Is replacing/fixing a sound post worth it?

March 17, 2019, 3:01 PM · Hello!

Recently when I went to get my violin repaired (the top wooden plate had to be reglued) the man who was doing it mentioned some other things - which I recognized too - that I had to repair later on when I had the chance.

One of the things he mentioned was my sound post, saying it was pretty old and would need to be changed. However he mentioned it'd be risky(?) and that possibly my violin wouldn't sound the same after.

Is it worth changing or should I just keep my sound post? My violin is probably 80+ years old (or so I was told) if that gives any idea as too the current condition of the violin.

Replies (17)

Edited: March 18, 2019, 12:33 PM · I wouldn't consider the age alone of a soundpost to be a good reason to replace it. That's about all I can say from this side of the computer screen, and from the information you have provided so far
March 17, 2019, 3:28 PM · There's no reason to replace a soundpost just because it's old, assuming that the wood hasn't cracked or the like.

However, if the soundpost doesn't fit, it should be replaced. (You can just keep the old one.) Fitting a new soundpost has no risk whatsoever. Lots of players have their luthier do a post adjustment every couple of months. Plus if you don't like the new post, you could just have the luthier put the old post back into place. It's not fixed into place.

I would, however, beware of a luthier who thinks that a soundpost replacement / adjustment is dangerous.

Edited: March 17, 2019, 3:39 PM · Why would changing the soundpost be "risky?" It's a very routine task when the technician knows what they're doing. And if you're not happy with the outcome, there's nothing preventing putting the old one back. Bear in mind that your violin might not sound the same because it winds up sounding better. I'd look for a tech who inspires more confidence. Unless it's your own anxiety that's clouding the waters. (?)

Note: Lydia beat me to most of what I said.

March 17, 2019, 9:46 PM · Sounds like the sort of things a luthier would say about changing the bass bar.

The repair of a crack most likely involved resetting the soundpost, which is the 'risky' aspect of fussing with one, so I'd call for a clarification if I were you.

Edited: March 18, 2019, 10:06 AM · A violin repair person who reckons changing a sound-post is risky? The good news is that it is indeed risky if the repair person is not a qualified luthier. The second bit of good news is that you have had a good indication of that person's level of technical competence, clearly well below that of a qualified luthier.
Edited: March 18, 2019, 11:11 AM · When I took one of my violins in for a "professional" soundpost adjustment last summer the head luthier was on vacation and the luthier who got the job told me the old soundpost should be replaced. I figured maybe he was right, after all this was the original soundpost on a violin made in 1951 and $55 seemed reasonable enough for 2 precise cuts on a stick of wood and some additional finishing. So he went ahead and did the job for me.

When I returned in an hour or so and tried the violin I thought it didn't sound quite right. I asked the luthier to play it for me - but he was not a player and the luthier who was hadn't come in yet. So I went to lunch and when I returned the violinist-luthier had come in and he played it for me and it sounded fine to both of us. But when I got it home it still sounded a little off to me - so I moved the new soundpost 1 mm closer to the treble bridge foot and it was back to its old sound - I think that's about where I've had it for many years.

Well I still have the old post anyway - just in case I get anxious again.

I've been adjusting my soundposts myself for 50 years. When my father died he left me his S-shape soundpost adjuster and about 50 years ago I bought a scissors-type soundpost adjuster - and a while later I bought the same genre tools for cello.

The S-shape sound post is essential for initial setting a soundpost - and it seems to be the only tool that a pro needs but a rank amateur like me finds the S-shape setter useful for small movements of a standing soundpost. However, the S-shape can be dangerous because it is too easy to apply excessive force that could damage the interior wood of the instrument. Fortunately I haven't broken anything yet, and at my advanced age I doubt I'm strong enough to any longer.

This whole so-it-yourself family-violin-repair got started about 70 years ago when the soundpost on my father's Stafano Scarampella violin fell after we had moved from New York to the Maryland countryside (what our New York relatives called "the sticks"). As an MD pathologist he figured out a way to string up his soundpost with thread and resurrect it - but on the first trip to a Baltimore violin shop about 2-hours away he purchased the S-shape soundpost setter that I inherited, unfortunately only about 5 years later. (I never knew for sure how he did that string thing with the soundpost - but a way to do it did come to me in a dream about 30 years ago - I don't know if it would have worked and I've since forgotten exactly what it was.)

I have never cut a violin soundpost (at least not one that I used), but I did do some cello ones - some cello bridges too - but never as good as a pro job - but good enough for the students who got them (free). In those days there were some magazine-size books describing minor DIY violin repair methods. I find them preferable to most of the time-wasting youtube descriptions one must now endure.

P.S. I also inherited a nice bag of hide-glue crystals - but that is lots of other stories for other days.

Edited: March 18, 2019, 9:44 PM · Soundposts and bridges should be adjusted and replaced from time to time. As your violin ages and the plates change shape, sometimes gaps develop between the soundpost and plate and that robs you of sound. If you play a lot, you may want to get your instrument tuned up once a year.

Yes your violin's sound will change, but usually for the better if you have a good luthier doing the adjustments. Your violin sound also can change substantially if you change your brand of strings.

If you have a particular sound you want out of your violin, you should talk to your luthier about it and collaborate. You can usually make a violin quite a bit brighter or darker through adjustments. Your luthier needs to know what you prefer.

March 18, 2019, 11:09 PM · "Soundposts and bridges should be adjusted and replaced from time to time."

This may (or may not) be. However, the definition of what "time to time" means is difficult to define. Bridges and sound posts should last DECADES.

I've never seen a luthier who didn't think my sound post was in the wrong position. You might as well ask a barber if you need a hair cut.

Edited: March 19, 2019, 8:14 AM · Daf, most changes result in changes. A shop should be experienced enough to give you some indication what the shop intends to happen if something is changed.

Scott, I don't usually suggest a new post or bridge unless I see something that I believe the player will really understand as a tonal improvement. With posts, I'll do that when it really just does not fit, because a fitting violin or viola post ALWAYS sounds better, no exceptions.

Lydia, I'd really be interested in what's going on there. Bridges shouldn't change much over short time spans. . . unless the person who made it keeps having better ideas and is keeping you up to date with that, and you see results, that's OK. If the bridge is sagging, and the gap above the knee is closing, I would first look to the bridge blank. I know that a lot of makers are making obscenely thin bridges these days (which makes no sense to me from any tonal aspect) and if this is done with a treated Aubert bridge. . . . . well, the wood in those just isn't very strong as they're doing it these days, and they can't support such a strategy. On top of that, often makers will pick the "dark" ones as better, and those are the worst--whatever the stain is seems to destroy the wood.

I stopped using those blanks a decade ago, and have had a consistent flow of replacing them recently on violins from other shops. Three years or less to failure isn't uncommon if the bridge was cut to the recent fad of extreme thinness. I have regularly seen violin bridges that were 50 years or more old, good wood, well cut, doing just fine.

Edited: March 19, 2019, 8:27 AM · I've had my 19th-century violin since 1994. During that time, I've had the sound post swapped out once (the old one didn't fit anymore), the bridge replaced once (the old one had started warping), the tailpiece swapped out once (the old one developed a hairline crack in 2017), and a seam reglued.

I have the fantastic luck to live within easy driving distance of a very good luthier, and have always been happy with the results of his work. I would definitely ask for clarification as to why your guy thinks it's risky to swap out the sound post - and maybe consider taking the violin elsewhere if you don't get a good answer. I've never adjusted or replaced a soundpost myself, but it's my understanding that it doesn't qualify as major surgery. You just need someone who has the skill to do it correctly.

March 19, 2019, 9:06 AM · " However he mentioned it'd be risky(?) and that possibly my violin wouldn't sound the same after."

I suspect that this luthier might have recently moved a sound post for a client and the client wasn't happy with the outcome, or he remembers a bad experience from awhile back where he offered to move a post and the result wasn't acceptable to the client. Not sounding "the same" is much different than better or worse, it's just different.

I think this is wise on the part of the luthier to prepare the client to prepare them for this probability. This is highly likely. It is usually a better sound to the customer, but I'm sure some luthiers have had that customer that didn't like the end result.

What sounds better to one person might not sound better to another. I had the thought that if I found the holy grail sweet spot for the sound post I might make a marking to be sure if it ever comes out I could put it back in the same place again. If the wood is dried properly, I wouldn't think there should be any contraction of the post over time.Having the violin in an excessively humid location might make the wood swell I would think.

March 19, 2019, 9:16 AM · I think that ideally the key to adjustment would be to understand exactly what the causes of various tonal problems are and exactly what you can do to correct these. The larger your catalogue, the greater the possibility of success. Just slapping the post around and hoping for the best is the lowest level of understanding I can imagine, but it's what a lot of shops seem to do, in which case it's a real crap shoot. If your adjustment session habitually runs to an hour, without constant forward motion, perhaps you're going to the wrong place. :-)

Tim, I think you'd be surprised how much people have in common regarding what they want (which is not to say that they all want the same thing). What I would say is that where the real differences come in is regarding what bad behavior they can tolerate and what they can't live with, and this varies considerably. If one approaches adjustment from that direction, it becomes a lot easier, in my experience.

March 19, 2019, 9:45 AM · Having "endured" 80 years of my own violin playing, 70 years in a fairly "conscious" state, I presume that as players get older the sounds they want from their instruments may change as their hearing changes - although they are probably unaware of it. At least, that is how I think it has been for me - although I really have no idea of the specifics since I can only hear (at any time) what I can.

The only constants have been the instruments I have had much of that time - but with string, bow and rosin changes (and a few bridge and soundpost changes) how can I really know????

All I know is that if I think it sounds good to me today, I'm happy.

I have read that Mischa Elman would visit luthiers at many of his worldwide concert venues to have his soundpost adjusted. But I don't know at what age he started doing this. The only concert of his I attended was when he was 75 years old, just a tad after he should have retired!

March 19, 2019, 10:15 AM · Michael, my usual luthier (who is primarily a maker) uses tap tuning when he does adjustments. The frequency of the bridge alters with time, and so a tiny re-carve (taking off a bit more wood around the hearts) generally results in an audible tonal improvement.

With all three full-size violins I've owned, adjustments have generally taken close to an hour, but with my current instrument, the result of a small adjustment is much less predictable and often drastic. Long adjustment sessions have been the norm regardless of who I've taken it to. Even Julie Reed Yeboah in NYC (who is about as experienced of an expert adjuster of higher-end instruments as one finds, I think) spent more than an hour trying to find the right adjustment.

March 19, 2019, 4:36 PM · Sound post replacement is risky? Let me tell you my story...

One night in my early violin/fiddle days I was jamming on my cheap Chinese violin at a bluegrass festival. One of the other players peeked in my F-hole and figured that my sound post was in the wrong place. He was one of the luthiers who had a table at the festival, so next day I visited him and he went to move the sound post. It wouldn't budge. Eventually we wound up with me holding the violin firmly on the table while he reached in the sound hole with a chisel and whacked the sound post with a hammer until it finally broke loose. It turns out that the sound post had been glued in place!

All turned out well, though. He made up a new sound post, installed it where he figured it belonged, and it was as if I had a whole new instrument.

March 19, 2019, 4:51 PM · That means you voided the warranty. ;)
March 20, 2019, 7:46 AM · Michael, Thanks.I see your point here. I think I'm fairly particular. I know the limitations of my instrument, at least on the basic level. In that respect there is some tolerance. I've played with the sound post a bit. For me the most difficult thing was getting a loose post out of the violin. Placement wasn't too bad with the right tools. I'm sure I could likely play with it some more.Always room for improvement I suppose.

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