Do I need the quasi-major work done to my viola, or will the notices be negligible?

August 27, 2013 at 03:52 PM · After a search that cost way too much money time and emotional and physical exertion, I finally found and raised money for the instrument that allows me to express my musical ideas without limitations (now the limitations are how I play- a dearly welcomed challenge) it is everything I want in terms of timbre, responsiveness, and the ease of creating colors and wide ranges of character/volume without loosing the core integrity of the sound. .................until I tune it or the weather drops a degree. Or if I walk into a different room and try playing it.

I am looking for serious responses (from you guys and the instrument), as I have some critical questions regarding the setup that have led to sleepless nights. - wonderfully in love with the viola, but the following issues need to be addressed- the invaluable input of the master makers and wonderful insight of those who've been here would be a godsend.


1.) the end button and neck don't line up perfectly, giving me the horror of facing a wändersteg. The vagabond bridge makes everyday experiences like...uh...tuning...simply infuriating as it'll sound great until it perceptibly moves from tuning (with pegs, fine tuners more so). Besides moving the end button, is there any way to make this walking bridge take a hike instead.

2.) I'll post pics, but the neck was shortened to accommodate the violinist who owned it...will reversing this quite drastic moving of the nut towards the tailpiece affect sound? Or is it a nonsequiter. I don't care about interval spacing- if the sound would noticeably open up and be more responsive it'd be worth the new fingerboard. I figure the resonating length of the strings being changed without considering all the other ratios affected by this could be a source of the problem...

And this nutty nut causes the inner two strings to hit the nut, the old nut, and the a-string peg...tuning has unravelled strings because of this, and I'm inclined to think the sound is compromised

How will returning the original string length and nut change sound/timbre/responsiveness? Will it at all? What would it most likely do?

3.) afterlength when set up 'right' yields high tension and no responsiveness from faster strokes. I've tried myriad strings to no avail. I put lever style tuners on the c g and d, which transformed the instrument, but I don't think it's optimal, not to mention all that extra weight. The after length is 3 octaves above the respective string and works so much better, but can be a bit whiny on the D

Lastly, I've been experimenting with strings a lot to find a great setup that provides the timbre and responsiveness/volume/wide range if colors me changing the strings often unsettling the instrument or 'confusing ' it? A good luthier is in town and I will ask his advice, but the more ideas the better imo.

Thanks for the help. And I know technique is equally important, but that's not the factor as the instrument is clearly not perfectly balanced. Even so my heart is set on it, just wanting to know what I can have done to get more regularity across the strings and the timbre which I KNOW is there having played it when it is in that sweet spot post and bridge-wise. But the ambulatory bridge undoes this everytime my luthier gets it there.

Thanks guys,


Replies (25)

August 27, 2013 at 04:28 PM · Ryan,

Regarding the sensitivity of instrument due to weather conditions; How old the instrument is and what is the overall condition? For example, are there (m)any cracks, and if yes, are thy in the proximity of the sound post on the belly and/or the back? Is there a crack close to bass bar? Are they repaired well?

Regarding the "moving" bridge; apply soft graphite pencil on the string's contact points (at bridge and the nut) every time you change your strings. Your bridge will still move a bit over time, but not a lot.

About the impact of sting length on viola's sound; this is a lottery and you will not know the results until it is done. (It is possible to predict it when one wants to shorten the string length, but not in this case); this especially if the bridge and sound post have to be moved (South) to keep the body_stop:neck_stop ratio in place. There are too many variables in this equation.

On my quest to find a good violin and recently viola, I had to let go of a few "promising" instruments with neck angle or neck length issues or some serious repairs (sound post crack on belly and back, bass bar crack, etc.); I have always to remind myself, unless the instrument has a pedigree and has got a great investment potential, the best sound is "as it is" NOW.

This in particular if the previous owner was a musician - most of us (but not everyone) will do our best to optimize our instruments.

Result of any considerable changes in setup may go either way, and the more expensive repairs (comparing to the instrument's market value), the less it makes sense to experiment.

My 2 cents.

August 27, 2013 at 04:30 PM · Quasi-major work can be a bit of a gamble. There's a chance you'll like the instrument less after the work is done.

If you can swing it with the seller, you might consider having the changes done before making a final purchase decision.

From your various posts though, it appears that you are sensitive to tiny changes which most people either don't notice, or shrug off, so that's another reason why it's hard to give solid advice.

August 27, 2013 at 06:07 PM · Interestingly, on my old violin (an anonymous 200yr+ - and I don't believe the label!) the end button and neck (including the fingerboard) are currently in alignment, but at one time they weren't, as I can easily tell by the fact that hole for the end button has been relocated by 5mm towards the treble side. Consequently, the bridge is slightly closer to the treble F-hole than it is to the bass, and there is a little more table available on the bass side of bridge for sound production (possibly a good thing?). The sound post has evidently been adjusted to take all this into account, because the tone and playability is all I wish for - except for a wolf high on the G which I can control.

Before the end button hole was relocated the bridge clearly wouldn't have been in alignment with the fingerboard and would quite possibly have tended to wander. Someone therefore relocated that hole, neatly and with appropriate varnishing of the new insert. The alternative would have been the much more expensive procedure of refitting the neck.

Why were these essential features out of alignment? Either the violin was originally made like that(!), or in the distant past someone repositioned the neck and scroll, or possibly fitted new, and with less than 100% accuracy in either case.

My conclusion is that if the OP has a problem with a wandering bridge due to misalignment then that is not the end of the world because it is something that can be readily corrected by a variety of methods.

August 27, 2013 at 06:19 PM · Ryan, I don't have a lick of advice to give you, but I wanted to say that I enjoy your descriptions of your relationship with your viola, and I totally relate to how sensitive you are to change. I notice things about my violin that drive me crazy, but others don't apparently hear what I'm talking about, so at times, I've thought I really was insane. However, if you run into a luthier who's on the same page and really "gets it", they will know exactly what you're talking about, give you insights as to why it's happening, and guide you to helpful decisions to help fix it. If you're lucky, they will take it beyond your expectations and you will be in heaven! I had a problem with my viola this past year, and the only luthier I could take it to just shrugged, said something about the weather, and told me to change strings. It was so frustrating. Luckily, we had a guest quartet from New Jersey at our summer music festival, and the violist, Michael Avagliano, was a knowledgeable luthier. He tweaked it a few times, moving the bridge and the soundpost around until it sang sweetly once more, the way I remember when I bought it. If he lived here, I would probably be in every other day for adjustments. :)

Good luck, and you'll know when you find the right person to help you. They may not be able to fix it, but they will be able to make a proper assessment and explain the ins and outs of your woes. (At least, that's my theory. Like I said, I don't really have any advice.)

August 27, 2013 at 06:23 PM · Physics: string tension is only related to the vibrating length. Fact!

But I agree the after-length section will resonate, for better or for worse (hence the tubular attachments on cello stings). The after-length, when plucked, give a note which may reinforce, interfere with, or even absorb, certain resonances of the fiddle.

Tapping the tailpiece with a knuckle will give yet another "note"; tapping it with a finger-nail will show the resonance of its wood or metal.

Happy hunting!

August 27, 2013 at 06:34 PM · Thank you all so much for your helpful and encouraging really went a long way.

I'm in a luthiers shop now, but decided against bug stuff. Just having the tailchord-length changed, and having the bridge feet cut to fit the body flush and correctly (they weren't).

It is an old cremonese instrument, and seems sensitive to things, but Peter shaw has been very helpful and I think we'll get it there. 'Good enough' is fine for me, just want it to stop pulling itself out if alignment and sound great on all four strings instead of just one.

David, yes I am incredibly sensitive to these things. Thanks for your advice to my questions all over this forum, very helpful despite my hypersensitivity:)

And Emily, it's good to know I'm not a loony!! People don't even notice things that are, to my ears and hands, glaring. Thank you for the encouragement!

I'll look into getting the alignment of the button correct. David, they were nice enough to take these repairs out of the price. That is sine great solid advice!

August 27, 2013 at 06:37 PM · Getting the feet of the bridge fitted, wow, yeah, that's a start! I'm betting that will fix most of your problems right there.

August 27, 2013 at 06:39 PM · Adrian that's great knowledge to have about the vibrating length and tension. Considering I'm at the luthier now, I'm very greatfulmyou posted that, as I can have it experimented on as we speak:)

August 27, 2013 at 07:59 PM · "And Emily, it's good to know I'm not a loony!! People don't even notice things that are, to my ears and hands, glaring. Thank you for the encouragement!"


No, you're not necessarily looney. Everything you have mentioned in the various threads can make big differences in sound and playability, to those who are "tuned in" to noticing these things.

August 27, 2013 at 08:26 PM · ...Of course, just because we relate doesn't cross lunacy off the list of possibilities; in fact, quite the opposite: welcome to the loony bin!

August 28, 2013 at 05:14 PM · Ryan, following this with great interest. Please post the results of your current tweakings. Thanks.

August 28, 2013 at 07:19 PM · John, good points there. However, in the instance I referred to in my previous post that old violin of mine is a family heirloom, having been in my family since 1850.

The fact that the neck is slightly out of alignment doesn't bother me, and it hasn't been noticed by other violinists who have tried out the violin. As I said before, the problem was solved from the playing point of view without the necessity of major surgery on the neck. A dealer of course would very quickly spot this.

As far as I am now concerned I take the pragmatic stance that if it ain't a problem it don't get fixed.

August 29, 2013 at 06:56 AM · So after the bridge feet being fitted, I realize that the bridge is walking from the alignment of the end block and neck.

I'm so stressed as its the most beautiful thing when set up correctly, but I can watch the bridge move when tuning, and the strings seize up with tension after a while. I then freak out and waste money getting new strings as a temporary fix..,

I'm soloing the mozart sinfonia concertante@ Carnegie hall in three freaking weeks, I don't know what to do. I'm aboutt to snap!

August 29, 2013 at 07:00 AM · Edit

August 30, 2013 at 03:42 AM · Ryan, I was hoping someone else would offer you some advice or guidance, but I don't see any yet and your anxiety seems to be quite intense right now. I'm not in your shoes, and I don't know you, so it's a bit awkward to jump in here. Please forgive my presumption, but you're getting yourself very freaked out, and you don't have to go that route; it doesn't help. First of all, you don't have a problem; it's just a challenging situation that can be addressed by simply seeing what needs to happen. You can continue to work with your luthier on that instrument until the situation is resolved. If he tells you it can't be resolved in time for your concert, you can beg, borrow or "try out" other fine instruments. They might not be "the one" that you love, but they will play with evenness and responsiveness and will stay in tune. And **YOU** will play beautifully. There are many possible solutions as long as you aren't fixated on the one way you think it's "supposed" to be. Breathe, smile, relax and do what you need to do. It'll all work out fine.

August 30, 2013 at 08:45 AM · Thank you so much for that, very kind words Arifa:)

I woke up to a phone call if someone offering to sell their zygmuntowicz- while it isn't a storioni, they still sound phenomenal, and the law of entropy hasn't kicked in yet. I'd rather have something I can practice and improve on I think.

August 30, 2013 at 02:56 PM · like arifa, i've been following this without being able to offer any advise specific to your predicament. i will say, however, that your detailed concern for your instrument and the fact that you've been asked to play at carnegie hall in the first place indicates a huge degree of know-how and talent. on the day, i can't imagine anyone out there wishing you ill - but if there are, issue an auto-erotic directive on their behalf and knock 'em dead. break a leg.

September 4, 2013 at 09:03 PM · So did you try out the Zyg, or another viola, Ryan? Do we get an update? Just wondering. It's been quite an engaging saga.

September 10, 2013 at 04:24 PM · Vagabond bridge?

Ambulatory bridge?

Sweet spot post and bridge, moved by whom?

These are some of my concerns in this discussion.

Maybe I'm missing something? I bellieve a good player should never

permit the bridge or post to move, in their own hands or those of others.

The player may carefully move the bridge so that no gaps are present at

the bridge feet fore or aft, but never moved in relation to the diapson, or

to one side or the other.


September 10, 2013 at 08:06 PM · A word of caution. Do not try to remove gaps unless taught by your teacher or luthier. A disaster if the bridge should fall down and you have not recorded the bridges exact position, lined up to the diapson (i.e. with center of bridge) and distances each side from bridge foot to inner ff hole. Even worse, if the post should fall down. Charles

September 10, 2013 at 08:07 PM · A word of caution. Do not try to remove gaps unless taught by your teacher or luthier. A disaster if the bridge should fall down and you have not recorded the bridges exact position, lined up to the diapson (i.e. with center of bridge) and distances each side from bridge foot to inner ff hole. Even worse, if the post should fall down. Charles

September 21, 2013 at 09:18 AM · Arifa- still looking! Postponed my's worth waiting for though;)

The storioni sounds good ( but it's just too unreliable/temperamental...

September 21, 2013 at 09:22 AM · Charles, I don't quite understand...

If the bridge moves from a poorly set neck, someone has to move it back, be it 'me or others'.

Also, sound-post adjustments are quite common...I must say I believe the post and bridge should be placed to the players liking, not accepted as an immovable part of the instrument. Millimeters affect sound drastically...

Vagabond bridge means wä in the bridge moves from tension issues. I'm not moving it- only when my luthier changed the tailpiece etc.

September 21, 2013 at 09:24 AM · Charles, the f-hole notches on some older instruments are not always on the same plane. And since the neck and end button aren't in a straight line, there is no way to center the bridge...quite frustrating. But It's where it sounds best, not where it 'should go'. But thanks for your concern, I've learned the hard way (on a previous instrument) that fiddles shouldn't be fiddled with- just on:)

Between a rib crack, bass bar crack, worms like crazy, poorly grafted neck, sound post crack, high price tag etc. I'm just gonna keep looking.

Thank you so much to those who helped cool my jets. It's all good, life goes on!

September 22, 2013 at 10:00 PM · Hey, Ryan, my browser is outdated so can't access soundcloud. Would love to hear. Is there another way?

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