'm only joking ...)

February 27, 2012 at 05:09 PM · Marsha, call it WalMart Syndrome. Chain stores: no one in the place with a sense of ownership, wages as low as possible, little if any training for employees, no benefits. Employee-wise, you get what you pay for. We, as consumers, bear some responsibility for this by wanting the cheapest price and ordering online rather than shopping locally. It's harder for local stores to compete, there's less money for stock, knowledgeable employees, etc, so customers are less satisfied and go home and shop online. Vicious circle.

I see you live in Elkhart, which used to be the band instrument capital of the US. The city probably had a great string instrument store or two 20 years ago.

February 28, 2012 at 01:29 AM · Lisa -- Yes, you're right. There was a very good store up until three or four years ago. Then they were bought out by another company and relocated -- that's the store I went to Saturday. So sad.....

February 29, 2012 at 04:41 AM · I advise some care when selecting a mute. The tourte mute is certainly popular (and cheap as dirt), but when you have back to back repertoire such as Tchaikovsky's Danse Arabe and then some uproarious symphony (Brahms, e.t.c.), the mute rattles quite loudly. I had a very unfortunate concert in which after a very muted piece, I had some solo where I really had to play. The mute rattled. Very badly.

Also, the Tourte mutes can go flying when you're in a hurry to take them off. I lost one this way during a performance. Granted, they're dirt cheap, but it's a bit annoying to open your case and realise that you don't have a mute anymore :(

The wire ones hardly dampen any sound. I've heard good things about Menuhin Shield, but they're pretty much unicorns.

Bech magnetic mutes prevent rattling. I use this one during performances.

February 29, 2012 at 04:48 AM · So does the magnetic one stay attached when not in use, or do you stick it to the music stand quickly.

February 29, 2012 at 06:39 PM ·

February 29, 2012 at 06:45 PM · My teacher has a Bech mute that she really likes. It has a tiny magnetic clip that attaches to the tailpiece. When not in use, the mute slides to the clip and stays put. The mute I purchased Saturday is a Tourte (single hole), and I can see lots of potential for those things to rattle -- not to mention I can't hear a noticeable difference between with mute and sans mute. On Monday I went to a tiny little music store about 30-40 minutes' drive from here -- in the other direction. I'd almost forgotten about this place. They had mutes in a softer rubber than the Tourtes -- for only a dollar! That's less than half of what I paid for the Tourte. There's no manufacturer's I.D., but this little $1.00 "gem" is great -- no rattles, and still a decent tone even when quieter. But now -- after I literally covered three counties in my search -- the conductor says he's not sure if he's going to have us use mutes. :/

February 29, 2012 at 07:52 PM · You'll need it sooner or later anyway. It's one of those things- it only costs a dollar or so, but not having one when needed is a total, avoidable pain. For want of a nail the shoe was lost. . .

February 29, 2012 at 07:53 PM · Hey, you'll need a concert mute sooner or later. IE: Tchaik's 2nd movement actually says Con Sordino. It's an investment!

March 1, 2012 at 02:04 AM · I tried the Bech on my viola, and it buzzes so much on the tailpiece. although it is not sliding up, the strings buzz and hit the sides of the mute because it does not squeeze onto the strings like a torte mute. Looks like I will be getting a polly mute.

March 1, 2012 at 03:34 PM · I have a 'shield' mute somewhere, it's decent, stays where it should, doesn't rattle, etc. but it also doesn't do the greatest job of muting.

I have a few favorites depending on the time I have to change from muted to not, and the sound I want;

Single hole tourte- wedge it lightly between the strings when not in use and it (usually) won't come loose. I buy these 10 at a time because I lose them, give them away, etc. The double hole ones are useless to me, always coming loose and knocking against the bridge.

Ebony mute- wear something with pockets so you can easily get it and put it on/take off quickly. I really like the sound it gives, it's warm. My experience has taught me never to leave it on the stand, too easy to knock it off, go flying, etc.

High tension wooden clothespin- Very unique, warm sound. Looks like hell, but when you need that specific timbre it's pretty nifty.

March 1, 2012 at 11:45 PM · Momoko -- The piece we're working on (theme from "Schindler's List") actually DOES show "con sordino". I'm not sure why he's thinking of not using mutes. Oh, well -- I've got a good one now, so I'm prepared for any eventuality. :)

March 2, 2012 at 02:04 AM · My first mute was one of those wire metal mutes, and it tore my strings up. I just tried one on my viola, and it doesn't seem like it will be that harmful this time. Maybe I just had one that was very tight. I'm only going to use it for this concert, and then take it right off.

March 2, 2012 at 11:52 AM · I looked at one of those metal wire ones. It looked a little scary -- couldn't decide if it was a mute or a torture device!! :)

March 2, 2012 at 01:11 PM · The Spector mute ( ) is becoming increasingly popular. I've got one on each on my violins. Nothing slides to or from the bridge as easily and it does not soften to tone too much or damage the string windings at all.

A simple mute can be made by folding a dollar bill (or any other currency) and inserting it against the bridge, overlapping the A and D strings and under the G and E string afterlengths.

For muted tone quality and flexibility, I don't think anything beats what you can do with a leather mute.


March 2, 2012 at 02:00 PM · Andy,

Huh, leather? What's it sound like?

March 3, 2012 at 04:22 PM · My conductor mentioned the folded-currency option. Might be OK for rehearsal, but perhaps a bit tacky for the actual concert. On the other hand, one of the pieces we're doing is "If I Were a Rich Man" from "Fiddler on the Roof". Perhaps the folded currency would fit right in! :)

March 5, 2012 at 06:10 AM ·

Wonderful sound, and also makes a decent practice mute.

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