Can a luthier ruin the sound of violin?

August 9, 2013 at 10:58 PM · Good day to all you violinists out there. I have been playing for about 3 years and i own a beautiful Gliga GAMA violin. The sound of this violin was great when I bought it and it got better and better as the years went by. I changed my strings myself every six month with no issues. However, last month while restringing my violin, I chipped the leg of my bridge. I took the violin to a luthier and he said it needs a new bridge. After he put the new bridge in, the beautiful sound of the violin is muffled and it lost its resonounce, I also developed difficulty with intonation. I took it back to the luthier 2 times and he made adjustments with no significant changes to the sound. Is it the luthier fault? Can anything be done to bring back the sound?

Replies (27)

August 9, 2013 at 11:24 PM ·

August 9, 2013 at 11:39 PM · "Can a luthier ruin the sound of violin?"

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Sure, but it also wouldn't be good to jump to conclusions.

Some luthiers specialize in low-priced functional fixes. Nothing wrong with that, and it's a needed and valuable service.

Others specialize in going way beyond that, the minutia, and it can get hideously expensive for something as seemingly simple as a new bridge.

Even with the expensive luthiers, you may be disappointed a few times before you strike gold.

Consider putting the original bridge back on, if there's nothing major structurally wrong with it?

There are people who are pretty good at making "tonal copies" of bridges, but they are few and far between right now.

August 10, 2013 at 03:23 AM · Yes

August 10, 2013 at 03:28 AM · Dull sound is clearly indicative of poor setup (probably distance between post and bridge too much), dead strings (happens when all tension is released and the wood needs to open up again), and the soundpost not tight or loose enough.

And yes your violin can sound amazing again:) At ruining and sons I saw a Landolfi without the top, or neck, being fixed...it'll sound great or better again. Julie Reed ripped apart a del Gesu and basically rebuilt it, which then sold for the world record at like $14 millionish.

Find a luthier who listens and cares! I hang out with my luthier, do all my business with them, ask about his life and travels (life, the universe, women cars), try the instruments he builds to maintain a good relationship. It's imperative!

August 10, 2013 at 03:59 AM · Assume that the luthier didn't move anything else, and try to match the old bridge (doesn't mean an exact copy) and position it at where the old bridge was, all you have to do is to play on it for at least a month or two and see if things improve. You can always put back the old bridge, or look for another luthier.

On the other hand, I understand how OP feel, I once brought my primary violin for a bridge replacement where the old bridge started to show sign of warping, and was so uncomfortable with the sound - muffled, weak, and much less resonance, exactly like how OP described. However, the bridge was noticeably thicker, wider feet, with slightly shifted string notches positioning (to one side). I didn't expect it to sound the same, but I didn't expect it to sound worse either.

I tried to play on it for one month or so, showing no sign of improvements. I was so frustrated that I put back the old bridge, and it was an immediate improvements (well, more like reverting back to how it was). I dealt with the old bridge and make sure I don't stress the bridge to warp further. It's been 3 years since and it's still kicking.

August 10, 2013 at 02:05 PM · Yes, a bad luthier can ruin the sound of your violin. Even a slightly higher, lower, thinner or thicker bridge can affect the sound a lot. Not to mention the material used and other details.....

From my personal experience, if, after the change, the violin does not sound good right away or after a few days, the setup is bad.

Unless something radical, such as bass bar replacement, has been done, it should not take long for a violin to "adjust" to a new setup.

As others suggested, restore the old bridge and find another luthier.

August 10, 2013 at 02:45 PM · It's very difficult to tell what might be going on from this side of the computer, so commenting on the quality of luther's work will probably not be productive. Technicians, like players, exist at pretty much every "skill level".

The facts are, you liked the sound of the violin before the work, and now you don't like it, right?

If communication between yourself and the luther is "good", I would think they would listen and remedy the situation (as long as they have the skills to do so).

If communication and/or skills are lacking, you need to find another technician. Owning a commercial instrument, your choices may be limited, but I'm sure with some careful investigation you should come up with a good person you can work with.

For Mr. Fox: I've never known Julie to "rip apart" anything, much less a del Gesu. She's a careful restorer... and does very nice work. I see a number of instruments she's worked on crossing my bench, and visa versa.... but I think it's important to understand the distinction between readying an instrument for sale and working with a player who already owns the instrument. Neither is easier than the other, but they are different.

In my experience, a player will often have a preconceived idea of how their instrument performs and what they are comfortable with (based on past experience with the instrument they own). This is not true when an instrument enters the market for sale. As long as the instrument performs within a set of parameters that meet the prospective group of buyers expectations, things work out.

August 10, 2013 at 03:13 PM · Guys (and gals), "ruin" is a really strong word. It seems to suggest that there are people in the trade who are so totally inept that they don't have anything better to do with their time than make a good violin sound bad.

Consider that a luthier is presented with a violin he's never worked on before by a customer he's never met before and whose tonal preferences are completely unknown to him, and yet is expected to produce a bang-on result on the first try. That's not a very realistic scenario, in my opinion, nor one that is very fair.

Perhaps it really was one of the very few inexpert people in the field that the OP encountered, but in any case, the sound of the violin could not possibly have been "ruined" simply by putting on a new bridge.

Lighten up.

August 11, 2013 at 07:54 AM · As you realise now, the bridge is crucial to the sound. Simply trimming a bridge blank and fitting it accomplishes little. A bridge needs to be tuned to the violin. First, you must know what quality of wood you need for the bridge: soft, medium, hard. This is determined by the wood used for your violin top plate. The old bridge may guide you. Fit must be perfect. Then comes tuning the bridge by: shaping the holes in the bridge to maximise the tone and response of each string; thinning the bridge; all as and where necessary. Tuning is vastly more difficult than positioning a soundpost. After tuning, the soundpost can be positioned to optimise the sound. All this requires skill and patience, which is why the truly good luthiers charge a high price.

August 11, 2013 at 04:03 PM · I wonder how you chip a bridge leg changing strings.

Andy

August 11, 2013 at 07:30 PM · I was wondering about that too, but guessed it happened from dropping the bridge on the floor or something when trying to change all four strings in one go.

The usual recommended procedure (for a non-luthier pro) is to change one string at a time, check bridge lean angle, correct as needed, and then move on to the next string.

August 11, 2013 at 09:19 PM · I'd been wondering too! My conjecture about the by-now-legendary bridge chipping incident is that during tuning up the bridge was leaning forward as usual. Then the OP pushed the bridge back with his thumbs, but it shot back at an extreme angle the other way, occasioning excessive force on one leg...

August 11, 2013 at 09:38 PM · The usual recommended procedure (for a non-luthier pro) is to change one string at a time, check bridge lean angle, correct as needed, and then move on to the next string. [Flag?]

I prefer to just change one string per day, then let it settle into a more stable pitch, etc.

August 11, 2013 at 09:59 PM · one string at a time I always do.

One string a day, Raphael = the patience of the saints. you get soup today! :)

August 12, 2013 at 01:40 AM · String per day = Soup of the day? ;-D

Seriously, I do this because even non-gut strings do some stretching out, and need a bit of time to stabilize. It's less stress on the bridge, too, w.o. 4 new strings pushing and pulling. And I get to know and test out the new string better that way.

When I decide to put on a new set of strings - usually not nearly as often as I should, owning so many violins - I'll start with the G at the end of a practice day, give it a bit of preliminary playing, re-tune it a couple of times, and then leave it alone for a few hours, then re-tune it again a few more times, spaced over long intervals, till it's time to go to bed. The next day I usually find the pitch a bit low, but close, and I pay extra attention to the new string in my practicing. At the end of that day, I repeat the process with the D, etc. If it's the spring or summer, I put a bit of peg wax on the peg and I always put a bit of pencil rubbing in the grooves of the bridge and the fingerboard nut. When I change the string I'll also slightly re-adjust the length of string coming out of the peg hole to get the angle of the peg that I like - more or less perpendicular to the peg box, but not quite up there, as it will tend to eventually work its way there and eventually beyond.

Hmmm... maybe I AM patient!

August 12, 2013 at 04:59 AM · Jeff- Must've been that I misunderstood something I read (or it was false). Didn't mean to propagate an untruth!

August 12, 2013 at 08:02 AM · Not necessary to only change one string per day, especially if using a modern string, Mr Klayman. When the people from Savarez (see my post re the Savarez Cantiga strings) came to lecture at Metzler's the technique they showed us was to pre-stretch the string by warming it up by rubbing it with a micro-fiber cloth. If you pull the string to the side multipe times, and rub it (more or less simultaneously) with a micro fiber cloth (so you don't burn your fingers) the string is immediately stable! Perhaps you will need to retune it once. And repeat the rubbing/stretching. This is amazing -my violin stayed in tune when I did this, for days! Tom did this on the violins they were demoing, and the violins were immediately playable, even with 4 new strings.

August 12, 2013 at 12:25 PM · I didn't say it was necessary; I said I found it preferable. I'd be willing to look into that technique, though. I still like to spend one day getting to know the one new string, and hearing how much of a difference there is, etc.

August 12, 2013 at 09:48 PM · Everyone's entitled to their routines and habits. Isn't that right Raphael.

I just want to get the jolly strings on there and tuned up, at least I do take the time to allow each to get tuned, wait then go for it with the next one. and it does take an hour or so when I think about it even then, since I have a particular string order I like to use. and a little play in piece for in between before the next string goes on. Ahh come to think of it ...

August 12, 2013 at 10:28 PM · Thank you all for your responses. I compared the old bridge with the new one. It seems that the new one is much more thicker and squarish than the original bridge. As many of you suggested, I put the old one in and the sound is sort of back. But the bridge does not look very sturdy.

Should I invest another $100 on a new bridge or forget about my $100 already spent on the bridge replacement and keep the old bridge on for now?

August 12, 2013 at 11:50 PM · Ted, could you put up a few pictures so we can see what sort of shape it's in?

August 13, 2013 at 02:52 AM · Sharelle - you're absolutely right! But where is my soup? ;-)

August 13, 2013 at 04:04 AM · Raphael, virtual soupe du jour pour tu. Is that schmatta clean?

August 13, 2013 at 11:56 AM ·

August 13, 2013 at 12:04 PM · Well, I suppose virtual soup is less fattening - merci! Do you mean my Concert Schmatta - the chinrest cover I use made of suede, mentioned in an old thread? I actually have several and once bathed them all in a mild soapy solution especially made for suede. But I'm actually still on the lookout for a suede deodorizer that does not contain strong chemicals.

August 13, 2013 at 11:26 PM · Yes, the concert schmatta. I was trying to simplify life, hoping it would double as a napkin. Nice to know it had a bit of a wash :)

January 3, 2014 at 05:57 PM · I'll chip in with my experience so far with set-ups.

I think it's very important for the repairer to know the instrument and its possibilities. In the late 80's I had a modern (Marten Cornelissen violin) which I brought to The U.K from the states. I took it to a reputable firm there for a set-up and the violin I got back had no sound like before. My teacher suggested that I take it back to them for re-adjustment, which they did with little result. In 1990 I bought a Vuillaume from Hills and was taking it back to them for maintenance every year.They changed the bridge at one point and it lost its beautiful tone.Since then I have cultivated a relationship with a trained luthier who took the time to listen to the instrument and got to know its possibilities.

Now my instrument always sounds its best, rain or shine, but this took a few years. He studied the violin while in the shop and came up with ideas that improved the original tone beyond recognition. The gist of all this, is that you should cultivate a relationship with a GOOD TRAINED luthier who will get to know your instrument intimately and work on it effectively.

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