Strange Violin Behavior

August 3, 2016 at 02:37 PM · My curiosity forces me to look for an answer to a strange behavior for my recently acquired violin (Eastman 305). I happened to also be doing "E" string tests when I bought the violin about 6 months ago.

The violin seemed OK and a few "E" strings were noticeably better than others but there was a glitch. The violin seemed to change a lot every few days and I figured that is to be expected for a new ( 6 mo. ) violin. This is very annoying however.

I decided to just let the violin set for a while and I played my electric just to stay active.

5 weeks pass and I try the acoustic again. TOTAL disaster. All strings sound like cat claws on a blackboard! This violin sounded reasonable 5 weeks ago?

This acoustic had an OLIV "E"during the storage period. The violin was kept in comfortable humidity/temp conditions.

With no idea about what is happening, I switched to a TONICA "E"and the whole instrument settled down.

I think that the bottom line here is the question "How long does it take for a new violin to reach a basically stable condition"? Is there any way to accelerate or improve the process?

Replies (29)

August 3, 2016 at 02:52 PM · I think you are just experiencing the instrument's reaction to your environment. It's all seasonal. It will happen every year. It's just that this's all new to you and you are more aware of it.

I wouldn't keep changing strings, that adds another dimension to what you're hearing. Keep one set of strings on it for the year and see what it does when. Then you at least have something valid to compare to, if you are taking notes...

August 3, 2016 at 03:50 PM · A couple of thoughts:

Most of the short-term variations in sound will probably disappear if you keep the violin at a constant humidity.

You probably seriously destabilized the instrument by storing it for 5 weeks with the tension of only one string.

August 3, 2016 at 03:51 PM · When you play Eastman, you are suppose to face East. Facing other directions may not work...

As someone who alternates between violin, baroque violin and viola, I often experience surprise with sound qualities upon returning to the particular instrument.

The cause is, in my opinion twofold:

1. you need to change the way you play

2. your ears need to change the way you perceive sound

The re-occurring testament that this is the case is in fact that after a few hours or one day, my sound production is back to expected and I like the sound again. More than anything else, it is the change in bowing; speed, contact point and the heaviness of your arm.

Change from electric violin back to acoustic, no matter of the violin' s quality will always make you wonder. Electric violin nullifies your good bowing behavior and it takes time to regain proper sound production. It also gives you an illusion of sound - it is not natural!

Changing more than one variable in violin playing is a proven path to lose your mind.

August 3, 2016 at 04:54 PM · If it is a genuinely new instrument, there may be some settling of the glue, a little shifting as the plates get used to tension, etc. Some makers will suggest taking a look after you've had it for a year to see if you will need a new soundpost, for example.

Be aware, however, that summer humidity can put brutal demands on any instrument, and if you're used to an electric fiddle this will be something to get used to. If nothing else, call the shop (or a trusted luthier) to see if it needs readjustment. Soundpost tension is probably the big one to look at if everything else is OK. Also make sure that the bridge hasn't wandered off position while you were experimenting with strings. I've had that happen before.

And as Rocky mentions, you may just need to adjust your technique to play a wooden instrument. Even if you know how, good playing habits sometimes take a few minutes to call up again after you've been using a different rig.

August 3, 2016 at 05:02 PM · I would have thought playing the violin every day would help it to 'settle in' rather than just storing it unplayed ?

August 3, 2016 at 05:33 PM · David B., I think you misunderstood the original post. There wasn't any suggestion that the violin was stored with only one string. Or am I misunderstanding?

August 3, 2016 at 05:49 PM · Write a reply...;)

August 3, 2016 at 07:50 PM · If you ignore a violin for 5 weeks, it's bound to get even with you, No?


August 3, 2016 at 11:28 PM · Never just one string on violin. My tests always with four regular (medium) strings.

Rocky. My most recent practicing is concentrating on bow technique which is giving me the best results when I get it right but more than that is happening.

I wonder if I went to a big luthiers convention would "just made it" sell as well as "it's ten years old"?

Incidentally, this recent episode occurred at the height of a terrible NC summer heat/humidity period but comfortable conditions were maintained.

August 4, 2016 at 02:19 AM · Darlene, bring me your violin, I will get it working for you, without charge, if you will promise to abstain from violin dinking for a minimum of two years.

I'd be hard-pressed to count the number of times that I and others have done a really good adjustment on an instrument, but the owners wanted to apply their own theories, or theories derived from internet hacks, whereupon things were thrown into enough of a state of chaos, that the best qualities of the instrument were hard to recover.

This is not a solicitation for business. I've already got way more than I can handle. It is more intended as a learning lesson, along the lines of:

If you're fairly happy with your instrument, it might not be wise to do too much dinking with it yourself. Rarely, outcomes can improve, but more typically, I get people requesting that I put an instrument back to the way it was, before they started dinking with it.

August 4, 2016 at 11:04 AM · Looks like I got obsessed with that word last night, right?

Must have been the fish tacos. :-)

August 4, 2016 at 07:49 PM · If my violin(s) would behave, I would be glad to quit all dinkering cold turkey.

I am really only an innocent bystander trying to spend more time on worthwhile practice.

Maybe I have a clue. My "bad" violin(s) are typically suffering excess of treble. I get good sound, for instance, with a Tourte mute.

August 4, 2016 at 08:12 PM · Darlene you can't expect your violin to behave any better than you do.

August 4, 2016 at 08:51 PM · Any of the lack of skills that I suffer are, at least, consistent. I can make the same mistakes

over and over ( and often do!).

Now the violin, by contrast, may drastically change personality at any time.

Related evidence is that that there is never a time on the forum when someone is not looking (dinkering) for string smarts.

August 5, 2016 at 08:31 AM · "I get good sound, for instance, with a Tourte mute."

How about muting the left ear with a ball of cotton wool, to "distance" the fiddle?

August 5, 2016 at 02:55 PM · Yes, I have tried that and it helps with any shrill sound but not for the listeners (?) ( if I have any besides the dogs :)

However I have made a plan.

I will simply retire the new violin to light duty until the weather here in NC changes. We spent this summer hiding from the 100 degree + temperatures even though though we have working AC.

The consensus from violin sites suggests that a brand new violin might be changing characteristics for years. So my new violin is hardly on the radar.

Meanwhile I have a solid electric and yet another acoustic should a verse of Amazing Grace be needed.

The problems I hear are real but I also have come to realize that my violins can only play about half the music and the rest is art for which there are rules.

August 5, 2016 at 05:07 PM · I cut down a simple rubber mute until it removed the shrillness of a student "violin": better for player and listener but wiythot the full muting effect. I can even try it on different parts of the bridge, depending on the weather (which affects bow-hair and rosin too, BTW).

But try it on the dogs first..

August 5, 2016 at 05:34 PM · Any violin will sound better when it's played regularly, especially a new violin. The violins I have all sound worse when they're not played for awhile, and the sound also changes a bit in response to temperature and humidity variations.

I really think you would do better to just keep playing your violin regularly now instead of storing it and waiting for the weather to change.

August 5, 2016 at 06:04 PM · Adrian

I'm familiar with your different cures and I know that, in general, they can make a big difference. But when I tame the treble by any means, I lose some volume that I might want for instance in a group. But I never argue with success!


Usually I would agree with you but we have had many days over 100 degrees. One day the outdoor thermometer read 116 and, even with AC it still felt like a sauna.

I wonder if your violins can show short term recovery even while longer term drying is happening?

August 5, 2016 at 07:44 PM · What is the humidity at your violin during these hot days? AC cools and usually dries.

August 5, 2016 at 11:52 PM · I recently read 47 RH with a good meter.

This is why I'm anxious now for a cold front to barrel thru and maybe settle the issue.

August 6, 2016 at 04:04 PM · Darlene, I just want to check. Since your issues with sound, or sound quality seem to be on-going, have you ever had your hearing tested? Maybe there's a physical issue that is behind some of this dissatisfaction with sound?

August 6, 2016 at 06:51 PM · The bizarre fact is that I have just returned, today, from signing an agreement to purchase a deluxe hearing aid. However, the Doctor said that his devices will not help my violin playing.

If I indeed can't carry a tune in a bucket, how come I have almost no problems with my solid body (old faithful) electric which does not assault me with nasty harmonics when played without any electric distortion?

PS Just occurred to me that maybe I should store/age the new violin without any string tension? Or higher tension?

Besides which, my spare violin sounds better than the new violin at this time.

I have tried to blame myself for all problems but then I would expect similar issues on all of my 3 instruments. (?) Ain't happenin.

August 6, 2016 at 06:59 PM · A hearing aid should definitely help your violin-playing. You can get them tuned for music. Andrew Victor, I believe, can expound on this.

August 6, 2016 at 09:53 PM · I wrote extensively about the subject of hearing aids here:

August 7, 2016 at 01:05 PM · Thanks for hearing aid info!

Right now I can manage to play without hearing aids. My hearing problem includes volume but mostly word recognition.

I won't actually have the devices for a week or so.


My complaint has been that the tone of my new violin after 5 weeks of not being played has deteriorated. Tourte type mutes help but I loose volume and important high frequencies.

It is easy to blame the performer (me) but there is more to it and I think the violin is at fault and I may be able to fix it.

Here's what happened:

In the course of tuning up I just had a hunch to tune all strings off pitch. I tuned the strings down 20 cents. The violin suddenly took on the wonderful sound it had before. Of course, it was flat compared to 440 hz. But I still played, making allowance for the offset. Really great!

Given this information, I did some arithmetic and figure that I could maintain tone and achieve pitch if I slid the bridge in by about 0.1". (Or i just may play it in the offset condition.)

What I see now is that the tuned (pitch) violin and the "best sounding" violin may not coincide?

August 7, 2016 at 02:28 PM · I am very interested in knowing how things go after you settle in with your hearing aid. Make sure you give us an update! :D

August 7, 2016 at 03:11 PM · Darlene-- be careful with that. The best place for the bridge to sit relates not only to the strings, but to the cavity of the violin and the soundpost. A lot of variables to not screw up.

August 7, 2016 at 06:47 PM · I know you are right and, for the moment, I think I will leave it offset but without moving anything except the pegs! This will also buy me some time for ageing and practice of anything prior to holiday music.

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