How to recognize a 'projecting' violin?

October 2, 2013 at 03:04 PM · I'm looking for a new violin mostly because I like solo work and need to be heard over other instruments. I tried out a Hungarian one which seemed to my ear to have strong projection. It was loud, more high frequency with some sweetness, but when I tried to play with an orchestra (first full rehearsal) it just died, well to be more accurate it could be heard but sounded shrill (violin has dominants and a EP gold E).

I need to select possible violins by myself from a lot of possibilities but obviously I am looking for the wrong thing. Thus, can anyone give me some tips to screening a large selection of violins for one that both projects and is easy on the ear?

Replies (100)

October 2, 2013 at 03:19 PM · Hello Elise:

One violin maker who has made violins with superior volume and excellent sound projection is :

Amadee Dieudonne. His violins date from 1920 onwards and have a distinct tone which separates them very distinctly from a orchestral string group which accompanies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkMWRK56IaQ

Currently Michael Reuter (Chicago) may have one in his collection. Send me a message if you are interested ... Ted Kruzich

October 2, 2013 at 03:29 PM · Elise, placing a recorder at least 20 feet away, or in another room, then playing all the candidates and listening to the recording can give some good clues.

October 2, 2013 at 04:00 PM · "...but when I tried to play with an orchestra (first full rehearsal) it just died..."

Do mean that you were playing a solo and someone listening couldn't hear you? Or were you in the section and couldn't hear yourself? If a solo, what repertoire?

October 2, 2013 at 06:19 PM · Deudonne :)))))))))))))

That was my first violin when I returned. It did project - but it also petered out above 4th position, which is why I traded it in.

I just tested the three violins I currently have in the hall with a tape recorder on the back tier of seats (I have a good condenser mike hand-held). Confirming the impression last night (both to my ear and to other orchestra members), the violin could be heard but was shrill. I think the problem is that it is very strong on the bright end, making it clear (and also easy to play) but has not very much resonance to back it up. The latter is lost in a large hall leaving not much for the ear. I just returned it. Curiously, a French violin that is very resonant, in particular in the low registers, but not so loud in the ear carries somewhat better and is way nicer to listen to. Its lacking a bit at the top end though...

Scott. It was our weekly rehearsal and the plan was for the orchestra to play through the piece - Beethoven romance in F - without me. For some reason the conductor decided on the spur of the moment that he wanted me to play. I had intended to play the first time with music to keep track but did not have it with me so I had to play it from scratch from memory with an orchestra that was sight reading. Most of it went pretty good but I got lost a couple of times and missed chunks. Nonetheless, it was a great way to start since I had no time to get nervous and we were all in the same boat muddling through. People were very kind after!

So that's the immediate goal: a violin that can sound over a ~70 member orchestra. The French one might be it, but I'd like an alternative. It would really help if I had a better idea of what to look for in the dealer's store.

Talk about trial-by-fire....

October 2, 2013 at 08:32 PM · A quick "trick" is to try the violin using a DIY protective headset: this keeps the full tonal range but makes the fiddle sound further away; I sometimes practice this way. It doesn't help the neighbours, though! I have to insulate my jaw and collar bones, which otherwise conduct and exagerate the lower frequencies in my ears.

I also try a few notes with the the violin on my lap, and also 'cello fashion: it's surprising how differnt the overall tonal balance can be.

October 2, 2013 at 08:43 PM · The VPH - violin protective headset. Worn by the player and not the audience, is the big surprise.

How long before the government makes obligatory...

Thanks for the cello-style idea: I bet that helps a lot with avoiding the local noise, I'm going to try that.

Maybe that explains why so many string instrument shop owners are cellists - they get a better instant appraisal of the violin....

October 2, 2013 at 09:21 PM · combined weight of the instrument might be an indicator as well - less weight making for more projection.

just a thought ...

October 2, 2013 at 11:06 PM · Hmmm Bill...

well surely you can't throw it as far :P

though I guess that's another question: how do you recognize a violin that's the better projectile? :)

October 3, 2013 at 02:30 AM · I don't see that weight has anything to do with it. One might as well use color. And anyway, a violin's balance may affect the perception of its weight, just like a bow.

To answer the question, a violin that projects is likely to be brighter under the ear--it's the brilliance that cuts through an orchestra. The problem, as Elise has found, is that violins in lower price ranges that are bright and have carrying power are likley to also be strident and, frankly, obnoxious under the ear. The audience's ear can also tire of such a violin.

Quality sound under the ear AND and projection cost money. With cheaper violins you usually get one or the other, but not both. And then combine age, quality, and projection and you need serious money.

October 3, 2013 at 03:15 AM · For Elise,

http://www.tasminlittle.com/free_cd/

listen to "Which violin?"

Tasmin used the words "edge" and "grit" as necessary sound ingredients for a well-projecting instrument.

Also, get "Homage" DVD and listen to how James Ehnes describes projection in one of his interviews.

It is important to remember that projection does not equal power. A well-projectiing instrument will have strong fundamentals, as well as rich in overtones. It will be heard in the last row of the audience even if the violin is played pianissimo.

Typically, a projecting violin will not sound pleasant under the ear due to lots of "surface noise".

EDIT: "high saturation" replaced "with rich in". English is my 2nd language and sometimes I miss the mark.

October 3, 2013 at 09:22 AM · "problem, as Elise has found, is that violins in lower price ranges that are bright and have carrying power are likley to also be strident and, frankly, obnoxious under the ear."

Scott: I did not mention price, that's your presumption.

What do you define as 'lower price ranges'?

October 3, 2013 at 09:27 AM · Hi Rocky - you are the one of the two people on V.com that I know have tried the violin - it certainly had the surface noises!

But I'm beginning to understand the undertones.

The best of the three instruments has strong undertones (you played it too, but only shortly) but lacks the surface noise. Its actually very pleasant under the ear. My issue with it was that its not really forceful at the top end of the E. I think its too dark. I've just tried putting on a heavy grade E string, that seems to help open it up on all four strings... this stuff is fascinating...

October 3, 2013 at 12:28 PM · more kitchen science here ...

but i was wondering if noticeable vibrations - felt with the jaw and collar bone - might indicate a fiddle that projects.

the carbon fiber coated fiddle i bought recently has a much better sound - looks ghastly but is sweeter, better balanced and projects far more than my german fiddle. it's also 20-something grams lighter and feels egg-shell thin to the touch.

the cello style of play gives a different perspective on the sound - as does (i'm told) wearing a cowboy hat while you play.

something in glitter for you elise? ... and rhinestones? ... in a deep shade of burgundy?

October 3, 2013 at 12:46 PM · "something in glitter for you elise? ... and rhinestones? ... in a deep shade of burgundy?"

Oh YES, and if it does the foxtrot I will be over the moon.

Did Guadagnini make any like that?

October 3, 2013 at 12:50 PM · While you might have a clue, there is no reliable way to accurately judge projection from under ear volume, that's why they call it projection, not under ear volume.

October 3, 2013 at 12:59 PM · A "protective headset" for me is cotton wool in my left ear. This significantly reduces the direct in-the-left-ear sound from the violin, while the right ear hears the non-direct sound, which is closer to a listener's experience. I use the cotton-wool sometimes in symphonic playing if the brass and woodwind are too loud for comfort.

Something else I occasionally do during practice sessions is to wear wireless 'phones that pick up the signal from a Zoom mic on the far side of the room.

October 3, 2013 at 03:00 PM · "What do you define as 'lower price ranges'?"

Under $40,000. The lower you go, the less likely you will have soloist qualities.

And the vast majority of French violins will fall under that price. There's a reason why soloists who have a choice don't pick French instruments as their first choice (with a couple of exceptions which cost well over $200,00). Or Hungarian either, with a few exceptions.

October 3, 2013 at 03:57 PM · Eliot Chapo, a former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and of the Dallas Symphony, does most of his playing on an unlabeled Hungarian violin, in preference to his two Vuillaume violins.

I personally feel that you can find a violin suitable for solo playing for around $20,000, or even less (a lot of great modern makers still charge under $20,000, such as Nathaniel Rowan, Shan Jiang, Daniel Musek, and the vast majority of modern makers charge under $30,000).

I agree with what Lyndon said - "While you might have a clue, there is no reliable way to accurately judge projection from under ear volume, that's why they call it projection, not under ear volume." Pinchas Zukerman often says the same thing, when talking about violin selection and violin adjustment.

Violins that are lighter in weight aren't necessarily louder - and if a violin is too light in weight, that might be a clue that it's been regraduated at some point, which for most people is an absolute dealbreaker.

Some of the loudest violins out there, such as those by del Gesu and Gaspar da Salo, were made with rather thick plates to begin with, although many were unfortunately thinned out by lesser makers who thought they knew better than the great masters.

October 3, 2013 at 04:44 PM · Darret,

I had chamber coachings with Chapo, but I only remember him using a Vuilliaume. There are of course always outliers and no-name bargains, but in my experience it's really hard to find something really ready for the solo stage at under $40,000. Maybe others have gotten luckier in their search.

I think experience can tell someone what is likely to project. For example, it's easier to be seduced by a hollow, tubby sound that is really easy to play and sounds nice and warm under the ear, or a very warm and fuzzy sound. But experience has taught me to be wary of such instruments. However, like I've said, unless you have gobs of $$, you usually have to compromise.

October 3, 2013 at 05:05 PM · OK Scott, you were right - I'm looking in the 15-20K range; the French is at the top end but has been nixed today by my teacher.

The search continues.... If anyone has a $200K solo instrument they want to part with for $20K, please let me know :-

Somewhere over the rainbow,

Way out there,

There's a viol that's waiting,

With even tone, no wolfs, easy to sound, focused notes, creamy tone, sparkling E string - and tons of projection,

(that I can afford)

I swear...

Maybe I can get a strad sponsor.... :D

October 3, 2013 at 05:51 PM · What I gathered, based on very limited samples, projecting violin tend to have very "clean" harmonics (overtones). This is quite difficult to describe, but it reminds me of what Michael Darnton said - it's like out of tune piano vs in tune piano, but much less obvious. Once you heard it, you can recognize it more easily.

Try playing some double stops, like 3rd or 6th, good example is the Romance in G, also by beethoven. Listen if both notes "pop". If they clash, or sound unpleasant, it might indicate something about the overtones.

October 3, 2013 at 06:13 PM · Casey - that is very interesting. I noticed that the Hungarian violin was easy to play both for intonation and double stops - and thought that characteristic of a 'focused' sound. Which is, I suppose the same as synchronized overtones. It did project, but unfortunately not with a particular good sound.

Thus, the 'ideal' solo instrument has good volume a broad spectrum of overtones but also, from your comment, the overtones must be in sync. It all makes sense in retrospect of course!

October 3, 2013 at 06:25 PM · Almost missed this:

Trevor wrote: "Something else I occasionally do during practice sessions is to wear wireless 'phones that pick up the signal from a Zoom mic on the far side of the room."

I've done something similar: my hand-held tape has a pre-record setting to adjust parameters. In that mode I can listen to the input through headphones - all that's necessary is a long wire (I don't have a Bluetooth headset) - maybe if I got a 30 yd wire....

October 3, 2013 at 07:28 PM · A violin with good projection will get an audience reaction similar to this:

October 3, 2013 at 07:31 PM · Most recording devices automatically adjust the volume so a quieter violin will record louder and a louder violin will record quieter, Big problem to using this method,,,,,,,

October 3, 2013 at 09:20 PM · Naturally, one should not use a recording device which self-adjusts the recording volume levels. ;-)

I've had a number of customers use a simple Zoom recorder, who felt that they learned a lot about instrument's comparative projection by placing it at a distance. What they learned was later confirmed (in most cases) by subsequent testing in a hall.

October 3, 2013 at 09:31 PM · My recorder has both: self adjusting and fixed volume. But its an important issue.

October 3, 2013 at 10:02 PM · Someone said that projection comes from "saturated overtones" and someone said "clean overtones". I'm not an acoustician (if that's a word) but my understanding of "saturation" is that it means that when the amplitude of the sine waves gets too high for whatever has to handle them (microphone, tape recorder, whatever), the peaks are clipped off, and the new sharp edges amount to new rogue higher harmonics. I.e., mild distortion. This is kinda the opposite of clean. I'll never understand projection.

October 3, 2013 at 10:37 PM · MIchael: me neither (acoustician!) but I like the synchronized overtones idea better than saturated (which I understand as you do). The former implies I think sound waves that are at frequencies that are in harmony with the base note.

I hope a physicist will kick in soon...

October 3, 2013 at 10:47 PM · "I noticed that the Hungarian violin was easy to play both for intonation and double stops - and thought that characteristic of a 'focused' sound. Which is, I suppose the same as synchronized overtones. It did project, but unfortunately not with a particular good sound."

In a sense, violins are like electronic amplifiers or speakers: some may sound fine at a small volume, but when pushed the tonal qualities suffer.

This is often an issue with new violins as well: they become strident when pushed.

Elise, chose something that you feel is MUSICAL, not something that is the loudest. If you have a reasonably good violin (and that should cover the $15k-$20k range), and the orchestra is still covering you, then the problem is either the conductor or your ability to project everything that is in the violin. Are you really using the maximum amount of bow speed and pressure, and are you really as close to the bridge as you can be?

October 3, 2013 at 10:57 PM · The answer Scott is: I have no idea yet!!

The problem is that I've only played with an orchestra once (Tuesday) but I want to be prepared for a performance. The latest strategy is to take my violin back to the luthier who made it and see what kind of tune-up can be done. It is a very nice violin I just feel it needs more oomph (before you ask I have just about exhausted the string options, those were determined mostly by avoiding wolf notes and I am able to create a big sound on an outstanding violin (I've played a fine modern Italian and even a bit on a P. del Gesu).

October 4, 2013 at 12:35 AM · My Zoom H2 has a useful (to some) selection of various limiters and such-like for live recording, but I never use them. If I want to alter levels etc then I do it at a later audio editing stage.

October 4, 2013 at 12:40 AM · Trevor: Lyndon's point here though was that you don't want the recorder to bias the volume of the instruments else all you can do is compare tone not total projection.

edit -oops, maybe you meant you keep the automatic adjustments off? The danger there is that loud or quiet sounds will be out of the dynamic range of your recorders amplifier.

October 4, 2013 at 01:37 AM · I would also caution, that just because a commercial recorder says it has a "straight" signal option, does not mean there is absolutely no compression(making quieter louder, and louder quieter) at all, there are all kinds of levels of amount of compression, from maximum; everything sounds the same volume; to minimal; you still have loud and soft but the difference between loud and soft is somewhat less than live.

At least with digital there is the capability to have almost no limiting or compression, but I would expect to find it much more in the high end professional type recording devices.

October 4, 2013 at 03:08 AM · Lyndon, one can get uncompressed audio (aside from what happens when analog is converted to digital), from an ordinary computer, and a free recording program, like Audacity. The hardware is stuff most of us already have on hand if we're posting here.

If the computer doesn't have a microphone, a decent USB mic (decent enough to discern subtle differences) can be purchased quite inexpensively.

October 4, 2013 at 03:33 AM · None of the posters were talking about recording on computers.......

October 4, 2013 at 12:41 PM · "None of the posters were talking about recording on computers......"

Really?? I brought it up, and I wasn't specific about the recording method, just that recording at a distance can be helpful. Later, I mentioned that some of my clients use recorders like the Zoom. They're compact and easy to travel with, and sound compensating effects can be turned off.

I happen to do all my recording on computers, whether comparing violins, or doing sound adjustment progressions, or recording a track for a CD.

But I understand recorders like the Zoom can work very well too. For people going into a shop to compare violins, I reckon that would be more convenient than taking a laptop.

October 4, 2013 at 12:51 PM · And i brought up the point that compression is so ingrained and/or common in the recording industry that especially with non professional recording units it may be hard to actually know whether there is compression built in the machine or not, unless it clearly states it is not in the specs.

October 4, 2013 at 01:01 PM · Yes, compression (along with all kinds of other effects) is widely used in the commercial recording industry, but that's a choice made by the producer or recording engineer.

Except, that as I already mentioned, there will be inevitable changes when the analog sound signal from the mic is converted to digital.

On the small hi-fi recorders, one can learn a lot by reading the manual, whether supplied or online.

So, in an effort to be more precise and less ambiguous, let me restate my suggestion as follows:

Recording from a distance can be helpful, provided that the instruments are recorded in the same environment with the same equipment in the same relative positions, and provided that the recording and playback equipment don't alter the sound too much. ;-)

October 4, 2013 at 04:28 PM · Actually, altering might be used to advantage :D

If you want to compare volume then leave the recorder in the naïve state, no filters. However, if you want to compare tone then let the recorder adjust to volume - you can then here which violin sounds the nicest to your ear. that might be particularly important for a violin that is to be used, say, for chamber music rather than solo or to select one that 'fits in' with an orchestra.

October 4, 2013 at 06:37 PM · Agree with David, recording can be very useful. I recorded a number of instruments when trying out fiddles and for the most part, instruments have the same general characteristics from a distance as they do under ear. For example, a bright instrument under ear generally will sound bright from across the room. Projection is not as obvious. Some instruments might not sound that loud under ear, but they project very well and the converse can also be true.

Elise, if it is within your budget, why don't you try out a Burgess? I have tried a couple and they are exceptionally easy to play and the projection is outstanding.

October 4, 2013 at 07:15 PM · Smiley - would love to; I wonder if he has any 200k instruments going for 20 :p

well David, sweetie? :) :D Maybe one that came out looking like it should have a pick-up on it...

ee

October 4, 2013 at 07:19 PM · Hi Elise,

Ottawa is not too far from Toronto. You might try out some of Guy Harrison's fiddles. I particularly like his Lord Wilton model ( I play one of those) and his Dushkin model. Of the 10 or so Canadian luthiers I have tried instruments of - Guy's recent violins stand out. The sound is very very good. That is not only my opinion, but also of some far more knowledgeable players and string teachers.

As far as projection: recently I performed the solo part of Perlman's version of Tango from "Scent of a Woman" with a 25+ person orchestra with a brass section and 2 percussionists. I was a little worried the more piano parts would not project well. But the audience had no difficulty hearing me above the orchestra right through. No shrillness or tinny sound.

He is in your price range.

October 4, 2013 at 08:25 PM · Thanks Hendrik. I'll check that idea out when I get back (in a couple of weeks).

meanwhile I had to pull out my 1888 Wolff Brothers violin - the one my dad bought me when I was ~9 - I was astonished, its really quite good, amazingly even right up the keyboard...

October 4, 2013 at 08:52 PM · David Sez:

But I understand recorders like the Zoom can work very well too. For people going into a shop to compare violins, I reckon that would be more convenient than taking a laptop.

David is spot-on, here.

There are settings on a portable digital recorder that may affect recording volume. They go by different names by different makers, but here goes:

AGC

Automatic gain control. AGC has been around for decades. It was pretty common in analog devices (radios, tape recorders, etc). It turns the recording gain up and down, to bring out fainter audio signals. My Zoom H2 has AGC, which I turn ON during rehearsals to pick up spoken conductor notes (faint in comparison to the trumpets behind me).

Compression

Technically different than AGC, but has a similar effect.

Limiting

Leaves the volume as-is, until the input gets high enough to overdrive (saturate) the audio path. So unless there are high DB sound pressure levels (SPL), it should not make a lot of difference.

Leveling

Usually a playback function. Audacity can make leveling adjustments, but be sure to read Audacity's explanation (not the same as normalizing!). Sometimes, manuals will use "leveling" when they mean compression or AGC.

Bottom line: if you use a digital recorder to figure out projection on and instrument, read the manual to figure out the settings to turn volume adjustments OFF. Do this, and you should have an accurate enough result for a purchase comparison.

I'd also eschew mp3 for comparisons, and go to a lossless encoding scheme, like WMV or some such.

Earlier this year, I bought a bow specifically for projection quality. The salesman and I picked several candidates. He put me in the recital hall behind the classrooms and showroom, so I didn't annoy other customers. (Wise man! This also avoided vegetable stains from people chucking tomatoes to rate my ability.)

Just when I narrowed it down to a couple, he came to see how I was doing. He was very obliging to stand at the rear of the hall and rate the same passage with different bows and pressures.

Turns out that the one I had tentatively decided on was the one with best projection. It also behaved better with too much pressure: when I bore down hard, it just muffled the tone, rather than choking it.

Note: I bought on a Saturday. In the next Monday rehearsal, the conductor was distracted, trying to figure out why I was playing so loud, all of a sudden.

Elise, I'd think that having a good distance between you and someone you trust would probably give you the best idea of which instrument projects best. They can also comment on tonal nuances and any funky stuff at a distance. But if you opt for a recorder, be sure to turn OFF all volume-modification features.

October 4, 2013 at 08:54 PM · I agree with Hendrik Hak's recommendation. I play one of Guy Harrison's Lord Wilton model violins, made for me on commission in 2011. It has a powerful round and even sound, very warm and rich, right across the strings and up into the top positions. I have also heard his new Dushkin model, which is slightly louder and edgier sounding, but with a strong family tonal resemblance. Both models project extremely well -- I have done comparisons with numerous other instruments -- and they are not tiring on the ear. Harrison is one of the best luthiers around, with an impressive scholarly approach to violin making, and he is a delight to work with.

October 4, 2013 at 08:56 PM · Also...

I hear pretty good things about Michael Darnton's instruments. Might check him out.

October 5, 2013 at 12:14 PM · "well David, sweetie? :) :D"

Oh gosh (blush blush). You probably couldn't see it, but I just blew you a kiss. :-)

October 5, 2013 at 07:07 PM · Oh, I kinda WONDERED what that soft smack on the cheek was ....

October 5, 2013 at 07:14 PM · I am a grad student studying violin performance. Violin shopping can be difficult, especially by yourself. I have been told that the best violins will sound quiet under your ear, but will be louder away from your ear. I would recommend playing the instrument and then have someone else play it. It should sound quiet but focused, and not tinny.

October 5, 2013 at 10:49 PM · "I have been told that the best violins will sound quiet under your ear, but will be louder away from your ear."

I've heard that said too, but haven't come across any real "violin shootout" support for the notion. Not that instruments which seem quiet under the ear can't project very well. But violins which sound loud under the ear can project very well too.

October 5, 2013 at 11:03 PM · that's surely a mystique thing. I'm not saying its wrong, but its tricky figuring out how it would work.

Perhaps projection is more about balance than volume?

"It should sound quiet but focused, and not tinny. "

That fits with the responses above. The Hungarian violin I tested was very focuses (and a pleasure to play as it was much easier to tell when you were out of tune) but 'tinny' would be a possible characterization.

Which comes back to the meaning of 'focused'. I used to think that it meant the frequency of each sound was very close to the intended note. But now I understand it as the frequencies of each sound are in harmony with the intended note - more range of sounds the more 'dark' the instrument is and 'bright' vice versa. A truly great violin (I'm guessing) has a strong root frequency (the sounds that are at the frequency corresponding to the note being played - that's how you hear C# for example) together with a broad, but sequentially declining volume, of harmonics both above and below to give the note depth and sweetness.

Thus, according to this argument the key to 'projection' is focus plus

October 5, 2013 at 11:36 PM · The key to projection is still going to the back of the hall and listening to the violin!! All this other stuff is potentially wrong unless you actually test it through listening, sure there might be trends and averages, but no absolutes, other than how it sounds at the back of the hall......

October 6, 2013 at 07:20 AM · But Lyndon, that's the horse we rode in on. The topic is screening violins in the shop to find the ones that are most likely to project in the hall.

I don't think the shop will let me take out 50 violins :(

October 6, 2013 at 08:06 AM · Even 30 or 40 feet away you should start to hear differences in projection, that might be a good starting point, standing in the next room while a friend plays, or around the corner. The main point is to let someone at some distance try to make level comparisons, and learn to ignore or not take seriously most of the level differences you hear under ear.

October 6, 2013 at 03:05 PM · I'd go even further: even from 8-10 feet away, one can get an idea of relative differences between violins.

It's a tricky business--one student of mine has a violin that sounds really good just a few feet away, but I can't stand it under my ear because it sounds so brash. In these situations, do you please your own ear or that of the audience? Quite a dilemma...

October 6, 2013 at 04:22 PM · That was exactly the problem with the Hungarian violin (initially) it was brash under the ear but I thought it would promject. Turns out it wasn't good for that either :P

October 7, 2013 at 01:20 AM · "synchronized overtones... implies I think sound waves that are at frequencies that are in harmony with the base note.

I hope a physicist will kick in soon..."

I'm not a physicist, but close enough for practical purposes.

Due to the stick/slip action of the bow, the string can only generate overtones that are precise multiples of the fundamental, and the body transforms those vibrations into sound which is also in harmony.

In my view, it is the amplitude of the overtones that determine projection. And I'll also confirm that using a recording device at a distance is a good way to check projection; under-the-ear can be misleading in many ways, but not always.

October 7, 2013 at 03:02 AM · The string may only generate precise harmonies (I don't know) but isn't it possible that the body of the violin can distort these? In which case you would end up with non-synchronized sounds...

October 7, 2013 at 01:38 PM · I believe that by "synchronized", you mean that the phase relationship between the fundamental and some overtone is different (using more precise technical terminology). That probably is not important for two reasons:

1. General wisdom is that the ear does not detect phase differences, only the pitch and amplitude. I played around with signals phased in various ways, and I heard slight changes... but that could also be non-linearities in my audio equipment.

2. Different frequencies are generated at different areas of the violin body, so the phase relationship between them will be different, depending on many things... including where your ear happens to be in relation to the violin.

So, my conclusion is that the AMPLITUDE of the overtones (and there are a slew of them, especially for the low strings) matter, not the phase.

October 7, 2013 at 02:47 PM · You're right - but I actually meant all along 'frequency' not phase. Silly me.

All I mean to say is that some overtones will be in harmony with the intended note and others will not. And, hence, that a 'focused' sound is one where the overtones are in harmony. Thus two violins will have a focused note even though one resonates only at one frequency while another resonates at multiple frequencies that are all in harmony. The latter is nicer to listen to.

I hope that makes more sense.

October 7, 2013 at 03:16 PM · "The string may only generate precise harmonies (I don't know) but isn't it possible that the body of the violin can distort these?"

Of course. It is overtones the violin itself generates that is the issue. Money buys overtones.

October 7, 2013 at 08:17 PM · Under the ear its hard to tell if a violin projects or not. Especially if you are not used to the sound of projecting violins. Maybe with experience one can tell, what will work in a hall and what will not project, even if it sounds loud under the ears. So playing for friends and comparing violins in larger venues is very important. Projecting sound has also much to do with the player. Even more as one usually thinks. After all its also a question of taste. What do you want to project and how do you want to play on a violin. It all comes together.

One Element of an projecting violin should be in my opinion, that it has a wide dynamic range, especially in the louder dynamics, that there is no limit. For example my violin has a very fine sound, but it has certain limitations to louder dynamics. There are violins, where you can really dig into the strings and other violins, who have so much ring or resonance, that you just have to use more bow, to get a good fortissimo. It depends on your playing style wich will fit you better, but important is, that there is an edge to the sound and the possibility to play loud, very simple ;)

Violins wich project in pianissimo are wonders of nature and I havent heard many of the todays violinists playing with this effect. Gidon Kremer was one of them. It was an amazing sound! But again, its the combination of the player and the instrument.

October 9, 2013 at 12:57 AM · Not a huge amount of experience but the ones I have played the projected were a bit shrill and uncomfortable under the ear. These include some Strads and a Stainer.

October 9, 2013 at 12:57 AM · Not a huge amount of experience but the ones I have played the projected were a bit shrill and uncomfortable under the ear. These include some Strads and a Stainer.

October 10, 2013 at 03:51 PM · To check projection it would really be great if someone could use a zoom recorder, as David suggests, and then provide a link. Then we could all hear. Charles

October 10, 2013 at 10:15 PM · the saga continues...

violin #1 is with the luthier getting a tune up. Violin #2 has a crack in the pegbox, between two pegs and since I'm taking it overseas for 10 days I was worried that it might 'go'. So I took it into the shop for repairs - but begged for a loaner since I had orchestra that evening.

What a loaner!! Giuseppe Lucci 1961. Not the dark butter-sound violin type - but not strident either, simply the most focused violin I have ever tried. Each note was pristine and yet rich. It had everything predicted above - and the proof of the pudding was that it simply soared above the orchestra.

To bad I don't have $50K.... But at least now I have a very good idea what I am looking for.

Violin #2, by the way (probably mentioned before), is a Wolf Brothers, 1888 that my dad bought me at age ~9. Its actually very nice - balanced, lacking in wolf notes (ironic eh?) and loud. But it lacks that finesse....

October 11, 2013 at 12:25 AM · There is no way to tell from up close in a confined space. I have recently tried 2 fiddles from the same luthier one 22 year old (mine) and one brand new. Different strings (mine had Dadario zyex, the other one regular visions). They sounded completely different when I played them. 5 meters away, they were exactly the same, except mine had slightly more fat on it because of the strings.

The easiest way of testing projection is outside, away from any walls and ceilings.

Have a good friend play all the fiddles to you (same piece) and you just stand 10, 20, 30, 50 feet away. You will spot a "pojector" quickly.

October 11, 2013 at 03:52 AM · Elise - So how do you describe the harmonics/overtones character? Interested to hear more about other people's experiences.

October 11, 2013 at 07:00 PM · I suppose we need to define 'harmonics' vs 'overtones'. To me harmonics notes that are frequency multiples of the base note; overtones are all notes emitted when the base not is played.

Thus, as for 'all cats have legs, but not all legs are on cats'; all harmonics are overtones but not all overtones are harmonics (some being decidedly out of tune).

As I now think of it: violins that emit only harmonic overtones are focused but the spectrum of harmonics (and their relative amplitudes) determines the quality of the sound; whether dark or bright.

The question in my mind now is: would a violin with perfect harmonics - that is every note an exact multiple of the base note - sound boring? After all, wouldn't that be like an electronic keyboard?

October 12, 2013 at 07:11 PM · My experience has been that richness and beauty of tone go together with projection. If a violin sounds loud (in the sense of a loud necktie) and irritating under the ear I don't want it. By richness of tone I mean the difference between a xylophone note and an excellent singer's note, the latter being more rich in overtones. I have had the experience of hearing a great violin sounding surprisingly quiet up close, but very much audible at a distance and projecting over the accompaniment. Once, in a string quartet rehearsal on the stage of an auditorium, the three of us said to the violinist who was playing a Strad: "Play out more! we are covering you." I went to the back of the hall and heard that the opposite was the case. - The "quiet" Strad was obliterating the others!

October 13, 2013 at 01:18 AM · The topic as Elise has briefly stated is "screening violins in the shop to find the ones that are most likely to project in the hall".

Perhaps we can learn something from the excellent article appearing in "Strings" November, 2013, with Nicola Benedetti's remarks comparing two violins, both of which project well. You can view the entire article on Internet as well as listen to excellent recordings. Her comments are - "this violin brings a level of diversity, depth, color and volume that is rare to find"; "it has a consistent roundness to the tone";

"I would say warmth is above all the characteristic of the feeling I have playing this instrument"; "The strengths are the medium

volume, clarity and color"; "I could make a slightly louder sound on the previous Stradivari. But that sort of loudness is not really necesary. Clarity is more important".

Of course very few have access to Stadivari's violins. However, I don't see why the above comments couldn't apply to modern or old violins in an affordable price range. Charles

October 13, 2013 at 02:15 AM · That is interesting. I found the article online:

http://www.allthingsstrings.com/layout/set/print/Instruments/HISTORY2/The-Gariel-Strad-Violin-Inspires-with-Its-Sound

but it lacks any sound clips. Maybe they are only in the paid original?

October 13, 2013 at 04:30 AM · Lots of sound clips available. Google Nicola Benedetti you tube. These include both Strads. Charles

October 13, 2013 at 04:30 AM · Lots of sound clips available. Google Nicola Benedetti you tube. These include both Strads. Charles

October 13, 2013 at 08:51 AM · Just to agree with Oliver, I have the privilege and pleasure to play on to fine instruments. One from the Turin school and the other from Cremona, both of the highest level. The sound soft and kind of sweet under the ear, range of dynamics is tremendous at one point I thought they might not project enough, well when I play with an ensemble their sound seems to float above the others. I also find that when I try to press to much it actually hurts the sound.

But one can really hear them above the others, but they can also blend very well in a quartet. How does one know, well you need to try them also with an ensemble. Some violin that seem to project well alone will totally disappear when played with others.

October 14, 2013 at 04:31 AM · Worth asking yourself: What do you do to produce a sound that projects?

Producing a sound that will cut through an orchestra is different than playing, say, as a section violinist.

If you aren't producing a soloistic sound, fix that and *then* go instrument shopping, so you don't mistakenly buy an instrument that doesn't produce optimal projection with that kind of sound-production technique.

By the way, with a community orchestra, the orchestra is almost certain to be far too loud on the first rehearsal. As people learn their parts, the volume will drop, probably because they have the spare brain cycles to realize they're drowning you out.

October 14, 2013 at 06:26 AM · Lydia: that is a bit of an assumption (that I can play with 'soloistic technique'. I can't claim to be good at it (not sure I can claim to be good at anything on the violin yet!) but is something I've been working on with my teacher (who has experience) but its also obvious that the method depends on the instrument. Some you have to work at - basically you have to use pressure to get significant volume and projection. Others - true solo instruments - seem to project naturally and of course its the latter that I seek.

October 14, 2013 at 06:28 AM · ... and on the orchestra; thus far they've actually been rather good with the volume - we did a piano solo last season and although the piano has no difficulty being heard, volume control was something that was worked on for the 'piano-piano' (excuse my phrase) passages.

October 14, 2013 at 07:09 AM · Does having to apply pressure to make a large sound disqualify a violin from being a "true soloist" one? You might be missing out on some good instruments that require a different approach to sound production.

October 14, 2013 at 09:07 AM · "If you aren't producing a soloistic sound, fix that and *then* go instrument shopping, so you don't mistakenly buy an instrument that doesn't produce optimal projection with that kind of sound-production technique."

___________________________

Good advice. Some teachers specifically include teaching on how to play that way, and some don't.

I had a few Northwestern students here one day who were capable of pushing volume up around the pain level when they wanted to. Some violins will deliver when played that way, and others will "max out" at a lower level.

The term I hear most commonly used for this property is how much "reserve" a violin has.

October 14, 2013 at 09:37 AM · "Does having to apply pressure to make a large sound disqualify a violin from being a "true soloist" one? "

Fiddles following the Guarnerius tradition typically need a firm, concentrated, bow-contact to be maintained, whereas some "Strad" models require the player to waft away, using long strokes with less feeling of pressure. The same thing applies to the Italian originals - of course.

In the past the great fiddlers were divided into 2 "camps", being either "Strad" players or "Guarneri" ones. A very limited few soloists in the past would use both, e.g. Fritz Kreisler. Menuhin changed from being a Strad user to playing a Guarneri late in life. Stern, Zuckerman, Szering and Ruggiero (nowadays we attack the violin) Ricci seem to have remained loyal to the Guarneris, whereas Milstein and Oistrakh stuck with Strads.

It helps to know on which side your preferences might lie.

"Pressure" applied to the wrong part of the string kills the sound. A firm, gripping contact isn't quite the same thing as "pressure" - anyone thinking they must simply "press" has probably gotten the wrong concept !

The Guarneri del Gesù violins were certainly not disqualified from being soloist instruments, though they took longer than the Strads to be fully appreciated as such.

October 14, 2013 at 09:43 AM · Me I'm a Strad lover, but I'll change that to Guarneri in a split second if you're offering to give me one!!!

October 14, 2013 at 11:22 AM · Clearly a fair weather friend.

October 14, 2013 at 11:29 AM · "The Guarneri del Gesù violins were certainly not disqualified from being soloist instruments, though they took longer than the Strads to be fully appreciated as such."

I think it's taken modern strings, and a playing style which those strings enabled, to show some of them (particularly some which haven't been thinned or regraduated) to best advantage.

October 14, 2013 at 04:58 PM · Violin here or violin there, As stated before I have the pleasure and privilege of playing 2 fine instruments, one of them being a '42 DG and I would like to add this: It is not always the arrow that is at fault ;).

True every violin has its potential. Please do not forget in trying a violin for the stated purpose to try it in company of another instrument. Some violins that sound great alone just disappear when they are put with other instruments, others just start to shine....

October 14, 2013 at 05:55 PM · Lyndon, I (underlined, in italics and bold) might, perish the thought, even accept an A-MA-TI if it were given to me!

October 15, 2013 at 06:13 AM · David wrote: ""Pressure" applied to the wrong part of the string kills the sound. A firm, gripping contact isn't quite the same thing as "pressure" - anyone thinking they must simply "press" has probably gotten the wrong concept !"

For sure, and we have other topics that go into this in detail. Still it seems to me that (and this may be heresy to write) with some violins brute force is the last and only resort to get volume - obviously I'm not talking about Strads DGs and their progeny and cousins but of the average 'good' violin, some of which appear to be designed for a pleasant but not prominent sound.

October 15, 2013 at 06:59 AM · "Some violins that sound great alone just disappear when they are put with other instruments, others just start to shine...."

Yes .. when deciding whether or not to buy a Lucci violin I now own my then wife played it indoors and the sound went through double-glazing and could be heard clearly at the bottom of the garden. Later trials by other fine players confirmed that, yes, the sound travels; indeed my present wife observed that though the sound at close quarters isn't particularly appealing, a few rooms away it's very effective.

By contrast, the Vuillaume I used for nearly 20 years always sounded extemely loud close up. Indeed it seemed to produce more volume than all the other 13 members of my section put together. Yet when a concert-master played it for me on a hall platform, the noise was disappointing at a distance.

"Carrying power" is one of those things that's hard to ascertain - only trial and error will point a player in the right direction. For myself, if trying a violin, I listen for a quality that rings, right down to the lowest notes. Avoid, if the "G" string sounds like cardboard !

Not everyone wants a "solo" fiddle, though, Much depends on a player's area of activity - my Vuillaume was a terrific partner for orchestral work. Under the ear I could always hear where I was.

October 15, 2013 at 06:58 PM · David Yes .. when deciding whether or not to buy a Lucci violin I now own my then wife played it indoors and the sound went through double-glazing and could be heard clearly at the bottom of the garden."

Did you read the lucci post above?

If you want to sell yours for 20K le me know :D

October 15, 2013 at 08:18 PM · "Did you read the lucci post above?"

Of course I did; I wrote it !

"If you want to sell yours for 20K le me know :D"

Difficult to find a genuine Lucci for £20K, let alone $20K.

I've found similar sounds in a few new Italian instruments that I own. Of course my Lucci was cheaper when bought 20 years ago. It's possible to buy good new Italian violins for €10-15K, workshop price. You might care to look up Smiley Hsu's blog about buying a violin - (he ended up with a Laura Vigato instrument), or the violinist.com thread by Kevin Zhang about his odd desire (considering he lives in the USA where there are so many makers with huge reputations) to buy a new Italian violin.

Maybe you can get similar "soloist" results with new American, Canadian, French, or English fiddles, but having struck lucky recently with some Cremona ones I didn't feel the need to experiment further - that's for the wealthy collectors & dealers to do IMHO. I'm retired now, and have enough !

October 15, 2013 at 08:49 PM · It's interesting to look up international violin making competition results, like those of the Violin Society of America, involving competitors from 40 or so countries, if you want perspectives beyond anecdotes, marketing, and prejudices.

There are some really good makers in Italy today (as there are everywhere), but Italy can hardly lay claim to being the epicenter of quality violin making any more. Not since about 1760.

October 15, 2013 at 09:18 PM · I much prefer the Strad feeling to the Guarneri feeling, myself. However, you really need an instrument that will respond with a volume that will cut through an orchestra, if you're going to play that way. And producing volume by using a lot of bow is also flat-out more tiring than being more compact and using the weight of the arm to get a firmer string contact. My current teacher describes this as a "denser" sound; it has a richness to it that will help it punch through an orchestral texture. For solo playing, you want an instrument that gives and keeps giving when you apply more weight -- more "reserve", as David put it.

October 15, 2013 at 10:31 PM · If you volume freaks were into heavy metal, you'd all be deaf by now!!!!

October 15, 2013 at 10:49 PM · Violinist.com has become one of my main sources for learning about the violin both directly and indirectly.

In another thread someone told us to read a section of Paolo Peterlongo's The Violin, Its physical and acoustic principles. Intrigued, I ordered the book and finished reading it today. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and feel I did learn a great deal.

I have also been following this thread as well as a couple of years worth of similar advice and thoughts on selecting a quality violin appearing here and elsewhere.

Last September I bought my UCWV (Unlabeled Chinese Workshop Violin) and can honestly say I love it more and more each time I play it. But having arrived at this point in my studies I can honestly say that the next time I acquire a new violin or maybe a viola I will used the exact same method I used a year ago. Take my teacher with me. Not being flippant, just realistic.

October 16, 2013 at 05:41 AM · "There are some really good makers in Italy today (as there are everywhere), but Italy can hardly lay claim to being the epicenter of quality violin making any more. Not since about 1760."

I agree, 100%

I happened to meet a maker from Cremona in 1992 at a local exhibition. 2 Colleagues bought violins from him right then. His English is good, (my Italian remains non-existent), I was on the lookout for a new violin and we "hit it off". Our exchange of ideas resulted in my buying from him fiddles that I like. But I never meant to suggest that my violinistic "journey" is the one and only way, or to suggest that all Italian fiddles are automatically superior to the others. However, when trying to find in new work a "ringing brightness" such as the best fiddles of old possess in I have struck lucky with "Cremona". I'd add that when I did once visit that town I tried many violins I wouldn't touch with the proverbial barge-pole !!

The number of good makers in the world is now enormous. Even an enthusiast such as myself can experience but a tiny fraction of what's available, as I have already written.

"Reserve" is a useful term. Some instruments will keep on "giving" as more sound is expected; with others, the sound will "break". As I have suggested, it's a"proof of the pudding" thing - trial, error, experience & good advice (from more than one source) are needed.

October 16, 2013 at 01:25 PM · How refreshing. This thread is going to max out without a single mention of shoulder rests.

Violins really are a compromise. Remembering back on all the violins I tried during my violin search (over 100 instruments), none of them was a perfect instrument. And while I am still very pleased with the Laura Vigato that I purchased, I am working on a piece now that would probably be easier to tackle with one of the Burgess violins I tried. I am working on the Gershwin Preludes which involves some very fast runs and octaves all the way to the top of the fingerboard.

If it is projection you want, be prepared for a somewhat less pleasant sound under ear. By definition, projecting violins tend to have a certain harshness or sizzle under ear. That's why they project. I think it is almost a contradiction in terms to have a warm smooth sound, but also good projection. You have to pick your poison.

October 16, 2013 at 07:14 PM · Most of the time - but not always - that's my experience as well Smiley. I would never have bought my present violin 20 years ago as the sizzle under the ear would have turned me off.

One can always put a 10dB or so earplug in the left ear and the sizzle disappears. Suddenly the violin sounds fantastic.

Better for long term hearing protection anyway.

October 16, 2013 at 07:26 PM · LOL, you brought it up, Smiley, so I'll say that a shoulder rest can either improve or diminish projection. Depends on the fiddle. :-)

October 16, 2013 at 09:08 PM · Thanks everyone - lots of great ideas and side issues.

I'm currently in London (England) and went to a violin shop - Guivier - where I spent a couple of hours testing violins in my range. The most interesting were two English violins and of those I really liked one by George Craske (labeled by Hill, as most are) which was both sweet and focused. Its just not practical to complete a sale here.

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