Repair advice

August 22, 2018, 12:09 PM · I recently bought a violin from a fiddler in VA. It is a Tommy Case (from KY) Guarneri pattern instrument. This is his instrument number 8 of 18. After a new set of strings and playing on it for a few weeks I noticed a couple of issues. The A-string is not resonant; the sound dies immediately after the bow stops. Likewise, this is the issue up the entire length of the string. E-string seems fine, and G & D have a big open sound unless Ab is played, then it is almost a wolf tone. Basically the first octave is fine, but losses any richness/ring after that. I've also noticed that open A against F/F# on E produces a growling sub-harmonic. Other intervals are fine.

My luthier recommended a new bridge and sound post. I worry that it is a tuning plate issue. I'd rather not spend the money on a new bridge and post if it is not going to fix the issue. My luthier can only guess at this point. The good news is that he does not spend other peoples money unless absolutely necessary.

Does anyone have any advice? It is not a super expensive instrument.

Replies (12)

August 22, 2018, 12:56 PM · If you are unhappy with the sound I wonder why you bought this instrument. Maybe if you spend $200 for some tweaking with a new bridge and soundpost it will improve and if it does i woukd say that it is money well spent. I also think that maybe a few months of playing on it will make it come alive but there are many here who will disagree with me on this.
August 22, 2018, 1:06 PM · Unless the bridge is obviously wrong- too high, low, warped, etc., I would start with a sound post adjustment first. That's the cheapest solution, and often will fix a lot of problems. Then fiddle around with the strings. Then get into the bridge, tailpiece, and nut.

Any reason why you need a new soundpost rather than an adjustment?

August 22, 2018, 2:02 PM · My luthier basically said that they are not good quality. I wasn't that surprised by this. The guy I bought this instrument and another, did not seem particularly knowledgeable about instruments.

My hesitation is that it was a $500 instrument, putting $200 into seems like putting lip stick on a pig. Granted, this instrument maker is currently selling his instruments for $1500+...

I trust my luthier; however, I just wonder if there is another issue at play.

@Jeff: when I first bought/tried out this instrument, it had a wonderful tone, which is what I general look for. The strings that were on it were dead; but despite this, it sounded really good.

August 22, 2018, 3:10 PM · "when I first bought/tried out this instrument, it had a wonderful tone, which is what I general look for."


How long did you play it? I always recommend having a violin a week before deciding. Was it up to pitch when you first tried it? In a live room?

So you learned your lesson, and actually a cheap one at that. In violin world, a $500 mistake is nothing. Give it to a needy student and move on.

August 22, 2018, 3:21 PM · First thing, check the ratio vibrating string length vs. afterlength, especially if there is "almost a wolf tone", and especially if the wolf dwells in a region you'd never expect one. You can do it on your own and it is free.
You'd be surprised how often this ratio is neglected "at first sight", until the complete setup is made new.
August 22, 2018, 3:22 PM · Before concluding to a plate/bass bar issue, proper instrument setup is a first essential step IMO. All that you are describing sounds to me like a setup issue, although I am no expert on the matter. However, if you are hesitant in spending what it takes for a good setup, certainly you won't be dishing out $1000+ on a $500 instrument to open it up and tune the plates. So what other options do you have? When you think about it, it's that or nothing really.
August 22, 2018, 3:35 PM · Peter,

Welcome to the club of those who are faced with the dilemma of putting more money in an instrument or cutting your losses. In my over 40 years of playing I've done both. I put way too much money into a family-fiddle to get it to sound much better than it's actual cash value. I also purchased an excellent instrument on my teachers advice (and he could make it sing) with the idea that I would grow into it (I never did - not the fault of the instrument, but my dedication or lack thereof - we just never clicked and I sold it)

Unless there is some emotional connection to the instrument don't put more cash than a new bridge and perhaps sound post with the understanding that they will be adjusted to the best positions.

The real key is to take your time before committing your cash to another instrument. Play the potential instruments in as many conditions as you possibly can, get the opinion of others, have somebody else play them for you to hear unseen. Under no circumstance compromise or plan to grow into the instrument.

Oh yes, you also should use some different bows as sometimes a different bow changes the tone a lot.

August 22, 2018, 4:02 PM · Without a good set-up, you can't judge the instrument. If he has only made 18 instruments, chances are his set-up is still lacking.

Again, without a proper set-up, even the best instruments won't sound.

August 22, 2018, 4:17 PM · Economists call this the "sunk cost" dilemma....
August 22, 2018, 6:27 PM · Listen to Duane Lasley, a professional luthier.

Another factor on setups, since "violin makers" are unlikely to make more than 10 or 12 instruments a year, their setup setup experience is limited compared to a luthier involved in professional repair who may handle hundreds of instruments each year.

Three of the instruments I have bought were made by an amateur maker friend of mine. Well, he may still have been consided an amateur when I bought his violin #11, but I also later bought his violin #54 and his viola #6. Even though he was self taught he has now made 101 instruments, all sold except for #1 an #101. All those instruments ere improved by taking them to a pro-shop for new bridges and soundpost adjustments.

But still #11 was one of the best violins I have ever played.

August 22, 2018, 6:52 PM · I found a bit of history on the maker here: http://intranet.finance.ky.gov/NR/rdonlyres/CED3E266-D315-49EF-81AF-17F013AC85CD/0/FACNewsletter121114.pdf

While it's not a certainty, generally hobby makers who learn from other hobby makers won't be making good instruments. It looks like your violin #8 was before Tommy Case started apprenticing with a professional luthier, and what he's making now might be vastly different (presumably better) than the earlier ones.

The description of the problems sound to me more like very fundamental instrument shortcomings, although it's hard to tell from words. If the bridge and soundpost are at the extreme end of horrid, it might make a big difference... but I wouldn't expect everything to come out great even then.

August 22, 2018, 9:23 PM · Once I had a Zombi A String, adjusting the afterlength and putting a better tailpiece and tailgut resurrected it. Better than the soundpost solution, especially if you are happy with the other strings.

But for me, your key thing is "after a new set of strings". Did you change the brand? What was before what are you using now? If you changed the strings tension, you changed tension distribution in the violin and it should be reset-up.


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