Where's my G String?

February 19, 2013 at 03:55 AM · I would appreciate any advice on how to obtain more contact or feel from the G string on my violin.The set up is much to my liking for the other strings,the soundpost is snug,the after length is correct and the bridge is in the correct spot.The tone is even and powerful except the G string which feels "distant" or as a luthier put it,"like a cold Mother-in Law".Another luthier suggested a thinner E which would give more downward pressure on the G.This worked somewhat but the E really sounds best with a medium gauge.Any ideas would be appreciated.Thanks.

Replies (21)

February 19, 2013 at 04:01 AM · I wonder what a slightly looser soundpost would do...

Also, what kind of strings are you using? I'm wondering if you're using a relatively tense G (like Evah)?

February 19, 2013 at 04:41 AM · 1. A different brand of G string.

2. A sound post adjustment (moving the soundpost) by an experienced luthier.

3. Adjusting the bridge : is it too thick or too thin at the G string ?

4. A new bridge.

February 19, 2013 at 02:44 PM · I concur with Brian's list, but you seem to have already been through the setup and adjustments.

All things being equal, noticeably weak G string is usually a sign of a poor quality bass-bar.

I am still not sure if you miss the volume, depth, dark quality or the precision (focus).

Try Passione G. It is expensive, but worth every penny.

The alternative is Thomastik Infeld Red. If it works, try out their "Viennese melange" (this will in fact change the sound of your D and you may like the contrast, or the illusion of it, anyway):

G - Thomastik Infeld Red

D - Thomastik Infeld Blue

A - Regular medium gauge Dominant

E - special programme e01


February 19, 2013 at 10:51 PM · If a soundpost adjustment isn't something you would like to do and just want to experiment with strings, definitely consider a G with punch and clarity. They don't necessarily need to have brightness. I like the vision titanium solo g if you are using Thomastik for the d and a. It makes any instrument's lower end pop out. It has richness, focus and punch. The tension is 10.4 lbs or 4.7kg.

Another consideration is Warchal ametyst g if you use Warchals. It is a string with a thick diameter and with punchy sound as well. Feels similar to Vis Titanium solo g.

For Pirastro, passione solo g has a lot of punch, but it works best with other gut strings on d and a. Evah gold silver g or regular evahs work too and are or similar diameter.

For my instruments I prefer not combining string brands except with the e string. I feel the different companies have a varying tug/pull and transparency in the sound that makes balancing difficult. Hope that helps.

February 19, 2013 at 11:44 PM · the G string that I find helps instruments best that have a weak bass bar is the Peter Infeld G.. if this doesn't work, the Dominant stark G is another popular quick fix

February 20, 2013 at 01:35 AM · Thanks so much for these responses!I have been using Pirastro Obligatos on the A,D and G strings but I am ready to try some of your suggestions.I'm not sure if the violin needs more or less pressure on the G string side but I guess I'll just have to take the plunge and find out.

One of the luthiers I work with suggested taking a very small amount of wood out of the bridge on the G side in the "kidney" area.I'm just worried that if that doesn't solve the problem,I can't glue the wood back on! Also,by loosening the soundpost somewhat will this not diminish the clarity and power of the other three strings? It's quite a balancing act...

Could the bassbar be weak?How does a luthier know without opening the violin up?The fiddle is 88 years old and has been played constantly for the 16 years that I've owned it.Hopefully invasive surgery will be the last alternative.Trying different G strings seems the best way to go at the moment without upsetting the balance and equilibrium that my luthier and I have worked so hard to achieve on this fiddle.I will be visiting my local violin shop tomorrow morning and get G string shopping!

February 20, 2013 at 11:18 PM · Regarding bridge adjustment. I think the only good way of adjusting the bridge on an instrument that is actively played is to use the bridge as a template for a new one. Notice the exact position of the original one before removing it. You can make the bridge yourself from a blank or ask your luthier to make one for you.

All adjustments are then done to the new one. This allows one to undo changes by putting the old bridge back.

It is actually a very rewarding exercise to file the bridge with strings in place and the instrument tuned allowing playing/listening between essentially every push/pull of the file. The very fast turn around between filing/listening makes it easy to notice even small changes because you still remember the sound from before the last modification. Remember to use cloth or paper to protect the varnish if the file slips. Also be careful with the strings it takes very little to ruin a string ;) .

I use diamond coated files with a roughness of perhaps P80. Don't file more than two or three pushes/drags before you listen. The effect is very strong and it is very easy to destroy a bridge through removing too much wood. Noticing the improvement in sound very easily leads to the destruction of the new bridge. It is difficult to know where to stop! The best way around this problem is to do only small changes and play the instrument a day or two between sessions. Doing bridge adjustments is a nice way of learning to listen to the colour of the instrument analytically.

The most basic locations to file are:

- The arch between the bridge feet is often too low or in cheap violins left raw (straight). Increasing the arch will generally open the sound. The part of the arch on the E-string side influences the G-string. Filing on the G-string side improves clarity on the A and E -strings. Very small amounts of wood are removed (1/1000 gram is audible). Don't get greedy because taking off too much destroys your new bridge. Only a few turns of the file are needed to audible change the tone. A knife or a saw are useless as tools because they are too rough.

- Filing the E-string side kidney towards the centre of the bridge makes the G-string "rounder"/"darker" or with other words takes away "dryness".

- Filing the G-string side kidney makes the G-string drier and A and E brighter/shriller. Notice that the kidneys partly undo each other. Filing too much on one side can partly be corrected on the other side.

- Generally filing the waist of the bridge will lower the bridge resonance and at some point take away clarity/projection if overdone. The main bridge resonance is 2900 - 3000 Hz.

- Filing the hearth under the A-string will increase volume in the D-string. If the hole is opened too much the sound becomes "nasal". Too nasal D or A means that you have to make a new bridge so don't get too greedy.

- Filing the hearth under the D-string increases the volume of the A-string but again too much makes the tone nasal. Same comment as above.

Notice the non-intuitive way filing influences the strings. The strings are in a sense mirrored

relative to the centre of the bridge. E-string side changes influence the bass and G-string side changes influence the discant.

It is interesting to notice that it is possible to easily hear the wood partly self heal after filing. The effect is undone to perhaps 40% during a few minutes after filing. This means that a slightly nasal sound on D or A isn't a problem because the sound gets less nasal within a few minutes. My guess is that the surface of the wood hardens fast after being worked on and that this effect is audible.

Warning! Don't file the existing unique bridge you have. Always make a new one if you want to learn the system. Blank bridges are fairly cheap and it isn't very difficult to start from a blank and make a reasonable copy of the original one. Remember! You will destroy one or two bridges before you learn the limits. Don't destroy your working bridge please!

February 21, 2013 at 01:20 AM · Thanks for that Lars!

February 21, 2013 at 08:29 AM · An additional comment regarding filing the bridge! The effect is surprisingly strong and in many cases modification of the bridge makes testing string combinations unnecessary. Still remember that this is only _one_ tool for improving the sound. There is a limit to what bridge optimization can do. Further sound improvements generally require experiments with the sound post or modifications to the body of the instrument. All modifications made to the body of the instrument are of course in principle dangerous because they cannot easily be undone. My personal view is that a good instrument is an instrument with very few known faults. There is no _single_ factor that creates a really good instrument. The more faults you eliminate the better the instrument gets.

The good thing about bridge optimization is that you learn how to listen to changes. Training your ear in this manner also makes it easier to test string alternatives because you have developed your internal description language regarding tonal colour. Improving your instrument is a question of pure luck as long as you aren't able to verbalize what you think is the problem. For this reason I think some lessons in instrument set up and optimization should be required for higher musical education. Musicians simply should be thought a common vocabulary to describe issues with their instruments. This would make it much easier for luthiers to understand what kind of changes the musician is looking for.

When doing research in violin set up for a number of years now I have been very lucky in having a professional violinist available for discussions and tests ... my son Sebastian Silen. Through Sebastian I also have had the opportunity to test some really high quality instruments. This is actually very important! How do you recognize a really good instrument if you have never played a good one ;) . You can listen to Sebastian at his home page. The borrowed (Swiss) instrument Sebastian is playing had an insurance value of close to one million euros. Exploring violin optimization has been extremely interesting for me as a physicist. We have also developed new methods for identifying some internal issues in violins and methods for correcting these without opening the violin.

February 21, 2013 at 05:34 PM · In my experience trying to tweak a variety of instruments both old and new, my conclusion is that most of these things are marginal improvements. Violins generally are what they are--if the violin has a not-so-great G (which most don't), then look for something else. I've spent many $$ on graduations, neck resets, new bridges, soundposts, strings, etc. Generally to little avail. Even if there is a marginal improvement, your ear quickly adjusts to the small improvement and you remain dissatisfied with the instrument.

February 21, 2013 at 06:47 PM · Scott,

although I agree with you to some extent (and some people would say if G or E are not good, sell your fiddle and move on), your argument translated to the world of automobiles would be:

"no reason to tune the engine of my Honda, when there is a Porsche just around the corner. "

I have witnessed significant improvement on some violins regarding the basic sound attributes, such as power and resonance, after relatively minor changes in setup. My own violin sounds way better with a bit thicker that the original quite thin bridge. Timbre may be category that can not be improved significantly, but even a minor improvement (from "a cold Mother-in Law" to a "warm Mother-in Law") can make a difference between owner's satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

It may not be "a hot sister in-law", but eh?!

A friend of mine, who is also a violin maker, shares your attitude and is puzzled how come a Strad or a Guarneri still can sound so great after impossible number of repairs and alternations. On the other hand, there is a DVD Homage where James Ehnes praises his luthier for knowing how to setup each violin from Fulton's collection to its full potential.

February 21, 2013 at 07:12 PM · In general, I agree with what Scott says, but sometimes even a marginal improvement can be enough to satisfy. I recently spent a week or so choosing a G, but only from the 4 Vision lines... regular visions, reg vis solos, vis titanium orchestras, and vis ti-solos. ended up with the regular vision solo G. but I chose this one cus I don't like a boomy G, but like my G&D to be more like melody strings rather than "bass" strings. btw, I think the regular vision G is quite strong.

but if your fiddle requires the warmth of obligatos, you may find it a bit difficult to match them with a different G imo. have you considered trying a whole different set? if you need something on the warmer side, violinos are warm but you may not like them. PI's can be warmish, or maybe a set of the above mentioned Vision lines or a combination thereof. I recently acquired a German trade fiddle, a Louis Lowendall, Berlin, 1893. It came strung with obligatos with were too warm for me and don't like oblagato feel/tension. So I ended up with a regular vision solo G. and vis titanium orchestra D&A.

February 21, 2013 at 09:14 PM · I think it is well worth having a look at Martin Schleske's work on violin optimization. Look under research/publications and mode optimisations. There are several extremely interesting publications. My experience with violin builders locally has generally been that they believe that you simply can copy the dimensions of a good instrument and get a well sounding copy. This is not true! Even very well known builders like Joseph Curtin at one stage through that only form matters (google Joseph Curtin "Some Principles of Violin Setup"). Curtin describes how he by accident tried a good bridge on a violin with issues ... with good result. He measured the properties of the bridge and realized that the correct resonance of roughly 3000 Hz was very important. The violin studio then started tuning the basic resonance of all bridges they made ... with a big improvement in quality.

Joseph Curtin said:

"A physicist friend had recently asked whether we tuned our bridges. I said no, we simply used the best blanks we could find and tried to make them look right. I thought that if a bridge looked beautiful,

it would work well. Actually, I thought this true for the whole instrument."

Like any real scientist Joseph Curtin changed his mind when he realized he was wrong. I keep Joseph Curtin in very high regard and I have read a number of very interesting articles by him.

Of course if you think that the only thing that matters is that the instrument looks beautiful and is well built according to some mystic rule of thumb then any changes you try to do are hit and miss. Only when you understand WHY you want to do a change and what the result of the change will be are you able to make real progress.

All changes that are done on free plates are hit and miss to some extent because the whole vibration pattern changes when the plates are assembled into a complete instrument. Clearly some really experienced luthiers are able to bridge the void between the white parts and the varnished finished product and produce series of good instruments. Other builders are less lucky and produce some really good instruments but with occasional not so good specimens.

I think this discussion thread itself is an example of the lack of knowledge regarding acoustical optimisation. The reason why I commented was Peter's comment

"One of the luthiers I work with suggested taking a very small amount of wood out of the bridge on the G side in the "kidney" area.I'm just worried that if that doesn't solve the problem,I can't glue the wood back on!"

The problem is that following this advise with an already dry G (which is the most common problem) would make the problem worse. My feeling is that attempts at improvements very often are hit/miss cases. Sometimes the result is ok but often not. I think Martin Schleske's ideas on mode tunings to make acoustically accurate copies of known extremely good instruments is the physically sound route to go. I have used the 1712 Schreiber Stradivarius described by Schleske as my tuning template. The mechanical copy is only the first step, measurements and listening are then used to make the copy work as the original. Notice that I have never tried the "Schreiber" violin, I use the published modes as templates and indications of where thinning could be worth while.

Re-graduation is often understood as a rough change of the thickness of the plates. I don't trust the result of any major change to the instrument where the instrument requires disassembly to do the change. The reason is that simply glueing an unmodified top back may change the sound to some extent.

If the plates are reasonably well done problematic spots can be detected on the assembled instrument through tests. My experience is that the changes to the thickness of plates required for substantial changes in tone are very small. Very subtle changes to thickness are needed to help the correct vibration patterns to emerge. Based on actual tests a change of 1/100 mm in the correct spot can make a large difference in sound this corresponds to a change of thickness of perhaps 5% this is very similar to what is done to the bridge when it is tuned. Notice that it is difficult to accurately measure changes as small as this even with a good tool. These changes can be implemented with the instrument stringed and test played between steps. It is also possible to check the probable result of the change without doing any changes to the plates.

February 22, 2013 at 01:19 AM · Peter, if you're ever in Chicago, which isn't that far away, bring your violin and we'll set it right, if that's possible. Or have your violin guy call me, if you want. I know what I'd do, and unlike most of the people offering suggestions, I actually have some experience and do this for a living.

February 22, 2013 at 02:11 AM · Another vote for Scott, as a player, if the violin doesn't sound "right" to begin with, I wouldn't have even consider to own it.

My primary violin, with its subpar setup when I receive it, still sound balanced across the strings. When I'm experimenting with different bridge placement, soundpost positioning, what I experienced are series of overall adjustments. I never got a result of weak E or weak G from different setup. Maybe some setup will cut the high frequency off, or cut the bass off, less responsive or higher strings or lower strings, but still I've yet to experience extreme unbalanced result. Maybe slight imbalance between higher strings vs lower strings, but it still affect as a whole, not just single string.

That said, I'm just speaking from a point of a player, so what do I know.

February 22, 2013 at 03:59 AM · Hi Casey

I have no regrets buying this fiddle whatsoever even with the G needing some tweeking.Violins at this price level have good and not so good characteristics and I knew that when I bought it.I remember the A was slightly tight for quite a few years and was told by a dealer "that will take a decade or so to mellow that A".Not true.I had the post played around with and now the A is rich and powerful.I'm positive there is a monster G inside this instrument ready to come out with the correct tweeking.I so appreciate all of the comments ,including yours on this topic!!

February 22, 2013 at 04:36 AM · Peter,

Yes the price range will determine the decision, sometimes we can only ask so much within the price range unless we have 5 figures budget to buy the best contemporary violin, or more for fine old violins. In the end if you didn't regret then it's all matters. By the way, adjusting and setting up violin is fun, sometimes it'll give you surprises. All the best on solving the problem!

February 22, 2013 at 05:19 AM · Peter: Here's a thought. You said you were using Oblagoto's. Rocky Milankov suggested trying a Passione G. I was told recently that Oblagatos were designed to be more similar to gut than other synthetics. I'm thinking that a Passione G would be fairly compatible with the Obligato D & A and I think you would find it more rich and powerful than the Ob G. I tried some Passiones a couple of years ago, but I just couldn't bow them very well. but I do remember the G to be quite strong and rich.

Can you purchase or order a single G? There would be no risk to this, and if it doesn't work, all you've lost is the price of the string.

...although, I'm pretty sure the Passione G would be a bit thicker diameter than the Ob G, so you may have a bit less clearance to bow your D string!

February 22, 2013 at 06:10 PM · "I'm positive there is a monster G inside this instrument ready to come out with the correct tweeking"

Perhaps. It would mean that a major flaw in the setup exists that is keeping this "Monster G" in his cage. I'd just be wary of spending a huge amount with unrealistic expectations. You'll find many willing luthiers who will say "you need a new bass bar" or some such. However, they can never guarantee anything. I had one major luthier who regraduated a very thick and small-sounding contemporary instrument. He said "if it doesn't sound fantastic--we'll both cry!" Well, it sounded no different after something like $2,000 worth of work. However, he got $2000, and I did the crying. I sold it.

The problem with the Honda vs. Porsche analogy is that the Honda, even if a little faster, is still a Honda. It won't handle like a Porsche. You'd be like a teenager who wastes all of his college tuition tuning his ride, only to sell it later at a loss because no one (except another tuner-obsessed teen) wants such a silly car.

February 22, 2013 at 07:59 PM · Point taken Scott.As I wrote before,replacing the bass bar is the very last thing I'll do.I should also be aware that its minus 19C here in Elmira Ontario so I should perhaps let up on the poor violin.Our hall (Centre in the Square)is so dry you could cure meat in it.This is obviously not helping things.

Im trying an Infeld G for starters right now....I also bought the Passione G and will try it later.Thanks for that advice Dave!

Did you get my PEM Michael?

March 2, 2013 at 05:23 PM · The Infeld G has been on for nearly a week and it seems to work very well.In contradiction to my original post, I also put on a thin E in the intermission of last nights' concert.This brought out more core sound on the G and the E seems OK.Thanks again for all your suggestions!!

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