regular tune up, yes or no?

May 4, 2013 at 06:59 PM · Is this true or false? I heard someone say that a regular tune up of your violin is a good way to preserve tone quality. He was talking on moving the sound post around every once in a while.

I was always told never to touch the sound post if not absolutely necessary.

Somehow I am wary of getting this done to my violin, an old Jacob Stainer, from around 1875.

Any views on this topic are welcome!

Thanks!

Replies (24)

May 4, 2013 at 07:56 PM · "What you need is two or more violins that have different sound or tone qualities.The ear will get too acustomed to the same violin over a long period of time.Then you can avoid all the horrendous pitfalls of messing around with the post."

I know your post is well-intentioned John, but it is not clear to me what it is you are trying to say exactly.

When the poster will have two or more violins with different tones, will this mean that his ear will be acclimated to different sounds and therefore:

1. When his sound post is moved on his Stainer he won't go berserk? OR

2. He won't need/feel the urge to have his sound posts moved, because he has more variety of sound now?

May 4, 2013 at 08:55 PM · First of all, you have to define what are you looking for in terms of violin timbre in your Stainer.

If your internal concept of sound is far away from what a typical Stainer is, no sound post adjustment, sting changes or just anything will bridge that gap. You will need another violin.

If what you are looking for is not that far fetched and you find a luthier that can understand what it is, give it a try.

Mind you, changing sound post position too often is not good for your instrument and can drive you crazy in looking for that elusive sound.

Moving sound post for the sake of "regular" maintenance does not make sense at all.

May 4, 2013 at 11:32 PM · Correct me if wrong but I think John is referring to the same point that Carl Flesch made (in his case about over practice, I think) about

the "ears" becoming insensitive, dulled or, lets say, bored with the same sound, to the point where objectivity is lost.

May 5, 2013 at 01:11 AM · If you live somewhere with really variable weather, you'll find wood expands and contracts, and you'll end up needing to move the post with the seasons if you want the instrument to continue sounding optimal.

If you move to somewhere with a different climate, you may actually need to have a new post made.

May 5, 2013 at 03:46 AM · "If you live somewhere with really variable weather, you'll find wood expands and contracts, and you'll end up needing to move the post with the seasons if you want the instrument to continue sounding optimal.

If you move to somewhere with a different climate, you may actually need to have a new post made."

Lydia, can you please explain what you mean by

"somewhere with really variable weather"?

Are you talking about relative humidity or temperature or both?

Could you please give some examples of what you would consider really variable weather?

I live in a city/country where I would consider the weather to vary quite a bit from season to season both in humidity and temperature.

May 5, 2013 at 05:56 AM · I never got bored of my violin, everytime i take out my violin to play, it'll always inspire me - with it's easy to manipulate and broad range of colors, almost can sound like 2 different violin by playing it differently.

And to answer OP's topic, regular check up, yes. Regular tune up (to move things around just to keep the violin "fresh")? No...

May 5, 2013 at 12:08 PM · Agree with Lydia, but with caveat. The weather in Washington DC varies quite a bit -- hot and humid in the summer and cold and dry in the winter. I keep my violin in my basement. I use a DE-humidifier in the summer and a humidifier in the winter. Year round the violin stays at 50-60% relative humidity. I have not adjusted the post for 2 years and my fiddle sounds great. The point is, regardless of the climate, if you can regulate the environment, a violin will remain stable.

Note: Humidity will affect an instrument more than temperature.

May 5, 2013 at 01:22 PM · Rose Marie's article might have relevance if you were playing your fiddle on the wing of an airplane, but down here on the ground in northern California the climate cam be completely different over the next hill. For example the unique climate of San Francisco applies across the Golden Gate in Sausalito and even to Mill Valley,but over the next small hill (perhaps 1/2 mile), into Corte Madera, the temperature is often 20 degrees warmer.

Sometimes a violin can be perked up just by thoroughly cleaning the strings, making sure the excess rosin is removed and there is nor residue between the windings. Also be sure the bow hairs are not stuck together by melted rosin.

Andy

May 5, 2013 at 02:08 PM · Living in Texas, I have to get my violin adjusted 2 times a year for times of high humidity (summer) and low humidity (winter). For those of you who for instance live in England, this is not necessary since the weather is cool, wet, and dreary year around:)

May 5, 2013 at 02:33 PM · Depends on the climate, to a point; as Smiley says, many weather variables can be handled by adjusting environment.

Also depends on the instrument; some are just not easy keepers, but many don't seem to need much fussing.

May 5, 2013 at 04:34 PM · When I was living in Chicago, Carl Becker Jr. suggested that I should come in at least twice a year -- winter and summer -- to have the post adjusted. I was a teenager at the time, and my bedroom had fairly intense temperature and humidity shifts despite central heating/cooling in the house. Chicago gets very cold dry winters and very hot humid summers.

When I was living in the Bay Area, which is temperate and dry pretty much year-round, I had one perfect set-up done and that was all that was needed; I never needed to fool with it again.

When I moved to Maryland, I had to get the soundpost replaced. I'm waiting to see if I'm keeping the violin in constant enough humidity that it'll behave over the summer without needing further adjustment.

May 5, 2013 at 07:29 PM · "Mark you seem to be struggling with most of our answers today."

Not most, just two; yours and Lydia's. :)

"Basically the ears will get bored with the same violin played continually."

I wouldn't say bored, perhaps 'used to' would be a better way to describe the phenomenon.

"The suggestion about post moving was not referring to climate changes.It was simply a way to get over the "boredom" effect.It`s a mental effect."

John, the "boredom effect" was your introduction into this topic.

Nowhere in the OP did shulamith state anything about being bored with her violin tone!

She was simply talking about preserving tone quality. She herself didn't want to mess with her sound post. Someone had told her that moving it around would be beneficial.

"If you are mystified by the idea of a variable climate because you do not live with a variable climate ---- that says something about you .You will need to imagine something outside your own comfortable , personal experience"

John I am not mystified by the idea of a variable climate.

I just was asking about specific examples (temp/humidity) that's all.

I live in an area that has temps of -20C in the winter and +30C in the summer.

The humidity will change from 30% in the winter to 70% in the summer at times.

I consider those to be quite extreme changes.

I have never had to move my violin posts.

Perhaps I have just been lucky with my instruments.

May 6, 2013 at 03:50 AM · Chances are that despite the climate changes, you maintain stable temperature and humidity wherever you have the violin. That or you're not super-sensitive to small differences in the setting of the post.

May 6, 2013 at 12:18 PM · As the old saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Bringing your violin to a knowledgeable, responsible maker once or twice a year is a good idea, to see IF it needs a SP or bridge adjustment, etc. Necessarily HAVING an adjustment is another matter. I live in the very variable climate of New York City, and I do some travelling. It's still not a foregone conclusion that the SP will need adjustment. Yes, with changes in weather, the violin can go back and forth within a range of optimal or less than optimal sound and response. But we have to deal with it, use mild humidification or de-humidification and with our playing, coax the best results we can out of the instrument.

Some people are real nuts about adjusting their violin. The great violinist of yesteryear, Mischa Elman, known for his legendary tone, was always fussing with his Strad. It got to the point that when he would come in to Wurlitzers, the major violin dealership of that time, to have his sound-post adjusted, Saconni, their chief expert knew that a little psychology was in order. "Yes, Mr. Elman", he would say, "it's just the tiniest bit off, and most people wouldn't notice it. Let me take it back to my workbench and I'll be back in a few minutes." He took it back, didn't touch the post, maybe lower a couple of strings a bit a and tune them up again, have a cup of coffee and bring it back to the front desk. "Here, Mr. Elman, try it now". Elman would try it and invariably say "Yes, it's better!"

May 6, 2013 at 04:28 PM · This reminds me of a story about the great violist, Lionel Tertis, told by the British luthier, Wilfred Saunders:

"When I'd finished one particular viola, I took it down to show him. The train was an hour late and he was furious. 'I'll try it quickly--oh, the C string's too high--you're killing it! Take it away and put it right,' just like that. I put the viola back in the case, closed the lid, and left, feeling cross and thinking the Saunders-Tertis partnership had come to an early end. Of course I never touched it, never did a thing to it. The next morning I took it back, and he was in a good humour, and it suited him perfectly".

May 6, 2013 at 04:30 PM · @Lydia - Woohoo for living in the Bay Area (SF Oakland bay area, right? If not boo! :) )

Anyway, temps and humidity are pretty constant here, during the winter humidity averages 60% and now in the spring time is ~40%, although we recently went through a (relative) dry hot spell of 80-90F with 25-30% humidity.

I have a new instrument, a 2012 I got about a month ago, and are there any sort of check-ups or tune ups for new instruments? I can tell a more older instrument will mostly fluctuate with weather but will a new instrument differ and have more of a need to take it in for a look over by the luthier? A week ago I actually took it in for some work done on it, a new tailpiece, tail gut and strings. When I picked it up the next day everything was fine, they didnt recommend any other work to be done on it.

May 6, 2013 at 06:33 PM · "Some people are real nuts about adjusting their violin. The great violinist of yesteryear, Mischa Elman, known for his legendary tone, was always fussing with his Strad...

He took it back, didn't touch the post, maybe lower a couple of strings a bit a and tune them up again, have a cup of coffee and bring it back to the front desk. "Here, Mr. Elman, try it now". Elman would try it and invariably say "Yes, it's better!"

Good story!

Sounds like Mischa was not super-sensitive. :)

May 6, 2013 at 07:57 PM · While John's theory that the ear gets too used to the sound of a violin sounds plausible, it's unlikely that the average player will have the resources to buy another instrument. Most players, especially professionals, seek to maximize their investment in the best possible fiddle instead of splitting their money between two (even if they could find two violins worth half the price that were professionally acceptable to them). Those that can afford a Strad and a Del Gesu are of course far and few between.

And it's not clear to me that changing instruments for a time will enable one to more accurately judge the adjustment of the other.

The main issue is whether one should have a violin regularly adjusted. The issue here is far from simple because it depends somewhat on the luthier. By and large luthiers are honest people who wish their customers to be pleased. However, I suspect few will hear the violin and just say "sounds good to me. I don't need to adjust it." After all, they're luthiers--it's what they DO. What's more likely is that they'll shrug, get their tool, and start moving the post around. The customer may or may not hear anything different, especially in the new acoustic environs of the shop. They'll play it a few times, then start to get confused, then finally say "well, I guess it's better now."

The more experienced the player, the more likely it is that the luthier will assume that the customer is correct and that an adjustment is necessary. Also keep in mind that the luthier may not be able to judge how the violin is performing if they don't play it every day. Luthier's ears are not the same as those of the player.

Another issue is the phenomena that the previous post/adjustment/bridge etc. was done incorrectly and that only the current luthier is right. So often when someone looks in my fiddle they say "your post looks crooked" or "your bridge is too...(fill in some adjective here).

So while I'm not denying that some kind of adjustment for the seasons is not unreasonable, I just think that this is not a simple matter.

Luthiers can correct me on this, but my impression is that for any tonal adjustment--bright/dark, hard/easy response, etc.--there is one ideal place to position the post so that it drives the back efficiently. So if the post is too long for the season and you just knock it to a looser place, you're moving it away from the best place to drive the back for the sound/response you desire. In that case, what's really needed is a post of a different size, not simply "moving it around" as the original poster asked.

May 6, 2013 at 09:17 PM · Howard Needham seems to favor tapping the instrument, using the pitches produced to determine where to set the soundpost. In years of adjustments by many perfectly good adjusters and makers, I'd never seen anyone do that before. But his placement (of a new soundpost) was excellent -- balanced, and it made the E-string whistle go away. It just needed a tiny tweak from him after that to sound its best.

Small differences are definitely audible. And even if you don't move the post, you should make sure the bridge is just right, periodically, since you'll end up tugging it subtly out of place when you tune, especially when you're changing strings.

May 6, 2013 at 10:43 PM · Scott, since you asked, there can be a number of different "sweet spots" on both the top and the back where an instrument will work more-or-less equally well, with subtle differences between them which can come down to personal preference. And the location of these sweet spots can change with moisture content of the wood, and even with the brand of string.

I'm avoiding using the term "driving point", because the soundpost can do different things at different frequencies. Sometimes it transmits vibration, and sometimes it inhibits vibration.

I pretty much agree with everything else you've said though. One needs to be a little careful about luthiers. Much of their training involves doing stuff to fiddles, with little hands-on time spent leaving them alone. Low and behold, they may emerge from training with a marked tendency to do stuff to fiddles LOL.

The skill level of luthiers is also all over the map, not unlike what one finds with musicians. Unfortunately, I can't think of a simple, quick, cheap, and totally safe way to audition a luthier.

May 7, 2013 at 01:04 AM · David,

Thanks for the insights. There's a good reason I've never tried to adjust my instrument myself.

However, my teacher at Peabody had no such qualms--he would take his students' instruments and jerk the post tighter and say "now it sounds better." Yikes.

May 7, 2013 at 01:12 AM · Good post Scott!

"The main issue is whether one should have a violin regularly adjusted. The issue here is far from simple because it depends somewhat on the luthier. By and large luthiers are honest people who wish their customers to be pleased.

...What's more likely is that they'll shrug, get their tool, and start moving the post around. The customer may or may not hear anything different, especially in the new acoustic environs of the shop. They'll play it a few times, then start to get confused, then finally say "well, I guess it's better now."

This above fictional luthier has just located the optimal spot for the sound post.

What would be really instructive, would be to take a TV crew such as the 'The Marketplace' (in Canada) with hidden cameras, into a dozen or so luthier shops.

Hand the luthiers the test violin and ask them if they think it needed a sound post adjustment.

Let them make the adjustment if they deemed it was necessary.

Repeat for each luthier visited.

I wonder how many times the sound post will have been moved by the end of the experiment? :)

May 7, 2013 at 08:47 PM · Very likely about n-3, where n is the number of luthiers and 10 or more. I only move the post if I think I can improve on what is there. Several years ago the principal 2nd at the Brevard Music Center (a mile and a half from my house) thought his post needed moved. I could hear nothing strange, so I declined and suggested that he wait until he had returned to his normal climate. I think he was disappointed, but that was his problem.

May 8, 2013 at 02:02 PM · Thank you all for contributing to my question.

Mark Woodman, and Scott Cole, you are right: my question was just to get insight about the effectiveness, usefulness of moving the sound post, as a tune up for tone quality.

Playing on different instruments makes sense, but I do not have the means to own two of the same caliber.

I am sure not bored by the sound of my violin. since I am still improving technique, how can I? improved skills lead to better tone quality itself, right? But yes one will get used to the sound of their instrument. It's a good thing I think, because if you know how it can sound on "good days" with all variables in a good place, you will hear the difference when that is not the case and start working towards the better sound.

Living in Houston, I deal with humidity, and that might be why I think the sound is different every once in a while. But then, how about having a cold, with clogged up ears?

There are so many variables in tone quality of an instrument.

But with all the answers from everyone, I have a sense of what to do now: or rather do not: leave the sound post alone, clean the strings, re-hair the bow if necessary as first steps, and then, if I still am not sure have a luthier look at it. Lisle Violin Shop in Houston did repair my instrument once so wonderfully. They will give me their 2 cts. And then I will decide wether to follow up on it or not.

Thank you all again!

Shulamith

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