What happened to my violin?

October 26, 2013 at 04:49 AM · Hello! Some of you have read and commented on my previuos posts about my ongoing struggle with my violin.

It has or had this problem that the G and D strings will suddenly stop vibrating at any note, and it would happen not only when you change the bow but it could happen in the middle of a stroke, making the violin almost unplayable.

For 2 years we tried changing sound posts, changing bridges, trying different strings, different bows, chin rests, tailpiece, opening up the violin to see if something was wrong inside and so on with no luck. We decided to "take away" some wood from the top plate, as our last resort. He used magnets, with sand paper so he didn't open up the violin, he just sanded a bit on "random" spots, and it probably didn't take away almost anything at all but it changed the sound of my violin! It became "tinny" not as full and round as it used to be, and the worst thing of all the sound distorted heavily!

I broke down and felt like my life was over!

The next day he made a new bridge and i think changed the afterlenght of the strings, and it stabilized a bit. But the sound was still breaking and screaching. I took it back and he altered the bridge until all distortion went away. The violin lost a lot of volume and body, it was discouraging to find that my violin completely drowned in the string quartet rehearsal.

Yesterday i tried putting my old bridge back and the volume increased but it started distorting. What happened to my violin? I feel like giving up! For 2 years i have been so distracted by all this that i can't practice, i'm constantly worrying and being frustrated.. Getting my hopes up and then crashing again. The worst thing now is that i have loved this violin very much thinking it was a very good, but now i just feel like i have paid money that i don't have for a really bad violin.. I don't like it anymore, and i have lost faith in the maker. I don't want to take it back and have him making it worse again, and i don't have any money to take it to someone else. The maker doesn't have a violin that i like, so that i could trade it in, and he doesn't have the money to buy it back. I'm stuck with this violin, and it's slowly killing me :.(

Does anyone have a clue why the sound would deteriorate by sanding the top plate? It's been over 2 weeks and the violin is still in playing condition, and that has not happened for a very long time, so i'm hoping that the string respons will be permanent now. But i have had my hopes crashed too many times before. Thanks for reading!


Replies (21)

October 26, 2013 at 11:50 AM · Hi Sarah,

Sorry to hear about your violin. It must be incredibly frustrating. Is there another luthier nearby that can take a look at it? I can't imagine they would charge too much just to look at it. If money is the issue, I don't mind kicking in a few dollars to help pay the bill. I'm good for $50 if that will help. Just let me know. If you want to be a professional musician, you need to have a good violin.

October 26, 2013 at 12:28 PM · Haven't read your other complaints about your violin, but this one sounds like your violin maker has little knowledge.

I know that in many countries there are no regulations for claiming a profession. Here in Germany one must go thru a long and difficult training before qualifying as a master and being allowed to run a business.

I think it would be time to consult such a qualified luthier.

Is there anything left inside the fiddle that's causing the problems? Fibres? Dust?

I won't tell what I think of randomly sanding the inside with magnets. AFAIK good violin makers don't sand, they plane and use scrapers.

Edit: Just seen you're in Finland. They have some of the finest instrument makers of the world (I play two Ruokangas guitars). Good luck!

October 26, 2013 at 12:39 PM · Life is too short for playing a bad instrument. If you can't solve it with the maker, move to a better instrument.

Perhaps your maker could be another instrument to you.

Just met Aleksi Santavuori for some violin and vila test driving here, he is principal with the Lahti Symphony, such a nice player.

October 26, 2013 at 01:41 PM · In the previous thread, after listening to some sound files, it was my strong opinion that the problem was a mismatch between the instrument and the playing style... i.e. a high performance violin not performing well with light bow pressure and slow bow speed. I recommended against removing any wood, which would make the mismatch even wider.

I don't think the violin is "bad", as it likely will do quite well for for a high-power player. It just isn't the right one for every player.

October 26, 2013 at 08:01 PM · Thanks for replying!

Yes Finland has great instrument makers, and this violin is beautifully built it's just that the maker has little experience of setting up instruments to their full potential.

A fellow violinist.com member gave him the advice to use magnets, after reading my post, otherwise the maker would have opened up the violin. I could contact him if he doesn't read this and ask why this happened. I know by now that my violin is extremely sensitive to adjustments, i just need someone with experience to handle it. I want my violin to have a clear tone that doesn't break or distort, without loosing it's power.. Because its's on the darker mellower side and needs a little volume to project. If it looses it's power it's not as good anymore. I must confess i'm still very much in love with it.. And even if i had the money i would have a hard time finding someone like "him". But that is not an option for me since i could not afford another violin.. Not even a set up.. I would have to travel to Tampere or Helsinki to get a good set up. That,s 4-5 hours by train. The violin is responding on the G and D now and i hope it will stay that way, because on a bad day no amount of bow pressure could get it going well enough for any violinist to be satisfied i believe. Smiley that is very kind of you! And i will gladly accept if your offer still stands :)

October 28, 2013 at 12:26 PM · I did read in the New Scientist some years ago basically some of what I now find in http://www.violinresearch.com/acousticaladjustment_022.htm . I gather, too, from repairers that the pitch of the top plate and the pitch of the base bar need to match. If the sanding of the top plate made the base bar and top plate match less than they had, this could partly explain the problem.

The very idea of a luthier having qualms about opening up a violin ... !!!!!

October 28, 2013 at 01:42 PM · Pitch of the top and pitch of the base bar have to match: sorry you lost me there. What interval were you thinking of?

Substantial changes to the top -eg thinning a really fat top on an old Saxon instrument (with apologies to Lyndon and others) often will require a new -particularly longer - base bar to better support the top.

(Or replacement of the carved-in basebar)

Sounds like the changes here were only miniscule,

so no need to fiddle with the base bar.

Maybe the reason the luthier wouldn't want to open the top was consideration for his clients' finances, not a reluctance.

October 28, 2013 at 09:28 PM · "I did read in the New Scientist some years ago basically some of what I now find in http://www.violinresearch.com/acousticaladjustment_022.htm . I gather, too, from repairers that the pitch of the top plate and the pitch of the base bar need to match. If the sanding of the top plate made the base bar and top plate match less than they had, this could partly explain the problem.

The very idea of a luthier having qualms about opening up a violin ... !!!!! "


Oh dear!

Just to pick the most easily and quickly addressed issue out of what you've said:

Any decently trained luthier would have (or should have) serious qualms about opening a violin.

October 28, 2013 at 10:16 PM · Sorry, I was influenced by a story I heard many years ago about William Ebsworth Hill from one of Pat Naismith's students.

October 28, 2013 at 10:38 PM · "Any decently trained luthier would have (or should have) serious qualms about opening a violin."

... Or making any irreversible changes without having a high degree of confidence that they know what the problem is, and how to fix it.

October 29, 2013 at 08:49 AM · Hi Sarah,

Sorry to hear about your story, I've been through similar problem where the instrument getting in the way of my progress.

I would have given up by now if I'm you, get a new violin and move on.

What I had learned in the end was that technique is more important than anything else, you'll feel more confident with good technique and able to make "your" sound on any instrument. However, you won't be able to learn this if you don't even have a reliable violin to start with.

October 29, 2013 at 02:05 PM · Typically, maker's warranty will cover the quality of workmanship and guarantee that good material was used.

Sound quality over long period of time is not covered. That is one of the reasons many violin players are hesitant to buy a new instrument.

No violin maker wants a bad reputation and that is your best argument in this unfortunate situation.

You have been more than patient, even allowed him to use your violin as a guinea pig. Now it is time to confront him and ask for your money back or a new violin. Ideally, you would like to walk away from this situation with the least financial loss possible.

You may also want to consult a lawyer to learn what your rights are.

October 29, 2013 at 02:43 PM · "Sound quality over long period of time is not covered. That is one of the reasons many violin players are hesitant to buy a new instrument."

Many makers will cover eventual dissatisfaction, even if it's not an officially stated policy or a contractual obligation. I think it's a good idea for a maker to keep some money on hand to buy an instrument back in situations like that, or at least offer to make another instrument and swap. Situations like Sarah's reflect badly on all of us makers, and that's a darned shame.

October 29, 2013 at 06:46 PM · wow. its sad to hear youre still having problems with your violin. I remember you seemed so attached to it and didnt want to give it up at all. Its a very unfortunate position for you and the maker. If there arent any more violins he has that you like, would it be wise to ask him to make you another? Perhaps he could give you a loaner to use until he can pay you back? Another way could be if you dont have faith in him to set it up, maybe he can make you one in the white or vanished but not set up? You can then take it to someone else to finish it up and he covers the bill? It seems you wanna spare his feelings but youre at the end of your rope. hopefully one of these ideas can help you find a way to part ways on a friendly note. (no pun intended at all [and now feel bad for making a pun])

October 29, 2013 at 10:58 PM · I want to set things straight.. My violin maker is a wonderful person and i concider him a friend. He has put up with me through all this, and has done everything in his power to fix the violin.. Some makers would have called me crazy a long time ago, because if the soundpost and set up is not exactly how i want it, i will complain and make him do it all over again.. He's kind and patient. He has been put under a lot of stress just like me.. Because this could hurt his career.

He has done all work on the violin for free and he has offered me to trade the violin if he makes one that i will like. He once told me that he was concidering lowering the price of the violin because of all this.. But i want to support his work.. And other living violin makers, and promote new instruments wich i feel can be every bit as good as the old masters instruments.

My violin has been working for 3 weeks now.. Normally it would only last about 6 days after a set up before G and D would stop responding again. So let's assume that the problem is solved. The maker doesn't have any responsibilty to do anything for free anymore. The violin might not sound as it did when i bought it.. But what violin will sound the same after being played for 2 years and had a lot of different set ups?!, i can't demand anything from him anymore. I need someone that knows how to set up a violin, to get good tone and power. Okay maybe i could demand him to try to fix it, since it was the sanding that caused the problem, but i belive he doesn't really know what to do about it. It will only cause frustration for both of us. Either i accept things as they are or i find someone that says "Hey i know what to do"

(And hope he's not too expensive ;)

Whew! Long post again! Thanks for reading! :)

October 29, 2013 at 11:56 PM · Am I mistaken in thinking he should know how to set up a violin? If he can make one why can't he set one up?

October 30, 2013 at 12:07 AM · Ability to set up violins well has much to do with experience, and busy repair people can have a lot more experience with set up than people who only make, just because they in the course of their work set up a lot of violins compared to the maker whos is usually making, not setting up. I hear a lot of newer makers even resort to having a professionals set up the violins they make, just because they don't feel as experinced at it. Of course there are exceptions to this trend, largely based on natural talent and ability or lack thereof!!

October 30, 2013 at 12:13 AM · N. A. Mohr - constructing and setting up can, I believe, be two very different kettles of fish. Reading everything on here and other boards, and talking to many people, it seems that many luthiers through their training decide to specialise and become masters in 'set up'. I'm still bewildered by the ambivalence in this thread - willing to go to such time and distress and cost, but not follow up on some of the very sensible suggestions that would have required only as much or even a little less? But hopefully it will work out in the end.

October 30, 2013 at 12:43 AM · I suppose I was thinking that if you make a violin, you hopefully set it up as part of the process...and then adjust as necessary to get the best sound out of it...before you consider it to be 'finished'.

Maybe I didn't consider all the options. I take my violin to my luthier (who made it). I also take other instruments to him if he has time to look at them...

October 30, 2013 at 08:57 AM · might i suggest it's your expectations that are a little askew. you are not alone in this - some days my fiddle sounds fabulous and some days ... not ...

might i also suggest that you buy a mature, experienced (cheap!) german-made violin off ebay - call it "kurt" or "raoul" or "mahmood" - and play it and only it till you begin to feel that this sordid affair simply can not go on any longer - then return to the warm, forgiving embrace of your first true love - with all your doubts, fears and misgivings allayed.

- "agony aunt" bill

October 30, 2013 at 09:28 AM · Another factor is that through all this YOU have changed: you've listened to your instrument and have struggled with the perceived failings and treatments. Is it possible that you are now hearing the violin for what it is not what it was?

I don't suppose you have recordings before/after the corrections?

I mention this because it has happened to me twice: in neither case did the violin change, just my ear and also my needs. I'm going through the same process now - there is actually nothing wrong with my current violin, its a very fine fiddle, but it does not meet my current needs or expectations.

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