How to enhance the power of the E string?

December 19, 2016 at 02:36 PM · I am puzzled. In shopping for a violin, I was testing about 40 high end violins (over $10K to $100K+) in local shops in the past couple of weeks. One violin particularly puzzled me. It was a Joseph Hell violin in excellent condition. The G string had the the most powerful, rich, sophisticated, and lovable sound among all the violins I tested, feels like a cello. But the E string was extremely weak, thin, and not resonating at all, actually the weakest among all tested. The D, A strings in between were getting gradually less powerful and still acceptable. But the E string simply took a sharp dive from there and decided to sing like a mosquito (and without resonance too). What may be the cause of this extreme contrast in the sound of strings? Was it the construct of the violin itself (thus not curable)? Or the sound of E string can be cured/improved by adjusting sound post, bridge, changing of the strings, ... etc.? I really love the G string and am seriously considering buying it if the E string sound can be made more powerful. Any suggestions or recommendations will be appreciated.

Replies (28)

December 19, 2016 at 02:58 PM · It seems to me (but I'm no expert) that the set-up of that Joseph Hell is such that most of the power output comes from the lower register. If this is so then it should be possible to re-set it so as to even out the power output over the frequency range. A bit like tuning an automobile engine for high top speed or massive low-down torque.

Also, it is relevant to know what make, and type within the make, the strings are.

December 19, 2016 at 04:09 PM · This is the reality of violins in this price range: Some registers are good, some are not.

It's why a Hel does not command $100,000.

Other than this basic fact of violin shopping (that the "perfect package" costs a fortune),

no one can really tell what the issue with this violin without actually playing it. And who knows? It may even project much better in a hall than it seems to be under your ear.

December 19, 2016 at 04:24 PM · Likely a set-up issue, and possibly an issue of strings. Could also be the basic character of the instrument, too, but worth asking about set-up and when the strings were last changed.

December 19, 2016 at 05:03 PM · A sound post adjustment may solve it...but often one has to compromise between the G and E...the Lord giveth to one, then taketh from the other ;)

December 19, 2016 at 05:43 PM · You could always put on a heavy E string. Setup too might be adjusted for better balance.

December 19, 2016 at 06:47 PM · I have heard that one should walk away if the outer strings are weak.

As other mentioned, there is a theoretical possibility for improvement, but I would not bet on that.

Always ask yourself: if there is a room for improvement, why did not the seller already do it? Why is the violin being sold in such a state? If this is a personal sale and a real bargain, roll the dice, and despair or rejoice later.

If a store, maker or dealer - don't just walk, run!

December 20, 2016 at 01:43 AM · I would go with Peter's suggestion and see if a sound post adjustment doesn't help.

December 20, 2016 at 01:53 AM · By virtue of their positions on the bridge, both E and G should transmit sound most strongly. Since you write, the G is "cello-like," (which is not a quality of a violin) and the E is weak, it appears the soundpost placement may need adjustment to balance the output between the E and G. If that fails, do as Rocky advises.

December 20, 2016 at 02:33 AM · Thanks all for your wonderful and educational feedback. I will ask the selling shop to do the adjustment (sound post, etc.) as you guys recommended. If that still doesn't do the trick, I will just have to forget about this Joseph Hel and continue my search. I will report the result of the adjustment when it is done. Thanks again.

December 20, 2016 at 05:08 AM · Sounds like a reverse of the Kreisler Gesu gorgeous E but rough G problem.

Most likely the soundpost, because you said the E has no ring at all (whereas even the Gesu isn't that bad).

December 20, 2016 at 01:13 PM · It could be an adjustment issue - and Peter is right; an adjustment that helps one string may weaken another. The simplest thing for starters is to try different types, brands and gauges of E strings. It could also be something intrinsic to the violin, with a complex interplay of so many factors including basic design, wood selection, arching, graduation, etc. And it's not the price range: AO is absolutely right about the Kreisler del Gesu. Years ago I tried it at the Library of Congress. The E was amazing in both quality and quantity. Going down, each successive string got tighter and the G was indeed the worst. Overall, it was the kind of violin that responded best to an accent to get the sound to go. I also tried their Amati which was the opposite: a rich, broad, luscious G, with each successive higher string getting weaker.

Scott is right that a string - or a whole violin - that sounds weak under the ear may project better in a hall than another violin that sounds more stentorious under the ear. But that can be very frustrating. Ideally, I want both: power under the ear and very good projection at a distance.

December 21, 2016 at 12:41 AM · @Raphael: Then good thing it was played by Kreisler, who played with a very tight bow, mostly in the upper half.

Also, he tended to slightly accent every note he played as a result of said very tight bow. :)

To hear the Kreisler Gesu, skip to about 17:00:

December 21, 2016 at 01:34 AM · I brought the violin back to the store today. The luthier was very kind and open in discussing possibilities of adjusting various parts of the violin (sound post, strings, tailpiece, kevlar tail cord, etc.). The violin may be a consigned item, so it is understandable that the store is reluctant to make any change which is irreversible. We agreed to check back next month to see if any adjustment can be made within their limits to resurrect the E string. In the meantime, I think I will lay back and enjoy the holiday season, while getting ready for possibly more dynamic violin hunting next year. Merry Christmas to you all!

December 21, 2016 at 01:37 AM · Sound post adjustments and string changes are not irreversible. I second the motion to try a "stark" E.

December 21, 2016 at 02:05 AM · There's next to zero reason why a luthier with a consigned instrument should refuse to do a set-up change, assuming that there's no need to either carve a new bridge or soundpost. Honestly, strings should be within that realm as well. (A new bridge or soundpost is time-consuming and the seller might be reluctant to pay for that work to be done, although it's also trivial enough that the shop might consider eating the cost to just get the instrument sold.)

Surprised to hear the consignment contract doesn't explicitly entitle the shop to make set-up changes, for that matter.

December 21, 2016 at 04:13 AM · That is odd. Specially if you can show that the instrument is lacking in evenness.

December 21, 2016 at 06:30 AM · You may want to experiment with different type of fine tuner for the E string, since they alter the after length and will vary the tension, but then you need to recheck the G to match same tension as E..a more experienced luthier should be able to help with that.

December 21, 2016 at 09:52 AM · Actually, changing the afterlength does not change the tension, which is determined only by the distance from nut to bridge. This is a common misunderstanding, which even heard once from a luthier (not mine!)

December 21, 2016 at 01:22 PM · Was the history of the violin made available? Did it undergo many repairs etc?

December 21, 2016 at 01:31 PM · Their reluctance to move the SP or work further on setup is telling me that they have already tried to do so and know the result.

You are in for a hair-cut.

December 21, 2016 at 02:05 PM · Regarding the afterlength:

as i already posted multiple times here, in 2 of my violins i have a tunable tailpiece (for each string).

Just this week i experimented with different afterlength only in the E string. Usually i take care of this in the lower strings, where i thought it was more important. And, instead, also in the E i can hear much difference in the quantity of harmonics and in the final volume of the E string when i match the AL to a proper harmonic.

December 21, 2016 at 02:19 PM · There are so maaany violins available...besides that one...Happy Holidays!

December 21, 2016 at 03:14 PM · Generally more volume is added to the E string sound by moving the sound post toward the edge of the violin and more volume to the lower strings by moving it toward the bass bar. The sound is mellowed or weakened by moving the sound post further from the bridge and strengthened by moving it toward the bridge. But there are limits to how well this will work. On some instruments chafes of just one mm or so can make a big difference, others are not as sensitive. More lateral movement of a given soundpost is possible on instruments with flatter tops, while very little movement is possible with a higher top instrument.

In my teens we lived in the "sticks" 2 hours away from our luthier (before there were freeways) and my father did some adjustments on his Scarampella after the first time his soundpost fell. He resurrected it somehow with cord and knots and later bought an S-shaped sound post adjuster that I also learned to use. It came in handy 15 years later after I moved to the California desert, a 6-hour round trip from my LA-area luthier. A scissors-type sound post adjuster is handier for amateurs making minor movements of a sound post, although pro luthiers don't seem to use them. The S-type is essential for reinstalling a post through the f-hole. (I never figured out how my father did it with cord [and although it came to me in a dream one night 50 years later, I never tried it]- but he was an MD and could do all kinds of exotic things with slip knots and strings, etc.)

There are stories that Mischa Elman was always going to luthiers to get his sound post adjusted. I think it is possible that he was just losing his hearing as he aged. (By the time I heard him in concert he was 75 an he retired later that year, possibly a year after he should have.)

December 21, 2016 at 03:24 PM · Speaking of afterlength, you can also tune the A so it plucks a high E. if it currently too flat, just shave the thread off with a razor blade or knife (e.g., from a corkscrew).

December 21, 2016 at 08:13 PM · Adrian: just curious, so what does your luthier say about after length? if the tension only determined by the active string length..

I too have heard different opinions about AL, form very fine luthiers/makers. Some say it doesn't affect anything and probably never pay attention to it, while some spend great deal amount time adjusting it to the optimal for my personal experience, it does make a world difference; in fact the higher end the violin is, the more tonal difference that the AL can make.

December 21, 2016 at 08:18 PM · My experience adjusting afterlengths on the instruments I have and have had is that it does make a noticeable difference on some but not so much on others.

December 21, 2016 at 08:35 PM · I once owned 20k del Gesu copy, by a renown Chicago based maker, equipped with a harp style tailpiece:

It has a very powerful, and surprisingly brilliant tone. With that harp style tailpiece the AL on G string is almost 60 mm, and around 52 mm on the E. I won't say the E is weak but does take more effort to work on it; the G is extremely responsive, but having wolf tone on higher position. I checked back with the maker and he said it's not the tailpiece/after length..brought to a local luthier ( who has restored a couple strads ), swap the tailpiece and re-adjust the AL; the violin is more balanced but doesn't have same level power as it used to have with the previous tailpiece.

December 21, 2016 at 10:23 PM · A few days ago I swapped the Wittner tailpiece on my No. 1 violin (strung with plain gut and currently an Obligato gold E) for a new ebony Hill tail piece which I fitted with a very short lever adjuster for the E. The tonal improvement, particularly at the top of the range, already not at all bad, was obvious and immediate.

It cost me £10 (= US$12.35 - my! how times have changed!) for the tail piece and about 25 minutes of my time to effect the swap, including the final tuning - I've done this a number of times over the years on both violin and cello, so I know what to do without risking the sound post going down.

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