Has a scientific study been made of string response, so we can guess less about what strings to try?

Edited: April 12, 2019, 9:41 PM · I've got a dead sounding violin. Recently I began thinking of recording a response curve of each of the strings I put on the violin and do the same with other sets. Then I would look at how certain strings would fill a gap on a violin that another string would not.

Then I could look at response curves and make a more educated decision of what strings to try. I would not be going out and buying sets of all strings, but just as I happen to buy new sets of a different brand.

I know the first thing I will hear from folks is that "every violin is different and respond uniquely to strings", but, seems like some guideline or baseline could be developed.

Anyone know of anything similar, where I don't have to reinvent the wheel? This is going beyond bright/dark/clear/complex.

Replies (10)

April 12, 2019, 10:36 PM · One of the people who investigated this sort of thing was Norman C. Pickering, inventor of the phono cartridge that bears his name. In addition to that phono cartridge he held many other patents. For part of his career he worked with Kaplan Strings and measured many violin string things, bowing things and instrument responses. Many other scientists have worked and are working in this area (not that there is any real money funding it) - google searches will help uncover them - they will provide lots of info but not specific answers that you want.

Check out the scenes near the end of the movie "The Red Violin" for some ideas, although I don't know that anyone really measures things that way.

The instrument is an amplifier and the strings provide the input. Unfortunately, violins do not provide smooth amplification across the acoustic spectrum, but if you could measure the output amplitude of your instrument to a smoothly swept frequency input of known amplitude vs. frequency you could get a curve of its response and if you could measure (or otherwise determine) the input of your strings when mounted on the instrument you should have the information you seek.

Not easy! That's why we go through all the trouble and expense of trying different strings until we are happy or at least satisfied (for a while).

Wish I could help.

April 12, 2019, 10:50 PM · You gave me some info I didn't have. That is some help. Thanks.

Smoothly swept input frequency input of known amplitude? So, a tuning fork would not work, because it is too uncontrollable? I have things I could use as a tone generator, but no way to conduct it mechanically to the violin.

I don't have scientific equipment, I have a lower level Neumann stage condensor mic, a Scarlett recording interface, and Reaper DAW.

Could be worse. Could be a whole lot better. Plus, considering, I don't have the technical background.

April 13, 2019, 2:45 AM · One of your biggest challenges will be controlling all the variables. Can you play the violin exactly the same, multiple times? Most people cannot. The difference between two bow strokes can be bigger than the difference between two strings.

Norman Pickering had some elaborate and complicated ways of vibrating strings, which eliminated the player. But even then, it is player impression which is the final arbiter, superseding the importance of any measurements.

April 13, 2019, 2:49 AM · My ear has such a horrible memory, I'd need to record the violin anyway to know if there'd been an improvement.

I agree, repeatability would be hard to capture.

April 13, 2019, 3:44 AM · I would rather measure mechanical properties of the strings and use recordings to help subjective humans in a blind classification to rate them as bright/warm/complex/etc.. Here are some parameters to look at:

* design tension
* elasticity (how many % stretch for 1% increase in tension)
* bending stiffness.
* torsional stiffness (combined with string diameter)
* hysteresis losses in stretching and bending.

I'd expect the design tension to be mostly relevant for balancing the loudness of the four strings in a set. Elasticity is probably not critical.

Bending stiffness will affect how well the string can
produce high overtones. Torsional stiffness together with string diameter affects the slip-stick interaction with the bow.

You could measure those mechanical properties with fairly simple equipment, i.e., a home-made rig with weights and levers.

Hysteresis losses indicate how much of the vibrational energy is lost in the string rather than being transmitted to the bridge or absorbed by the stopping finger. It's probably frequency-dependent. Hysteresis losses are harder to measure. You could put the strings on an electric violin (no resonator box) and test how quickly the sound of a plucked open string fades away. You could use Python (free programming language) for the analysis, but you'd need programming experience and a math/signal-processing background.

Now that I think of it, an electric violin might be a good way to separate the properties of the violin and recording equipment/acoustics from the string properties. But unless you figure out how to calibrate that electric violin, your measurements cannot be reproduced by anyone else.

April 13, 2019, 5:42 AM · I do have a solid body electric, I didn't want to introduce the electronic signal path.
April 13, 2019, 7:26 AM · Gotta ask: you say the violin is dead; why are you trying to fix the strings when they aren't the problem? Fix the violin.
April 13, 2019, 7:49 AM · Good point!!
Edited: April 13, 2019, 9:33 AM · I've had a couple of luthiers look at it. One said "It's a bad violin". The other said "there's no reason it should not sound better". So, attempts to fix the violin have failed, or I've not found the right luthier. Both suggested other strings. I'm looking for a cheap way to get me by until I can afford another. I do have another one at the moment that I use instead.

It used to sound better. Not sure what happened.

April 13, 2019, 12:23 PM · I've tried a lot of strings, and although some were clearly better than others on my violin, they were all just very different. Some seemed better for Bach, others for concertos. Some "felt" more right, too.

So the thing is, it's all just too subjective to really bother.

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