My dream violin has a mysterious problem!

January 8, 2013 at 04:07 AM · One and a half year ago i purchased a wonderful violin from a local luthier, made in 2008. It was summertime, and it sounded gorgeous, and the playability was great. Then the winter came and the violin started developing problems that lasted throughout the winter. The bow didn't grip the D string and it could take up to 3 seconds before a sound could be drawn. This phenomena comes and goes, the violin also have good periods, when it plays like a dream.

Me and my Luthier have tried to solve this problem but have had no luck.

We have tried to move the soundpost, and changed the sound post 3 times (all 3 times to a taller post) we have tried to temporarily put another bridge on it to see if the problem went away but it didn't. We have tried to rehair my bow, but the bow is not the problem. I have used Evah Pirazzi and Evah pirazzi gold strings on it since i bought it, and change strings every 3 months.

After the last adjustment i felt that my violin..and I, needed a break and i have tried to compensate ever since by pushing the bow hard into the string, but when i play chamber music and need a soft sound, no sound comes out and it is so very frustrating!

My luthier has never seen this problem in a violin before, so i am hoping to get a response from someone who might know what causes this and if there is a cure! I am grateful for every suggestion.. It is the violin of my dreams and i don't want to part with it!

Thank you.

Replies (52)

January 8, 2013 at 04:12 AM · I've never heard of anything like that before. Three seconds before a sound is drawn from the D string?

Wow, that's a mystery indeed.

I'm mystified as to why the luthier would rehair the bow. Luthiers always have several bows on hand. All you had to do was try two or three other of his bows and also try your bow on a different violin. Maybe it needed rehairing anyway, but rehairing should not have been necessary in troubleshooting terms.

January 8, 2013 at 04:14 AM · That must be very frustrating! How is the humidity where you are? or does the problem continue to be intermittent throughout the year?

If the violin was made in 2008, the maker is alive? perhaps contacting him to ask if he has any suggestions?

January 8, 2013 at 04:42 AM · I've been contemplating what would cause a particular string to be mute.

The fact that it happens more in the winter doesn't mean it's necessarily caused by humidity but it may be influenced by humidity. Are there significant humidity changes in the winter where you live?

Seems like either something is impeding the vibration of the string or something is impeding vibrations of a particular frequency within the violin.

But... different positions on the D string would create different frequencies and from what you posted, I'm assuming you mean any note (at any location on the fingerboard) is playing too softly on the D.

That would suggest that it's the vibration of the string rather than the vibrational properties associated with a particular note (like a wolf note).

Trying a different bridge was probably a good idea. It's unlikely that anything on the top nut or the tail piece is impeding one particular string.

I suppose trying a higher soundpost was worth a shot, but going higher twice... I don't know. The soundpost can have a pretty dramatic influence on volume (up to a surprising 30%) but usually that has more to do with the position of the post than its length (assuming the length was appropriate to begin with).

Are there any finger positions on the G or A that seem unusually muted? Is there a pattern of muted frequencies perhaps? And could you let us know for sure if you mean all notes on the D are slow to respond, not just some of them? It would help to narrow down whether it's related to the position of the string or to particular frequencies.

January 8, 2013 at 04:56 AM · Have you changed the tailpiece/tailgut ? It seems unlikely to be the cause of the problem but it is a simple thing to try.

January 8, 2013 at 07:27 AM · May I ask if those D's are wound with silver?

January 8, 2013 at 07:33 AM · Does every single person who plays your violin have the same exact problem?

January 8, 2013 at 07:38 AM · You have invested such effort since you bought the violin and you have never tried another strings???

It is always the first thing I try, when I am not satisfied with sound or response. It is quick and usually makes significant difference.

In my opinion, you need to try lower (at least normal) tension strings, preferably with aluminium (hydronalium) D. The whole set, not just D. The response of particular strings is influenced by the whole tension load.

January 8, 2013 at 10:49 AM · Hi, and thanks everyone! To answer some of your questions: The luthier i'm working with, is the maker of the violin. The Violin has an even sound on all strings and is strong around C on the G string, the violin has a full bodied sound, so it was very alive even when i first started playing it. It has no wolf notes, there is no difference where you place the bow on the string, the response is pretty much the same. It can actually feel as if it's from the bow, that is why it got rehaired. It deffinetly likes the summer more, the problems get worse during the winter. I live in Finland so the weather gets really cold, last week we had some rainy days and the violin was playing very well, but now it's hopeless. In the winter the humidity is about 20-35 maybe, and in the summer it's around 40-50. I have never considered the strings, i'm not sure if the D is silver, i buy the medium sets, i have not seen a specification.

January 8, 2013 at 12:23 PM · What about Gene's question - does the same thing happen if someone else plays the violin or is this a dynamic between the two of you?

January 8, 2013 at 01:09 PM · We have concidered if it's my playing technique that causes the problem, but it reacts the same way when the violin maker plays it. I have not had anyone else try, since i know the violin, and the qualities that made me buy it. It was fine the first 4 months.

January 8, 2013 at 02:38 PM · I find this interestting as I have had an occasional problem like this with the G string on my violin. When it happens, I can play loudly, but can't get the string to speak softly.

I've had the same violin for many years, and this has occured with different brands of strings. I thought it was probably a technical problem caused by me, since I don't practice consistently, so I've never consulted a luthier about it.

January 8, 2013 at 03:09 PM · It has actually happened to me before as well, on another violin, i had some trouble with the G string when i used gut strings. I have had the impression that Evah Pirazzi are fast responding strings, thus it never occured to me that the strings might be a problem. Any suggestions on what strings to try that could eliminate the problem? A string with similar qualities as the Pirazzi? ...But when i think about it, can one really blame the strings, when i played on the same brand to begin with, and had no trouble?

January 8, 2013 at 04:36 PM · How about taking everything you can off - SR, chinrest? You could also do John's old trick of putting a bit of foam inside the f-hole(attached to a piece of string so that you can withdraw it). I (definitely) no expert but perhaps if you change resonance qualities of the violin the effect will also change?

[grasping at straws here!]

January 8, 2013 at 10:52 PM · I think you might have a problem with using too much rosin. Is there a build-up of rosin on the strings? It can be cleaned off with alcohol.

January 9, 2013 at 02:58 AM · I've experienced someting similar on a few violins. I think its related to a wolf note in some way. Maybe the plate vibrations are precisely out-of-phase (opposite phase) with the D string vibrations, preventing the string from vibrating as it should. Just one of my crazy theories.

January 9, 2013 at 03:22 AM · Like Randy, my first thought was rosin. I've seen claims that the rosin actually melts (or softens) in use. I'm not sure that is true, but if this is a cold weather problem, you might want to try a softer rosin. If you play hard for a little while, does the problem temporarily go away?

January 9, 2013 at 03:33 AM · One of my best friends is a violinist from the Sibelius Academy and she was having this exact problem on her violin, using Evah Pirazzi strings and then Obligato strings.. she switched to Dominants (with the aluminum D, and a Jargar forte E) and her problem went away.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to play on Evah Pirazzis without pressing, unless your luthier gets really lucky with the soundpost..

January 9, 2013 at 11:19 AM · from my limited knowledge I also think it is the violin itself, akin to the wolf note phenomenon, a phenomenon of badly interfering vibrations. so, in this bad case, basically a construction error by the violin maker. sorry to make it sound so bad but it seems the only logical explanation.

January 9, 2013 at 12:26 PM · Wolf tone would appear on one particular tone only. At the most on two neighbouring semitones.

If there is problem with the response of one string, the string is wrong quality (not suitable to the instrument) most likely. It is quite common phenomenon, not much surporise. Not all instruments are able to cope with high tension strings.

January 9, 2013 at 01:45 PM · You already know the answer: 20% humidity is extremely low.

D string is often the weakest point and the low humidity will only show it. Use a humidifier and keep the humidity constant at at least 40% during winter - or identical to the summer levels.

Avoid sudden changed in humidity and temperature.

As per string tension, the easiest and the least expensive way is to experiment with different gauges of E-strings. This strings is the biggest contributor to overall tension; less or more tension on E will function as removing or adding more mass to one side of a lever (top plate) respectively; releasing D and G string more or less.

January 9, 2013 at 02:11 PM · Behind-bridge string length?

January 12, 2013 at 09:43 PM · I have done set up and adjustments to a fairly large number of violins/viola d'amores/and harding fiddles. My feeling is that the problem may well be the rough humidity variations. I think the problem can be solved fairly easily. If you haven't found a solution yet it would be interesting to hear the instrument. I happen to live in the southern Finland (Espoo) so if you visit the capital area feel free to take contact. There is a simple non destructive test that you can do yourself when you encounter the problem. Get a set of small super magnets (Claes Ohlsson dia ca. 10 mm thickness 2 mm and a hole in the center it has to be fairly small but the exact size isn't important). Drop one magnet into the violin with the G-string downwards. Turn the violin slowly so the f-hole faces down. Use the other magnet to catch the one inside. You will now have a movable weight that you can use for testing. I would suggest two areas to test. Move the magnets to a location between the bridge and the tailpiece. Try to play the instrument. Did the problem disappear? If not try to move the magnets to the area between the top of the f-hole and the fingerboard. Try to play it. Did the problem go away? If some of these locations helped please take contact, the problem can be solved. Be careful with the warnish! You should at least hear a clearly darker color on the G and D strings. /Lars Silen (physicist)

January 12, 2013 at 10:17 PM · Lars, would plastic or rubber coated, neodymium magnets work? Just curious. This place sell them:

http://www.kjmagnetics.com/categories.asp?gclid=CJuS1urr47QCFQ-e4AodZG0Aww

Jack

January 12, 2013 at 11:34 PM · Lars, I won't agree that your test couldn't have destructive consequences, for a high-value instrument.

Beyond that, what would you propose to change, once you've figured out the best position for the weights? Is it a strictly external, reversible adjustment, or something else?

January 13, 2013 at 07:37 AM · The test I proposed tests the low frequency modes of the top. Because the D-string had problems it feels probable that the mass/stiffness of the top changes with the humidity changing the resonances of the top. If the problem disappears then there are several methods available for more permanent fixes starting from low frequency tuning of the bridge. Simply replacing the bridge isn't enough. Simply cutting a new bridge is a question of plain luck, it may solve the problem or the problem may remain.

If you are afraid of scratches to the varnish simply glue thin felt to the magnets, I haven't had problems though. Optimizing the bridge is usually the best first step to take simply because the instrument can easily be restored to the original state by putting the original bridge back. In this case two bridges should exist so that would be the obvious way forward.

January 13, 2013 at 08:06 AM · Regarding the type of magnets. I am sure coated magnets work as long as the coating isn't too thick. The important thing is actually to have low mass magnets because otherwise the change to the tone becomes so great that you are unable to draw any real conclusions from the test. A simpler method is to glue felt/soft paper to the magnets. The most important thing is actually to never to loose your grip on the magnet because a flying magnet can dent the surface and as seriously the magnet may crack and throw sharp splinters around. The risk of cracking small magnets is smaller though simply because the forces and masses are smaller.

January 13, 2013 at 08:34 AM · David, I can send you a direct message with a discussion regarding possible changes. As a very experienced builder you have a feeling for what can be changed and the risks involved. Permanent changes to several areas of the instrument are fairly easy to do without opening the instrument. I don't want to elaborate on the methods in an open forum simply because people will try things out and the result will be destroyed instruments.

January 13, 2013 at 12:39 PM · Sarah, using the current outdoor conditions in Helsinki (at the time I'm writing this) as a guide, your indoor humidity calculates to about 15%. That's dangerously low for a stringed instrument! The indoor humidity is probably a little higher than that in actuality, because of moisture added to the air from cooking, bathing etc.

I won't say that low humidity is the "cause" of the problem, because most violins don't react the way you described, but if bringing the humidity up to safer levels happens to solve the problem, that might be a more desirable option than making changes to the instrument and setup, which could also alter the sound during the summer, when you are basically happy with the way the violin sounds.

January 13, 2013 at 10:26 PM · Hi! An update. Two days ago i took the violin back for some more experimenting. He cut a new bridge, one that would closely match the original, so that we would have a bridge to make adjustments to, but at first i took it home to get a feeling for how the new bridge works. When i was at the luthier i noticed that the hygrometer in my violin case had gone up atleast 10% and that when i first arrived the violin wouldn't play for either one of us but after being there for a while (and also after playing some on it) it got better. So i decided to buy a humidifier the same day and the level of the humidity has reamained the same as the humidity in the violin makers workshop these last couple of days. The violin haven't had any problems yet so i'm gonna wait and see if it will last, if not i will take it back to adjust the new bridge. If anyone have epxerience that they want to share about how to cut a bridge to make the D string more sensitive me and my violin maker would appreciate it very much! Thanks to all for your replys, i will take everything into concideration!

January 13, 2013 at 11:54 PM · Good desicion to buy a humidifier. Humidity can reach dangerously low levels during winter in Finland (and Sweden where I used to live). Remember to NOT use the humidifier during summer. The idea is to even out differences.

If you want a greater safety margin you might want to try another string brand. I find that Evahs sometimes reinforces problems of this kind. It's often difficult to get a decent pianissimo with them. My (and many of my customers') favorites for good response and dynamics are Dominants, Infelds, and Warchal Brilliants, all less expensive than Evahs.

January 14, 2013 at 12:44 AM · Luthiers vs. violin makers:

A good friend of mine took up violin making in his early 40s. He went on to make and sell about 85 violins, 10 violas and 3 cellos; in fact he was unable to keep one around for his own use. I have bought 2 violins and one viola from him. I had all my instruments "serviced" about 10 years ago (2 cellos, 2 violas, and about 5 violins) and my luthier's shop made new bridges and soundposts for all of them except for one of the violins. All the instruments were improved - not that I thought there was anything wrong with any of them - just that it had been 10 to 50 years since any had seen a luthier.

It seemed to me that the luthier's shop, which probably fits more bridges in a day than "my" violin maker fits in a year is likely to have a better idea of how to optimize the bridge to the instrument.

Sometime I read an article in the journal of the Violin Society of America by Joseph Curtin (well-known American violin maker) about how he had learned the importance of tailoring a bridge quite some time after he had become famous as a violin maker.

Just saying!

Andy

January 14, 2013 at 07:59 AM · "If anyone have epxerience that they want to share about how to cut a bridge to make the D string more sensitive me and my violin maker would appreciate it very much!"

If you would like to know, how tiny detail on the bridge can sometimes spoil the sound of one particular string, read my post in this topic http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=23618 (The second of my posts in that topic).

January 14, 2013 at 11:59 AM · Hi Andrew;

The tailoring of the bridge to the instrument, which Joseph Curtin (a maker) wrote about, is more extensive than what most repair shops and setup specialists do. But you're right that some makers aren't as skilled in setup as people who do it more frequently.

April 3, 2013 at 02:45 AM · UPDATE - this is a followup to my post of January 8th.

The mysterious problem happened again. Yesterday rehearsals began for an orchestra concert where the 2nd violin part has lots of barely-there soft notes and I was having a terrible time with the G string - just not able to get it to speak when playing less than about a mezzo forte. I tried wiping the strings, more rosin on the bow, varying the angle of my bow arm, to no avail.

Finally at rehearsal tonight I got so frustrated that when we took a break, I replaced the string with an old used string (same brand) and the problem instantly went away. So it appears the problem was with the string, not with my technique or my violin. As I said before, I've had the same problem a few times over the years with varying brands of strings, so I don't blame any one manufacturer.

April 3, 2013 at 04:23 AM · If you play a lot, 3 months may be too long a time to leave a string on your violin, too.

April 3, 2013 at 10:32 AM · I wonder if you are getting grease on the string from some source? Someone plucking it like a guitar? Something wrong with your case? that could certainly make a string quiet.

April 3, 2013 at 12:24 PM · I can give an update as well. The violin lasted no more than a week before it started making trouble again. Trimming the bridge did not work and the violin was in really bad shape..all strings seemed affected.

We decided to open it up to check the inside..He didn't find anything, but re glued the upper block, because he thought it wasn't glued well enough.

Since then we have set the sound post a few times to get it the way i want it and and a seam opened that had to be taken care of as well so it's been a lot of running to the violin maker :) The violin has been in good shape since it was opened.. a couple of days it didn't really want to work but most of the time it plays as it should. The weather is warmer here in Finland again and the violin likes summers so that might be it..but it's still a mystery.

April 3, 2013 at 01:48 PM · I am amazed how most of us are persistent in resolving the issues with our instruments.

From my personal experience I know how difficult it is to part with a violin, but sometimes, when the basic functionality simply is not there, it is time to let go and look for another instrument.

My 2 cents.

April 3, 2013 at 04:32 PM · I was hoping that since my problem turned out to be the string, Sarah's problem would also be that simple, but it sounds like it wasn't. (I assume she has tried new strings by now.) I hope Sarah will be able to get her violin working consistently - it sounds like a very frustrating situation.

April 6, 2013 at 03:10 AM · It is not possible for a string to take three seconds to respond to a disturbance. This defies the laws of physics. I cannot take your query seriously. I suspect you are playing a joke on the poor souls who tried to help you. You should be ashamed.

April 6, 2013 at 03:57 AM · When the dream becomes a nightmare then it is time to wake up. Rocky is correct : sell the violin. There are thousands of good violins out there. There is no need to persevere with a faulty instrument.

April 6, 2013 at 04:42 PM · My fingerboard doesn't have glue, it's nailed on ... that's why I can nail each note ...

April 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM · Nailed on? Thats sounds very posh Peter - mine is held on by velcro. The good thing is that I can swich the plastic and the Genuine Wood Grain ebonized polyethelene finger boards almost instantly.

April 7, 2013 at 08:36 AM · I always thought Velcro was used to hold ladies smalls on, not fingerboards! Lovely sound when you hear the Velcro being ripped open though, takes me back a few years ... (Reminds me of my opera days - and maybe even nights ...)

April 8, 2013 at 03:33 AM · Does the problem persist if you store it in a different case?

I suspect something in the case may be tainting the string, causing the problem.

April 8, 2013 at 02:30 PM · I got a new case last year, so this most recent episode was with the new case; the same problem happened to me years ago with different case, before the brand of strings I currently use even existed. I've had different cleaning cloths and different cakes of rosin over the years, too.

It seems odd to me that this has happened only on the G string; if there were some contaminant in my case or on my hands, it would seem to be just as likely to happen on other strings.

April 24, 2013 at 11:46 AM · Ahmed, ouch that was harsh! It has actually happened that the bow can't get a decent sound for 3 seconds, but mostly 1-2 seconds. I have a soundclip of me bowing on the D string that i can send in an e mail to anyone that is interested in what it sounds like. You won't hear a full 3 seconds of resistance in the clip but you might find it easier to believe. ;)

April 24, 2013 at 06:21 PM · Any luck in fixing the mystery problem? maybe a new set of different strings, possibly dominants as a stable tester set? I would say try getting a heater to replicate summer time temperature and humidity but that would be an at home only solution.

Definitely a strange problem and as other said, is it possible to depart from her or him and trade it in? Im sure no one likes to sell their instrument if they have grown attached but if playing it makes you concentrate more on getting sound out of it rather than technique, then it can make you less willing to practice and get better.

hope all works out well. Good luck! :D

April 24, 2013 at 07:01 PM · Sarah,

I analyzed the sound sample you sent, and have a few observations:

1. The notes giving the most difficulty are at the major structural resonances around A and C; there also appears to be another one around E.

2. Your bow attack is very soft and gradual, which will not get the string moving in a normal manner when the body resonances are fighting you.

The lower humidity and lower temperature of winter reduces damping in the body, i.e. the resonances become more pronounced, making it even more difficult to play these notes.

I can not tell very much from the recording about how the instrument is constructed or really sounds, but it may be somewhat oriented toward the lower register, perhaps thinner than you might be used to. This is not "bad" in itself, but could contribute to playing difficulties. Some of the best instruments are like this.

My only recommendations are to add a humidifier to increase the damping, and work on bow attack to get the string moving. Or become a soloist who doesn't have to worry too much about playing softly.

May 3, 2014 at 08:57 PM · Did you ever figure out a solution? I am a professional violinist whose dream violin has been having the exact same problems you describe on the D and G strings, mostly above third position. The D string is especially problematic and there is no way to control playing softly. It does throw off your rhythm if the note doesn't speak right away. The only way to get it to speak is to press harder but then you can't control the sound quality and/or dynamics the way you'd wish to. I've changed all the strings (from Obliggato to Dominant). When I had this problem several years ago, I had the soundpost adjusted, bow rehaired, tried different bows, different strings, and even had the violin opened up to change how well it would resonate. Back to square one. I am very frustrated, to say the least. So, please let me know if you've found a solution.

May 4, 2014 at 11:33 AM · I had a similar problem this winter with my Jay Haide a l'ancienne- I live in New England and it was a very cold winter. My D string refused to play for a few seconds. I never liked the way this string played, but this was much worse. I tried many strings but nothing helped. My luthier found several seams that needed glueing, also the bridge had to be moved slightly farther back than what is considered normal. The tailpiece ties had loosened, also the location of the sound post was adjusted. I have found much improvement although playing on the D string is still more difficult than on than the other strings.

May 4, 2014 at 02:28 PM · Hi! I understand your frustration. I'm happy to say that my violin has been okay now for over 6 months, and i have hopes that it has been permanently cured. I'm not quite shure what specifically made it better but i can tell you what was done to the violin.

The violin was sanded with sandpaper on the inside. Mostly near the edges. Hardly any of the material was removed but it instantly changed the sound of the violin. I had loved the sound of my violin so i was devastated. It felt like the violin was like a wild untamed animal :) so i took it to a man in Finland who has a very good reputation of being excellent in setting up violins. And he was :)

He checked the thickness of the violin and said it was ok.

What he did was that he shaped the bridge. He changed the afterlenght of the strings. He did a soundpost adjustment and i believe he also made a slight change to the fingerboard.

He made my violin more responsive and more even on all strings.

Now, it does not sound exactly as it used to, but i believe that i's an even better instrument now than it was before.

It can still be a bit moody, and it doesn't like changes in weather or temperature. But when it doesn't want to speak well, all i need to do is apply more rosin to the bow and play it firmly for a while.

I hope this helps you. It can be difficult to find the right set up for a violin. I recommend you take your violin to someone with a good reputation.

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