Violin Changing Personalitly

April 12, 2019, 11:19 PM · Hi! I've been lurking around on this forum for many years now, but haven't ever posted anything. I'm in some dire straits at the moment, though, and I need the advice of some violinists to help me decide what to do.

After playing the same modern instrument for 11 years and feeling frustrated by its inability to produce a powerful tone, I decided it was time for an upgrade. I am a professional performer who teaches a bit as well, so acquiring a really good instrument that is easy to play is something I probably should have looked into a long time ago. At any rate, I began my search late last year and rather quickly found an antique violin that I really, really loved. However, it had a repaired soundpost crack that had drastically depreciated its value (making it affordable for me, of course) and it had no official ID papers or anything, so even though the dealers showing it to me had theories about who made it, no one could confirm it. These were little red flags for me, so I decided to continue my search and ended up making a better financial investment, purchasing an antique instrument with fewer repairs and official documents. While I didn't connect with the sound of it quite as readily or completely as the other violin I'd been considering, it was a significant improvement for me with the added bonus of being a sound financial decision.

Flash forward to a few weeks later, though; it was like a Jekyll and Hyde transformation. The violin I purchased, which had seemed very responsive and easy to play, was suddenly crackly and brittle-sounding. Playing loudly is less difficult; usually when I'm really giving it all I've got it makes a pretty nice, big sound; however, playing quietly is almost impossible. Changing strings abated the problem a little bit; I've tried Pro Artes, Evah Pirazzis, and Dominants. However, my problems always resurface after a few days. I'm getting to the point now that I cannot even remember what drew me to it in the first place. I've played for most of my life, so I must have seen something wonderful in this instrument while I was getting to know it--I definitely wouldn't have purchased it otherwise--but even so, the doubts are creeping in.

I'm wondering whether it's a soundpost issue; the violin was shipped to me from another place in the country and it was probably quite an adjustment for it. However, after 11 years of saying, "Oh, let's try another set up, maybe that will help! Let's try out new bows, maybe that will help! Let's try different strings, maybe that will help!" with my last violin, I'm feeling pretty cynical and hopeless, especially since I know from experience that that road can be both fruitless and expensive.

So, here are my questions for all of you:

1) Does this sound like it is could be a setup issue?

2) Have any of you ever been in this position?

3) What did you do to resolve it?

I cannot decide if I should try to re-audition the first violin I connected with again (if it's even still available), even though it was a riskier financial investment, or whether I should tinker with what I've got and continue my search on the side until I find something that complements my playing and is a sound financial investment...if such a thing exists.

I am rather upset because I've just gotten out of a long-term relationship with an instrument that was holding me back for many, many years and I'm afraid I'm getting into another one. Knowing that there are violins out there that can make me feel like I'm a good player who is worth my salt only makes me feel worse.

Thanks for your time and input, everyone! It's greatly appreciated by both me and my husband, who isn't a violinist but who has nevertheless had to listen to me prattle on and on and on about these issues for so long! :)

-Tib

Replies (9)

Edited: April 13, 2019, 1:00 AM · I am no expert, but from what you are describing, which is the violin did sound better at some point but no longer lead me to think of only two possibilities: 1. A signifiant change in humidity or 2. a significant change in the setup, everything else being equal. A shift of the sound post can affect response, just as a change in humidity can. The first possibility should be easy to rule out however, which would leave only one possible reason if it isn't the case. Of course there is always a possibility that your perception of the instrument has changed, or that its character changed significantly after the strings had a chance to settle. Some dealers lessen the tension on the strings before a trial, which in effect makes the instrument sound more like when new strings were just put on, and then the sound change as the strings settle again.
April 13, 2019, 1:40 AM · Sounds like a job for a violin psychiatrist. IE a qualified luthier.
April 13, 2019, 7:15 AM · I would associate a reduced dinamic range in the violin (not much difference between strong and weak produced notes), and scratchness when playing lightly, with a too tight soundpost, and maybe a tight soundpost too near the bridge foot.

If you don't want to mess with the soundpost by yourself, you can have it moved by some luthier or violin shop.
Probably you don't need another soundpost or need to cut it, if it's the case i supposed:
it can be moved a bit diagonally, so to put a bit less tension.

April 13, 2019, 7:29 AM · please let a competent luthier handle moving the soundpost, do it wrong and you might be looking at a soundpost crack.
April 13, 2019, 8:14 AM · First guess would be humidity-related. Where was it shipped from, and where are you now?
Edited: April 13, 2019, 9:22 AM · Sudden crackly sound often means a rib-plate contact has opened. But ...

You say you made a financial investment here? PROTECT YOUR INVESTMENT and do not try to fix this yourself. A little open seam or a soundpost adjustment ... a qualified luthier can do these things quickly and inexpensively. You could learn to move your soundpost, but not by practicing on your "investment" instrument!! You practice those kinds of things on Chinese VSOs.

April 13, 2019, 11:37 AM · Thanks, everybody!
I feel a lot better hearing that it sounds like a setup issue, or perhaps even an open seam! The violin moved all the way from the East Coast to Wisconsin, and we just had the hardest winter we've had in decades, so that may have something to do with it! I'm going to take it to a luthier as soon as I can set up an appointment.

P.S. I wanted to assuage everyone's fears, as well: I promise I would never in a million years attempt to move my soundpost myself! I have absolutely no knowledge in that department and I'm lucky enough to live within driving distance of many trustworthy luthiers, so I'll have no trouble getting it to someone who knows what they are doing. Thank you for your concern and advice!

Edited: April 13, 2019, 1:04 PM · Elspeth, It is not clear to me if you had this violin for a brief trial. If you spent only a few hours with it, it is not surprising that the sound perception is different now.
As I have mentioned before, a solid sound picture of a violin emerges typically after 4-5 days. Our 1st impression is so often terribly wrong (influenced with many factors, from your subjective state, order of presentation, presentation room, presence of other instruments with sympathetic resonance, visual attributes of the instrument.... etc, etc ) that it is never a good idea to buy an instrument on a whim.
Apart from subjective factors in sound perception (which inevitably change over time), there are, as others mentioned, objective factors influencing the sound. If you can rule out subjective factors, then it is entirely up to you to decide if the instrument's setup is worth revisiting. We did not hear violin before and after and this all is in the realm of speculation. I would say, if you are not 100% happy with it, and it is possible, return it while you still can.
April 13, 2019, 3:30 PM · Cheapest point to start with would be humidity. As my own beloved one's voice suffers seriously under the dry room climate every winter, I'm keeping myself busy from october till april by soaking a Stretto humidifier pack every other day to feed the violin case, running a room humidifier in the room where I store my instruments, and limit out-of-the-case times strictly to my practice sessions. An in-case humidifier is a good investment anyway and doesn't cost a fortune. When the wood gets enough humidity (target 50-55% in-case), the top plate will relax again and if you should observe a significant improvement within some days, you can eventually go without a soundpost adjustment if the summer climate at your place is humid enough.

If it doesn't work, you can still go to see a luthier.

Good luck!


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