How does a violin open up?

November 21, 2018, 12:25 PM · I recently bought a 'modern-ish' viola, made in 1965. I'm not sure how often it was played, so I'm interested to know how the sound develops.

How exactly do the vibrations from playing the instrument alter the wood? Does the molecular structure or stiffness of the wood
change? I've heard people say that playing in tune helps, but wouldn't that mean you have to always play at a certain pitch like 442?

Replies (124)

Edited: November 21, 2018, 3:30 PM · No need to play it. Just heat a thin knife with an iron and cut all the way around!

Nobody really knows how it works, but the best theory is that the structures of the top plate breaks apart at the molecular level, making it more flexible.

Edited: November 21, 2018, 4:23 PM · Assuming the viola's bridge and sound post are properly setup, the way it opens up in the short term is by the player figuring out the combination of bow speed, pressure and articulation the instrument needs to cleanly vibrate the strings.

In the long term, wood undergoes a well-documented aging process that typically reduces the natural damping. Some mechanical properties, like stiffness and sound speed, tend to increase over the first 100 years or so.

Longer than 100 years, many mechanical properties very slowly decline.

Because of the decrease in natural damping, the instrument can become louder and more responsive to the bow, and its timbre can change, not always for the better.

There is zero scientific basis to support the theory that playing or playing in-tune (whatever that means) has any affect on wood structure. There is plenty of scientific basis to contradict such claims.

For an instrument made in 1965, your best shot at opening it up is to vary your bowing until you find something that works.

November 21, 2018, 4:24 PM · This is the very esoteric area of playing strings. Pull an instrument out of the case or off the shelf/hook in the shop and if it's been there quite a while it sounds "congested" but, play it more and more and it begins to "open up."

The reality is that the perception of sound is subjective at best. There are probably microscopic changes to the wood over time, but more likely it is the microscopic changes to the musician as she works to tease out a particular sound by adjusting finger positions, force on the bow, angles of attack, et cetera. Lets call it mutual development.

FWIW: I did have a violin that I simply did not get along with. It was anything but an instrument that "speaks easily" and another musician is able to get more out of it than me - that is why I sold it and got my old instrument tuned and worked harder to get the most out of it.

Edited: November 21, 2018, 8:26 PM · I agree with Carmen. I think most "playing in" of the instrument is the player adjusting to the specific response characteristics of the instrument. There's a lot of baloney out there on stuff like this. New violins probably do age more quickly than 30- or 50-year-old violins. But I don't know if anyone can definitively say whether it matters that they've been played.
November 21, 2018, 8:53 PM · Like I said, nobody really knows. They just come up with bogus reasons to satisfy their curiosity and stop thinking about it.

Edited: November 22, 2018, 3:15 AM · I'd be interested to hear from someone with information (I'll settle for an opinion) about this from a perspective other than that of the player; namely David Burgess or one of his tribe. Does he think his instruments sound any different when brought back to the workshop for the first time after a few weeks, months or years?
November 22, 2018, 5:39 AM · You're assuming, Steve, luthiers get out a bow and play on an instrument extensively when it comes in for repair. Second assumption is the aural memory of how the instrument used to sound new is written in stone.
November 22, 2018, 5:40 AM · As a viola maker, I use a device called TONERITE to play in my new violas. They sound good from the very beginning, but after two weeks with this device the sound will get more focused and open. Some makers say it does not work, so I think it depends a bit of the instrument. And yes, there is the question of the player adjusting to the instrument, top players will get that in some minutes, others will take more time.
Anyway, NEVER get a viola you don't like with the hope that it will sound good after playing in. Good instruments sound good from the very beginning.
Edited: November 22, 2018, 6:39 AM · Yes, of course it's hard enough for a listener to distinguish between violins played minutes apart, let alone weeks or months, but even an honest hunch from a maker such as Luis is valuable. And I heartily agree that even a brand new instrument should "speak" from the outset. One of the violins I tried in a Florentine workshop 20 years ago had been roughly set up for the very first time. As soon as it had cleared its throat I knew it was the one I'd been looking for. Over the ensuing months I wouldn't say it "opened up" - more that its sharp edges became rounded
November 22, 2018, 7:44 AM · Probably the same way a guitar opens up.
November 22, 2018, 8:50 AM · My experience with new violins agrees exactly with Mr. Manfio's about violas. Of course this presumes that an instrument already has ideal soundpost and bridge.

What I have learned rather recently (in the last 10 - 15 years) is how much the character of some instruments (at least to the player) can be improved by experimenting with different strings. Knowledgeable players and especially luthiers can be very helpful in this by their recommendations.

Another thing that has made some changes to the character of some instruments that had defects (at least to my sense of hearing) has been experimenting with a KRENTZ WOLF ELIMINATOR appropriate to the instrument involved (violin, viola or cello). This device can be moved around to test how it changes the sound and response of an instrument (as well as to eliminate wolf tones). To my mind it may be similar to the effect of some regraduation of the top plate.

November 22, 2018, 8:53 AM · New instruments are a whole different beast.

Newly applied oil varnishes based on linseed oil will experience dramatic changes in mass due to absorption of air-borne oxygen over the first 30 days at least.

Previously unstressed wood plates subjected to the constant load of strings will undergo dimensional changes due to low level creep for some weeks after first being strung up.

The humidity of the room in which the instrument is kept will affect these changes in measurable ways.

I do not know how much additional stress a Tonerite device applies to a viola, but it certainly possible that it affects these initial aging processes.

November 22, 2018, 9:30 AM · I think people that don't believe violins open up from being played in are hard of hearing, tone deaf so to speak, there are a lot of them out there and they tend to be very "scientific".
November 22, 2018, 9:00 PM · Why are you incapable of expressing an opinion without tossing an insult?
November 22, 2018, 9:42 PM · I found your first post insulting to our intelligence!!
November 22, 2018, 10:02 PM · You leave it in the attic over a dry winter.
November 22, 2018, 11:44 PM · The problem with this debate it's that mixes facts with hypothesis.

Hard Fact: Apart from the seasonal changes due to climate, the violin sound changes over time. The changes are more pronounced in the beginning.

Subjective addendum: Most people regard that change to be "for the better".


1. The materials (wood, glue), age and mature changing their sound qualities.
2. The violin structural forces and vibration capacities change under the constant tensions of strings and regular movement of use.
3.- The sound lengthwaves of the playing "arranges" the violin to lessen the resistance to those lengthwaves. (Highly speculative).

Without experimentation that allows to isolate one cause from the others, all we can do is bet for one cause or the other. Personally I think that what opens the violin (by use, not just aging) is to be constanly under the strings tension. A stored violin looses that tension, whilst a played one is always under the max tension it can take in that setup.
I am trying to think about structures that are affected by sound vibration (usually they get affected by what causes the sound; not the sound itself) and can't think of many. And certainly, if a structure would be susceptible of change by sound vibrations, it would be very much changed by stronger forces like carrying it around or touching it.

November 23, 2018, 12:18 AM · I think as oil based varnish hardens, there is a definite reduction in its dampening effect, hence the instrument opens up. This process continue to happen for years after the instrument is made. Then there is the various theories about wood fibers transformation at the cellular level over time and the amount and nature of vibration the instrument is subjected to. I know for a fact that the hardening of the varnish on my instrument resulted in a significant effect on its tone when its maker subjected it to additional UV light bathing and polishing.
November 23, 2018, 1:17 AM · Mr. D'Agulleiro: your "hard fact" of violin sound changing over time is in reality an opinion. There is no way to 'prove' this into a hard fact. It may be true, it may be our imagination.

What is a hard fact though, is that with most people their hearing changes over time, and not for better. There is also the likelihood that a violinist adapt to the instrument he has and finds ways to make it sound better.

I'm not 100% resistant to the notion that a new instrument changes over time as the wood gets older and dry, but I wonder if that's something an individual can hear. Especially as there is such a need in people to hear just this.

November 23, 2018, 1:51 AM · changes in wood composition over many years are well documented, obviously that effects the tone.
Edited: November 26, 2018, 2:42 PM · I'm basically in agreement with Carmen and Herman. While violins will clearly change over time, there doesn't seem to be good evidence that this is related to being played. Evidence is more to the contrary.

The most extreme changes I have noticed are when an instrument is first put under string tension. It will play and sound quite differently when it is first strung up, than it will a day later. The rate of these changes diminishes over time, but they can easily continue for a month or much longer. And much much longer, if the varnish is still changing, from thr maker not having taken it to "a plateau" in the drying curve. Even years.

Oh, some of this can happen after restorations too, or even after a period when and older instrument has been without string tension.

Naturally, there is excitement to see what either a new or recently restored instrument sounds like, so people start playing them. They may notice that the sound is changing, and it's easy to attribute that to the playing, since the passage of time happens to coincide with the playing.

November 23, 2018, 6:49 AM · Carleen Hutchins wrote about this, with a careful mixture of experiment and guesswork. It's somewhere on my computer...

Science? She confirmed the effects in her workshop with acoustical measurements before and after intensive use.

Hypothesis? She suggested that the resins in the fibres are fragmented after playing, but tend to re-form when the instrument is at rest.
Not to mention the drying out of the sap into a more crystallised form over time, allowing freer vibration.

The fragmentation may not be the same for different players, hence the strange impression when someone else has used your violin!

November 23, 2018, 7:02 AM · My luthier suggested playing octaves deliberately out of tune .He claims that this technique starts that nodal "beat" vibration in the instrument which will help "drive" the plates.
November 23, 2018, 7:21 AM · I'm well qualified to be a volunteer plate-driver
November 23, 2018, 8:17 AM · Just a mention here that bad, pseudo-scientists assume nothing exists until they manage to discover it. The violin world is filled with bad, pseudo-science (as is, I suppose, the whole of general science as well, since that's where a lot of the violin ones seem to come from).
November 23, 2018, 8:39 AM · I'm in the Burgess/Carmen/Herman camp...
To me it is a "hard fact" that a violin will usually change over time, and I have measurements to back that up. Also, in "The Acoustics of Wood" there is a chart showing changes in damping over time after application of a static force (i.e. stringing up a violin for the first time, after repairs, or after a while without strings).

I had assumed that play-in was a real thing, and invested quite a lot of effort in tests to prove it. The proof never materialized. Sure, after playing a gig, I thought my fiddle sounded infinitely better, but I'm convinced it was all on my side of the chinrest. And the Tonerite... no.

November 23, 2018, 9:21 AM · I alternate between my instruments relatively often and it takes from a few minutes to few hours to adjust to sound production on a specific instrument. Does the sound open or it is the player who opens toward the instrument? While I have witnessed changes in sound changes on my commissioned violin through past 8 years, the most dramatic and subjectively noticeable were due to changes in setup. Old violins... every dealer will claim that they will open (or re-open) if played enough. When the player gets accustomed to the instrument, he/she will support the belief. I always say, the violin sounds at its best at the moment of purchase "as is" ... never subscribe to sound improvement, especially with old instruments (with the exception for substantially restored instruments)
Edited: November 23, 2018, 9:34 AM · There's much better evidence that humans adapt, than there is for violins auto-adapting to playing. Like Don, I too have invested quite a bit of time and effort looking for real answers, rather than just placing my faith in legend and anecdote.

Adrian, an awful lot of water has passed under the bridge since Hutchins reached that conclusion. I think it would be safe to say that many of the measurements which led to her conclusions have since been found to be in error, or soundly refuted.

November 23, 2018, 9:35 AM · This is a fascinating topic to me because any 150-250 year old instrument we've played has a completely different character from recent instruments. Does building modern instruments from 200 year old high-quality wood make any difference, or do the results tend to sound like any other modern instrument? It wouldn't answer this question of static changes under load vs changes from "playing in" but it might provide some useful insight.
November 23, 2018, 9:54 AM · Yet, when some accomplished soloists were given a sampling of old and new violins, they were unable to reliably guess (without looking at them) which were new, and which were 300 years old.
November 23, 2018, 10:27 AM · Our concertmaster has the use of a Sanctus Seraphin violin.It has ENORMOUS power and richness.Did it sound like that when it was made in 1775?
Edited: November 23, 2018, 10:47 AM · I doubt the tonal effect of aging/drying has on wood can be totally dismissed, otherwise makers of fine quality instruments would not waste money on well cured wood supplies. If there in a difference between a 30 day old kiln-dried wood and a six year old one, then the same can be said between a six year old one and a hundred year old one, albeit perhaps with more subtle difference to a point of diminishing return.

The effect of vibration on wood fibers and resulting effect on tonal characteristics should in theory be possible to observe and measure in a lab-controlled experiment if one is so motivated and has the right equipment to measure and observe the minute changes with a degree of statistical rigour, and perhaps that has been done already, and if not should be if only to establish the existence of the phenomenon.

Then there will be a debate about good vs bad vibrations. Some argue that power tool vibrations destroy the tonal qualities of wood (which would prove that vibrations do affect wood tonal qualities), while the artful play of a master will improve it, arguing that wood can be "taught" in sort of a way to optimally vibrate when played in tune! ... here I see an interesting follow up research project from the one above, however, surely someone has attempted these in the past.

November 23, 2018, 2:29 PM · There was a discussion some years ago about tonerite and similar contraptions for playing in violins. In the thread I have described a easy to make device that I have used on several instruments with good effect. The thread is here:
Edited: November 23, 2018, 2:47 PM · There are simply too many variables that change over time to expect that it would be possible to definitively assign changes in a violin's tone to changes due solely to wood aging.

Just consider the number of movable and replaceable parts in a violin and bow that DO change the sound of a violin, and you will recognize that none of these can be held constant over the period of time required to detect subtle changes caused solely by aging wood.

Edited: November 23, 2018, 5:54 PM · I do own an early model of TONERITE and I did use it on a couple of my instruments. I can not say whether or not it helped them, but it certainly did not hurt. (Part of the reason I can't judge the device's effectiveness is because my hearing has been undergoing changes over the past several decades and I now wear hearing aids that make all things sound better than they did starting about 30 years ago.)

Considering the various ages of woods likely to be in my various instruments (covering instrument ages of 14 to 141 years plus stories some of "my" makers have told me about how their woods came to be in their instruments) I would have difficulty saying that the AGE of the woods (other than adequate natural drying before cutting) had much to do with anything - or even the amount the instruments have been played.

If I were to consider the mechanism of the TONERITE and the change in the instruments over short-term use of it I would tend to think that it might improve (or at least change) the fit of a bridge and/or soundpost. Maybe it even cracked a bit of glue around the edges.

There was some discussion a couple of decades ago about the usefulness of cycling a new instrument through widely varying humidity levels (i.e., take it into the bathroom while you shower, etc. and then to a dry place). I don't know how that worked out. I did try it. The result was -- ???

Concerning the varnish of golden-age instruments having hardened over time, my experience is limited to the time 55 years ago when I was told to press my thumb into the belly (top) of an ex-Olé Bull Stradivarius violin and watch as the visibly impressed fingerprint slowly vanished.

One thing does seem quite likely; as an instrument is played those unvarnished interior surfaces that are moved the furthest during vibration are likely to lose more wood than those that are moved less. This will change the graduation slightly over time and perhaps those slight changes are all that is needed to "age the sound."

The tone of one of my violins really bugged the cellist in my string quartet almost 50 years ago and he even induced me to buy another violin for chamber music. I took the first violin to the maker of the 2nd violin and he said he could regraduate it - (however I do recall that he had a Francois Pique for sale at the time that wss quite similar in tone). When I contacted him again 6 months later he said he decided not to open it and do any cutting. He said if I just played it for the next 100 or 200 years enough wood dust would come off to change the sound. About 20 years later I did get a later one of "my" violin makers to regraduate it. It is sweeter sounding now (although people back in the winds of our orchestra still seem to think they can hear it). But I'm still not sure I did the right thing.

November 23, 2018, 5:36 PM · I think it's important to realize that anecdotal results can be very different from experimental results.
To get meaningful results, I think a minimum of two conditions must be met:

1. Finding a way to differentiate changes which are due to playing or vibration, from those which would have happened anyway, without playing or vibration, such as those due to the passage of time, or humidity changes.

2. Finding a way to minimize or eliminate changes which are due to placebo effect.

November 23, 2018, 8:41 PM · there is no scientific research to show David's instruments are any better than any other makers, its all up to subjective choices made by players, maybe its a placebo effect.
November 23, 2018, 9:34 PM · Lyndon its time for your medication again.
Edited: November 24, 2018, 2:36 PM · Lyndon, it's pretty common for my instruments to be tested under blind or double-blind conditions, to minimize "expectation effects" associated with a particular maker, a price, or the age or provenance of the instrument. It's fine with me that people evaluate them that way, because I realize that hardly anyone is totally immune to placebo or expectation effects of one sort or another, and I want my instruments to be able to stand up under the most thorough forms of scrutiny.

In a "playing in" or "opening up" experiment, one way of reducing expectation effects would be to record excerpts on a violin both before and after the playing or vibration, and have listeners assess the recordings without knowing which was which.

Another way would be to start with two instruments which a group of players find very similar, expose only one to playing or vibration, and then have the same players test them again, without knowing which was which. This is similar to the protocol used in the Australian playing in study:

November 23, 2018, 10:48 PM · such studies are hardly scientific!!
November 24, 2018, 4:05 AM · In my innocence I'd never heard of the Tonerite which has put a smile on my face this rainy morn. According to my local luthier's web site it's "the world's most advanced and premier violin play-in device, significantly accelerating the play-in process and providing increased tone, playability and balance" which begs so many questions I don't know where to start. You could also use it on your cat if it gets a bit plump around the middle.
November 24, 2018, 6:41 AM · I have many years of working with vibrational effects on materials. Although I would be skeptical of boastful claims about devices like Tonerite, the basic principal of vibrational loading and aging has well-established scientific merit.

Basically, all materials have various, microscopic defects in their structure. In most cases, loading the material causes stresses to intensify around these defects.

Subjecting the material to extended vibrational loading can cause the defect to change dimension and the material about it to reorganize in ways to reduce the local stress level.

What is not clear is how vibrational aging would cause an instrument to "open up". The only scientifically validated effect is that certain types of defects tend to slowly grow under such loadings until they eventually cause a fracture to propagate through the material.

My experience is consistent with what David posted: there are typically other, more significant effects that are happening while "playing in" that may give the illusion of it having some effect upon the violin.

OTOH, Manfio's violas are spectacular to the eye, pleasing to the ear and played by accomplished professionals. You can find videos on YouTube if you are curious.

If he feels that some part of that success is due to the use of a Tonerite device on a newly made instrument, then, as my old tennis coach use to tell me, "Never change a winning strategy." >grin<

Edited: November 24, 2018, 2:42 PM · Lyndon, different people have different definitions of what is and isn't "scientific". I think most people would agree that using a blind or double-blind structure for an experiment is more scientific than drawing conclusions based on anecdotes, beliefs, or folklore.

Carmen, when I was trying to find information on the effects of vibration on wood, one thing I looked at was what happens with wooden aircraft components, since there is so much data and experience with that. I was unable to find anything about a service life or recommended replacement interval for wooden aircraft components, with the exception of wooden helicopter rotor blades, which can be seen going through extreme bending when viewed in slow motion. Wooden airplane propellers, on the other hand, seem to suffer most from degradation due to moisture and weather, and runway debris impacts, and can last indefinitely if adequately protected from these things. That may not be directly related to the effects of vibration on violins, but was still interesting, I thought. Do you have any other data like that on wood which might be applicable?

Edited: November 24, 2018, 10:02 AM · David Burgess said:
>>November 23, 2018, 9:54 AM · Yet, when some accomplished soloists were given a sampling of old and new violins, they were unable to reliably guess (without looking at them) which were new, and which were 300 years old.<<

If you are referring to the Curtin/Fritz test in Europe, there was mention that one player apparently was able to tell the difference. In my opinion, if the test were honest, the next step would have been to tell the others "thank you, you may leave" and then continue to test that one player to see if the ability was real or just one-off. It he were proven to be able to reliably accomplish this, then the difference between those instruments would have been proven, regardless of what the others failed to hear.

What they did, however, was similar to taking a bunch of people off the street and asking them to run a four-minute mile. If one in 100 was able to do it (and the actual figure is quite a bit lower than that), they would have mixed that in with the other 99 trials, and "proven" that by the statistical probability it was not possible to run a four minute mile.

In research this is an instance the white crow effect, named by researcher William James in 1896. It isn't necessary to have a statistically significant test to disprove the hypothesis that all crows are black; all that's necessary to have is a single white crow. Curtin and his research partner discarded the white crow and went with the statistics. . . . and "proved" nothing. They saw the path to understanding. . . . and discarded it.

Find ten such people who can past tests regarding identifying individual violins, and one would be on the way towards understanding violin tone. Using hoards of unfiltered participants who are qualified only because they can play one single violin well, not because they have shown any ability to tell one violin from another, is a dead end.

Further discussion:

Edited: November 24, 2018, 10:28 AM · Michael, all the players involved in that particular test were soloists, not just "people off the street".

I agree that it would have been nice if they they could have taken the experiment several steps further, to to try to nail down whether the one soloist who scored much better than the others at differentiating old from new, was a fluke, or whether he could repeat this with some consistency.

Perhaps they'll have a chance to do this during some future experiment.

Here's a link to the paper about that set of experiments, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for anyone interested.

November 24, 2018, 10:59 AM · Without wishing to open old wounds (the thread I started on this topic a year or two ago went on for more than 1000 posts), the Fritz study actually assessed the ability of both soloists and audience members to identify what they were playing/hearing. I think the authors made too much of what was essentially a negative result, that in general the ability of soloists and audience members to correctly discriminate old from new, Strads from Brad's or Vlad's, is quite poor. Similar results have been obtained before although this study was probably the most rigorously (still very imperfectly) controlled.

Concerning Michael's last point, it would be interesting if one could assemble a group of "golden eared" individuals who can detect differences inaudible to the rest of us, but as David says this addresses quite a different issue

Edited: November 24, 2018, 11:43 AM · The latest effort to reliably differentiate between old and new is using speech analysis software, with emphasis on this software's ability to recognize and categorize vowel sounds, better than humans are able to do.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent several hours with one of the researchers while he was making recordings of a contemporary instrument, to analyze using this method. A while later, the researcher texted me, saying that the violin had "really nice vowel sounds". I'm not sure what that means, at this point, but maybe something will come of this someday.

Edited: November 24, 2018, 7:05 PM · For me personally, a quality that I tend to find in really good old instruments is depth+slight nasality. Nasal might sound weird at first! But I think it's extremely important for the instrument to not be too round in sound, or else it begins to have the very rounded voice of pop singer rather than the sizzling 'nasal' projection of an opera singer.

From 0:35-0:50 perhaps you can see what I mean between the differences in the two cellos. Capucon's cello sounds seriously nasal, in a good way!

I'm yet to play a modern instrument which has both incredible depth+nasality, but I also have played many plain courteous round sounding old instruments!

November 24, 2018, 8:25 PM · David,

When trying to asses how to design components, like airplane propellers, that will be subject to extended cyclical loads, the material is subjected to "cyclical loading" tests.

A test sample of the material is subject to some modest cyclical (vibrational) load and the number of cycles the sample can sustain until it suffers structural failure is recorded. The result is a plot called an S-N plot.

You go along the x axis to find the N (number of cycles) the material will be subject to during the life of the component. You then go up until you intersect the S-N curve. The value of the curve along the Y axis (the S) is the maximum stress the component can handle. You then design the "thickness" of the component to make sure the stress does not exceed that value.

Many materials exhibit an "infinite cycle" stress. Meaning that if you limit the stress on the component to that stress or lower, it will not fail due to the vibrational loading.

You should be able to find lots of studies of the effect of cyclical loading on all sorts of wood properties. Applying those results require some way to measure or compute the stress in the violin shell under typical playing conditions.

Edited: November 25, 2018, 2:17 PM · Vowels?
Vowels are "formants", increased resonance over limited ranges of frequencies, which "colour" and refine the rather raucous sounds emerging from the vocal cords.

They can be a neat way of describing the formants of a violin, although we more often use, boomy, hollow, honky, tubby, nasal, harsh, screechy, brilliant, metallic, silky etc. It is perhaps easier to agree amongst ourselves on vowel descriptions, though.

I use "nasal", for the zone either side of 1kHz, "agressive" either side of 2kHz, and "projection" around 3kHz, but there is no complete agreement.

November 25, 2018, 3:52 PM · @James, is 'boxy' a word that describe a similar sound to 'nasal'?

Cheap violins ($500 and below) almost always have a nasal sound, in all strings. Personally I don't really like it because it feels like the sound is trapped a bit inside the violin (no matter how big or projecting the volume). But as far as I know, a nasal sound is more likely to go with poor projection and volume.

Kudos to you for citing a video that greatly differentiates this quality!

November 25, 2018, 5:42 PM · @matt - I have a nasal and a boxy instrument and they sound very different.

Boxy sound is easier to describe. It's quickly saturated and the instrument starts to MOOOO like a sick cow. There is no grace from warm piano to MOOO and while it sounds loud under the ear, it does not have the low end nor the shimmer - hence - it does not carry well.

Nasal sound is like if Kermit (the frog) was trying to sing. In the lower register it's usually more throaty and in higher register more nasal. This sound can be quite annoying, because it also lacks depth, but to my experience - there is depth, only not as loud. Conversely - this sound carries better and is not as annoying when it reaches the audience.

November 25, 2018, 6:10 PM · James, most anything one likes or hates can be found in either a new or old instrument, if the sample size is large enough.

Nirvana may be harder to find in a random sampling of new instruments, since new violins are being cranked out at previously unprecedented rates: Three-hundred-thousand per year, from just one factory alone in China. Versus maybe 100 per year being turned out by the world's high-end contemporary makers. So a search for an exceptional contemporary instrument needs to highly focused.

Edited: November 25, 2018, 7:50 PM · If the taste for a particular tone at any period of time has anything to do with speech pattern, no wonder nasal sound is attractive to some nowadays!
Edited: November 26, 2018, 12:27 AM · Everyone has their own taste for sound, much like beauty in the eye of the beholder.

But in general, I think it would be hard for nasal sound to be commonly accepted as attractive. Most cheap violins have it. People tend to regard anything cheap and common to not be desirable.

Also, nasal sound appears in not only common but humble situations. I immediately recall some instances: someone talking with a blocked nose, car horn honking (old models), and your neighbour playing trumpets.

No offence meant to James' preference. @Tony thanks for the insights!

November 26, 2018, 12:08 AM · Just to be clear, my remark was perhaps a failed humourus attempt at making reference to what David mentionned about the recent trend in tonal research, and the reference made to the relationship between what is considered superior violin tone and the human voice, and the overwhelming and unfortunate growing popularity of the fry speech pattern (aka nasal talk), and wasn't meant to be critical of anyone's personal taste.
November 26, 2018, 2:17 AM · "Versus maybe 100 per year being turned out by the world's high-end contemporary makers."

I don't understand this. Are you implying that the world's high-end makers are collectively turning out 100 violins per year? Seems a bit low. Or do you mean that high-end makers are producing 100 violins each? Seems a bit high. How many makers in the world qualify as "high-end?

November 26, 2018, 3:39 AM · Vowels again..
My French JTL viola was bought in London. It is narrow-bodied, with a strong peak at 1kHz, which is more common on violins.
I have two bridges, the one supplied in London, the other fitted in Paris which is lighter and more cut away - and sounds more nasal!
I went back to the London bridge.

After a major repair, the tone was more muffled until I had played hard for a few months.

Edited: November 26, 2018, 5:52 AM · "I don't understand this. Are you implying that the world's high-end makers are collectively turning out 100 violins per year? Seems a bit low. Or do you mean that high-end makers are producing 100 violins each? Seems a bit high."

Obviously I can't speak for DB, but it's clear that he meant to say that there are many more factory-made violins than high-end instruments. It all depends where you draw the 'high-end' line. Five hundred violins, violas and celli per year, made by the best makers (each making max. ten instruments per year) would have sounded reasonable too. Th e point was, one Chinese factory makes a thousand times more violins.

Edited: November 26, 2018, 11:47 AM · Thank you, Herman. Yes, it depends on where one wants to draw that line. There might only be ten to twenty contemporary makers whose instruments I would be interested in owning, and not all of them are full-time makers, so output can vary.
November 26, 2018, 10:02 AM · Once again, people seem not to be differentiating between "opening up" and "change of tone." They are different.

I've owned several modern instruments-none have experienced a real change of tone. A violin sounds like it sounds, with only marginal differences obtained by strings or adjustment etc. However, while the TONE remains the same, they can be capable of improvement in response, especially in the higher positions.

November 26, 2018, 10:17 AM · "However, while the TONE remains the same, they can be capable of improvement in response, especially in the higher positions."

It also happens to be where the uncunscious micro-adjustments in our technique have the biggest impact on tone and playability. That seems to supports the theory that the biggest change is the player adapting to the instrument rather than the instrument changing over time, unless this change is observed by someone who isn't playing the instrument regularly.

November 26, 2018, 12:32 PM · Possibility and theory are FAR from proof!
November 26, 2018, 2:04 PM · Anecdotes and opinions are also far from proof. So here we are... exactly where we were before this thread (and the many identical ones) ever started. Everyone gets to keep their own theories, because no one has proof of anything.
Edited: November 26, 2018, 3:06 PM · Exactly. The only caution I would add is that once someone starts testing this, the lack of evidence for one cause is not proof for the other side. It is simply a lack of evidence. And further, that a single phenomenon may have multiple causes. We have a fondness for simple, tidy solutions, but the world rarely complies.
November 26, 2018, 4:15 PM · Michael, Don has done some testing. I have been testing the notion of "playing in" for at least 20 years.

No matter what anyone does, someone can always claim that it fails to be proof, or that it is too "unscientific" to be regarded as proof, even if it has passed enough peer scrutiny to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

You, I, and Lyndon are not scientists. Don Noon was a NASA engineer/scientist, and my opinion is that he has contributed much to to the endeavor of violin making.

November 26, 2018, 4:24 PM · "However, while the TONE remains the same, they can be capable of improvement in response, especially in the higher positions."

But isn't that the kind of change we are talking about? "Opening up" the tone, rather than fundamentally changing it?

But I agree that such minute shifts can have multiple causes.

November 26, 2018, 4:35 PM · David. Doesn't Don Noon say violin making is not rocket science, its more complicated??
Edited: November 26, 2018, 4:36 PM · The greatest differentiator in sound is perhaps not the instrument itself but the violinist.

I had the pleasure to share stage with some wonderful violinists and we switched instruments for fun. I distinctly remember playing a Klotz (or perhaps steiner) with a deep somewhat subdued tone... when I played it it sounded bright and shimmering with zing, when a felow violinist (Ljubljana symphony orchestra) played it, the instument sounded deep and misterious.
Again, when I played my Vilim Demsar 1991 (which is slightly nasal), I was bright and zingy, he was deep and throaty.
Only last week I tried a new masterpiece from Daniel Musek - and he told me this is as deep and as bassy as he is willing to go on a violin, without making it sound like a viola. I played it for 10 minutes and it was zinging like anything I touch.

So the sound is (given a good instument) more in the player’s hands than we want to admit.

Edited: November 26, 2018, 5:27 PM · David. Doesn't Don Noon say violin making is not rocket science, its more complicated??

Yes, he has, and that's one of the things I really admire about Don, since he has a foot in both worlds, and seems to realize the strengths and weakness of both.

Anyone in the violin-making or dealing or expertise trade who asserts that he/she has everything figured out already, should be disregarded, in my opinion. It takes courage to say, "I don't know, yet", in a field where there is so much posturing.

November 26, 2018, 5:42 PM · maybe you should pay attention to your advice???
Edited: November 26, 2018, 5:50 PM · How so?
I am still learning, and expect to be doing so for the rest of my life.
November 26, 2018, 6:55 PM · My own theory about this: while there are some changes that doubtless happen to the actual wood and carpentry, a lot might also be the adjustment. I.e., it is a fact that sometimes moving the bridge or soundpost a fraction of a millimeter can have an extraordinary effect. Is it possible, then, that playing an instrument that is nearly correct in setup will set up a pattern of vibrations that will only be optimal when the moving parts pop just that last little bit into the sweet spot?
November 27, 2018, 3:33 AM · Back to my use of the TONERITE advice, I would not say that it operates a miracle in my violas, but just that it speeds the time to get them in a "competitive" condition after finishing them (about 30 days). It was Melvin Goldsmith who recommended me to use it.
Edited: November 27, 2018, 9:27 AM · Here is a link to Carleen Hutchins' article: it does not constitute "proof", but I find it "convincing". The method is sound, but cannot take every single parameter into account.

I have a good basic grounding in acoustics, and have read many of the contributions of Ms Hutchins, and those of Don Noon. Those of William Fry have a very "fuzzy" logic, but on his video I can clearly hear the changes in tone he obtains, even on my desktop monitors....

November 27, 2018, 2:54 PM · Adrian, how did Hutchins determine that the change was due to being played, rather than to the passage of time under string tension alone? (which Don Noon and I have measured)
November 27, 2018, 3:18 PM · Hmm, the Hutchins article does not mention anything about humidity levels before and after.

@David, the last paragraph mentions that there was a difference in the change after being played versus being exposed to music playback.

Edited: November 27, 2018, 4:55 PM · Yes, but they are different instruments, and no information is given on how long any of the instruments were strung up prior to the initial testing. The longer an instrument was strung up before the initial testing, the less I would expect the changes to be as more time elapses
November 27, 2018, 4:23 PM · "Expect", or "know"? As I wrote, there are many missing parameters, so nothing actually rules out these assertions. Therefore they are worth exploring more methodically. It is a domain where the science has to catch up with the aural impressions, or admit that it can't be sure.
Edited: November 27, 2018, 4:56 PM · "Know", on the instruments I have tested. I have not tested every instrument. Nobody can. ;-)
November 27, 2018, 4:56 PM · Fair enough..
November 27, 2018, 7:00 PM · So Tom, you spent "tens of thousands" on an "Italian" violin, apparently without having ever played it, and then you were disappointed when it didn't sound good? So you went after it with a cello bow (you didn't say how often for how long) and a year later it's a great violin?

Perhaps it just took you that long to learn how to produce a good sound on that particular violin. Not sure how you would rule that out.

I'm especially not buying the stuff about "wood breaking free from its stiff state" and "wood re-learning how to vibrate again." There's just nothing to support that kind of supposition.

Edited: November 27, 2018, 10:19 PM · As David suggested, and observed, once a new instrument is set up, the effect of pressure and vibrations will, as any other body subjected to pressure and vibration does, eventually settle into an equilibrium state. This can be microscopic changes, that overall can have an impact on the free vibration of the body. Add to this varnish curing and human fine tuning, and you'll end up with something that sounds different. Then add the effect of a player that adapts to what makes the instrument "speak", and you end up with a much better sounding instrument. The effect of the player can be very significant as some have observed. This is what makes studying these physical changes so darn difficult, how do you remove the player variable? Until someone comes up with a violin playing robot, we'll never know! Oh... The Japanese did that... hum... I see some possible research work potential with that new toy!
Edited: November 28, 2018, 2:00 AM · Robots? Several studies from the scientific world (e.g. Charles wood, Norman Pickering) have used mechanical bowing to remove human variability and partiality.

"I'm especially not buying the stuff about "wood breaking free from its stiff state" and "wood re-learning how to vibrate again." There's just nothing to support that kind of supposition."

....Especially if we are determined not to look for it?

But then I suppose we are not going to cut the plates open on a good violin to examine the fibres under a microscope before and after playing!

Edited: November 28, 2018, 9:03 AM · Another study on whether vibration changes wood:

From the abstract:
"A preliminary analysis of the data does not reveal any significant changes in the acoustic response of the plates."

November 28, 2018, 7:03 AM · Hmm. Looks like someone was determined to look for it. But didn't find it.
Edited: November 28, 2018, 7:47 AM ·
Edited: November 28, 2018, 11:07 AM · Is this to suggest that it takes a psychic or a "seer" to perceive playing in?
November 28, 2018, 9:23 AM · I was going to say that no scientist ever massaged their data to make it appear negative, but then I remembered the tobacco industry
November 28, 2018, 1:00 PM · David, I was referencing the whole article, not just the last sentence! This century's magic is the next century's science, and it's been that way for about the last 500 years. So it's best not to get too entangled in the current "wisdom" beyond the ability to move with what becomes learned. The self-appointed gatekeepers of what's reasonable are exactly the ones who fall away as irrelevant.
Edited: November 28, 2018, 3:01 PM · I was referencing not just the last sentence, but the entire web site, including the title of the website, "Seers See Ministries".

I thought this part might be the most directly related to various notions about violin sound:

"Actually, the vibrations caused by sound can be recorded in matter, and they can affect the air around it in certain conditions. Have you ever listened to a recording of a congregation singing praise and worship to God… and the atmosphere around you changed? God inhabits praise… even recorded praise."

November 28, 2018, 2:08 PM · David, that is naughty!
I appreciate your link: at last trials triumph over suppositions.
I should like the trials to be repeated using violins, though, with all their interacting parts.
November 28, 2018, 4:05 PM · Adrian, I don't know if trials will ever completely triumph over suppositions. There are still one or more "Flat Earth Societies".

November 28, 2018, 4:11 PM · I guess David's attempt at humor and distraction either means he got it or he doesn't.
November 28, 2018, 4:22 PM · When we cannot understand the cause of strange observations, the answer is not "the spirit world". It is "we do not know". We take a closer look, devise some tests, and further our knowledge.

If a cause is "unseen, untestable and unknowable", then what is the difference between that and the cause not existing at all? It is also an invitation to make up any fantastical explanation we wish and dismiss all objections because, by definition, the unseen, untestable and unknowable cannot be disproved, which also means we make use it to prove anything we please.

Edited: November 28, 2018, 4:39 PM · Michael, the "seer" website was something you introduced to the discussion, not me. I just quoted from it.

However, I once had someone come in to look at a violin I had for sale. After looking at it for several minutes, she wanted to write me a check and leave with it. I suggested that she play it first. She declined. I suggested that she take it home for a couple of weeks, and then decide. She declined. I suggested that she think about it for a while, and I would hold the violin for her. She declined, explaining that God had told her this was the right violin. So I offered to her (and her adult son who was with her) that they would be welcome to bring the violin back for a refund.

While this was a such an unusual way of selecting a violin that I was very uncomfortable with it, I guess it must have worked out, because they never returned it in the years since.

I did have one other person (a minister) say that the spirit and prayer had led him to me, but I didn't have any of my violins available, so I don't know how that one would have turned out.

These are true stories, and not something I made up for the purpose of ridicule.

November 28, 2018, 4:55 PM · So now you're saying God approves of your violins?? That's quite an endorsement??
Edited: November 28, 2018, 6:25 PM · Lyndon, I was not the one who brought the psychic, spiritual, or metaphysical angle into the discussion. I simply responded, mentioning things a couple of clients have told me along those lines.

On the other hand, the violin has sometimes been called "the devil's instrument", so watch out! ;-)

Edited: November 28, 2018, 6:50 PM · David: Similar story: back in 1951 or '52 when we selected my just finished Strad model violin from maker, Carl Holzapfel, he would not let my father pay. He sent us home with the violin. About a year later, after I had left high school and was a college freshman, my father brought the violin to me for my 18th birthday, and took back the ancient 7/8 Tyrolian violin I had played for the previous 8 years (until the Holza[pfel came into our home).
Old Carl had finally let him pay!

In the "modern era," when I take home an instrument or bow on trial the seller has my credit card info. Even if I haven't paid yet, it seems I really have!

November 29, 2018, 1:02 AM · This paper (Weldert 2017) hasn't been mentioned yet.'Playing_them_in'_Fact_or_Fiction

The title is a bit click-baity, since the author doesn't really make a verdict regarding "fact or fiction", but at least it's a nice overview of scientific studies that have been done on the topic.

Edited: November 29, 2018, 6:40 AM · Tom you've got a business plan in the making. Just go round to violin shops and buy up all the shopworn "tens of thousands of dollars" Italian violins that sound like bricks. Attach them to Sawzalls fitted with 85-g cello bows and in a year's time they'll double in value.

Please don't overlook our main objective here. The goal is to keep the conversation alive so that we can watch David and Lyndon going at one another. Peanuts here! Cold beer!

November 29, 2018, 7:27 AM · Paul, we can name it the Bow-zo-matic. ;-)
Edited: November 29, 2018, 8:19 AM · Most likely result:
Player: I am positive this violin has changed markedly.
Researcher: I can not find any objective measurements to confirm it.

As was, and ever shall be, post infinitum. (with the exception of the first few days after string-up, where some of us DO find measurable changes)

November 29, 2018, 8:28 AM · A recurring challenge on informal forums that are trying to deal with complicated issues is the loose use of language.

For example, consider the claim that a violin is suddenly 7 to 10 times louder after a year of playing (a violin at 10-15% of its current volume at the start of the year).

Was a controlled, repeatable test performed with sound equipment throughout the year? Or is this more of "Hmmm, my subjective feeling is the violin was much less powerful a year ago, oh, perhaps 10-15% quieter."

People commonly make such statements but it conflates a quantitative scientific claim with an ambiguous observation. That makes the claim sound suspicious and dismissible, when it should pique the interest of makers and players. An experienced player noticed a dramatic change in playing volume over a year of playing. No formal loudness test was performed over the year, but it might be worth asking for more information.

Edited: November 29, 2018, 8:33 AM · Don, you're completely right. Tom might be right too. We have to remember that as violinists (and as luthiers for those that are), we have quite intentionally developed keen perception regarding the sound of our violins. We make tiny alterations to our instruments (or the changes occur on their own through aging or environmental effect), such that they might be very hard to measure using scientific equipment, but we perceive the changes as huge. When Tom says the volume of his instrument increased six- or seven-fold, I would say that sounds like a bit of an exaggeration but that might be his perception of what happened. What we know from the Paris tests and such is that even something simple like volume can be devilishly hard to measure. On the other hand, we also have clear biases. We want to believe that our own perceptive powers are as good as the next guy's. We brag about "perfect pitch" and the ability to "hear the sound" of different bows, different rosin, different after-lengths, and so on. Some of these effects might be more real than others, and some stand up better than others under the bright glare of mechanical and acoustical engineering principles. So it will always be. Like the human body, the violin is a very complex organism and for many phenomena we don't yet even know what questions to ask.

That doesn't mean we should feel free to abuse science for our own purposes. As a chemist with 25+ years of professional experience, however, I object when the unknown suddenly becomes "known" because someone feels like they need to clothe their perceptions in science-speak and start churning out wholly unsubstantiated nonsense about the molecular structure and viscoelastic behavior of wood, etc. That's where I draw the line.

November 29, 2018, 9:12 PM · I used to believe in the opening up of violins. Not sure if it was the fibers, the glue or what. I felt it, so I believed it.
But not long ago I bought a carbon fiber violin. And this one also "opens up". It is becoming more open, and you can notice that in every session of playing.
Which is absurd because I know what is carbon fiber.
The conclusion can't be other than: Its not the violin, it's me. And if it's me in this one, it would be dumb to asume that it's not me in the other one.
My personal experience doesn't proof a general fact, but supports my belief about that fact until proven otherwise.
November 29, 2018, 10:10 PM · Carlos, violin prices seem to positively correlate with age. An indirect conclusion is that violins do 'open up' and sound better as time passes. If not, all modern makers would have to underperform predecessors - which is apparently not true.
Edited: November 29, 2018, 11:28 PM · Age imposes a natural selection (more a professional selection).
A violin that reaches 200 years its because it has been taken cared by professionals along its life, and passed from pro to pro. So it's not that it's good because it's 200 years old, it's that it's 200 years old because it's good.
If it hadn't been good enough, it would have been left in the attic, eaten by wodworms and rodents and eventually rotten.
November 29, 2018, 11:57 PM · Professional selection is an interesting thought! But I find it hard to apply the same logic to most other equipment / furniture, wooden or otherwise.

I think natural selection is not sufficient in explaining the overwhelming number of centuries-old instruments being used in professional orchestras. And all the international soloists that I know of.

Not to mention the improvement in modern luthiery, machinery and automation, etc. which theoretically add to modern instruments'advantage.

An antique instrument can fare 100K or more. I doubt if any modern makers could ask for that price. The bewildering gap could hardly be explained on the basis of 'antique value' alone.

November 30, 2018, 3:49 AM · Carlos, a maker of CF violins informed some potential customers (in a music fair) that a CF violin's tone changes with time: not because of the Carbon fibres themselves, but rather the resins which enclose them.
November 30, 2018, 4:29 AM · Matt wrote:
"An antique instrument can fare 100K or more. I doubt if any modern makers could ask for that price. The bewildering gap could hardly be explained on the basis of 'antique value' alone."

A 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for 70 million. It is not fast at all by today's standards, but it probably has a great sound.

A Leonardo da Vinci painting sold for 450 million. It must have an amazing sound! ;-)

Edited: November 30, 2018, 5:05 AM · Tom wrote:
"How many people out there have already claimed, a 100 yr old violin sounds so much better than a brand new violin. Now, the question do you confirm that with something measurable?"

We don't have a definitive measuring system yet. Evaluations are still based on player and listener impressions. However, these impressions can be very different, depending on whether the age and maker of the violin is known, or not disclosed. That's where the blind and double-blind experiments come into play.

I have a nice Strad copy, which also has a very legible copy of a Strad label. It is well done enough that most people can't tell the difference from a real Strad, visually. You can imagine the fun I've had, handing it to players and asking them to try it, without telling them anything about it. And then watching impressions morph, after I tell them what it really is. This isn't saying anything negative at all about players, it's simply human nature, and something we are all susceptible to, whether we are aware of it or not.

Edited: November 30, 2018, 5:20 AM · Though a Da Vincy painting or Princess Diana's crown or what not can sell for millions, there is a very small market for them. Things whose value are sentimenal alone can be very illiquid.

The market for old violins are a lot bigger. I think the antique, sentimental value of old violins do not fully account for their high price, and I doubt if it is the deciding factor for a majority of violinists.

Of course as master of the trade David must know a lot more than me (about how musicians make their purchase and what influence them, and to what extend). But putting myself in the shoes of a violinist, between two violins of 'nearly' identical sounding quality, one made by David Burgess at 20K, another by Mr. Someone in 1900s at 100K, I'm gonna hug a David for sure. Most musicians are on a tight budget, and even if their budget allows it, may not go with the expensive antique.

I never think modern makers are somehow lesser than their predecessors (maybe better!), and I'm sure in 100+ years my great-grand children (if I had one) can sell Mr. David for 100K ;-)

November 30, 2018, 5:36 AM · Wish I'd bought a Strad back in the 60's or 70's, when they could still be acquired for the price of a mid-level house. It would have been a fine investment indeed! I'd guess that the majority today are not owned by pro performers, but by amateurs, investors, and museums. Not unlike many other "collectibles".
November 30, 2018, 6:14 AM · A sobering look at the current state of fine, old violins. It directly challenges several opinions offered in this thread. One can find many other, similar articles.

November 30, 2018, 8:48 PM · "Wish I'd bought a Strad back in the 60's or 70's, when they could still be acquired for the price of a mid-level house" ... you mean a Strad could be bought back then for $7K as such house could be bought back then for about $15k?
Edited: December 1, 2018, 4:41 AM · Although pro performers don't earn enough $$$ to buy authentic Strads (not even world-class soloist!), owning an antique instrument has become kind of a common industry standard once a player reaches a certain milestone, be it professional, semi-pro, or amateur.

I think it's the main reason why such foundations as Nippon Music give loans of Strads to young aspiring soloists. Otherwise, these superb instruments will never be sung in the most deserving hands and best fulfill their intended purpose - most would end up as display items.

December 1, 2018, 5:13 AM · Yes, playing a Strad or Guarneri has become a sort of signal that the user is "somebody special", whether the instrument sounds superior or not.

The downside is that frequent use inevitably involves some wear and deterioration of irreplaceable historical objects, so it's nice that we have some that aren't out in regular use.

Edited: December 10, 2018, 8:35 AM · Sorry to insist, but there was a scientific basis for Mrs Hutchins' experiment, incomplete though it may be;

"Wilfred Cote, professor at Syracuse University, has worked extensively on the microstructure of wood. He has provided Hutchins with photographs of wood at a microscopic level, and has indicated that when wood is vibrated under stress by sound waves, like a violin being played, the long-chain polymers in the wood break. With changes in temperature and humidity, however, the polymers repair themselves. This is what happens in the process of "playing in" a violin so that it responds more easily. When it is left unplayed for a period of time, the chains tend to repair themselves, but not entirely. Violinists recognize this as an instrument left idle for a few months that needs to be "played in" again. Hutchins has shown this experimentally by vibrating a number of violins continuously for 1500 hours, causing the B1 body vibration to decrease some 25 Hz, making the instruments easier to play and "more friendly." When allowed to rest for three months the B1 body vibration goes back up about 15 Hz, but not all the way."

December 10, 2018, 7:34 AM · Very interesting! I wonder the frequency and intensity of the vibrations provided to these experimental violins.

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