Part 2: Accessories: I have invented this tail piece which greatly improves the sound. You can make it yourself for less than a dollar.

April 13, 2014 at 05:58 AM · This is John Schneider's original post, slightly edited for clarification:

I (John Schneider) have designed a new stringed instrument tail piece. It greatly enhances the resonance and power of all bowed, stringed instruments. It compliments my new bridge and together they make any violin sound like a Strad! Here is how to build your own new violin tail piece. To build this design for larger stringed instruments you must increase the strength of these component parts I explain how to use. Email for more info.

1- Go to Home Depot, etc. and buy a pack of stainless steel braided picture hanging wire. Get the strongest type. It comes in a rack card. Next, if you are doing a violin, buy a 3/8 inch round brass tube. They come in foot long lengths and have a wall thickness of about 1/64 inch.

2- For violins cut a one and 1/4 inch (1 1/4") length of tube and drill four 3/32 inch holes equally spaced by 1/4 inch in the center of the length of that section of tube. Only drill through one side of the tube. That will leave 1/4 inch space between each end of the tube and the beginning of the line of 4 side by side anchor holes for your strings.

3- Remove all burrs. 4- Unwind two stainless steel wire strands 13 3/8 inches long from the picture hanging wire cable. Leave these two wires braided around each other. Pass one end of this cable end to end through the brass tube and tie this cable's ends together with a double knot forming a closed loop Leave your knot outside the tube for now. 5-String your violin strings from the inside of the tube to the outside of said tube. Put them in their proper order one into each hole using the end knot or end fitting of each string inside the tube to block it from coming out of the hole. This will leave each string hanging out of the side of the tube for the entire length of each string. 6- Slip the steel cable knot so it is totally inside the brass tube. 7- Restring your violin by placing the steel cable of your new tail piece around the anchor nut at the end of your violin and then putting the bridge back in place and the strings back in their respective tuning pegs. 8- Tune and play your violin. NOTE: You will experience more violin sound using my new tail piece design because you will be eliminating the sizable block of wood the old style tail piece represents. It absorbs a good bit of the vibrational energy created when you bow your strings. With your new tail piece much of this previously absorbed energy will get to your bridge and down into your violin where it can be magnified and heard. YES, the fine tuning devices which fit only on the string are what you use for fine tuning. I don't use any fine tuning devices since their weight somewhat mutes the sound. In keeping with my research I also designed a new bridge which enhances the sound even further but I am the only one who knows how to build it. I have also composed and registered at the copyright office two new musical works both about 32 minutes long. One is a new symphony and the other is a violin concerto. I have CD sound recordings of both which really sound like a full orchestra is playing them. If you have a job playing with a famous orchestra let me know which one and I will send you a free CD of either work. John S

Replies (58)

April 13, 2014 at 01:02 PM · Dear John Rokos: Thanks ever so much for starting up a new discussion. I agree with you, we need more time to find out if anybody out there has actually had success with my instructions. WE MUST ALSO THANK VIOLINIST.COM for being kind enough to agree to hosting another discussion on my tail piece! One thing missing in my original write up is that the bare stainless steel wire I used with two strands wound together is .020 inches in diameter for each strand. I have had a year's experience with that so I know it is more than sufficient to hold all four string's tension with no danger of breaking. Another victory yesterday was I also got my friend John Woodfield's playing on you tube at http://youtu.be/4tDyXiEz5sl . The best way to play it is go to "you tube" and in the address bar at top left type in Ashokan. You should get the response Ashokan by Woodfield. If that doesn't work go to the search bar in the center and type in Ashokan by Woodfield. Then when it comes up in a listing at the top of the page click on it. Just click on it and give it a minute to load. It will play with quite a resonance. John Woodfield says in his email to me that his recording method overemphasized the overtones so please don't fault his effort. It was the recording hardware to blame. It proves however that the overtones are there big time. I can say when you hear this first hand from a violin it really makes a wonderful resonance second to no other violin sound I have ever heard! I will help this project along by putting my money where my mouth is. I will mail any serious player a free Schneider tail piece in July if they ask by email to have one. My email is jarms2@earthlink.net. Remember to send me your address along with your request. All I ask is that once you have played with it on your violin that you send me an email explaining your results! If you don't like it please give it to another violin playing friend who might like it. John Woodfield agreed that I could copy his email and publish it. John Woodfield has won first place with a national award in England for the tonal qualities of the violins he makes so I am sure he has all the credentials needed to judge my tail piece! Here is his email: " ....it's strange, but I find that your brass tail piece has assumed the new position (tilted away from the G) quite of its own accord. I have fitted it to an old violin that I found in pieces many years ago and have only just got round to restoring and fitting up. To give you an idea of what it sounds like I attach my rendering of the 'Ashokan Farewell'. This has been recorded using an i pad application called 'Singaling'. Using this has enhanced the reverberation considerably, but the quality of sound resulting from the violin has much to do with your tailpiece. Do feel free to use the recording if you wish but please, if you do, it would only be right to mention the contribution of 'Singaling'. It is an enjoyable app. to use and a useful one too." --- Thanks so much John Woodfield for your kindness in commenting about your success with my new tail piece! Best wishes to all of you violin.com readers who have decided to spend a buck and try making this gift of mine to the violin world. Something so good can't be ignored forever! I WILL ADD THAT, AS JOHN WOODFIELD COMMENTED - the brass tube seeks to automatically position itself at an angle to the bridge in response to the differing amounts of tension on each string! Could this help explain some of the improvement in the quality of sound this idea produces? John

April 15, 2014 at 12:02 PM · John S, I've just re-read your original post. Not having heard your symphony or violin concerto, I don't know whether to suggest that you write a viola concerto, an oratorio based on Joseph Alleine's "An Alarm To The Unconverted", both, or not bother.

April 15, 2014 at 02:32 PM · Dear John Cadd: Thanks for your knowledgeable remarks. Again, all I can go by is my own experiences during my years of research. I have had no trouble tuning even without fine tuners on any of my strings. As I mentioned before, I found that fine tuners mute the sound somewhat so I don't use them as you can see in my photos. To me there is no noticeable delay in tuning time. Maybe after 73 years of tuning I have found out how its done most efficiently. Who knows? I have noticed my violin stays in tune longer with my new tail piece. That may be because there is such a smaller mass that can be effected by temperature and humidity changes. Wood is more hydroscopic than metal so my tail piece being made totally of metal would absorb far less moisture than wood. Best regards, John

April 15, 2014 at 02:43 PM · Dear John Rokos: Again, many thanks for all your interest and help. Thanks for mentioning my compositions. It was a great challenge to do a symphony and then a violin concerto. If you would like disks email me your address at my email which is jarms2@earthlink.net. Your proposals for composition subjects is welcomed but for at least the next several months we are in the process of moving from upstate NY to South Florida. Cleaning out a home you have lived in for 47 years is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemies if I had any! So, I will be tied up and away from composing for some time. I am 80 years old this Easter - in a few days - and by that time will be back in snow country for a few very busy months. When all the dust settles I will try to rekindle my muse! I have started my second symphony but had to stop for these other chores. But thanks again for your interest. John

April 17, 2014 at 06:14 AM · I can completely agree with you John. I have found that accidents can turn into blessings for seemingly no reason at all. Lucky for me, most of my accidental ideas have worked out to give great improvements to my violins along the way through years of research.

April 17, 2014 at 06:17 AM · Dear John Rokos: I have an idea which I would like to share with you. If you are interested to hear about it please email me at jarms2@earthlink.net. Best regards, John

April 19, 2014 at 09:46 PM · Dear friends: I will be traveling from 4/21 until 4/24 and unable to answer your questions. Please excuse this lapse of a few days. I will be back ASAP.. John

April 21, 2014 at 07:49 PM · Essential reading :-

"Tale Pieces of the Violin World" by Leslie Sheppard.

Listed at £9.95, Ealing Strings, London UK.

April 24, 2014 at 02:13 AM · First thanks Mr. Beck for the book reference. It would seem others have taken up the same question I did! Again, many thanks. We will all get educated together! --------------------------

Dear John: Well, traveled 1350 miles in two days - got home safe but it is still like winter - no leaves on the trees yet! To your questions. No, I only tried the metal tube since I had a selection of brass tubes on hand. Haven't tried a flat piece so don't know if that would work. One thing nice about the tube is that it hides the knot in the SS wire and also the ends of the strings. Most importantly it allows for packing copper foil into it which for some reason improves the violin's sound. I can't explain why I choose these parts over and above other materials and shapes. More experimentation is proper but when I do get these improvements I am happy to keep them intact and as we yanks say "don't look a gift horse in the mouth". My wife and I are in the process of selling our home of 47 years and moving permanently to the house we bought 3 years ago in South Florida. It is going to take most of my time so will have no time for any further experiments for now. Sorry! When we get all of this out of the way who knows? Best regards to all.

April 24, 2014 at 04:19 PM · It is not surprising to read (and hear!) that a different approach to a tail piece produces a different sound. There has been a lot of scientific research done on tail pieces as spring mass systems and how varying the dimensions of the system (mass, geometry, position, etc) can affect overtones.

But there are some things you need to keep in mind.

1. If the tail piece design triggers a strong, sympathetic overtone on certain pitches, it makes the violin difficult to play across many types of works. For example, if I am playing a rising melody with soft dynamic and suddenly a note booms out mid-run, it ruins the effect I am going for.

OTOH, if I get a consistent volume across all overtones across all pitches, then I am in control of when and how I want more volume and overtones. Just move the bow closer to the bridge and bow harder.

2. If the tail piece design triggers a strong overtone but out of phase with the string and body vibration, a pronounced beating or howling sound occurs, known as a wolf tone. It sounds very ugly. Have you tried systematically sliding up the strings and noticing if wolf tones are occurring?

I listened to the recording and I could detect both types of vibration conditions.

3. The tail piece and bridge perform important filtering functions. Yes, by design these components suppress overtones in certain ranges in order to give a violin its classic sound. Bridge and tail piece adjustments can vary for folk fiddling to get the quality of sound that works for folk music, such as recorded by your friend.

Further work might be needed to address the above issues for classical violin. And when you find the dimensions of attachment string and tube weight that achieve sound balance, then you need to make it less ugly. >grin<

April 25, 2014 at 06:53 PM · Dear Mr. Tanzio: Thanks for your interest and expert comments. Thanks for your good ear that gives you insight into the recording I posted on you tube. I appreciate your aid in understanding the subtle differences that cause significant changes in the sound coloration. I know of some very fine folks looking into how my new tail piece sounds to them. I hope they like it. Perhaps they will comment on their results. Thanks again for your great instructions. John

April 26, 2014 at 09:49 PM · Oh boy, If I could get a penny for all the "Make your board sound like a Strad" threads I've seen...

PS: Snake oil alert! I repeat, snake oil alert!

April 29, 2014 at 07:25 PM · Hi to all who have been following this discussion: I have been asked about if my tail piece is actively "filtering" the sounds made by the strings. I can say that yes, all accessories used between the strings and the body of the violin will exert some amount of modification or filtering to the vibrations coming from the strings and headed for the belly wood of the violin's body. I am also sure that physics dictates that as the total weight of such attachments or accessories increases, those various parts, especially the heavy tail piece with its fine tuners and even sometimes a gold decoration, represent in totality an inertial block. This name is well applied since the weight of this inertial block must be started into moving in sympathy with the vibrating strings and until it does it blocks the string's vibrations from getting down and into the body of the violin. It also uses up a portion of the string's vibrational energy since that energy must push the weight of the inertial block enough to get it moving. In the body of the violin whatever vibrations made it that far are amplified and go back out the "F" holes as sound you can hear. Now having weighed regular tail pieces and also my own design I find that my design tops the scale at 1/8 ounce. Regular tail pieces top the scale at 5/8 ounce. These are averages. So, it can be seen that in order to get the regular tail piece vibrating it will require 5 times the energy when compared to my design! That energy goes off into the air and never gets to the body of the violin. So, whatever that amount of energy is, it is lost for purposes of making sound that you can hear. Therein, I believe, is the secret why my tail piece produces a greater sound volume. It is also why the sound produced by a violin using my tail piece has a greater resonance. The delicate overtones coming from the vibrating strings are not blocked as much by my tail piece as they are blocked by the heavier tail pieces now used on every violin being played for some 300 years. Since the weight difference is 5 to 1 you might reasonably expect that my tail piece is five times more efficient at moving the string's vibrations into the body of the violin than are the common tail pieces currently in use. I know that the laws of physics are being faithfully represented by my assertion and so can be relied on to explain why my tail piece makes such an improvement in the sounds coming from any violin where my tail piece is being used. Best regards, John

May 1, 2014 at 06:30 PM · Thanks John for your encouragement: I keep doing trials and am happy to say they all give me added confidence that this is a major improvement for violins. One thing I need to add is that the diameter of each strand of the stainless steel wire I am using is .015 inches. That is 15 thousandths of an inch. I had previously reported it to be .020 inches but a more accurate measurement device has shown it to be more correctly .015 inches. Best regards, John

May 2, 2014 at 04:23 AM · >> So, it can be seen that in order to get the regular tail piece vibrating it will require 5 times the energy when compared to my design!

You are not doing yourself any favors by posting poor physics and then drawing suspicious conclusions.

At the natural frequencies of the tailpiece/ after-string spring-mass system, very little energy is consumed to get it to vibrate. That includes your design and standard designs.

What you have done is shifted where the tail piece harmonics occur while eliminating the filtering feature of a classic tailpiece. The only thing you can claim is that you have altered the sound of the violin.

Is if better? Impossible to tell from that poor quality recording.

A studio quality condenser microphone that plugs directly into a USB port on a computer sells for $70. DAW software to capture and export a high quality recording is free. No excuses for a bad recording of your revolutionary new product.

Get a decent violinist to record a classical piece everyone is familiar with using a decent, though inexpensive, recording setup and you might go places.

May 2, 2014 at 01:19 PM · Dear Mr. Tanzio: Thanks for your note and comments. Everybody seems to think that I am selling this tail piece idea! I am sure it is obvious that I have - from my very first posting on violinist.com - offered this whole idea up as free advice. I am living on social security and have no money ($70.00) to spend trying to convince people who doubt me that my gift to them is an honest one! I wish I did have that money but why would I spend it to do as you say? If people can't make themselves a copy for a few dollars then why should I break my tiny budget trying to convince them to do something they obviously won't do anyhow? - You seem to have a much greater grasp of the physics of the violin then anyone I know of including myself. What I can say with certainty after over 70 years of playing violin is that my violins have much greater power and resonance that they did when I was using the old style tail piece! Other people - one being a national prize winning luther in England - agrees with me after using my tail piece design on his violins! So, I have reason to enjoy his recording even though he himself explains that the sound was distorted. Thanks again for your comments. John

May 4, 2014 at 02:31 AM · Thanks for the insight John: Yes, I have noticed that tuners diminish the sound production of any violin because of the weight they add to the tail piece. After awhile a person gains enough experience that they can tune well and quickly without any fine tuners, even the E string. It's all in the ear although a good electronic tuner as well as a fork type tuner are an enormous help. Another trick is if your string is just a little sharp you can grasp it between your index finger and thumb and pull it aside a few times to stretch it until it lowers a slight bit in its pitch. This is a sort of fine tuner in itself! Best regards, John

May 4, 2014 at 11:19 PM · The "classic" tail pieces you find on violins do vary a little bit in mass and physical dimension.

But they all cause the after-string/tailpiece/gut-string assembly to resonate at roughly the frequency of an open A string.

Changing tailpiece weight and how its distributed will shift the resonance a bit up or down, but not hugely so. Just enough to enable you to match it to maybe the fundamental resonance of the top plate or the second mode of the air box.

The gut-string length is the other factor that will enable you to get the tailpiece assembly to match the plate or air box resonance.

This may or may not be a good thing depending on how dramatically it affects the movement of the bridge. That is why adjustment of the tailpiece assembly is a bit of a black art.

A simple thing you can try is install light a weight tailpiece to have the resonance well above air box or body modes. Then stick lead tape to various positions of the tailpiece and listen to how it affects tone and play-ability.

Low cost, highly sensitive mics are now available that can be coupled to free, sophisticated sound analysis software. If you have a computer in your home or office, it is possible to detect the various basic resonances of your violin and play around with those you can control.

May 5, 2014 at 03:31 PM · Hello Mr. Tanzio: Yes, you have some very good advice and thank you for it. It is very helpful when people are happy to share their knowledge with others. That is what I have also tried to do. The problem is that most people are satisfied with the status of things as they have been handed down from their ancestors. What was good enough for papa is good enough for me. Until some new idea is adopted by the experts nothing much changes. The problem is that most experts I have come across in my efforts to introduce - for instance a life saving saddle to horse riders or a new type of high speed train to Amtrack - have all been ignored. It looks like not many people are going to spend a couple dollars to build this new tail piece either. I keep truthfully telling everyone about its great improvement in the power and resonance it produces from any standard violin. So, I wonder if anyone is out there listening? A few people like yourself are but how many will build a tail piece for themselves? I know of a few but they haven't written about their results yet. I am going to try to get a free submission of hopefully a proper sound video of my playing with the tail piece onto you tube soon. Best regards, John

May 7, 2014 at 04:03 PM · Dear John: I know that trial and error played a prominent part in the development of the violin. Back 300+ years ago there were no electronic devices they could have used to discover improvements. Even today, after so many people for so many years with all their electronics have examined the great violins, they haven't been able to quantify greatness or any of its aspects! Recently the TV news programs have been reporting on maestro Meyers being given lifetime use of a Del Gesu. Ms. Meyers stated that it is an outstanding example of that maker's work since it had escaped the fate of so many of his creations at the hands of luthiers. These many infamous luthiers were rash and dumb enough to think they could improve the sound by scraping away wood from the inside of so many of his great violins. What needless desecration! They only succeeded in reducing the sound! So much for head strong luthiers who thought they knew better than Del Gesu. These same people still turn up to criticize others. Although I am no Del Gesu, I can honestly testify to knowing how to most efficiently use trial and error methods. I went through about ten years of that same process myself in finally coming up with my tail piece design. How have your trials with that tail piece gone? I remember the famous painting of Stradivarius sitting gazing at one of his violins with his other hand on his chin deep in thought. The artist shows his brain working overtime to try and come up with yet more improvements. As you know, many investigators with many different kinds of sound testing equipment have for years tried to identify the secrets all rolled up in one of his violins to no avail. So, to ask how much of an improvement the variations in rib thicknesses makes is asking something I can't answer nor I think can anybody else. Of course, many luthiers will try to make you believe they really know! As to my statement about my tail piece for less than a dollar - that is true. When you price out the amount of brass tube and stainless steel wire used to make one tail piece it comes to less than a dollar. You, of course, can make many tail pieces out of a roll of stainless steel wire and also several tail pieces out of one length of brass tube as it comes from the hardware store. As to my claim that my tail piece makes a violin sound like a Strad. I can say that anyone reading that would have obviously identified my statement as my personal opinion. However my opinion is backed by over 70 years of violin playing and many trips to the symphony halls to hear the great artists play on their violins made by the old masters. I was never claiming equality with the old masters. The improvement my tail piece makes in both my violins and in my English luther friend's violin when he tried it makes the old adage "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" come alive. An obvious violinist's addition to that old saying would be " Beauty is in the ear of the listener." Ask any new mother about the beauty in their new baby's cry! Best regards, John

May 8, 2014 at 01:00 PM · Ancient violins that are still publicly played have undergone significant changes: neck angle and bass bar to name just two.

Yes, bad luthiers are bad. But good luthiers have improved the old violins. Knowledge on how to improve violins did not stop with the death of Stradivarius.

Electronics can quantify greatness. Science has progressed to the point where spectrographic analysis can identify the profile of a great sounding violin and problem areas in a bad one.

The research is there and available to anyone willing to spend a little time browsing the internet.

The two most recent double blind studies of old versus new demonstrates, quite convincingly, that the secret of the Old Masters is that there is no secret.

Old Masters figured out how changes to a part of a violin translated into sound. Now, thanks to science, Modern Masters can UNDERSTAND why the changes work and deliberately create a variety of tone and play-ability profiles that at least match those great, old violins.

May 11, 2014 at 02:31 AM · Dear John, Carmen and other friends: At 80 years of age I grew up in a culture that had little ongoing adult education. No internet, TV, and the radio shows and movies gave little in the way of adult education. So people relied for their wisdom on old sayings developed by their ancestors. One I remember was often used by my mother when she advised me that "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." How true even in these days when our tax dollars are spent by government researchers bent on finding out how the insects procreate and so on. Well, we have been provided with many important facts about how bridges and tail pieces respond to string vibrations during our interesting discussions but as mom would always say the proof is trying the idea to see if it works. ----- One thing still has me guessing and that is modern violin making. I am sure as you said Carmen that some modern makers can equal the sound of violins made by the old masters. So, why do modern maestros still want to have above all else a violin made by Strad or Del Gesu when they are standing out there all alone making their living by their talent and great composure? I marvel at their abilities and wish I had just a small portion of their strength to perform perfectly under enormous pressure! They didn't get that from any book! So, what is it that makes them want the very best and that being a Strad or Del Gesu? Best regards, John

May 11, 2014 at 04:10 AM · " So, what is it that makes them want the very best and that being a Strad or Del Gesu?"

"Best" is nearly always subjective, especially when it comes to evaluating tone and responsiveness.

In today's image driven world perception is king and it never hurts promotional efforts for the public to consider they are hearing the best of the best.

May 12, 2014 at 01:14 AM · >> why do modern maestros still want to have above all else a violin made by Strad or Del Gesu ...

The premise of your question is not necessarily true. There are crappy Strads and del Gesus that sit in museums because no one wants to play them.

You should look up the Indianapolis and Paris double blind tests. If you truly believe the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, then why not consult actual taste tests which showed well crafted, new violins are every bit as good as old ones?

A top-of-the-line, modern, magnificent looking and sounding soloist violin will run you $50k to $100k. A magnificent looking and sounding Strad or del Gesu runs into the millions. But you are also playing a piece of history. IF you had the option, which would you choose?

Haven't enough promising careers been ruined when philanthropists recalled rare instruments and the players and their families bought into the notion that nothing can sound as good as an old violin?

If I had a million dollars to donate to musical charity, I'd consider contracting the handful of fabulous, modern makers and get a million dollars worth of their best violins. Maybe 15 to 20 violins. Lend those out to developing talented players then sit back and enjoy how they are playing rather than judging them on what they are playing.

May 12, 2014 at 02:16 PM · Thank you all John, Carmen and David: I have learned a lot from all your comments and hope other readers have done likewise. It seems to boil down to a few reasons modern maestros want the old master's violins. 1 - Famous things help draw a crowd - witness the many recent TV news shows giving well deserved time to maestro Meyer's Del Gesu. 2- In most cases good to excellent playing qualities. 3- The thrill of holding and perhaps owning something so rare and so old. Does that cover it? -- When I quoted the old saying "The proof of the pudding .." I had an ulterior motive. Not only was I alluding to people selecting a violin which pleases their own hearing but secondly I was hoping to encourage someone to try my tail piece! Best regards to all, John

May 15, 2014 at 12:34 AM · A wolf tone occurs when two resonances compete against each other. They are both being excited by the same force, but they are out of phase with each other and can cause a loud, dissonant or unfocused sound.

In the example of the tailpiece, your bow is pumping energy into the string which causes a triangular shaped wave to travel from the bridge to the nut, reverse amplitude, then travel back.

A similar wave is sent down the after strings to the tailpiece. Because of the dramatic weight and stiffness difference, a wave is reflected back while some of the energy continues down the tailpiece.

When it exits the tailpiece near the gut string, part of the wave reflects back and part continues to the saddle where is is reflected back up. So you have a rather complicated series of wave reflections going on that all eventually get back to the bridge with varying amounts of energy.

When they get back to the bridge, they may tug at the bridge in a direction opposed to a clean standing wave on the string side. This introduces extra frequencies into the violin where it may accumulate and be amplified.

If these frequencies are an integer multiple of the string frequency, and are in phase with it, an harmonically rich and pleasant sound ensues.

If they are out of phase, a "beating" or "pulsing" tone will be noticed.

If they are not an integer multiple of the string frequency, the sound becomes unfocused and in the case of strong tailpiece resonance, dissonant and ugly.

In the worst case, the projected sound jumps quickly and erratically between the string and tailpiece frequencies and create the characteristic wolf sound.

May 15, 2014 at 12:47 AM · @John (Cadd)

The sound of my 12-year old Jay Haide substantially improved when I fitted a Baroque tailpiece (with real gut). The string setup is plain gut A and D, covered gut Chorda G, and a Pirastro Gold E complete with an on-string Suzuki tuner - peg tuning of a steel E is just a shade too impracticable for chamber orchestra playing. A healthy resonance, and no wolves anywhere.

The tailpiece was made by a local luthier.

May 15, 2014 at 03:02 AM · Dear folks: I have never heard a wolf note from my two violins each fitted with my new tail piece. None of the notes I get from my violins sound unnatural to me and at 80 years of age I have been playing violin for over 70 years! The notes I get from my violins are very pleasant to my ear. A national prize winning English luthier, John Woodfield has my tail piece on his violin and has not once complained about any bad notes coming from his violin! I am expecting an electronic evaluation of my tail piece to be available soon and expect no bad notes will be in evidence. Best regards, John

May 15, 2014 at 02:05 PM · Dear friends: I am always thankful for your interest in this new concept of a violin tail piece. Your comments are greatly educational and appreciated. I have been reading all of them completely through as you might expect and have been struck by the several explanations given which seek to let people understand when they are hearing a "wolf note". I must admit to still being confused as to if I have ever heard one. I suspect because of the name it must sound something like a wolf howling. But even though I have played many a bad note I can't say my playing has ever sounded a note quite like a wolf's howl! I am encouraged however knowing that soon this new tail piece will undergo a promised examination using an oscilloscope. I guess that will reveal wolf notes. I guess they will probably appear as badly shaped wave forms that stand out when compared to the other normal notes. It would be helpful though if those of you who have been kind enough to explain wolf notes to us could provide us ahead of these promised test results with what a wolf note looks like on an oscilloscope tube's display. Do any of you have such a picture? Please let us know as soon as possible so it can be used to identify any such oscilloscope image of a wolf note which might show up during these promised tests. Best regards, John

May 15, 2014 at 02:39 PM · Here is a link with sound and spectrograph examples taken from a cello.

http://chelsealouisegrant.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/wolf-tones-pt-2/

A little explanation of the graphs might be in order if you have never encountered them before.

Most people are familiar with an amplitude vs time graph. That is the rapidly varying line up and down as you travel along the horizontal axis. The horizontal axis is time, and the vertical axis is amplitude or vibration strength, sometimes converted into a decibel scale.

What you might not understand is the colored graphs.

Again, the horizontal axis is time, but the vertical axis is frequency.

The amplitude is encoded as a color. White for very little amplitude, blues for moderate, and reds for strong. This gives you a real quick view into the harmonic content.

If you look at graph for a "normal" note, you can see strong colored bands grouped close together and rapidly vanishing as you go up in frequency. Each horizontal band tends to be consistently colored, which means that frequency is strong and consistent.

If you look at the graph for a wolf note, you can see a mess of varying colored bands. A particular frequency comes in and out of focus as competing resonances erratically reinforce and cancel each other.

A suggested setup: a large diaphragm condenser mic, USB Audio Interface so it can plug directly into a computer without the need for additional hardware.

Adjust the internal gain (also called the line-level or analog gain)until the loudest played note won't cause the amplitude graph to top or bottom out. You can use a freeware program, like Audacity, to easily control the mic and capture the test.

Play a long note on each open string.

Then play strong notes closer to the bridge while you slowly slide your finger up each string. If you hear a sudden resonance or strange sound, move your finger around that area of the string to maximize that sound and get a good capture of it.

You want to use 24bit recording with at least a 44.1k sample rate. 48k is better but not always supported by all USB Audio mics. The file can then be sent to anyone with the software to do spectrum analysis.

May 15, 2014 at 10:33 PM · As the old adage says, a picture is worth a thousand words. Thank you, Carmen!

I guess it should be possible with an advanced audio editor to filter out those very specific wolf note frequencies from a recording.

As a cellist I know that the wolf on the cello G (often at F-nat or F#) can be considerably reduced by a brass sleeve screwed onto the after-length of the G in a specific location corresponding to the location of the wolf on the main string. The main drawback, which may be necessary to live with, is that the brass sleeve also has a slight muting effect on the G, but nothing like as obvious as a real mute on the bridge.

Choice of string is an important factor; a relative low tension G (perhaps gut) sometimes "wolfs" less than a high tension synthetic.

A mute usually kills the wolf, not only on the cello but also on the violin and viola. This seems to indicate, certainly in the case of the cello, that the vibration of the bridge is a further important factor. Perhaps someone would like to comment on this hypothesis.

May 16, 2014 at 02:04 PM · Extending the after length of the strings almost down to the saddle should eliminate quite a few dynamic interactions. My initial reaction is that it will encourage the bridge to vibrate more freely.

It might also make the sound of the after strings under the ear more prominent to the point where they start to project to the audience. The primary pitch at which the after strings vibrate is fixed. So as you finger different notes, you are going to have non-harmonic tones projecting with your fingered notes.

It should be interesting to hear what happens with your test.

May 16, 2014 at 02:32 PM · WOW WOW WOW I never dreamed I was starting such an investigation into violin physics! This has moved far beyond my expectations and that is good. Go at it fellows! I to am waiting for your results John. I wish you well! As I said earlier, my efforts are on hold until I get this New York house sold and then move to Florida. By the way John, how did you like my symphony? Best regards to all, John

May 16, 2014 at 02:38 PM · PS. I must thank you Carmen for your link to the wolf note study. I still wonder if there is any similar information available for the violin? John

May 17, 2014 at 10:11 AM · Most violins sound best with tailpieces of roughly conventional mass and configuration. That shouldn't come as a surprise, because violins are usually constructed with conventional setups in mind, and are optimized for those setups during construction. And our model of "ideal sound" typically comes from antique instruments with conventional setups. Outcomes can be different when unusually constructed instruments, and offbeat tastes in sound come into play.

People have been dinking with this stuff for hundreds of years, and there are even numerous patents for various sound-improving gizmos, which the public apparently wasn't nearly as enamored with as the inventor. ;-)

With the exception of changes in the necks, bass bars, strings and fingerboards, and the addition of chinrests and shoulder rests, almost no major experimental changes have had any staying power.

May 18, 2014 at 01:11 PM · Dear John: Thanks for your analysis. Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in the ear of the listener! If you want a different aspect in the after length string positions just tie a new knot in the steel cable which overlays the original knot. This will of course shorten the steel cable and make the after length of your playing strings longer. When I say after length I mean the distance between the bridge and the ends of the playing strings. If you get your bridge upright and 90 degrees to the violin's belly it of course stay in that position. I have also found the strings stay in tune longer. As far as the difference in sound, that is a matter of taste and to my way of thinking something I have not been able to hear when I play. Thanks again - my understanding of what I am hearing with my new tail piece is that it is all so much better than with the old tail piece that I will never go back. If the old masters had nice brass tube and good stainless steel wire they might well have come up with the same thing I have! John

May 18, 2014 at 04:56 PM · I did not catch your wolf note/violin thread. I'll see if I can dig it up.

The wolf note problem most typically occurs when two strong resonances are close to each other and sounded by different parts of the instrument. For example, violins are prone to a wolf note when one of the prominent body resonances is close to one of the prominent air box resonances.

When you play a note close to these resonances, they take turns sucking up the energy you are putting into the instrument.

You can either separate the resonances, or mute one of them (essentially adding something that absorbs energy.) It sounds like some of the changes you made played with both approaches.

May 18, 2014 at 05:55 PM · "The wolf note problem most typically occurs when two strong resonances are close to each other and sounded by different parts of the instrument. For example, violins are prone to a wolf note when one of the prominent body resonances is close to one of the prominent air box resonances."

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Carmen, it's more like an interference between a main body resonance, and the string itself.

The primary wolf tends to be on the note where the top vibrates with the greatest motion. When the top vibrates at this frequency, it feeds this "excessive" vibration back through the bridge, and destabilizes the vibration of the string (it is no longer "normal" string motion), and also the way the bow hair interacts with the string.

It's as if the string were being played by two different sources at the same time, at slightly different pitches: The bow, and also feedback from vibrating top and bridge.

The usual way of reducing the wolf is to damp the vibration of the top at that frequency, so it doesn't feed as much amplitude back into the string.

That's kind of the oversimplified explanation. It's also possible to go into other factors, like the measured vibrating length of the string, versus the virtual length. These values are slightly different, because the bridge isn't actually a fixed termination, or a nodal point. The upper nut comes much closer to behaving like an actual end point for the string than the moving bridge does.

You sound like someone with some physics and acoustics training, so you'll probably understand what I'm talking about.

May 19, 2014 at 10:19 AM · Trevor wrote:

"A mute usually kills the wolf, not only on the cello but also on the violin and viola. This seems to indicate, certainly in the case of the cello, that the vibration of the bridge is a further important factor. Perhaps someone would like to comment on this hypothesis."

___________________________

Use of a mute generally results in less energy being fed to the top of the instrument at the frequency where to top tends to "overvibrate", and less of that troublesome vibration being fed back through the bridge to the string.

A mute reduces the strength of many other frequencies as well though, reducing the overall loudness of the instrument, so that's why most wolf eliminators are selective damping devices, damping vibration mostly at the one most troublesome frequency.

May 19, 2014 at 02:40 PM · >> Carmen, it's more like an interference between a main body resonance, and the string itself.

Yes, there is a basic body resonance where the violin bends near where the neck attaches to the violin corpus. This has the effect of feeding back a stretching and releasing motion into the strings.

If there was nothing else competing for the string energy, the two would be mostly in step with each other.

When you play a note which is near an air box frequency and this bending frequency, the two resonances can start competing with each other.

Bows and tailpieces are other parts of the instrument that might have major resonances close to violin modes, so they can be a source of problems.

The challenge is figuring out what parts of the violin are interfering with each other, and then figuring out a good way to stop the problem.

Some well-known makers are very sophisticated with spectral analysis of violins. I would not be surprised to see, in the near future, a computer program become available that lets a luthier profile the harmonics of the major parts of a violin to quickly identify harmonics that may compete with each other.

May 19, 2014 at 04:55 PM · Carmen, quite a few of us makers have been doing that for many years now, myself included.

We also have software available which allows us to see how various parts of a specific violin are actually moving, at just about any relevant frequency.

May 19, 2014 at 06:36 PM · I am always up for an experiment under the scientific method :)

Try as I might to imagine the final product ( the tailpiece) I have a lingering fear of damage to the instrument, primarily the strings. Since my main violin is an old French instrument, I have it strung up with gut strings as it was designed to use, for the best tone. The thought of gut string knots in a metal tube sounds like a broken string waiting to happen. Does this mean I should use synthetic strings / a different instrument all together?

May 19, 2014 at 10:32 PM · "The biggest nuisance with the design is the way the wire loop can suddenly slip around the endpin when tuning up and put the tube in a peculiar tilted position."

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Maybe it would help to make a 540 degree wrap around the endbutton, rather than a 180? An extra wrap, in other words?

May 19, 2014 at 10:47 PM · Dear John and David: The steel cable allows the tube to slant in proportion to the tension on the strings. That slant is something you won't get away from and it enhances the quality of sound coming from your strings. Yes, David, I have tried the double wrap you suggest and it will slow down the slanting tendency of the tube but not eliminate it. I think the slanting is actually a good thing for the sound. John

May 20, 2014 at 12:52 AM · I'm afraid that your understanding of basic mechanical engineering is weak enough, that I won't have time to take issue with everything you have professed in the two threads.

Rather than trying to provide technical explanations, perhaps you should stick to,

"Try it, maybe you'll like it, and maybe you won't". :-)

May 20, 2014 at 02:41 AM · Dear David: Perhaps because of your great understanding, beyond that which I have exhibited in inventing this new tail piece, you would be kind enough to explain to all of us why the brass tube continues to seek a position that exhibits a decided tilt in relation to the bridge. This tilt is always in the same direction and at the same angle. Thanks, John

May 20, 2014 at 03:21 AM · The tension in the E string is much greater than the tension in the other 3 strings. Because the geometry of the tailpiece assembly is symmetric about the center line of the violin, this causes an unbalanced force that must be compensated somehow.

If it was just a matter of allowing the tailpiece to "slant", it would slant in such a way so as to reduce the tension in the E string. That would make it pretty tough to tune the violin.

What happens is frictional forces develop around the gut string, button and saddle because that section is so stiff and unyielding. So you can have unequal tension in the gut string. That offsets the unequal tension coming across the after-strings.

What is probably happening with the brass tube assembly is initially you get some friction around the button and saddle to let the steel wire compensate.

But because that section is rather flexible, when you play, the frictional forces will fail a bit here and there, causing the steel wire to pull around the button and saddle. The strings will go out of tune.

The brass tube would have to shift off center enough to balance the forces, but I doubt slanting of the tube would be a way for it to settle into a stable position. I think you will need to lock the steel wire around the button or else keeping the violin in tune might be an ongoing problem.

May 20, 2014 at 03:32 AM · On the question of wood for the violin: it is a balancing act between density and strength.

With a light density wood, you can get the top plate tuned to the frequencies of interest without the need to make the plate so thin that it cannot support the downward force of the bridge and the bending force of the tensioned strings.

Spruce is just about the ideal wood in terms of density versus strength.

My understanding is that the back plate mostly reflects sound, so there is more leeway on what can be used there.

I was recently reading articles on composite violins. For many years now, the aerospace industry has been using engineered plates to get high strength is certain directions, flexibility in others, and of course low weight.

This stuff is essentially mineral or metal fibers, like carbon, graphite or tungsten, aligned in a plastic base. It is very machinable and can be formed and tuned just like a wedge of spruce.

Supposedly the sound quality is great, but they make one incredibly ugly violin.

May 20, 2014 at 11:05 AM · Dear Carmen: Thank you for all your contributions to this discussion. They have all been very enlightening for me. I enjoy reading them in part because of your patience in explaining your points with such a dignity of vocabulary. I would hope someday that you might have the chance to try one of my tail piece assemblies. I have been engaged in testing it to find its qualities for years and have already mentioned how well my violins which use it stay in tune. For days on end I have no need to twist any of my tuning pegs. This tendency to hold pitch is one more of the outstanding features of my design. Best regards, John

May 20, 2014 at 05:19 PM · The last few scientific studies I read on tailpieces reached the conclusion that the material is not important, other than the need to be strong enough to hold the strings without breaking.

The two main factors in tone production were:

- after-string length, and

- relative mass distribution of the tailpiece.

There is no set tailpiece mass or position that is going to work for all violins. The tuning of the top plate, the cut and mass distribution of the bridge and the strings are all things that vary among violins and interact with the tailpiece setup.

I think, practically speaking, go for nicest looking tailpiece you can afford regardless of material, then adjust the gut length (to effectively adjust the after-string length) to avoid any ugly tones and play-ability issues.

For example, I recently lengthened the after-strings of a violin and unstuck a balky G string.

I wish there was an easier way to adjust the gut length other than releasing the strings and adjusting the ferules under the tailpiece. Like maybe a small wheel inserted into the tailpiece that moves a dolly underneath. The gut would be attached to the dolly and allow coarse adjustment of the after-string length.

May 20, 2014 at 07:01 PM · Carmen, are you familiar with the Wittner adjustable tailpiece which lets you adjust the afterlength, on the violin, with a screwdriver?

Third item down on this page:

http://www.johnsonstring.com/cgi-bin/accessorysearch/accessorysearch.cgi?select1=TPWIVN&file=tailpieces_wittner_vn&forcestyle=4

May 20, 2014 at 08:13 PM · >> ...Wittner adjustable tailpiece...

Cool beans! That's like 0.2 of an inch adjustment. Thanks.

May 21, 2014 at 03:40 AM · A heavier tailpiece is neither inherently better or worse than a lighter one.

The dominant modes are rocking and twisting movements. A light tailpiece can be designed with more of the weight distributed away from the center of gravity than a heavier tailpiece. The result could be that the lighter tailpiece appears "heavier" in the rocking and twisting modes.

Something to keep in mind is that there are sounds "under the ear" that simply do not project into the audience. For example, you can make a fuss over the tuning of the after-strings, but the reality is they project no energy of significance beyond the player.

Whatever frequency you tune them to by adjusting the tailpiece position, it matters only if some of the modes reinforce or interfere with the movement of the bridge.

May 21, 2014 at 11:53 PM · "Inertia is what we should be talking about I suppose. Have you excluded different woods or materials from the discussion ? I changed from a rosewood tailpiece back to an ebony tailpiece last week but made sure to adjust the weight so that the ebony one was exactly the same weight .It sounded different to me. But that means less than nothing on a violin forum ."

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If you got the mass distribution (not just the total weight) exactly the same, the afterlength exactly the same, the free length of the tailgut exactly the same, and the hole spacing ON BOTH ENDS exactly the same, the rosewood and the ebony tailpiece would probably sound the same.

I think much of the belief about different tailpiece materials sounding different comes from the host of other variables which can come into play, and are not taken into account.

Where did tailpiece makers get the idea that scooping out made the tailpieces more resonant ?

Beats me. Marketing hype? They aren't necessarily more resonant. Like Carmen said, it depends on the fiddle.

May 22, 2014 at 03:34 AM · Think of the tailpiece as two different systems:

1. A rigid body with six inertias (3 translational and 3 rotational) suspended by springs (after-strings and gut string).

These movements have a direct, measurable impact on the movement of the bridge, and therefore the energy that gets into the violin and amplified.

2. An elastic body through which sound can travel. Deformation modes of the tailpiece, damping versus frequency, and an effect known as dispersion all come into play.

But what sound does get to and travel through the tailpiece has little measurable effect on the bridge. You might be able to hear it under your ear, but it does not get amplified and projected.

If someone advertises a tailpiece as "more resonant", then what exactly does that mean?

Depending on the note you are playing, it can be "less resonant" than other tailpieces if we define resonance as the amplitude of vibration of the tailpiece as the note sounds.

May 23, 2014 at 02:16 AM · With the tailpiece, only the rigid body modes matter. (Unless you make a tailpiece so thin and soft that it will visually bend and twist as you play.)

With a bow, the elastic deformation of the bow "beam" is a property that is deliberately exploited.

I haven't thought much about bow design and materials, but I can appreciate the design challenge every time one of my cheap bows starts vibrating and flying off the strings when I try to move quickly across the strings with a light touch.

May 23, 2014 at 03:01 PM · Dear friends: Speaking about bows - I discovered a bow maker in Pittsburgh who had made about 6 bows using Massaranduba wood from Brazil. I bought one and was very pleased. It doesn't bounce around unless told to do so. He said it was hard to select a good clean piece which made much of what he had bought unsuited for full length bows. I am pleased I bought this bow because his health caused him to stop his production. Best regards, John

May 26, 2014 at 02:16 PM · Dear friends, John & John, Carmen, David, Harvey, one and all: Again I want to thank you all for lending your expertise to this discussion over these last few months. I have learned a lot and expect the many people who read this without adding any of their own comments learned a lot also. It seems to me in a final thought that stringed instruments are very sensitive to their component parts and minute differences can make a big difference in sound! Is it possible that in the old workshops people were assigned to make parts so much so that certain parts became their specialty? If that were the case then you might expect those individual parts would show more uniformity in their manufacture. This in turn would provide a more standard product going out the door since the final assembly would be under more control! This greater control over the individual pieces would cause a greater control over the final resultant sound quality. Just a thought. Best wishes to all of you. John

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