None of you non DIY-ers will know the feeling...

November 4, 2018, 3:01 PM · That feeling when you accidentally knock your soundpost out while adjusting your bridge...

But also that feeling of putting it all back together and hearing that your violin plays like a Ferrari—when you're not exactly sure what you did but the result is amazing. So much more satisfying than handing it off to someone else to set up for you. At least for me, personally.

Replies (20)

November 4, 2018, 3:26 PM · I do wonder why putting a sound post up should be considered such a big deal - by those with a commercial interest? The first couple of times you'll drop it inside and maybe scrape the edge of the f-hole but the knack soon comes. Call it DIM keyhole surgery
Edited: November 4, 2018, 4:31 PM · I'm all about daring to do these kind of things, but I have yet not been brave enough to work on violins. First, I don't have the tool, and second, my violin hasn't have any problems relates to the bridge or sound post. Also, I find these works delicate.
November 4, 2018, 8:28 PM · Well if you nail the spot, make sure you measure where everything is so you can do it again in the future.
November 4, 2018, 9:43 PM · Roger said "Well if you nail the spot, make sure you measure where everything is so you can do it again in the future."

Yes, especially when 1mm off the original spot can mean the difference between an originally well set up and nice sounding violin to a mediocre sounding instrument.

It's not only the placement, but the grain alignment and the correct end against the back and top. I know of a violinist who repositioned his own soundpost and didn't match the post end contour properly with the back and over time it wore a notch in the back which had to be repaired before a crack formed.

Until I worked for a luthier for a while I had not realized how important contouring the bottom and top of the post to match their spots for full contact with the top and back. According to him, it's no less critical than contouring the feet of the bridge for the same reason, complete contact for proper transmission.

I make it a point when I have a nice set up I like to measure and record the exact position of the soundpost to insure I can place it back in it's original location. How many tops have been cracked because a soundpost was repositioned nearer the F hole than it was originally cut and contoured for?

I'm not a luthier but while working for one I saw a number of soundposts that were either fit too snug, or had been repositioned by the owner or well meaning friend, closer to the treble F hole than originally fitted, which caused problems and in some cases damage to the top or back. Resetting a soundpost is definitely worth letting your inner OCD loose. IMO

November 4, 2018, 10:11 PM · There are excellent, highly responsible and ethical luthiers out there. Sorry for those bad experiences that left you cynical about most (if not all) violin repairmen/women.

I am DIY with many things; just not my instrument. I can attempt to repair my smartphone, but am wary of messing with my dear violin. Won't even mess with the soundpost, even with a detailed YouTube video. Sure, I *could*, but I won't, and will leave it to more expert hands.

Now I am sure I could learn about the discipline, but playing the violin-among other life undertakings-takes enough conscious work to keep forever improving. No time to learn lutherie for me (not that it's impossible to play well while being a luthier, I should add.)

Since you are young (I believe?) at least you can still decide to do many things on top of violin playing. No problem with developing your luthier skills over time, if that's what drives you.

Edited: November 5, 2018, 6:07 AM · I also don't know the "feeling" of wrecking my violin trying to do something that should be left to a pro. Fortunately, I do not ever dump my sound post while adjusting my bridge either. I do get my violin readjusted seasonally whenever I can get down to Patrick's studio. Unfortunately it's a 45-minute drive, so I usually wait until I have other business near there. If I know he is coming to Blacksburg I can ask him to bring a few tools and he is happy to oblige.
Edited: November 5, 2018, 7:30 AM · After we moved away from New York City to the Maryland "sticks," it became a nearly 4 hour round trip to visit a luthier deep within DC or Baltimore, although my father finally did settle on one in Baltimore where one of my current violins was purchased in 1951. So my father and his Stephano Scarampella violin had to struggle with only rare professional doctoring.

I remember fairly well the day his soundpost fell. Being a research pathologist used to doing surgical stuff on dead things he figured out a way to resurrect it using thread (or maybe it was dental floss) - this was at least 70 years ago. A trip to the Baltimore luthier occurred very soon afterward and an S-shaped violin soundpost tool entered our household right after that.

I inherited that soundpost setter, unfortunately only 5 years later, and over the ensuing years it was joined progressively by a scissors-stype soundpost tool and later by a similar duet of cello-size soundpost tools, because I had moved to a region of the California desert that was a 6-hour round trip from the closest LA luthier (now Benning's - still in North Hollyood).

I learned that instruments have sweet spots for the bridge and soundpost (not always according to some formula or design or even where the maker (or last luthier) may have originally placed them - or even carved the instrument for them. When you find those sweet spots the acoustic result can be revolutionary. Not all of my instruments have such a sweet spot.

Because of my own experience with soundpost re-setting I have become frustrated when my soundpost is professionally reset at my request and I was able to watch the luthier do it in one quick shot with a single measurement, not play the instrument and the soundpost is exactly where it should be "according to the book" but not according to my ears. (After the last time I had that done I readjusted it myself after I got home wondering why had I bothered and spent time and the money for fuel, bridge toll, and his labor.) I have a number of instruments and have learned in the past 55 years those that have soundpost "sweet spots" have different sweet spots from each other that can be as sensitive as 1 mm to any change of position.

I much prefer the times I have watched the head luthier spend 5 minutes at the soundpost adjustment, moving the post at least half a dozen different times and listening to the instrument after each adjustment. I have marveled that he could do so much in so little time. I think the "by the book" position should just be a starting point and even if it sounds OK, it is worth moving it a bit this way and that to test the sensitivity. Of course if you know the instrument from past experience you might know that the first setting is optimal.

November 5, 2018, 7:35 AM · At least the non DIY player does no have the luxury of misadjusting the soundpost and causing a soundpost crack!!
November 5, 2018, 7:42 AM · The only "jobs" I do on my violins are to change the strings (one at a time, including checking and correcting if necessary the bridge alignment), very occasionally changing the tailpiece (taking special precautions to ensure that the sound post can't move during the procedure), and cleaning with a cloth.

Also, fitting a chin rest, something that should be done carefully to avoid damage to the instrument and undesirable muting of the vibrations of the top table through over-tightening and wrong placement of the rest.

Anything else to be done to the violin is strictly the province of the luthier as far as I am concerned.

My luthier told me that fitting/adjusting the sound post is the one thing that can reduce a grown man to tears, although, to be fair, that was probably his experience during his training many years ago!

November 5, 2018, 8:20 AM · I have found that things "stand up" OK if I change strings 2 at a time (G-D and then E-A). I find it tougher than it's worth to thread the G under the D and E under the A.

I will admit, however, that the first time I tried that I was very careful when loosening the 2nd string, but it worked out OK and has ever since as well.

November 5, 2018, 1:03 PM · Forza Timothy! We don't all need our hands held all of the time.

Although I do suspect one of my first attempts (on a battered old hulk) may have resulted in a crack. Now I have a little experience it won't happen again. In that same violin the endpin block became dislodged when I pushed the endpin in, so I also learned how to remove and reglue the front

November 5, 2018, 2:03 PM · Don't understand why it's so wrong to have my hand "held" by an experienced expert that knows what he/she is doing. One can be self-reliant (I actually am in myriads of ways, as I naturally like to solve problems on my own as an introvert) without denying the experts their due.

We can all learn almost every discipline under the sun, but that doesn't mean we must end up doing everything ourselves. To rely on a more expert hand to help us is not the same as being "hand-held"-which is an inappropriate term usually meant to please the ego ("unlike most, I can do stuff without being hand-held!") One can be strongly independent without these sort of attitudes, in my opinion.

November 5, 2018, 2:21 PM · Frankly speaking DIY violin repair is a disaster waiting to happen.
November 5, 2018, 2:23 PM · I can remember quite well how ignorant I was in my first year of apprenticeship, and I had a teacher, this is not stuff you can teach yourself to do properly, a competent luthier can ALWAYS do a better job.
November 6, 2018, 2:29 AM · All things within reason of course, but I'd like to amplify Cotton's point that, notwithstanding the convenience factor, DIY violin maintenance can above all be satisfying. Why not go ahead and acquire another skill by trial and error if the only victim is likely to be yourself? Having said that I wouldn't dream of performing even minor surgery on my best instruments
Edited: November 6, 2018, 5:02 AM · Steve Jones wrote "Why not go ahead and acquire another skill by trial and error if the only victim is likely to be yourself?"

That is ok if you are using a very bad violin to acquire the skill. If you have a good violin, don't do that. Good violins are a cultural asset taht must be preserved to the future generatios, otherwise we would have no Strads or Del Gesùs today.

We see all the time good instruments that were damaged by DIy, in spite of the player's good intentions: white glue, super glue, revarnishing, f holes damaged by the sound post setter, nails and screws to fix the neck, etc.

One thing that happens a lot: the player cleans the instrument with alcohol or other solvent, some of it goes to the varnish and.... disaster. In many cases the player, after cleaning the instrument, will leave the instrument over the rag soaked with alcohol. We see that every week.

Some maniac players will "adjust" their instruments almost every day. Many old precious have suffered with that.

We pass a lot of time with our instruments in our hands, and that may create an illusion that we know how it works, so we that we can fix it. It occurs the same with taxi drivers, many think they know more mechanics than the engineers who project the car.

November 6, 2018, 6:12 AM · Even though I do not do my own soundpost adjustments, I would agree with Andrew and others that it doesn't seem like the most difficult of luthier tasks and can probably be done safely if one is careful. But even then, were I to try it, I would try it first several times on a cheap VSO. I don't change the oil in my own car either. I do prepare >95% of my own family meals. Everyone has their own DYI limits.
November 6, 2018, 7:52 AM · I have a very good instrument and would never never tamper with it; the luthier who made it lives no more than one kilometre away. I also have a cheap old German "stradivarius", but it has sentimental value, having been in the family for over a hundred years, so it is also out of bounds. When I was young, however, I tinkered extensively with bridges, tail-pieces, pegs, chin rests and anything that moved, and if I'd thought of it, I'd certainly have adjusted the sound-post. I might even have tried a varnish job, if my parents had let me. Now way, today.
November 6, 2018, 10:00 AM · I've been pondering Luis's assertion that "good violins are a cultural asset that must be preserved to the future generations". That's certainly true of exceptional instruments but a line must be drawn somewhere - where? At every downmarket auction I attend dozens of commonplace, broken down instruments get bought and presumably preserved in spite of the vanishingly remote possibility that they'll ever be restored and played in earnest.

Consider also the hundreds of thousands of artworks displayed in the world's museums and art galleries, and the millions more that are kept in vaults and wouldn't actually be missed by anybody alive today. Still we feel the necessity of preserving them for future generations. It's arguable that every artwork is unique in a way that merely "good" (and certainly not "bad") violins simply aren't. Although I love my violins like pets, in reality they're all just functionally replaceable stuff.

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