How do you revoice a violin? Glad you asked...

February 19, 2013 at 06:40 PM · I know for many players what goes on inside a violin is a bit of a mystery. Many of you are, in fact, playing instruments that have been revoiced at some point in their lives. Find out more about the whys and hows here:

http://www.greenwayviolins.com/revoicing.html

Replies (33)

February 19, 2013 at 08:11 PM · Yes, well we've all heard of this practice and mostly it has been condemned because, in a lot of instances, it ruins instruments. They may sound better for a few months but then the rot sets in.

February 19, 2013 at 09:14 PM · ... and the further damage to the violin that has become structurally unstable. I have seen many cracks in odd places with extremely thin belly. It is not the same as some old masters did, knowing how to distribute the tension properly. It may be done well, but the risk is too high.

February 20, 2013 at 01:40 AM · Good points. Trade violins are sometimes over-graduated to give a mellower sound and problems can result. However, done correctly, with a properly installed bass bar, there is no long-term harm to the instrument.

Remember, we're not talking about Cremonese master instruments here. These are factory violins that, left alone, often sound pretty weak and whiny.

I'll also add I've heard some trade violins that sound wonderful just the way they are.

February 20, 2013 at 08:51 AM · We are not talking about good old violins here. If they sounded well to begin with no shop would invest their time and money making them sound.

With advent of good sounding and correctly thicknessed violins coming out of China for little money, it is good that somebody is doing something with the hundred year old European mass produced/ factory violins that weigh too much and have little tone.

If nothing is done many of these are next to useless as instruments and have little commercial value. How many of this type of old violin languish in violin shops whilst new Chinese, better made and better sounding, violins fly out the door?

Cheers Carlo

February 20, 2013 at 09:22 AM · agreed - it's my instrument - i can do with it what i want.

... and on a personal note, i wouldn't mind a re-voicing and a new lease of life myself - even if i had to have my top taken off, some of the inherent thickness removed from within and some re-bracing and stiffening here and there in order to achieve it.

February 20, 2013 at 09:37 AM · For a decent violin with overly thick plates and poor sound to begin with, one has nothing to lose by revoicing (whatever that means). In the article, the author also mentioned about mass produced trade violins which can have nice wood but poor constructions.

It's too easy to focus on one issue without considering the rest, for the people who read posts on forums. "Oh, regraduating the plates, that MUST mean over-thinning the plates, it MUST be EVIL!!"

February 20, 2013 at 10:05 AM · "It's too easy to focus on one issue without considering the rest, for the people who read posts on forums. "Oh, regraduating the plates, that MUST mean over-thinning the plates, it MUST be EVIL!!""

Whilst I don't disagree with you I'm not sure anyone actually said that - apart from maybe Lyndon.

What I think we are saying is that unnecessary regulating of plate thickness is wrong. I'm reminded of a comment made by a luthier here in London that the old masters used any old floorboards to make instruments, but that their expertise was such that the instruments are masterpieces and sound wonderful. As if contemporary makers have the wood but no idea how to make great instruments. Somehow I doubt the validity of such statements.

February 20, 2013 at 10:34 AM · Peter - Part of the reason why that statement was being in a bad mood, regarding the thread about Anna's. But half of it was being sarcastic, should've included a smiley. ;-)

Yes I'm following the topic. In fact it often discussed on Maestronet. One of the more common problem with the beautiful appearance of the outer part of the instrument, upon opening the plates is all rough and uneven surface, with extra wood left at where the bass bar should be. At least such operation will remedy the problem with more evenly graduated thickness and a proper bass bar.

It's always fascinating to realize the old masters can use ugly woods (by today's standard) and yet it sounds wonderful. One of the v.com member - Michael Darnton, who's also a violin maker, one of his blog entry shown an old cello with such ugly wood and yet it was claimed to sound beautiful.

February 20, 2013 at 02:29 PM · When I entered violin making school one of the first questions I asked was why don't makers take factory instruments apart, regraduate them where necessary, put in a nice bass bar and set them up properly.

The answer was, in the end and after the expense, you'll still have an anonymous factory instrument, with the same (usually) plain wood, roughly made scroll, less than artistic purfling and f-holes.

It would thus be difficult to recuperate the cost of the intervention with a higher resale value.

That was in the '70s, when factory instruments all came from Germany. Maybe things are different now with the nicer Chinese instruments.

February 20, 2013 at 03:27 PM · I think it's maybe good to have a balanced reaction to these things rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the words.

Imagine you have a pickup truck. It doesn't have any acceleration, it stops poorly. . . doesn't steer well, either. So you take it to the garage, and the guy there says "Say, did you notice the 1000 pounds of bricks in the back? Let's take them out." Suddenly all your problems are gone.

A lot of factory violins are like that--lots of weight in all the wrong places according to even the most fundamental concepts of beginning violin making. Ribs that are 1.5mm thick are a good example. Almost any violin that doesn't work because of underlying bad design, not even involving graduations per se, will work a bit better with less weight to move.*

So you want even better performance and you take your truck to another shop, and the guy there says "We can take out even more weight--let's get rid of the brakes and the oil pan for a start". Maybe not such a good idea.

Violins are like that, too. Some guys get carried away, and start doing things they shouldn't, going beyond best practices, with bad results.

I don't think either one should say he's doing "High-Performance Tune-Ups" though.

*(Ever notice how those guys who say they're doing "acoustical tuning" never do it by adding wood, only removing it? Think about that for a while.)

February 20, 2013 at 04:41 PM · Is it possible to add wood? I've no idea so that's why I'm asking!

February 20, 2013 at 04:54 PM · There is, but it can be a lot of work. Soundpost patches, crossgrain straps, "tonal" patches (which are put on top of the wood, not into it, as with post patches). They all have their place in restoration work.

I'm not going to say this was universal, but there was for a good while, a prevalent attitude that the best way to make a good violin was to use the lightest wood in the lightest possible construction (i.e., as thin as possible without collapsing). This, obviously, is not what the Cannone del Gesu is about, but it's a way to make a violin with serious flaws in arching, etc, appear to function, sort of.

January 11, 2014 at 04:20 AM · Do you ever find it worthwhile to re-graduate the back plate, as well as the top? I have a nice "Prague School" style fiddle that has a great feel to play, but is heavy and and just not what I know it could be after this process. I was thinking about doing it myself, but about what would it cost an owner to have you do it, if I may ask?

January 11, 2014 at 06:57 AM · 9 times out of 10 the regraduater knows less about sound production than the craftsman that made the violin in the first place.

January 11, 2014 at 08:26 PM · Hello all,

I've read an article by none other than Charles Beare about 25 years ago saying that a lot of these violins do not have a great varnish but not a bad one either in a way that it would affect the sound adversely. If someone who know what they are doing takes them apart, re-thickness them, put a proper bass bar inside they could be turned into quite respectable playing instruments.

At the time of the article it was not economically viable to do such operations to them,because the cost of the repairs would far exceed the final value of the instrument, but maybe the time has come for them to be re-voiced. The big plus is that they are over a 150 years old now and the wood has matured and mind you some of them are made of excellent wood, since at the time wood was cheap.

The way prices of old violins are and expected to rise as always, maybe this is the way to go .

January 12, 2014 at 10:00 PM · "Sacconi used to revoice Strads whenever he got the chance . He tells us that in his book."

___________________

That claim is, uhm, highly questionable!!!!

January 12, 2014 at 10:41 PM · Did anyone notice the use of a boxcutter in the revoicing link of the original post? I don't have one of those in my shop; perhaps I need one to do revoicing properly. ;-)

January 13, 2014 at 10:31 AM · Because while the wording in the book is vague enough to be interpreted in various ways, speaking to people who actually worked with Sacconi leaves the strong impression that he was making reference to trying to UNDO alterations which other people had already performed on Stradivaris. One also gets that impression from speaking to the person who translated the book from Italian into English.

In other words, the attempt was to take the instruments back to their original state and their original voice (when deemed possible and appropriate), which is the opposite of how the term "revoicing" is used in the first post of this thread.

January 13, 2014 at 10:40 AM · In other words Sacconi may well have been refering to adding wood where some other idiot had regraduated too far.

So far everyone seems to agree you shouldn't regraduate valuable instruemnts, only cheap VSOs, and that the only ones really qualified to regraduate are top makers themselves whos labour rate would make the regraduated violins prohibitively expensive, so were basically left with nothing but hacks who can't build violins, and who's labour rate is deservedly so low that they actually think they are making a profit regraduating violins, when in fact there just mucking with pieces of history that might as well be left exactly as they were made.

January 13, 2014 at 08:07 PM · Thanks for reading and digesting further, John, and realizing that a cursory first read might not get to the heart of what Sacconi was really trying to communicate.

Don, I too haven't noticed "boxcutters" having much value in violinmaking or restoration, to people who were really good at either. Except that they do a quite fine job of opening cardboard boxes, which almost everyone today needs to do at one time or another. ;-)

January 14, 2014 at 02:09 AM · Okay we have some real luthiers following this thread so let me ask a couple of questions that I believe are related to the OP.

(1) If I have a violin that was made in Germany in 1895 is it necessarily a shop-made instrument? The label bears a German name and I have been able to locate only one other instrument by that maker.

(2) How does one determine that a violin is a good candidate for the regrading the top? Is it just a matter of saying, "This top is thicker than I would make one of my violins, so it's got to be thinned" or can one tell by tapping or other empirical means that regrading will improve its sound. I've got a $3500 violin that has some small tonal flaws -- after the obvious things like trying different strings, having the soundpost reset, and cutting a new bridge, is regrading the next thing?

(3) Someone mentioned ribs that are too thick. I had a violin where the luthier said the corner blocks were too big. But suppose the ribs are too thick. Can you just order some thinner ones from China, bend and varnish them to match, and put them in? Maybe that sounds like hack work, but if it improves the sound of the violin, for a reasonable price, then why not?

(4) Do bass bars wear out? If so, what is their expected lifetime?

January 14, 2014 at 04:36 AM · I understand restoring old and very valuable instruments but revoicing a new one?? Why not just buy a good violin to begin with. Am I missing something here?

January 14, 2014 at 06:38 PM · If Sacconi was trying to return the sound to original, after someone else had "revoiced" it, then perhaps he was "unrevoicing" or derevoicing. ;-)

January 14, 2014 at 10:27 PM · VSO's have voices. SpongeBob has a voice too.

January 15, 2014 at 10:27 AM · Paul Deck, didn't mean to ignore you. You've asked a number of very complex questions, and I'll try to tackle some of them when I have a little more time.

January 15, 2014 at 08:46 PM · Quite enlightening that you know the purpose of the hole in the back, which appears on some Cremonese instruments from that period.

Most experts I have contact with don't know the answer yet. ;-)

January 16, 2014 at 05:02 PM · John Cadd wrote: "If not maybe they could be identified by looking to see if there was a conical hole where Strad would have set the thickness of the backs. Surely Sacconi would not have restored the hole as well."

Maybe a good that Sacconi didn't re-install them: "This device is seen on all the instruments made by the Amati family, and in the majority of instruments made by their pupils; it was adopted by the Guarneris but by neither Francesco Rugeri nor Stradivari." (Roger Hargrave)

For makers who did employ the conical hole, it passed all the way to the exterior (where it appears as little more than a pinprick), and was plugged with of wood.... so someone re-graduating would need to make a window in the back to totally remove it.

The re-graduating thing is an old debate, and probably won't be solved here. I prefer not to alter original intent, but those on the other side of the fence might argue that instruments like Scarampellas would never have been popular without re-graduation of the top, back and ribs (by shops like Wurlitzer, Herrmann & Moennig).

Also, a friend (now gone) who was involved in the business earlier in the 20th century once mentioned the possibility that some modern Italian fiddles were requested with thick graduations when shipped to this country, as they were more stable during the boat ride and allowed the shop to make alterations to their tastes. Since the firm I used to work for occasionally made similar requests when dealing with more pedestrian commercial instruments from far away places, I don't dismiss the possibility.

January 27, 2014 at 04:16 PM · Would it be stupid to ask whether thinning the plates near the edges is better than in the middle?

I read somewhere that Strad & Co tried the assembled fiddles "in the white" and graduated them from the outside by cautious scraping. Seems intelligent to me!

January 27, 2014 at 04:52 PM · "Would it be stupid to ask whether thinning the plates near the edges is better than in the middle?"

Not stupid. I will not categorically say what is "better", but:

Most graduation patterns for good instruments do not appear to be thinned out very near the edges.

On some of my early instruments I did scoop out as close as possible to the edges, with the idea that more active soundboard would be better. I don't think it was better, and don't do that now.

Alternatively, thinning out the middle might not be great, either, but somewhere inbetween.

January 28, 2014 at 02:47 PM · Yes, John. Try googling William Fry. He found interesting assymetry in the plates of fine violins.

January 28, 2014 at 03:44 PM · "Good luthiers using exact dimensions from a famous violin can get near the sound character of the original."

Depends on one's definition of "near".

I have heard copies, and they don't sound all that close to the original to me. That also applies to a copy I made, using arching and thickness of a specific Strad.

January 28, 2014 at 06:01 PM · I posted this at Maestronet 16 years ago (Jan. 20 1998) but it is relevant to this discussion. (Also here: http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?id=7909 )

"I think I related the story of Frizoli (a former violin teacher of my father's (and the man who led him to buy the Stefano Scarampella violin, that I sold in 1959) about whom an article was written in the So. Calif. Auto Club magazine 30 some years ago - Frisoli was then in his 90s and lived in Beverly Hills, having moved from NYC. Unknown to me he had also been a violin maker, and in the article he talked about his experiences as a violin maker - about how he and his teacher, Scarampella, had made the top plates too thick, and that they should be regraduated. Obviously something neither of them was in a position to do any longer."

About 20 years ago I had one of my violins regraduated (very slightly-somewhere I have a photo taken before the top was put backon the violin) by a friend who had taken up violin making as a 40-year old amateur (but has eventually sold over 100 violins, violas, and cellos). By the time he did the work we were both almost 60 and he was a retired mechanical engineer who used as much engineering technology as possible in the making and adjusting of his hand-made instruments. His work took the high edge off the instrument's sound and it is the instrument I use most these days. (By the way I also have bought three instruments by this maker).

Previously, another violin maker, Henry Meissner, had suggested this instrument should be regraduated, so I left it with him for that purpose. But 6 months later he had done nothing to it and said it just needed to be played for another 200 years or so. (???) So I took it back and have been working toward that goal.

Some time after it was regraduated I had the opportunity to play it, my Fernando Solar, a 1698 Strad* and an Andrea Guarneri in "rotation" in the same room at Ifshin VIolins. Jay Ifshin (who also played all the violins - and had worked on all my instruments) said this regraduated violin was the best of my violins. After that experience I went home with my violins and no significant violin envy. (*That Strad was later bought by the San Francisco Symphony).

Even though this regraduated violin is more mellow than it used to be it still allows me to hear myself in full orchestra situations, an important factor as my hearing is significantly degraded.

Andy

January 28, 2014 at 10:19 PM · Thats Mario Frosali, not Frizoli, he was my teachers teacher.

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