Bad overtones

October 22, 2018, 3:26 AM · Resently I have noticed some bad overtones appearing on my A string on my violin. This happens on the open string right up to D. I thought perhaps it might have had to do with my age and deteriating hearing, so I got my 18 year old son to have a listen who has excellent hearing, he too could hear the bad over tones. I placed some blue tack an 8mm diameter blob on the bridge on the trebble side, we both thought this improved the tone. Then after playing some more, if I shifted the frequency of D on the A string, that nasty sound came back. Differning positions of the bow on the string did not solve the problem. Then the D string started to play up, giving a horrible screatch occationally during the note attack.

The strings are steel wound, do not know what core, strings are as they came with the violin 20 years ago. Strings have been played for a total about 2.5 years ( I recently took up the violin again).

Do the strings need replacing? Is some thing else wrong?

Positioning ones ear at different locations, near and distant did not solve the problem either.

I even recorded the sound and did an FFT of it to find out what the frequency components are for the open A string: A4 A5 E6 A6 C#7 E7 G7 A7 B7 C#8

That C#7 might be the problem. The blue tack lowered the amplitude of this.

The sound has become so bad to my ear it is putting me off practicing.

Some help would be appreciated. Sorry I do not have a violin teacher, between jobs at the moment so no lessons for me at the moment. I have access to a luthier at a price.

Replies (29)

October 22, 2018, 3:33 AM · yes the strings should have been replaced 18 yrs ago!!
October 22, 2018, 3:34 AM · Try Pirastro Tonica strings, best sound quality for the money IMHO
October 22, 2018, 3:53 AM · Or maybe there's a crack starting to open between the front or back and the ribs? (but you should get new strings anyway)
October 22, 2018, 4:06 AM · After 20 years I'm surprised the strings didn't snap when tuned to pitch!

Agree with Lyndon - new strings are the first order of business. If you post a picture of the windings (both ends) someone here can probably tell you what you have on at the moment.

October 22, 2018, 6:18 AM · For an amateur who practices regularly, strings should be replaced every 6 months or so. Even if they haven't been played at all, strings will still die in 2-4 years.
October 22, 2018, 6:34 AM · Another possibility - the screw threads on your chin rest may be coming loose or the chin rest itself contacting the tailpiece?
October 22, 2018, 9:17 AM · Twenty years?! You're worse than an electric bass player!

Change the strings already.

October 22, 2018, 9:35 AM · First time on that everyone's agreed about something. But I bet the nasty overtones turn out to be due to something else entirely
October 22, 2018, 9:51 AM · Steve Jones, too funny. You are so right, like a loose chinrest barrel or collar/pin on a peg. Or if the strings were fraying, they acted like a saw in the nut and so they don't seat well. Start with a string change and get your violin checked by a professional for a general checkup.
October 22, 2018, 10:34 AM · Like everyone said, change your strings first and foremost that is pretty obvious. Also consider the possibility of an open seam or crack, so if I were you I'd examine the instrument very carefully too. There could be other causes, but really until you change those ancient totally wasted strings it is a waste of time to speculate further. If I were you, the first thing I would do after picking up an instrument that has been sitting in a closet for 20 years would be to have it set up and examined by a professional luthier, if you can.

October 22, 2018, 12:20 PM · I agree with everyone! To check for open seams you can knock (very very gently!!!) Around the back and front near the seams and it shouldn't sound solid if there's an open can also take your end button out (though this might make everything fall off?) and look inside. Light will come through where seams are open. Best to have a luthier do that...
October 22, 2018, 12:28 PM · DON'T TAKE YOUR END BUTTON OUT. Leave that to the professionals!

Please. This violin needs to go to a luthier ASAP. They can change the strings too--that is the obvious first order of business, but I'd be very surprised if there weren't other problems as well.

October 22, 2018, 1:47 PM · Thank you so much to all that replied so quickly. I already did the light tap test, nothing sounding dull, no cracks visible. I checked the screws for the chin rest, were not loose, but to rule out removed the chin rest altogether, still bad over tones.

So a string change it is then as the first call. Lyndon Taylor, thanks for the recommendation of the Pirastro Tonica. I see these are nylon cores all but the E string, so should be mellow, which is what I want. I have micro-tuners for all strings, assume since the Pirastro Tonica strings are not gut strings I can still use the micro-tuners. Have taken a photo but see no option to share here.

Antonio Strings here in Chirstchurch New Zealand, sells strings and has a Luthier, they are local, so will go there.

Thanks again,

October 22, 2018, 2:04 PM · @ Cotton "Twenty years?! You're worse than an electric bass player!"

I can beat that. I know a double bassist who told me with some pride when I was showing him my new set of cello strings that the steel strings on his bass were 30 years old - understandable I suppose given the astronomical cost of replacing that set!

October 22, 2018, 3:17 PM · Norman, the last time I posted a blog, I copied down the instructions for including URLs and photos. Here is what it said about photos (sorry about the horrid line breaks):

If you would like to embed an image, please use the HTML code for images: Please do not embed images more than 560 pixels wide. You can upload and store your photos to any of a variety of photo-hosting services, such as Imgur

October 23, 2018, 1:47 AM · New Pirastro Tonica strings have been strung on the violin ... and now I am thinking have I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Trust you can appreciate the humour here. The sound quality for the E string is great. For the A, to the D to the G string the sound quality becomes more unruly for the lower srings. Is this perhaps meaning the new strings have to be “worn in”? Or is it me having to get used to the response of a different string brand? The store where I bought the strings from said my original strings were dominant brand.
Edited: October 23, 2018, 2:07 AM · Norman,

New strings do have a bit of a break in period. What do you mean by unruly? If you're referring to that overly bright metallic sound it'll fade over the next few hours of play as the strings break in. They shouldn't change much outside of that (and tuning stability).

They'll also have different response as they're a different string and new.

You may need more work on your instrument but getting a fresh set of strings certainly isn't out of the frying pan and into the fire. :)

October 23, 2018, 8:30 AM · Get that violin to a luthier! From personal experience: I had my violin under a bed in a controlled temp room for 12 years, and it needed: a new bridge, a new soundpost, new strings (obviously!), a new tailpiece and seam repairs.

I experienced the bad overtones that you are talking about too.

October 23, 2018, 1:57 PM · Michael, by unruly I mean, to be able to control the tone, to get a consistent tone. It feels like the new strings are much more sensitive to small changes in bowing to the quality of the tone produced. Perhaps that is a good thing, meaning if I can get used to it, I can produce more variety in the tone produced.
Pamela, thanks. Once I get paid employment, will take it to the luthier for a checkup. Mind you after 20 years of not playing, then playing again consistently for the last 11 months, the problem on the old strings only came about in the last two weeks. The other thing that changed that I did not mention, was that my ear was compacted in the last two weeks, a visit to the doctore fixed that and after that I became more sensitive to certain frequencies.

So either the violin needs a checkup and/or I need to relearn tone control, now that my strings are more sensitive and my hearing has become more sensitive.

October 23, 2018, 3:30 PM · Just as a side note about HTML formatting, to get text to flow around an image,

simply include an align="right" in the img tag and the image will sit on the right side with the text flowing down to its left.

As you might expect, saying align="left" instead puts the image on the left side.

We now return you to your ongoing discussion...
October 26, 2018, 2:07 AM · Ok so returning to the discussion, after three days of using the new Pirastro Tonica strings, about 1hr each day, the tone still sounds horrible. With the old strings the A string was giving a bit of trouble, but now it is definitely worse on all strings.

All sorts of problems:
1) at times a screaching sound on the open string (definitely sure my fingure did not accidently touch the string).
2) On the G string at some positions, a bad over tone develops that deadens the sound, almost like a gargling sound.
3) Bad high pictch over tones on all strings at some positions.
4) String grab is not constant, an oscilation develops, a bit like bow bouncing.

WIth all of this happening very hard to get the intonation right.

Is breaking in new strings meant to be this horrible?

Edited: October 26, 2018, 3:12 AM · I bet your soundpost got way loosened at some point.

This was certainly never a string issue.

Bring it to a Luthier.

Edit: also, a Luthier checkup shouldn't be very expensive...

October 26, 2018, 12:37 PM · I agree with Erik. At least now you eliminated the strings as the possible culprit. It sounds like the are a few things going on. Perhaps a wolf tone on the G string, perhaps some sound post / bridge issues, tail piece issue, open seam issue etc. Some recording would be helpful but one really has to examine the instrument closely.
October 26, 2018, 1:52 PM · Thankyou for the advice, so a trip to the Luthier it is then.
October 29, 2018, 3:11 PM · Took my violin to a Luthier at Antonio Strings Christchurch New Zealand yesterday. They were very patient with me. They played my violin to try and catch out bad notes. The luthier also had a go, trying out the full range, bows were swapped, violins were swapped, all so I could hear the difference. Their bow gave a slightly less grainy sound, their violin gave a slightly richer sound. Then I heard some of the nasty sounds. So what went wrong? The new strings demanded I play the bow on the strings closer to the bridge. They then set me loose in their practice room using my violin. They were determined to help me out and solve the problem. The luthier then came over to me and said, why not try this little mute, ok. Oh that is much better. He also handed me a free sample of Melos Rosin Violin Light and said try this. I was most greatful for their advice, which came for free. The violin was given the all clear health check.

So when I came home, I tried my violin again, old rosin but with the new mute attached and made sure I played closer to the bridge, ah that is better. Tone was consistent and pleasing to the player. I removed the mute and the ugly tone returned. Will try the sample rosin today. By the way the old rosin is Geipel Violin Rosin Hypoallergenic.

So problem solved.

The mute attached.

October 29, 2018, 3:28 PM · I can't believe no one here thought this might be user-error before assuming it was equipment (myself included).

I think use of the word "overtones" might have tricked us into thinking you were more familiar with the instrument than you were.

Regardless, I'm happy to hear the luthier trip worked out for you! I rarely hear stories about people regretting a trip to a luthier, so future readers, take note of that!

October 29, 2018, 3:39 PM · A fellow Kiwi! I'm glad that Antonio strings proved again that they are great quality violin shop in NZ. I often buy strings from them, they have surprisingly large amount of strings in stock.

On the topic, great that you find the violin sounds better with the mute. But as you improve, you have to take it off at some point.

October 30, 2018, 2:39 PM · Tried the Melos Violin Light Rosin, sounds much more mellow and does not give me allergy problems. I think the new strings have exagerated or perhaps more exposed my deficiencies compared to the old strings. Now that the tone is more pleasing to the player (me), I can continue to practice and get better. Yes, hoping that later I can remove the mute. The violin is an interesting learning journey.
Edited: November 1, 2018, 9:13 PM · Why don't you try musician earplugs rather? Tx for the mute photos, one thing obvious to me is that there isn't a trace of carving or thinning of your bridge and the rather deep grooves, where the strings sit, which should be no deeper that 1/2 the string diameter could generate some buzzing. Neither is good, even for an inexpensive VSO. I am surprised that the shop did not point that out, even if they thought it wasn't worth the cost for a proper bridge setup on that instrument.

Edit: this bridge was even set up backward! The stamp on the front marks what is to be the back of the bridge, which should stands perpendicular to the top plate, whereas the blank side is the one that must be thinned out, facing the scroll and angled relative to the top plate.

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