Revenge of the Gunsmith

April 20, 2015 at 12:11 AM · In a recent thread I complained about how my violin seemed to be constantly changing and I never knew what to expect from day to day. The usual problem was poor tone quality.

I was even considering going over to learning piano to end this misery.

Then I revealed that the violin was made by a gunsmith! This information was not well received. Suggestions ranged from "Get a teacher", "See a luthier", "Burn it" and other "silent" advise I can only imagine.

Well, I guess this was not a very smart buy and I should have spent more money. You get what you pay for!

But I did tinker with parameters one more time to try and salvage something. I just happened to be in reach of an old Glasser bow and I gave it a try.

WHAM! The violin response was unbelievable! The tone was definitely sweet, projection was good. I could not ask for more from this class of instrument. (Pro Art strings)

I would like to tell the gunsmith but then he might raise his prices :) (maybe I will anyway)

Replies (59)

April 20, 2015 at 12:32 AM ·

April 20, 2015 at 01:07 AM · Its a miracle. I mean that sincerely.

April 20, 2015 at 01:22 AM · Let's review:

Installed cheap strings-

Better result

Used cheap bow-

Better result

I would suggest laying your hands on some of that rosin that comes on a little wooden block, as that may be the one remaining missing link to perfection!

April 20, 2015 at 02:12 AM · Seraphim

The "student block" has always been my rosin of choice except for some dark rosin in case of emergency.

All is well.

April 20, 2015 at 04:42 AM · Anyhow, I'm glad to hear you are finding some things that are making it come around for you!

April 20, 2015 at 09:47 AM · Anyone suggest that you should have just bought the case, with contents more appropriate to the profession of the maker (I've been given a vague impression that this sort of thing has occurred before)?

April 20, 2015 at 11:52 AM · I'm sure I could solicit several creative ideas about this situation .

Next day, 0730. Sounds great!

April 20, 2015 at 12:54 PM · As phantasmagorical (and phun) as this all is...

I'd still suggest getting at least a couple of "discovery" lessons with a really good teacher...just so you know what's up (in general)...

April 20, 2015 at 01:26 PM · I now want to monitor and decide if I have actually achieved some better long term stability which was my original problem. The sound improvement with another bow was a fluke.

For bow enthusiasts, the "good" bow I found is a Glasser, no more than 2 years old, and not played very much. It is 1.95 oz and appears to be a heavier diameter.

The "bad" bow (no markings) is 2.15 oz and looks like a thinner stick but feels a little harder to flex.

I have used this bow often for a few years but never did a cleaning.....never actually looked dirty. ( may be CF bow ?)

April 20, 2015 at 03:52 PM · Stability? You're saying you wonder if using a different bow will help your violin stay in tune?

April 20, 2015 at 05:02 PM · By stability I mean being essentially the same from day to day. It just happened that the second bow was better and there is also a stability issue regarding intonation. I do much better when the violin consistently sends me clear feedback.

"bad" bow = bad notes = pitch confusion = poor intonation

So, the second bow is much more reliable and, separately, encourages good intonation.

April 20, 2015 at 07:32 PM · I agree thoroughly with Jenny. I will say, however, that a better instrument that produces more overtones makes it easier to play in tune -- the "ringing" quality that beginners are taught to listen for is more pronounced because the overtone series is stronger.

April 20, 2015 at 08:02 PM · There is a serious problem with the "it's you" theory. If it was me then I would expect it ALWAYS to be me. However, there are times when I'm much better than usual....NO! I'm always as bad or as good.

If I play one bow after another and one sounds consistently better, that's not me.

Actually, I would almost prefer that I was the cause. I could scoot over to Uncle Todd Ehrl (sp?) and find something I have to fix.

Don't get me wrong, I have made every mistake one makes without a teacher and I've invented a few original mistakes but today I like what I hear!

April 20, 2015 at 10:06 PM · Todd Erhle is awesome.

The problem is that he is not actively checking whatever it is that YOU (or I, or anyone watching his videos) is actually doing.

I get corrected a bunch of times every lesson. Something may "feel" OK to me, and may work OK at a certain level, but unless corrected, it will hinder more advanced stuff.

I don't pay my teacher to teach me the stuff in the Suzuki books. Anybody can work their own way through that progression easy enough. I pay her to show me how to do it right, and to fix what I'm doing wrong.

And some days I do play worse than others.

April 20, 2015 at 11:31 PM · I made a recording of some bows to post but I don't know an easy site for simple mp3 hosting.

I've done more tests with more bows and I'm satisfied that the one particular bow was the problem. I gave that bow an alcohol bath and it is much better but not quite up to the Glasser.

I took lessons for one summer when I started but that just was not going to work. Most of my early learning took place as an eternal fan of the Yale music school which was only 25 minutes from my house. The smaller concerts were often staff and they were in another world of perfection.

April 21, 2015 at 12:42 AM · Soundcloud is easy.

April 21, 2015 at 01:36 AM · I don't know about the majority of people on V-com, but the "It's you" theory certainly fits the situation of many musicians I know (myself included). Even if I am consistent in practicing, there are days when I sound good, when things 'work' well and consistently; there are also days when I 'shoulda stood in bed' as far as playing well is concerned.

I've found that practicing on those days, frustrating as it may be, is extremely useful, and valuable, but those are not the days when I focus on problems with my instruments (set up, strings, shoulder/chin rest, etc)--because it's TOO EASY to say it's them, not me.

Consistency comes with time...but not always even then.

April 21, 2015 at 02:29 AM ·

April 21, 2015 at 02:56 AM · I think we are talking about different "it's you". My music stand is loaded with "it's you" material.

My original interest was trouble shooting some distracting racket. That has happened and my music stand is as unforgiving as ever!

April 21, 2015 at 03:17 AM · A bow is a simple stick with hair. It is incapable of being inconsistent. And the same goes for a violin. It's a wooden box with 4 strings.

I would think that after trying various bows, strings, soundposts, accessories and whatnot that it would be quite obvious where the problem does not lie. A living being changes hourly and daily. Chemical changes occur, along with electrical, hormonal and immune system changes. Hydration, tension, moods etc all affect both the body and the mind. Contrast those changes with dead wood and dead hanks of hair. They have none of those things to worry about, and frankly they are extremely consistent. Humans are *exponentially* more inconsistent.

Sorry to be so blunt, but the problem is not with your equipment, nor is the solution. I'd strongly advise investing in lessons like many others already have advised. A teacher can look at things like bowing parallel to the bridge, which is my first guess at something that causes consistency issues.



April 21, 2015 at 04:45 AM · The problem was solved a few posts back which demonstrates that solutions can be much less important than debates.

However, I agree that the violin is very dynamic for an item that looks so simple.

April 21, 2015 at 08:07 AM ·

April 22, 2015 at 12:29 PM · Bottom line

The cause of the problem was not bows.

It was rosin management.

Routine being followed for rosin/bow application giving very good results.

April 22, 2015 at 01:02 PM · That is exactly what a teacher would tell you immediately.

He/she would show you the correct application and when and how often to rosin your bow.

April 22, 2015 at 01:33 PM · It seems however that rosin under control is costing me some volume and even playing a tight sounding point may not save me in an ensemble. Of course, with piano accompaniment, I would hope the piano politely adjusts.

But for now, there is no immediate problem.

April 22, 2015 at 02:24 PM · This might be a little off topic, but I've noticed that many factory violins don't really sound that bad. I've heard lot of people complain about "oh how my violin sounds terrible", or "I can't get the sound out of it."

Then, I try these instruments myself, and the thing I've noticed about poorer quality violins is that they are not necessarily bad, but simply less responsive, and sensitive. This means that its hard to truly sound bad(more forgiving in terms of mistakes), but they don't respond as well to subtle changes in the bow hand either. Often times, you can produce an acceptable sound with suboptimal amounts of bow pressure. In your case, the new bow made all the difference, and that's not surprising at all :).

But like others have said, even a bad violin can sound relatively acceptable with the right player. I knew this guy a while ago who I thought was a very good violinist, and had amazing tone production. Everyone was surprised that he was using a $500 factory violin. When I heard him play on a "better" violin, he didn't really sound all that different. I think his bow cost like 4 times as much or something, but that's another story.

A lot of the time, you get what you pay for, but if you truly want to make the most of what you have(in your case, you want your instrument to be more consistent), I suggest trying a violin that you consider "good" every once a while, and then go back to your instrument to see if you can replicate the sound. Also, if you aren't a broke guy just out of college who is struggling to pay off his student loans to a expensive university(like me), I think you should look into taking some private lessons, especially if you've never had them before.

April 22, 2015 at 02:38 PM · Darlene; I'm just curious.

Is there some reason you don't want to take lessons? And by lessons - that may mean anything from regular weekly lessons to 1 or 2 discovery lessons.

If you are enjoying figuring it out on your own, fair enough too.

April 22, 2015 at 03:48 PM · I think a poor teacher would not know where to start !

Actually, I think there is a lot to learn but I own most of my technique problems which demand my attention.

April 22, 2015 at 03:56 PM · Shawn

The number of variables for a violin + bow is surprising so it is almost doubtful that anyone finds all the optimum conditions for any setup.

I do not believe the "a pro can make anything" fantasy or else all the pros would be playing EBay !

April 22, 2015 at 04:11 PM · Hey Darlene, I'm not saying that a pro can make anything work. I myself, play probably what you might consider a very nice violin, but even I am not 100% happy with how it responds sometimes tonally, and wish I had a better violin.

This is because I've played some nicer violins in the past, and somewhat know what to expect. It's hard to drive your honda civic again, after someone lets you test drive a mercedes. Everything is relative. I was just suggesting that you go out and try some violins that you might like.

While setup is certainly very important, I think you are overrating it a little bit.I have not tried enough combinations of bows and violins to know the "perfect" recipe or anything, but for me at least, when it comes to good bows, you don't really even have to play anything with it to know that it is a good bow. Maybe you have to play some sticcatos, but most of the time you can tell just by how it feels in your hand. My point is that if something is good, it is usually good alone.

A strong, powerful tone is usually achieved by bow+violin+player. If you can't control the other 2/3s, then control what you can.

April 22, 2015 at 05:05 PM · Rosin mismanagement will definite give you inconsistent sound.

You mentioned you use student blocks. In my opinion, it's well worth getting better rosin. It's much harder to add too much or too little, it makes a profound difference for the sound and feel, and it won't cover your violin with rosin dust.

I can't recommend Andrea Solo more highly. It's expensive at about $30, but it ought to last near to forever and is much better than the few others that I've tried. Although I think it took about a month for the difference to become apparent, probably the amount of time it takes for the old rosin to be replaced.

Of course, you won't be getting a good sound unless you can reliably bow parallel to the bridge with good speed, pressure and sounding point control.

April 22, 2015 at 05:16 PM · A good teacher will start where s/he finds you, and can SO often make the technical problems you "own"easier to address...not to mention some of the problems will get a new address from the teacher.

April 22, 2015 at 06:05 PM · Maybe "discovery" sessions as mentioned above ? And I would have to start with Bach 5 :)

Shawn I have played some very good violins and that was possibly a mistake ! I found no cheaper violins that "talked back" and would not let me make a mistake !

Mathew I was just looking at Andrea !

Do you know of Vcom archive by Patrick Lengkong Dec. 18, 2011 ?

"Best rosin I ever used".

I did buy Magic Rosin light and dark and have managed to loose them but that's not all bad because I'm backing off on rosin amounts.

April 22, 2015 at 07:10 PM · Among the dozens of things that a teacher can show you is how to properly take care of your bow including the selection and application of rosin.

If I ever decide to go into the rosin business, my rosin is going to be called Mister Mojo Rosin.

Keep on rosin! Rosin rosin!!

April 22, 2015 at 10:25 PM · On rosins: no need to go Andrea Solo-it's great and will likely draw a bigger sound, but may be more than you wish for.

Gustav Bernardel-affordable, excellent results for many players. Beautiful tone, though of course that also depends on the bow arm. MUCH better than so called "student blocks", though. It is "professional grade", as much as any other expensive rosin in the market.

April 22, 2015 at 10:51 PM · If you read her other posts, the notion that Darlene's trolling would be ludicrous. Impulsive, maybe...

April 22, 2015 at 11:57 PM · If I am guilty of trolling I hope it's nothing McAFee can't handle.

April 23, 2015 at 01:33 AM · Darlene simply knows how to get a conversation started!

April 23, 2015 at 02:06 AM · I like Millant-Deroux rosins. Inexpensive and excellent. You use a little bit. I prefer to mix the Jade and Gold/Silver.

April 23, 2015 at 12:41 PM · ( I am always impressed to find someone who gives rosin deserved attention. It is, after all, the ONLY link between bow and instrument. Can bow and violin exceed that which connects them? I expect my current problems to be improved mainly by better rosin management.)

April 23, 2015 at 01:47 PM · Rosin?

We don't need no stinkin' rosin!

The gunsmith is working on a new model assault violin:

April 23, 2015 at 01:50 PM · "or else all the pros would be playing EBay" - Is that a relation of Hubay?

April 23, 2015 at 02:37 PM · Seraphim Good example of the state of the art.

John NO

April 23, 2015 at 05:19 PM · Rosin philosophy - the routine.

y practice is to "touch up" my bow every day I play. It is more a part of my mental preparation to play than an actual need for the instrument, but actually running the bow across the rosin 6 or 8 times actually does even out the layer of rosin on the hair. If I hear the tone of the violin changing dramatically that is the time that I actually thoroughly rosin my bow. Even when I was my most active on the violin, a thorough rosining was almost never needed more than twice a week.

( That is much less than me. )

( "hear the tone" indeed! )

April 23, 2015 at 06:51 PM · For comparison (and NOT to get into a more/less rosin debate)...I practice 1-3 hours a day (on the days I have time to practice). I rosin lightly once every 2 weeks (or so).

Rosin does make a difference. BUT maybe not as much as we like to think.

The very cheapest rosins (that come with the case) are rather awful. Don't bother with them.

The most expensive rosins might (or not) be of actual (versus perceived) value. Hard to say. I haven't noticed any difference in playability.

I would suggest though, based on my personal experience, that less is more.

The 'stickiness' of a rosin might more of a factor than price.

Having said that, any 'better' brand of rosin will likely suffice.

I did change to a less dusty (and less expensive) brand. I don't think it affected my playing...but I personally appreciated having less dust.

April 23, 2015 at 08:39 PM · I have been acccumulating rosin lore for years. It is my prejudice that rosin and how it is USED is a very important part of note/tone production.

So, I have assembled a sort of survey and the general result is that the veteran players are very conservative about rosin. Actually, I do not know what their motives are but the trend is less rosin.

I am working on changing my touch in order to accommodate reduced rosin but I'm very pleased with the improved tone.

April 23, 2015 at 10:03 PM ·

April 23, 2015 at 10:06 PM · I do two swipes per 2-4 hours of practice.

Also, there's no need to rough it up, and I think I read that you in fact shouldn't, though I can't remember why. You can tell it's picking it up (besides using your ears), because it's slowly planing the surface of the rosin.

The two other rosins that I can recall using were allegedly good (Pirastro Olive, then Goldflex), and I was hesistant to buy anything else, figuring that what I had was fine and rosin was rosin. But I'm glad I did, because as I said it made a profound difference (though subtle at first).

When I add to much rosin, it feels gritty and sounds unpleasant, there's nothing a can do but play through it. And I like hearing an improvement when I apply it. So I've come to side on using less.

April 23, 2015 at 10:09 PM · Liz

Do you always use the same brand of rosin ?

April 23, 2015 at 10:13 PM · One must not engage in rosin promiscuity!

April 23, 2015 at 10:17 PM · Mathew

It was the gritty sound that was bothering me at the start of this thread. I've backed way off on the rosin.

I also felt that the grittiness interfered with intonation ...... compared to a clean note(s). Otherwise I was fighting for pitch too often.

April 23, 2015 at 10:27 PM ·

April 24, 2015 at 12:19 AM · There's nothing quite like a rosin thread. Except a shoulder rest thread of course.

April 24, 2015 at 12:39 AM ·

April 24, 2015 at 12:49 AM · Seems you have the situation under control.

Some of mine are dark and some are not which is all I want to know.

April 24, 2015 at 01:18 AM · There's usually no need for a shoulder rest. Most of the time, rosin applied directly to the violin gives the traction and security you're looking for.

April 24, 2015 at 01:42 AM · Finger tapes can also help with proper intonation.....

Just sayin'....

April 24, 2015 at 02:28 PM · Matthew, what are you saying? What would rosin applied directly to the violin do for my chin when there's a chinrest in between - or are you saying we should do away with the chinrest too? And what kind of clothing should I be wearing on my left shoulder for the rosin to work there, too? or will rosin work with ANY clothing?

April 24, 2015 at 03:35 PM · Instead of a camel hair jacket, you obvioulsy need one made of horsehair....

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine