Plate tuning - what approaches do the top makers use these days?

May 26, 2013 at 11:22 AM · There seems to be a wide range of theories about optimal tuning of the plates in violin making - some based on tradition, some on modern research.

For someone just becoming interested in the idea of making a violin, it's a fascinating but confusing field.

The luthiers I know mainly seem to use intuition and experience.

But are there more explicit techniques that can more reliably control the playing qualities of the instrument? What plate tuning techniques do makers find are practically useful in the workshop?

Replies (69)

May 26, 2013 at 03:46 PM · I use the classic Hutchins method of free-plate tuning. The results are generally good, and in some cases excellent. Just remember that no matter what system you use, the goal is the same. The nice thing about the Hutchins method is that you can now see what the tuning process is doing to the plate whereas before you could only feel it and hear it. I don't keep the method a secret. I even give classes in the basics of how to use it, and I tell my students that it's not *the* way to tune a plate, but *a* way to tune a plate. Think of it as having one more arrow in your quiver.

May 26, 2013 at 04:23 PM · This is indeed a fascinating subject and the best kept secrets of violin making. I strongly believe that the old Italian masters were the exceptional tuning experts. My hunches are telling me that the missing link today is a disposable and inexpensive tool (or tools) that was used in the process and then discarded. Most likely the "secret" was passed from the master to an apprentice by the word of mouth and then lost.

A relatively unknown violin maker, Karl Parik [where letter "r" is pronounced like in A. Dvorak] (1887-1963), who lived and worked in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia trough most of his life, wrote an article in 1951 under title "The solution to the problem of old Italian violins and the Oscillation Theory" providing a detailed description of his tuning methods. He used a reed glued to the bottom of the plate, a special tool to hold the spot of the plate being tuned and a cello or viola bow to excite the reed. What is different in his approach is the knowledge of what and how much will change in plate frequency once the bass bar is glued and the f-holes cut, as well as when the violin is assembled and the varnish applied. In other words, he would intentionally target "as if" frequencies before and check and correct the frequencies once the above changes took place. His violins were allegedly in great demand.

To mu surprise, 2 Canadian violin makers that I gave the paper to were not enthusiastic about it at all. When asked what method they used, they, as we from the Balkan peninsula say, "hid their legs like a snake does".

May 26, 2013 at 08:32 PM · For an overview of the Area Tuning Principle, use this link:

On another page of that same website, you can also listen to clips comparing violins made with the Area Tuning technique to antique Cremonese violins. Just hunt around.

In recent years, Hill and some makers whom he has trained have made additional discoveries which have refined the tuning approach. In the past year, Hill has also done some new work with ground and varnish.

May 27, 2013 at 03:38 AM · My ears work fine... but a microphone and spectral analysis software can sort out complex sounds with far greater ease and detail, so I use that.

It is tempting to think that you could precisely tune every part of the violin structure and control exactly what tone comes out of it. I started out with that lofty notion. The more I dug into the problem with experiments and theory, the more hopeless that notion appeard to be. However, there are parts of the violin that can be identified as contributing to certain frequency zones, and I vary the thicknesses to get more or less AMPLITUDE from those ranges with the goal of a more even playing instrument. I also track plate weight and taptone to get a general idea when to stop removing wood.

Another fundamental "tuning" technique that I use and several other makers I know use: put it together and play it. If it plays too stiff, make it thinner.

Keith Hill seems to have gotten a lot of attention in this thread, I'm not sure why. His ideas have had near zero attention in any acoustic circles I'm aware of. He does seem to be a prolific and slick writer. I'll just pick out a couple of things on his website that jumped out at me, and you can judge for yourself if he seems to be on solid ground:

"I observed about 25 years ago that nature constructs living organisms and tunes the parts of their structure to pure musical ratios -- this is what the ancient makers must have known."

"I am perfectly convinced that the "wear" on the varnish of the great antiques is in fact not wear but intentional careful removal of varnish by the original makers…"

Whether he makes good instruments or not I don't know, and does not have 1:1 correspondence with his theories being correct or not.

May 27, 2013 at 10:33 AM · From Keith Hill's web site:

"Once I became aware that I had discovered something of substance with this area tuning principle, I felt that it was important to find from what source in nature the early Italian violin makers might have derived their inspiration. I discovered what I believe to be that source quite by accident in the shower one day. I noticed that the high pressure water as it struck my body produced distinct pitches. Wondering if there was any relationship between the pitches, I let the flow strike against my body at first in the chest, then on my throat, and so on up my face and head. I found that the various areas in my body corresponded to the changes in mass, density, plane (of surface), and materials. Each area had a different pitch. Moreover, each pitch was an overtone of the pitch of my chest."


I tried this last night, and discovered that my left bun is out of tune. Now I understand why I emitted unpleasant and dissonant sounds when my mom used to spank me. ;-)

May 27, 2013 at 02:10 PM · Someone could make a fabuluous pudding, even if they believe the "secret" is to stir the ingredients 440 strokes counterclockwise and only at 4:55 PM on Tuesdays. It's all the other stuff that really matters.

Similarly, I think one can have whacky ideas and routines and still come up with excellent sounding instruments, as long as the ideas don't detract from what really matters. Getting good wood, using a reasonable model with good arching... hardly anyone mentions these things, but I think they're by far the most important. As long as the "tuning" routine doesn't get too whacky thickness-wise, the result will probably be at least OK.

If you have a good ear for the performance of the resulting instrument, and know enough to do more of things that sound good and less of things that don't sound so good, I think you could end up making top-notch instruments in spite of ideas that are far from physical reality.

May 27, 2013 at 02:55 PM · I just got back from running, and noticed that instead of a "thud thud", I was making more of a "thud thid thud thid", reinforcing what the shower experiment revealed about bun-tone misalignment. I'm going to try doing some left-legged-only deep knee bends over the next week, and then re-check my tailpiece frequencies with more sophisticated electronic equipment.

If no improvement is noted, then I may try a "d'Harmonie" tail adjuster.

May 27, 2013 at 03:16 PM · Roger Hargrave does not see any evidence for Hutchins' ideas in the works of A. Stradivari or Guarneri del Gesu. He has extensively studied and worked on more Cremonese instruments than probably any other living maker.

You can find his contributions on Maestronet Pegbox or his website. (Read his "Pry before you buy" there if you ever want to invest in an old violin.)

May 27, 2013 at 03:34 PM · The articles portion of Roger's website:

May 27, 2013 at 05:06 PM · I don't know if this counts as plate tuning, but I've seen Howard Needham checking out instruments by tapping several points on top and bottom plates-- and the scroll, BTW!-- and comparing them to the sound made by blowing across the F-holes. Very low tech, and he does get good results in his own fiddles.

May 28, 2013 at 02:18 AM · Stephen S. - I think what you mentioned is the same as what the luthier did in this video, but he did that on a strad to check for wolf notes though...

(47:25 onwards)

May 28, 2013 at 03:38 AM · Casey: that may be the same as what Howard Needham does but for construction Howard Needham, Hermann Janzen and Martin McClean are luthiers that follow a tuning system developed by Geary Baese.

Very different from Hutchins' system I have been told by Hermann. He couldn't elaborate as Geary doesn't want his methods to go public. One can try following courses at Geary's place in Colorado. At some cost of course.

Hermann's violins are very interesting, with lots of character and a great sound. I played several and they where all somewhat different. Would love to try a Needham fiddle also.

May 28, 2013 at 08:33 AM · Enough to make my head spin, let alone the plates.

May 28, 2013 at 06:11 PM · David: Thank you for Roger Hargrave's web site. He says a lot about del Gesu's violins being thinned out. "It is a great pity that a large

number of his instruments no longer retain their original thicknesses." Am I missing something - no discussion about adding wood to violins that have been thinned out too much - from Roger, or anywhere else? Charles

May 28, 2013 at 07:33 PM · Charles, wood gets added too. The removal and addition of wood, along with many other modifications, is one of the problems with claims to have discovered the "tuning methods" of the Cremonese makers. Were all of these discoveries made by finding patterns, and things in common shared by unaltered instruments? If so, that would be very interesting, because unaltered instruments are close to non-existent today.

So if someone has a method which they claim lends itself to making really good sounding instruments, that's one thing, and may have some merit. But if someone claims to have identified or reproduced the original tuning system of the famous Cremonese makers, that's quite another matter, and I think it needs to be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.

A couple of other reasons to be skeptical:

Makers can do a pretty good job of placing SOME frequencies where they want them, but the problem is that they don't stay where the maker puts them.

It seems that those with the greatest access to the largest number of valuable Cremonese instruments, and who have studied them the most, are the least inclined to think they have discovered the original plate tuning or body tuning system.

This isn't to trash the whole concept of tuning systems. Some very good makers use various forms and degrees of tuning with quite a bit of apparent success, even if they only use it as a small part of the total tonal strategy.

Maybe it would be clearer if I said it this way: I know some good makers who use "tuning" quite a bit, and I know some that don't use it very much, but I don't know any who totally ignore it, or disregard it completely, even if they are just gathering data to digest down the road.

May 28, 2013 at 09:14 PM · I'm certainly not a "top maker" but at least I am a maker. I do no tuning (which literally means adjusting something to a specific frequency) at all these days and my fiddles have more consistent sound than ever. Obviously I have other means of getting where I want to be. So far I have not been exposed to a tuning system that works better than what I do, which I am not going to detail.

May 28, 2013 at 10:31 PM · Even keeping strings in tune is difficult....wood likes to move around a lot with humidity etc and the idea that a violin could be built to be 'in tune' is simply risible for anyone who knows about wood although it must sound tempting for those who do not.

May 28, 2013 at 10:57 PM · ...

May 28, 2013 at 11:03 PM · Lyle, I'm not too sure that "tuning" only means adjusting parts to a specific frequency. The way the term is commonly used, it can involve other factors, like relationships between tap tones and different arching profiles, wood density, wood stiffness, and calculated or measured speed of sound in a particular piece of wood.

Commenting on a subsequent post, Melvin is spot-on with his observations about wood. If anyone doesn't believe that properties change with humidity, time, and who knows what else, all one needs to do is build up a data base of actual measurements.

May 28, 2013 at 11:09 PM · Lyndon Taylor wrote “I've yet to see a violin that is demonstrably tuned go out of tune due to humidity, changes in weather etc. ”

In the past I have been to concerts where a harpsichord was tuned in a near empty hall (church) and after the crowd arrived it had to be tuned again. The lutes also had troubles but I attributed that to gut strings more than the wood changing with heat and humidity.

One concert where I was able to talk with the violinist, she had a great deal of trouble which she attributed to humidity. This was an early violin in original baroque setup. The instrument kept going flat to the point that by the end of the evening the bridge had what I though was a scary curve towards the fingerboard.

I also attended a Grateful Dead Concert in the late eighties where the band had difficulties all night and we all knew it was the humidity since we had been having the same problem at home.

May 28, 2013 at 11:21 PM · Regardless of what else we have yet to learn or prove, one thing which is quite well established is that wood undergoes changes in density and stiffness with varying moisture content. Alone, these will move tap tones and resonant frequencies around quite a bit (and that statement is based on many years of actual measurements; both my own, and those of many others).

May 29, 2013 at 12:04 AM · Yes, wood is added with sound post patches and other repairs, as well as changing the bass bar, but I am not aware of wood added to plates "that have been thinned out too much". Maybe someone out there has added wood to old valuable violins which were thinned out too much? If so we will probably never know. Amazing that so many sound so great today.

Maybe we could hear from luthiers today who have thinned out top plates of their own or other makers violins? And the result was not acceptable? Any that have added wood?

Roger Hargrave says nothing about thicknessing of the Davidov Strad, which has top thicknesses he provided in the Strad poster way too thin.

Who thinned out this cello? Yo Yo Ma, Charles Beare, Owners of his many million dollar cello? They could tell us today if they wanted to.

Yo Yo Ma had the Davidov strung up as a baroque cello, but has never used the Davidov for any of the cello concertos.

This cello was used by Jacqueline du Pre for her greatest recordings of the major cello concertos, especially the Elgar. It is inconceivable to me that this cello could sound so great with such a thin top as reported by Roger Hargrave.


May 29, 2013 at 12:05 AM · " Regardless of what else we have yet to learn or prove, one thing which is quite well established is that wood undergoes changes in density and stiffness with varying moisture content. Alone, these will move tap tones and resonant frequencies around quite a bit".

So if the great Cremonese makers did have a system it must have been one which dealt with this movement/variation?

Melvin, I'm sure you can think of an expert or two who have never made a violin. One of the most astute observations I've heard regarding Cremonese violins was made by a physicist with no violin making experience or knowledge.

May 29, 2013 at 12:39 AM · Given that the frequencies "move around quite a bit" due to changes in moisture content and that this can't really be avoided, what exactly is being listened to when "tuning" the plates?

May 29, 2013 at 01:05 AM · Actually, I was addressing my question to David's statement, but do welcome any opinions on it.

May 29, 2013 at 01:15 AM · "If what David and Melvin are saying is true, there would be a whole industry of marimba tuners, tuning wooden tuned percussion instruments every time the weather changed."

Lyndon, regular retuning of marimbas isn't very practical. It's easier to tune most of the other instruments to the marimba, just as it's easier and more practical to tune the strings on a violin to an organ, rather than tuning the organ to the strings on a violin. It's not that the organ and the marimba don't change with temperature and humidity fluctuations. It's more about which instrument is easier to adjust to get things in synch.

May 29, 2013 at 01:22 AM · Martin,what was the astute thing the physicist said about Cremonese violins - if I may ask?

May 29, 2013 at 01:40 AM · "Just the same way as you're tapping and hearing a tuned tone on a marimba, you're tuning a tone by listening to the tone from tapping on a section of the violin, unfortunatly, most modern violin makers weren't apprenticed and trained in these methods, and can't tell a c from a b flat without their test equipment."

Lyndon, I happen to have "perfect pitch", so I shouldn't be too shabby at differentiating between perceived pitches and measured pitches, if and when that element comes into play. I have a fair amount of experience with both.

Measured pitches tend to serve as the reliable standard, because perceived pitches have such a large imaginary component. Sometimes perceived pitches can even be totally imaginary, as anyone who has participated in phychoacoustic experiments will well know.

May 29, 2013 at 01:49 AM · "if a marimba went slightly off A440 pitch, the notes would all still be in tune with each other as they all go out of tune the same amount, same goes for a violin"

Probably not, for either the marimba or the violin. Perhaps our discussions would be a little more fruitful if you would first become more educated in acoustics and materials science, before making assertions of fact pertaining to either one.

May 29, 2013 at 01:57 AM · So, from the responses (or not) to my question, Lyndon asserts he would listen to, at the very least, relative pitches but probably absolute pitches and others seem to be suggesting there is no point listening to either.

May 29, 2013 at 02:15 AM · "Just talked to my friend who works on marimbas and other instruments, He said once a marimba is properly settled in and tuned, its remarkably tuning stable, it can go slightly sharp or flat, but that's relative pitch, the notes themselves stay in tune with one another."

And I've known people who have worked on violins, marimbas, African drums, lawn mowers, can twist balloons into funny animal shapes, and claim that they can fly to the moon by flapping their arms. So what?

May 29, 2013 at 03:42 AM · I'll try not to waste time responding to allegations which have no basis in fact.

Instead, here's a web site about marimba tuning. The complexity of the process helps explain why they are seldom retuned. Some of the principles involved in tuning (like where to change mass or stiffness to produce a pitch change) might be applicable to the tuning of violin plates.

Edit: I see that Lyndon has referred to some of his Maestronet posts, so it might be useful to know, for purposes of evaluation, that he has since been kicked off those forums. , where his posts are quoted, describes itself as "a website for the serious amateur violin maker, restorer and tinkerer".

May 29, 2013 at 04:48 AM · The hub of current high-level research is an instrument acoustics workshop held annually at Oberlin College. This year, they will be attempting to present a distillation of all the research so far (including the tuning of various wooden parts), filtered on the basis of what they believe will have greatest practical value to an actual violin maker. That would be good to attend, if one is seriously interested in cutting to the chase, rather than getting mired in all the muck and disparate individual pet theories surrounding violin acoustics.

An excellent book for getting one's feet wet in the field of musical acoustics is "The Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" by Arthur Benade.

May 29, 2013 at 04:52 AM · Leaving the marimbas to one side for the moment, I have a question about violins : if you did get the plate nicely in tune, wouldn't all this be changed once you glued it to the rest of the violin ? I would have thought that the wood would vibrate differently once it was glued to the ribs because it is no longer free to move as before.

May 29, 2013 at 02:03 PM · John,

Masters from Cremona shared their "secrets" with only a chosen few after many years of apprenticeship and hard work. The apprentices were often members of the same family. So unless you are ready to swipe the floor, fetch the water from nearby stream, brew coffee and carve the wood for cello and double bass for next 10 years.... no secrets of trade for you!

Tuning does make sense to me because there are no 2 identical chunks of wood, even if cut from the same tree, at the same location. If the same pattern is used, the violin measurements are constant and the maker is consistent in his/her approach, this is the only variable there is. That is why copying a good instrument does not make any sense - the wood is different.

The main question each violin maker faces is: when and where to stop removing the wood? Yes, one can rely on visual input and previous measurements. To some extent it does make sense and will lead to geometrically proportional and visually appealing instrument. It may or may not sound good, because the visual can meet the auditory by pure coincidence from time to time.

Perhaps that is the reason why VSA awards separate medals for workmanship and sound.

Back to Karlo Parik's paper: he tuned different parts of the violin in proportion to each other and kept this frequency ratio constant up to the point of finished instrument. So, even if the violin is repaired and altered to some extent, as long as this core frequency ratio between the back and different parts of the top is kept, the violin will still sound good.

Yes, there are humidity and temperature oscillation and human interventions, but the instrument will remain solid over time if the core principles of making are solid. I can only assume that people who repaired good instruments knew what they were doing and avoided to affect this delicate balance. For example, I have seen a violin where a repairer removed a very thin layer of the wood in the proximity of the crack once the cleats are glued to counter-balance the mass that had been added.

May 29, 2013 at 03:29 PM · Rocky, unfortunately, many of the alterations performed on old Cremonese instruments were not done with the goal of keeping the sound the same. Instead, they were deliberate efforts to change the sound. That might be considered vandalism today, but attitudes were different in the past. If a Guarneri was thought to sound poor, someone might just re-thicknes it, or put in a much stronger bass bar, either of which would change the original tuning. That's one of the reasons that it's hard to discover a "tuning system" used by the Cremonese, if one existed. Too much has been changed in the interim. And tunings will change over time, as wood oxidizes and ages and distorts under string pressure, even if no deliberate effort has been made to change them.

May 29, 2013 at 05:31 PM · In meeting and talking to several well-known makers and award-winning not-so-well-known makers, none of them promoted a One True and Effective Tuning Method. My impression is not that they are being secretive (most of them are very open about what they do), but that there isn't anything that they do that is "the secret". They just do a collection of many things that worked before, and then make modifications or adjustments if it isn't quite right.

May 29, 2013 at 09:53 PM · Adding to what Don said, we had something like six to eight multiple competition tone award winners give presentations one year at the Violin Society of America/Oberlin workshops. Some placed emphasis on "tuning" strategies, and others placed more emphasis on an ideal flexibility of the plates, determined mostly by feel. And there were various combinations of the two.

Another year, a really respected and experienced contemporary maker brought a violin in for help in sorting out, because it didn't meet his expectations, or those of the high-level customer.

These are just a couple of examples of all we've got to chew on. Theories are great, and can be entertaining as well, but what really matters is what happens where the rubber meets the road. Can a particular "maker" make a decent fiddle, and engender a little respect from musicians, as well as from his/her violinmaking peers?

I don't recall even one of these makers claiming that they had everything sorted out. If a maker does, my tendency would be to regard them with suspicion, based on the overall track record of people making such claims.

May 29, 2013 at 10:14 PM · It still seems counter-intuitive (even pointless) to me to bother with tuning unless what Lyndon says is the case and tunings are relatively stable and predictable, at least relatively.

May 29, 2013 at 10:46 PM · From what a number of dealers and makers have told me: proper arching - both on the inside and the outside - is more important than anything else.

Good quality wood is important but some fabulous old Italian fiddles are made from wood that most luthiers now would never use.

Thickness and graduation adjusted to the properties of the wood and the model being used.

That's my understanding; being very much a non-expert.

May 29, 2013 at 11:03 PM · John,

I was simply reporting that I DO NOT use a tuning system. I barely use tap tones (without checking frequency/notes) in passing, partly because I can get a wide range of results depending on where and how I tap. So "obviously" I do things some other way. But this thread is about tuning systems or not, so it is not appropriate for me to get into what I do here. No secrets, but some of what I do is intuitive and some of it has been strongly denigrated by "experts," so I keep it to myself.

May 29, 2013 at 11:26 PM · Lyle, when (if) you tap, what are you listening for if not the frequencies?

May 30, 2013 at 01:08 AM · Eric,

I'm never really sure. I sort of listen for the relation between front and back, but I have not found anything there that seems to matter much. I look, to some extent, for tones that are not too far apart, but they never are. I don't even think about tapping until the plates are nearly finished anyway.

May 30, 2013 at 02:21 AM · I hardly have expertise on this subject, but I've tried to keep up a bit by reading some often conflicting literature, talking to makers, etc. This has yielded me questionable degrees of enlightenment and varying degrees of vertigo! All I can tell as a player from tapping finished products is that various fine violins often have different pitches front and back, and when they have about the same pitch (I often hear about a middle C# on the backs) the tap quality often varies quite a bit from rich to brittle. Yet they all sound good in different ways.

David - what do you think of Izaak Vigdorchik's theories, with strips and what not? He seemed to be making some noise in the violin making/adjusting world for a while. Did his influence die when he did?

May 30, 2013 at 10:20 AM · Raphael, I didn't hear what Vigdorchik was hearing, nor did it make sense to me that plates would emit tones in the manner he described. Nor was I able to locate what he thought he was hearing with sound analysis software.

However, I know of two multiple award winning makers who have some connection with it. One said he used to use it, but "kinda got away from it", and the other was still claiming to use it as of about 2005.

Were they hearing tones which aren't really there? Hard to say. Our ear/brain system plays some tricks on us and is quite capable of synthesizing sounds which aren't really there. Some of these effects are well known and well documented in the field of phychoacoustics, and can be heard by most listeners, so there's a little disagreement on how one defines whether a sound or a tone really exists or not.

My guess is that the Vigdorchik system "suggests" certain tones to certain people, and some were able to somehow make use of these suggestions. I believe it's mostly fallen into disuse.

May 30, 2013 at 11:52 AM · Lyndon wrote:

"So basically the dimensions of the violin are right in line with supporting the fundamental frequencies of all the notes down to G if well designed."

No. A normally dimensioned violin body (including a Strad or Guarneri) basically won't support or amplify fundamentals below about middle C. And that middle C isn't even a "wood" resonance or a "tap tone". It's a sloshing of air in and out of the ff holes, similar to blowing across the top of a bottle.

The main reinforcing wood resonances don't start to kick in until about a major fifth higher.

May 30, 2013 at 12:35 PM · Thanks, David!

May 30, 2013 at 12:36 PM · Lyndon, that's incorrect. I and others have tapped all over violins for many years, and the results are quite well documented. How about reading peer-reviewed publications, and talking to high-level researchers more, and typing less?

May 30, 2013 at 01:10 PM · Incorrect. How about taking a time out to read the Benade book I recommended, and then we can talk some more?

I don't think that ramping up the adamancy level will be an effective substitute for real learning.

If you are hearing resonances below about C natural, they are probably sourced in tailpiece vibration, or from some combination of the neck and fingerboard flopping around, and not from a mode of the top.

Also, there are some modes below middle C on unassembled tops and backs, but they "go away" when the instruments are assembled, because the parts can no longer vibrate the same way.

May 30, 2013 at 02:21 PM · David, Lyndon... you're both right and wrong. There are modes on the violin below the A0 air resonance that can be easily tapped and measured. On my last instrument, the fingerboard resonance is 257 Hz (sometimes called B0 resonance), overall body bending (mostly neck/scroll) is 168 HZ, and tailpiece is 112 Hz.

Of these modes, two of them are well below the playing range, and will not get energized. The B0 mode IS in the playing range, but poorly coupled to the bridge, and therefore also does not get excited very well. There are recommendations to tune this frequency to the A0 resonance, or below, although I have never been able to measure or detect by playing that this resonance has any significant effect. That's why us "high level researchers" tap the bridge: you only see the resonances that matter to the string, not the red herrings.

I do not know what Lyndon is hearing when he taps. These are the real resonances that exist, and perhaps there are chinrest modes too. In any case, any real resonances can be easily measured by microphone, if you know where to look.

May 30, 2013 at 03:08 PM · Thank you David for your input. Another possibilty of what the old masters could have done is tonal evaluations, either by themselves, good players or a combination of both. Of course we will never know. I discuss the importance of tonal evaluations in my book "The Standard Viola" and in my web site For example Wurlitzer and Sacconi had many good players who played on instruments each Saturday. I learned many years ago that some dealers played well enough for inititial evaluations, and know at least one dealer today who hires a professional player for tonal evaluations. Charles

May 30, 2013 at 03:55 PM · Wrong about what, Don?

I think you and I have basically said the same thing, using different descriptions. There are modes below middle C, but they are not modes of the top, as described by Lyndon. I usually think of them as "accessory modes", because the area of largest vibrational amplitude isn't in the body of the violin, and they don't radiate much sound (the body of the violin is dimensionally inadequate to radiate much sound at these frequencies, with the possible exception of the tone produced by the flopping of the fingerboard).

A recent violin of mine had three main tailpiece frequencies (128, 143, and 225). I'll guess that the tailpiece resonance in the neighborhood of 225 is what Lyndon was actually hearing when he tapped on a particular portion of the top.

The same violin had a "fingerboard" frequency of 266, and a neck/fingerboard/ body combination frequency of 145. I'll guess that neither of those would be candidates for the pitch Lyndon was describing, since an "open G" pitch would be outside the normal range of these parts.

May 30, 2013 at 04:45 PM · David,

either you edited in the details after the first two paragrapsh of your previous post after I read it, or I stopped reading halfway thru. But, either way, the only "wrong" thing I see in your post is the first word: "incorrect"... it is possible Lyndon was correct about hearing some of those frequencies. Where those frequencies come from, and if they matter, are other issues.

May 30, 2013 at 05:05 PM · Don, I added the last two sentences before your post appeared, but apparently after you had read it.

When I first put up a post in a technical discussion, I often think of caveats or exceptions I didn't address, or a clearer way to say something, and think (probably mistakenly) that I have time to flesh it out better if no one has responded yet. It's kind of a weird balancing act between providing enough information, and not getting overly complex and technical for a particular set of readers (which we've probably already done). LOL


Yes, I agree that Lyndon could be hearing a G. What is questionable or incorrect is his explanation (with supplemental information from several of his other posts to get a more complete picture) of how and where that note is generated, and the types of changes that will move it around.

May 30, 2013 at 06:42 PM · "David, before I consider reading your book, I dare say you've never bothered to simply try tapping on a violin of some age and quality in the manner I prescribe, but that's just the kind of person you are, a person who criticizes things he's never tried himself......"

That's where you'd be wrong. Again. I already mentioned in a previous post that I've done a lot of tapping on violins. Lots of violins. In almost every conceivable way. And no, I'm not opposed to doing it.

I don't see how going back and forth about fantasy accusations repeatedly is of benefit to anyone here, and it's a huge waste of my time, so I'd best withdraw from this thread.

May 30, 2013 at 08:09 PM · "David, I didn't say you haven't tapped on violins, I'm sure you have, I was asking if you'd even bothered tapping on violins in the specific areas oulined in my link/topic originally presented on maestronet, before your wholesale attack on my ears and theories......"

Yes, I tapped on violins according to your guidelines. No, I was unable to get results which resembled yours. I'm pretty sure I stated that (or something close) in the original Maestronet thread. If you didn't accept it then, you probably won't accept it now, so we're probably just blowing smoke at this point.

I don't know about you, but blowing smoke isn't my favorite pastime.

May 30, 2013 at 08:52 PM · "Sorry you did not state that in the original thread, nor have you mentioned whether you were trying unaltered antique violins of some quality or modern instruments which presumably wouldn't be tuned at all."

Can we please cut the crap? Many modern violins are constructed along various tuning schemes.

And I saved that entire original Maestronet thread, as I do with many threads which get controversial.

People can claim anything, so I need to be in a position to present accurate historical facts.

May 30, 2013 at 09:42 PM · 5 days to get to 82 responses.

This one is escalating ..... slowly.

May 30, 2013 at 10:17 PM · I think Lyndon's posts have been self-evident enough (including paranoid conspiracy fantasies) that they require no further comment.

I've tried to cut him a lot of slack over the years, as he has dealt with self-described drug addiction challenges, and also medication balance challenges associated with self-described mental disorders. That didn't seem to do much good, so now I'll just call it the way I see it, and suffer the consequences for whatever honesty and disclosure I bring to the table.

(This post has been edited twice, before I read any subsequent posts)

May 30, 2013 at 10:29 PM · Again, on this subject I have interest but probably the least expertise among the posters on this thread, and cannot comment on technical details.

BUT Lyndon set the belligerent tone early on

From Lyndon Taylor

Posted on May 27, 2013 at 12:59 AM

The missing tool that Stradivari used and modern makers don't seem to be able to is your knuckle, just tap on the wood, and use your ears, another thing a lot of modern makers have problems with. [Flag?]

Substitute "players" for "makers" in a hypothetical thread about say approaches to tuning our strings and imagine how most players on would feel from a poster who habitually knocked modern players.

As someone reminded me recently re similar problems on another thread - there's a difference between having a debate and picking a fight.

May 30, 2013 at 10:35 PM · But only one to do the "Elaine Benes thumb dance"!

May 31, 2013 at 01:54 AM · I must be an idiot too, and also apparently flunked out of violin acoustics... because Lyndon's theories do not match with the reality I am familiar with.

May 31, 2013 at 07:37 AM · Did anyone mention that if you simply must tap your violin when it (not you) is strung up, your should damp the strings with your other hands first ? Otherwise, you get resonances from the open strings.

I bought 2 new violins in 2003. One was made using "Carleen Hutchins method". The maker of the other one had evaluated the plates by flexing. One used the "Silicate" primer; the other did not. Casein glue ? I cannot say ! Both were deemed worthy of purchase by me at the time and I have not felt any regrets later.

"More than one way to skin a cat" would seem to be the message David Burgess tried to convey.

May 31, 2013 at 08:36 AM · "David Burgess, though, teaches there are many right ways to skin a cat, none as good as his method, "

Sorry, I don't understand him as conveying that message.

A maker succeeds by developing taste, for materials, construction, varnish etc.

Whilst it might be possible to assert that Tourte could't possibly have made decent bows beacause the Lucchi meter hadn't been invented, or that Stradivari had no idea whatsoever because Carleen H. wasn't on the scene yet, the end results would tend to contradict.

Along with all that scientific stuff, makers develop their own ways of evaluating their materials at the time of selection and as work progresses. Some of these ways simply involve "taste", which, as the Romans said, you can's argue about, let alone explain simply. "Taste" is built up by trial and error. Many puddings are eaten. Whilst science can assist the artist, Picasso didn't paint using a computer, nor Titian an abacus, as far as I know.

Dogma leads to atrocities; e.g. the Spanish Inquisition and 9/11.

"De gustibus non est disputandum"

May 31, 2013 at 11:49 AM · The sheer number of variables contained in a violin are such that as a result there seems to be no generally accepted method to making an instrument play really well.

Yet the violin was invented already in its definitive form, bassbar, soundpost and all, by some probably semi-illiterate woodcarver born half a millenimum ago and working by candlelight.

This is pretty astounding, don't you think?

May 31, 2013 at 12:19 PM · "Yet the violin was invented already in its definitive form, bassbar, soundpost and all, by some probably semi-illiterate woodcarver born half a millenimum ago and working by candlelight.

This is pretty astounding, don't you think?"

A pleasant elegant observation from the Stradivari of violin cases. Well done Dimitri, a welcome change of tone!

May 31, 2013 at 12:30 PM · True, Dimitri and Martin! And back on topic - as suggested above, in my own very simple experiments with finished violins, I have indeed damped the strings with one hand while knocking with the other. I see now how the basic sound from the center of the back - often about a C# - resonates with the air space in the violin. Blowing through the F-holes I get about the same pitch. But when I knock on the top, why does that not correlate in the same way?

May 31, 2013 at 01:34 PM · There's a saying:- "Don't knock it until you've tried it".

May 31, 2013 at 01:48 PM · Well, this has all been most interesting.

Lyndon wrote:

“…but I'm sort of in a minority on this opinion with many modern makers, who literally feel they and others are so good with their modern inovations, that the've left Stradivari in the dust….

….unfortunatly, most modern violin makers weren't apprenticed and trained in these methods, and can't tell a c from a b flat without their test equipment…..

….The missing tool that Stradivari used and modern makers don't seem to be able to is your knuckle, just tap on the wood, and use your ears, another thing a lot of modern makers have problems with…..”


How fortunate we makers are, having Lyndon to furnish us with our opinions, and provide us with so much information about ourselves.

We’ve had about 6 professional violin makers post in this thread, and about 3 who have a pretty good background in musical acoustics. Yet Lyndon, who has neither of those qualifications, and has never made a violin, has made 1/4 of the total posts. Perhaps that will put things into perspective a little bit.

Raphael, I'll try to come back and answer your question later with an edit. Need to get out the door.

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