Violin is sounding very harsh.

April 25, 2014 at 05:37 PM · My Chinese made violin is fitted with D'Addario Pro Arte strings. It has always had a smooth, dark sound but a few months ago I noticed that it was starting to sound very harsh ; almost like a grating sound that you would get from cheap and nasty strings. The strings were about 12 months old so I put it down to old strings.

Last night I replaced them with a new set of Pro Artes and the sound is not much better. It is not me or the bow as my other violin (fitted with Tonicas) sounds okay.

What could cause a violin to sound like this whereas before it sounded fine ?

Replies (28)

April 25, 2014 at 06:17 PM · Have you tried adjusting the sound post? It can change as the season changes. Some violinists adjust their sound post twice a year; once in the fall and again in the spring or summer.

April 25, 2014 at 06:50 PM · What's the humidity been like?

April 25, 2014 at 08:00 PM · You chose Chinese over antique, now you have to live with your decision.

April 25, 2014 at 08:27 PM · Lyndon: Do old violins respond less to humidity and environmental factors? I was under the impression they were fussier...

...and what if he had chosen Canadian over Chinese? How would that factor in? ;)

April 25, 2014 at 08:29 PM · Choosing Chinese is not a mistake. Choosing cheap, of whatever provenance, can be. If it's not your setup, this is an unfortunate result of overly-thin plates, sometimes. They give out after a year or two.

April 25, 2014 at 09:36 PM · Actually old violins are so dried out, and the wood absorbs moisture less than new wood, so they respond less to weather changes than new violins, which are still a little bit green, also an antique violin is very likely to keep the quality of sound it had when you bought it over time, a new violins tone is much more likely to change, sometimes for the better, sometimes, as in this case, for the worse.....

Of course if your talking about a really fragile old violin with lots of cracks, all bets are off.

I deal a lot in circa 100 year old antiques, when they have no or very few cracks, I assure the customer they are actually more stable and less likely to have problems than a new violin, most of the problems associated with older instruments are ones with lots of cracks in poorly restored condition.

April 26, 2014 at 02:23 AM · How could dried-out wood absorb less moisture than green wood? That's like saying that a dried sponge will absorb less moisture than a saturated sponge.

Violins new and old are individuals. Unlike some dealers in old instruments, I have no financial stake in recommending old or new violins. But I have had a wide variety of instruments, including

-English instrument from 1882

-Modern Italian, 1950

-American, 1949

-Old composite, probably late 18th c.

-Several new instruments

It's very difficult to make generalizations. They all seemed to respond to the weather in some way or other. ALL sounded nasty in very dry/warm weather.

By the way, old strings don't usually sound harsh--quite the opposite. They sound dull.

April 26, 2014 at 02:27 AM · As I said the older wood is the less able it becomes to absorb moisture, documented fact, being dried out does not mean it acts like a sponge and soaks up water more, new wood does that.

April 26, 2014 at 05:00 AM · 1. It has been raining here for about 3 months straight. Only a few fine days here and there. The humidity is rarely less than 80%. Welcome to the tropics !

2. My other Chinese made violin sounds fine.

3. The Pro Arte strings usually start to sound harsh when they are past their prime. I have noticed this before (I know other brands do not do this ) but the new strings are not much better than the old ones.

April 26, 2014 at 02:14 PM · Then I'd second Smiley's suggestion of adjusting the soundpost and seeing what happens...

April 27, 2014 at 04:00 AM · Yes, I would have to agree with the possibility of a sound post problem but with no luthiers anywhere near here I will have to leave it for now. I will also let my teacher have a listen to it next week. He did say that there was a travelling luthier who comes up this way sometimes ; apparently he is very good with a mobile workshop in his caravan.

April 27, 2014 at 08:20 AM · Perhaps one of your seams has come unstuck? Look carefully around all the joins for a crack. I'm sure there is an easy way to test - like putting a light in the f hole and observing in a fully-darkened space.

April 27, 2014 at 10:34 AM · More of a question than comment, "As I said the older wood is the less able it becomes to absorb moisture, documented fact, being dried out does not mean it acts like a sponge and soaks up water more, new wood does that."

Would an antique violin be more susceptible to low humidity because it cannot absorb moisture?

April 27, 2014 at 03:04 PM · Actually, according to studies I've read, and my own experiments, unaltered old and new wood (within the realm of violin-age), and old and new violins are pretty close in their moisture absorption properties.

However, some types of wood treatments or substances applied can radically change these properties, much more-so than the age of the wood, so that's where some huge variables can come into play.

For example, ordinary salt applied to wood can cause a radical increase in moisture absorption when the humidity in the environment exceeds 75 percent.

April 27, 2014 at 06:48 PM · As you yourself have admitted your not much of a scientist, David, and your study was not done blindfolded or even with welding goggles, its hard to take your results seriously!

PS if old wood was not less able to absorb moisture, why would it have a lower moisture content under identical conditions to new wood??

April 27, 2014 at 07:43 PM · "As you yourself have admitted your not much of a scientist, David, and your study was not done blindfolded or even with welding goggles, its hard to take your results seriously!

PS if old wood was not less able to absorb moisture, why would it have a lower moisture content under identical conditions to new wood??"

__________________________________

I'm not sure it does. Here's a paper you can start out with, if you wish learn more about such things:

http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/88/39/82/PDF/hal-00883982.pdf

From the paper:

"The old wood presents higher equilibrium moisture content than the new wood, both in adsorption and desorption."

April 27, 2014 at 08:23 PM · from your link;

4. CONCLUSIONS

The old wood presents higher equilibrium moisture content

than the new wood, both in adsorption and desorption.

The old wood presents higher hysteresis coefficients than the

new wood. This means that a decrease in the free energy within

the hysteresis cycle has occurred, and therefore the old wood

is more hygroscopically stable than the new wood.

Regardless of the age of the wood, the point of inflexion in

desorption or adsorption, after which multilayer sorption prevails

over monolayer sorption, remains practically constant, at

30–32% relative humidity.

The total amount of water taken up by monolayer sorption

in the old wood is greater than in the new wood, although from

the point at which multilayer sorption prevails over monolayer

sorption (30–32% RH) less water is taken up via monolayer

sorption in the old wood than in the new wood: around 0.1%

in both desorption and adsorption.

The old wood and the new wood present similar infrared

spectrums, and the hygroscopic differences of the two types of

wood cannot be attributed to a chemical change in the cell wall.

The passage of time causes a decrease in the cellulose crystallinity

index in the wood, which means that the proportion of

amorphous zones increases.

It would appear from your link that I made a mistake, its not the woods ability to absorb moisture that is less in old wood, its that the amount of movement moisture changes in the wood cause is less in old wood. Which still would indicate old violins wood is more stable as far as movement goes, or is my French not that good???

On a similar vein I read Wooden boats rely on the water swelling up the wood to close gaps between pieces and that as the wood ages, it looses the ability to swell up as much when wet and leaks occur between pieces that are not sealing, I don't know if this phenomena only applies to wood being soaked in water as opposed to absorbing water through humidity.

April 27, 2014 at 10:16 PM · I don't know how relevant this is to the final paragraph of Lyndon's last response, but a wooden shed in my garden has a wooden door which always sticks due to expansion during periods of wet or humid weather - say from October to April. This is a well-known phenomenon in the British Isles.

April 27, 2014 at 10:47 PM · "It would appear from your link that I made a mistake, its not the woods ability to absorb moisture that is less in old wood, its that the amount of movement moisture changes in the wood cause is less in old wood. Which still would indicate old violins wood is more stable as far as movement goes, or is my French not that good???"

_______________________________

I don't have most of my references handy (many are on an old computer that hasn't been fired up in ages), but it would appear from the study below (after a quick search) that dimensional changes due to varying moisture content are still an issue with 2700 year old wood.

http://www.woodresearch.sk/articles/4-20-140101_11babinski.pdf

My own experiments haven't shown much difference between old and new violins, when it comes to dimensional changes due to moisture content related to relative humidity. But there are glaring outliers in each category (usually worse that untreated wood), and that's one of the things which spurred my interest in the effects of wood treatments and "sauces".

April 27, 2014 at 11:36 PM · I'm enjoying genuine discourse. Keep it up please, it is really informative.

April 27, 2014 at 11:49 PM · edit

April 27, 2014 at 11:52 PM · The issue is not whether or not old wood swells up with moisture, it obviously does, the question is does it swell up the same amount as relatively newly cut wood.

Certainly old wood shrinks across the grain as it gets older and drier, But David's claiming this can't happen, as the wood isn't getting drier.

We've all seen violins were the top and back, ageing have shrunk in width, and the ribs, the grain going opposite have not shrunk and hence bulge out and need to be shortened, are you saying this isn't caused by the wood drying out???

April 28, 2014 at 12:06 AM · Relative to the topic, does moister result in harsh tone. For example, in the Winter months where indoor humidity levels can be low, the wood would shrink adversely effecting tone among other things like cracking, etc.

Once Spring and Summer months come along, the wood responds to increased moisture and rising temperatures, a good thing for tone quality I would think.

If my logic is correct, an ancient violin that cannot absorb moisture might have a disadvantage over newer wood responding to increase moisture and rising temperatures. Is this a valid argument for newer wood?

April 28, 2014 at 09:27 AM · Lyndon wrote:

"Certainly old wood shrinks across the grain as it gets older and drier, But David's claiming this can't happen, as the wood isn't getting drier."

_______________________________

For the sake of clarity and less confusion, wouldn't it be better if we can limit my claims to what I've actually said, as opposed to you inventing them for me? :-)

Wood can change dimensionally for many reasons other than current water content.

Chuck, some violins sound better with higher water content, and some sound better with lower. The water content of the wood will change the weight and flexibility of the wood, and weight and flexibility are a couple of the factors which makers use during construction to control the sound.

May 1, 2014 at 02:48 AM · Check the string action( string height off the fingerboard). Its not uncommon for the neck angle to settle, and high action can make good tone production very difficult. Your luthier can cut down the bridge, shim the fingerboard, or reset the neck if need be.

May 1, 2014 at 05:02 PM · Funny that you should mention the action (string height). I had my luthier set this up with a low action when first purchased. It is definitely slightly higher now. Nobody else would notice as it is only a small amount. But there are no signs of separation where the neck meets the body.

My violin lesson is this Saturday so I will let my teacher have a look and we will see what sort of sound he can get from it.

May 2, 2014 at 02:07 AM · Get sliding wire mute and experiment with putting it near the bridge (but not on it like you would if you were using as an actual mute). It's a good way to take away a harsh edge - kind of like an acoustic tone control.

May 3, 2014 at 04:43 PM · UPDATE : well, I had my violin lesson today and my teacher spent 5 minutes playing this violin. It sounded great and he had no problems at all with it.

Over the last few months, my teacher has been getting me to change my bow grip and my whole bowing technique. All I can think of is that I no longer get along with these Pro Arte strings. I used to think that they were the best thing since sliced bread but now they sound terrible under my hand.

Next step is to fit a set of Tonicas to this violin and see what it sounds like.

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