Violin Tone and Playability

May 3, 2019, 9:28 AM · Violin tone, playability, and with it projection and sonority, appear to be dictated by an acoustic wave phenomenon that has previously gone unnnoticed. This is “new” physics and science. Previously suggested contriibuting factors such as age, wood quality, varnish, plate graduation, workmanship, dimensions, appearance, tap tone tuning, vibration modes, appearance, and regional origin seem to make little or no contribution. This shouldn’t be a surprise because the hallmark of a good scientic theory to explain is consistency and the ability to predict. Exceptions abound for all these suggested factors as hypotheses for good tone and playability.

Using one’s ears as eyes, this phenomenon can be “seen” and studied by tapping systematically and listening to the resulting sound on an instrument in playing condition . The phenomenon is dynamic. It responds to bow position, the fingering of notes, and the shutling back and forth of the soliton sawtooth waves generated by bowing. It probably has gone unnoticed because its nature and dynamic behavior are unexpected compared with what conventional vibration theory would suggest . However, with an understanding of its nature and behavior, the wave phenomenon can be modifed rather easily and consistenly by drawing on the outside of the instrument and/or (very!) lightly sanding on the inside to create “micro striations”. “Old Italian Tone” is easily achievable in any instrument.

All instruments have internal striations of some kind, be they from gouge, scraper, plane, sanding or other treatment. If they do not consistently define a “good” version of the phenomenon, the instrument is more or less “conflicted”. It can be hard to play, subject to change with time, the weather, setup, string choice, fittings and so on. Instruments can exhibit wolf tones, string whistling, aggresive high-frequency sound or other problems.

Replies (55)

May 3, 2019, 9:47 AM · Sounds fantastic!
May 3, 2019, 10:09 AM · Yawn.

We're heard it all before: Someone making fantastic claims that they alone have discovered some "new physics" of the violin (I guess now we have four, adding to Newtonian, Relativistic, and quantum...).

The primary problem with claiming that one can get an "old Italian sound" out of any instrument is that there is no one "old Italian sound." I've played enough old Italian instruments to know that each of them has its own character and playability, with a wide variety of tones. There's a world of difference between an Amati and a Pressenda, or a Strad and a Gagliano.

Unfortunately, the website for the author offers absolutely no information except for further contact.

I suppose that if I were younger and hadn't seen claims like this before, I wouldn't be so hasty in dismissing them.

May 3, 2019, 10:40 AM · Excuse me, I'm gluten free - Does this word salad have croutons in it?
May 3, 2019, 11:14 AM · Chladni figures are not new at all in exploring violin characteristics. Not few luthiers use them to check their plates before glueing together all that stuff.
Edited: May 3, 2019, 11:17 AM · And no, it hasn't anything to do with lines from sloppy scraper work. These lines are completely irrelevant, compared to the structural inhomogenity caused by the annual rings.
May 3, 2019, 1:18 PM · To Nuuska M.
This discovery has nothing to do with Chladni patterns. It does not involve excitation to excite a Chaldni pattern nor use bouncing grains that indicate the pattern. This is some kind of surface acoustic wave phenomenon and the grain in the wood has no apparent influence on its configuration and behavior. The wave "properties" can be completely determined by imposing directed striations or drawn lines on the body of the instrument. I can understand your skepticism. (Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence. - Karl Sagan.) If you are scientifically interested, I invite you to meet in person or online for a demonstration and to answer questions. You can try it for yourself. You will need a china marker (grease pencil).
May 3, 2019, 1:19 PM · To Scott Cole:
I offer the same as to Nuuska M. above.
May 3, 2019, 2:12 PM · hello, i would like to ask about getting free strings.
i am student and i want to test a lot of strings, i consider that is something important to get to test as many as possible to able to make the best choice for your violin. Of course this will require a lot of investment, something that is quite hard for a student.
If someone has any idea please let me know.

Thank you

Edited: May 5, 2019, 7:50 AM · Ted wrote:
"If you are scientifically interested, I invite you to meet in person or online for a demonstration and to answer questions."

OK, I'm up for meeting in person, if the meeting can take place near where I live. (I've been willing to travel anywhere in the world to learn really valuable stuff, but this looks vastly less promising).
Bring some samples of your work, and I will also bring one or two of mine. If you want, I might also be able to bring along a really good player or two, to help hash this out. ;-)

" Previously suggested contriibuting factors such as age, wood quality, varnish, plate graduation, workmanship, dimensions, appearance, tap tone tuning, vibration modes, appearance, and regional origin seem to make little or no contribution."


May 3, 2019, 2:54 PM · Leon, your comment seems to be irrelevant to the thread. You should make a new thread for an unrelated question. (The answer to your question, though, is that many local violin shops have "string tester" libraries where you can try out different strings they have.)
May 3, 2019, 4:20 PM · David, the wood doesn't matter. Let go of your tradition-based comforts and accept the new wave of science. Use plywood and draw lines on it with permanent marker. Amazon violins do it and they have 5 star reviews, so who are we to argue with what the people want?
May 3, 2019, 5:45 PM · Hmmm... Perhaps another crank or troll. I would expect someone with an engineering degree to be clearer and more revealing in their thought. I am not an Luthier, but to expect significant improvement in sound from very small scratches and lines is an example of magical thinking, analogous to homeopathic medicine.
Edited: May 3, 2019, 5:56 PM · Wait, is this implying that a VSO can be made to sound like a Strad by drawing on it with a grease pencil?
May 3, 2019, 6:28 PM · What is the subject of this discussion? Please tell me so I can decide to join or not.
May 4, 2019, 9:18 AM · To: David Burgess:
Thank you for your invitation. I think that I can drive to Ann Arbor (about 575 miles). I will need a few days to gather what I need and make arrangements for my absence here. In the meantime, I offer to meet you online if you wish. Please email when might be convenient to visit.
May 4, 2019, 9:29 AM · You really asked for trouble this time, David!!
May 4, 2019, 9:31 AM · Whoopee! Can we have it in an auditorium so that we can all watch?
I'll bring the popcorn...
Edited: May 4, 2019, 1:31 PM · Elise, aren't you pretty far away from Ann Arbor? ;-)

Ted, I wouldn't encourage you to put that much travel effort into it. I am not only familiar with most of the things which have been tried in the past (which include almost everything imaginable), but am somewhat familiar with the cutting edge of fiddle acoustical research from hanging around a bit with the Oberlin Acoustics Workshops people, which has included people from the main string engineer at D'addario, to vibration engineers at Boeing Aircraft, to nuclear physicists.

If we bring in some good players and listeners, I'm confident enough to bet $1000 on you failing, if you will match my bet.

One thing I've learned from both the Oberlin Acoustics programs and my own experiments, is how easy it is to fool oneself.

One of the most valuable tools, whether in fiddle playing, making, or dinking, is an early realization of how much one doesn't already know.

May 5, 2019, 5:14 AM · I used to know a Ted Sinoski - many years ago I played in a string quartet with him, another engineer and a grad student in the Wind Tunnel building at the University of Western Ontario. Although the claims are clearly exaggerated, if it is the same person, it is not impossible that he may have discovered something.
May 5, 2019, 8:58 AM · To Mary Graham:
Mary Innis? It has been a long time. It has taken as long to complete this research. I know that the claims sound incredible but the experimental evidence seems consistent. You are welcome to chat online or visit if you are anywhere near Virginia. I can explain what I have discovered, demonstrate and show how you can do the same to evaluate for yourself. You can judge for yourself if the claims are exaggerated and report your impressions...
May 5, 2019, 9:31 AM · To David Burgess:
I have stated my (abbreviated) research findings and conclusions. They were intended to stimulate curiosity and illuminate, not antagonize. I have offered to demonstrate evidence to those who are interested, no secrets or magic. Those who do are welcome to judge its merits and report if they wish.

If you want to evaluate the evidence, find it lacking then criticize it, that's fine. That's what science is about. To create an antagonistic, "high stakes" confrontation before evaluating the evidence or listening, not so much.

May 5, 2019, 10:34 AM · "Using one’s ears as eyes, this phenomenon can be “seen” and studied"

Standards for science include measurement and publication. If you have found something substantive, you should figure out how to measure it and publish the findings formally with means for reproduction and peer review. Publication could include audio capture.

Driving 500+ miles to show people in person might be fun, but might at best come to the conclusion that you should formalize it better.

Edited: May 5, 2019, 4:40 PM · Ted wrote:
"If you want to evaluate the evidence, find it lacking then criticize it, that's fine. That's what science is about. To create an antagonistic, "high stakes" confrontation before evaluating the evidence or listening, not so much."

Sorry, I didn't realize that you would find offering to place a wager to be antagonistic. It's accepted in some circles, and would be a way to recover the worth of my time. Should it go the other way, I would have learned something, making it money well spent. Either scenario would be a "win-win", right?

However, when you make claims like "“Old Italian Tone” is easily achievable in any instrument", or "previously suggested contriibuting factors such as age, wood quality, varnish, plate graduation,..., dimensions,... tap tone tuning, vibration modes, ... seem to make little or no contribution", many of these things defy not only centuries of experience, but the findings of the best current fiddle acoustics researchers.

You may believe that your outcomes are impressive, but that would lead me to believe that you haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the knowledge base of either fiddle makers and restorers, or players.

May 7, 2019, 9:29 AM ·
May 7, 2019, 9:30 AM · To David Burgess:
My offer stands but please, no bet.
Edited: May 8, 2019, 5:51 AM · @ Ted Sinoski
You talk about scientific reliability, but if I'm not mistaken it needs objective parameters for the evaluation of results, and these parameters do not exist to evaluate the sound of violins, so I believe that before affirming bizarre theories we need to establish these parameters, and it seems to me that lately scientific research is trying to focus in this direction, but we are still very far from a reliable scientific result.
May 8, 2019, 5:57 AM · @ David Burgess
Thank you David for opposing these charlatans who punctually appear on the scene by affirming scientific theories for reliable and indisputable, I no longer have the strength (and I also lack the mastery of English language to do it without wasting too much time and without running the risk of not being able to explain myself well).
In any case I would gladly take part in the bet, clearly aiming at you as a winner, I like making easy money....:-)
Edited: May 8, 2019, 7:57 AM · Mr. Sinoski, I'm not fishing for a response here about how you are calibrating your tests, but it needs to be said that anyone who makes this type of claim had better be having regular and consistent, and honest (most players when faced with someone they don't know showing them a violin will politely say "Bravo! Wonderful work" regardless of the quality of what they're shown. Your garbage collector could build a resume on such comments.) feedback from a relatively large number of people who actually do own the very best and play at the *highest* level the type of instrument one is attempting to emulate.

Amateur violinists and fiddle players is not the group you need to be listening to, since their criteria are quite different from that of the people who use great violins daily in serious high level work. There's no shame in making to that group's needs--that's a relatively gigantic market, where the real money is. But it's not the same market as the Strad et al market, and their needs are almost diametrically opposite to the high end.

May 8, 2019, 8:28 AM · As an engineer with some 30+ years experience, my first take is that this "new physics and science" is complete BS. Physics and science of this sort is fairly well known... but very complicated. Throw in the fact that the evaluation of good/bad is made subjectively by humans, and there can never be a final answer to anything.

I admire David's offer to entertain this folly; I'm too skeptical and stingy with my time to bother.

It should be noted (in case it isn't obvious) that the OP is starting up a business of tonal modification services and buying/selling violins... so if it sounds like marketing/promotion, there's a reason.

Edited: May 8, 2019, 9:04 AM · I don't have a problem believing that the violins under discussion meet the maker's own criteria. There's a maker who showed me a few violins a couple of decades ago who was claiming much the same. The warning sign for me was/is both makers' list of "bad" traits, which is a clue that they're heading in the wrong direction. A lot of what they claim to eliminate is exactly part of the criteria of a good instrument for good players, but are considered bad things by less-skilled players; some things on the list are simple setup problems. The person who showed me violins long ago had completely castrated them, so that they were even and balanced, incredibly boring, with no character and personality. However, for someone who didn't have perfect control, they were as tame as could be--no unpleasant surprises, every note exactly the same, no matter how they were played. One stop organs, and not a particularly good stop at that.

Castrating an instrument is easy. Making one that's exciting is hard.

May 8, 2019, 9:54 AM · For anyone who doesn't already know, Davide Sora, Don Noon, Michael Darnton and I are actual makers. Don was previously an engineer with NASA.
May 8, 2019, 10:51 AM · continued--attempting some mind-reading here; "surface acoustic wave" (?!) Ted S. has a degree in electrical engineering, so maybe what started that line of thinking is; with alternating current, magnetic fields are generated that force the signal, the current, to the outside edge of the conducting wire. That mechanical/acoustic vibrations would do the same thing is interesting, but doubtful.
Of all the entertaining hypotheses about the secrets of the old italian violins, one that is not mentioned often enough is that they were free to experiment and use their intuition gained by a long apprenticeship. The Stradivarius violins show a lot of variation in measurements by small fractions of an inch, throughout his career. He wasn't trying to exactly copy that Strad in the Ashmolean museum.
May 8, 2019, 1:02 PM · per my understanding this is some kind of surface acoustic wave phenomenon and the grain in the wood has no apparent influence on its configuration and behavior. The wave "properties" can be completely determined by imposing directed striations or drawn lines on the body of the instrument.
Edited: May 9, 2019, 3:08 AM · @ Ted Sinoski

Surface acoustic waves can occur on the surface of any elastic material. So it's highly possible that they can be observed on the surfaces of a vibrating system as an instrument. But I miss a clear point how a single effect should critically dominate over all the other contributions to the vibrations. If that's a fact, there must be a physically easy understandable reason for that. So please be more specific. You are an engineer, you learned how to argue properly so behave along the canonical rules.
And don't be overly cautious or shy with the details. I'm a real physicist, I can take it.

Edited: May 8, 2019, 3:06 PM · --I am neither a Luthier nor a scientist, so maybe someone can clarify: Are "Surface Acoustic Waves" vibrations traveling parallel, along, the surface, or radiating from the surface, like a drum head ?
Edited: May 8, 2019, 4:52 PM · @ joel quivey

Surface acoustic waves are a 2-dimensional effect. These waves propagate planar on the surface and the oscillation doesn't have a component perpenticular to the surface.
So no, there is no movement like that of a drumhead. For that reason there is no radiation of sound perpenticular to the surface caused by surface acoustic waves.

Some more information can be found here:

Let me try to give an example: When you draw a straight line on a surface in idle state and after that let a 2 dimensional surface acoustic wave travel along the surface in the direction of the line, the wave will bend the line in a way that gives the impression that the line oscillates parallel to the plane surface. But the line does not move up and down perpenticular to the surface. Hopefully that helps your imagination.

May 8, 2019, 7:00 PM · Michael Darnton's point is very pertinent. Great violins often have, to quote Ted, "aggressive high-frequency" overtones and wolf tones. And they have a precision of response that rewards an extremely high degree of player control.
Edited: May 10, 2019, 6:11 AM · There is still a huge difference between "character" and "defects".

A good violin has brillance and projection, not harshness; depth and power, not ungovernable wolf-notes.

For the beginner, or for many amateurs, the "one-stop organ" is better than a rush-hour traffic jam..
For the accomplished violinist, with unaltered hearing, brillance with depth, and a quick response, are vital.

May 10, 2019, 5:50 AM · Christian summed it up.
May 10, 2019, 6:22 AM · Drawing lines on the varnished surface seems absurd to me.

Slightly scraping the inner surface can make a difference, as shown very audibly in William Fry's video (despite the lampooning on Maestronet..) but this is affects mass and flexibility, (as do blobs of Bluetack) and so does not enter Ted's theories.

May 10, 2019, 7:40 AM · Here's one for Adrian:
Spoiler: starts by adjusting by micro-scraping, realizes all she has to do is look at the instrument to change it; moves to adjusting over the phone. Ends by adjusting your relationship with your cat by email: no refunds; if it doesn't work, it's your fault, not that her process is defective.
May 10, 2019, 8:20 AM · While you may be right, cynicism is the bane of genius. I am skeptical, but content to let the idea ride until proven or not.

[By way of background: I made a scientific discovery in the early 90s that was subsequently 'refuted' by not one, but two Nobel prize winners. It took 10-15 years (and much ostracism and plain nastiness of the school-yard bully-sycophants) before my finding was verified and then accepted and I was vindicated. This experience has made me realize the greater and more radical the new idea, the more it is vilified.]

Maybe Adrian can take heart a bit - I admire him for sticking his neck out. Skeptisism is fine - most new ideas don't work - but rejection, and worse trashing, without proof should be beneath us all.

May 10, 2019, 8:28 AM · On the other hand, almost all radical ideas, particularly violin-related, and particularly in conjunction with trying to promote something for profit, have fizzled out and gone nowhere.
May 10, 2019, 8:57 AM · Micheal, I actually bought Ms Spears book, not for the telepathic tone adjustments (which I find a teeny bit loopy..) but because she starts with blobs of Bluetack on the ribs, which makes sense to me!

For William Fry's scrapings, Don Noon has said he couldn't hear any differences on the video, but I certainly can: perhaps my copy (not from U-Toob) has better quality sound?

Edited: May 10, 2019, 9:26 AM · Fair enough, but I would not describe myself as "gullible": I watched the video with due scepticism!

Waiting for a video from Ted, though!

Edited: May 10, 2019, 9:43 AM · "Gullible" refers to his too-impressed violinist.

Whoops! Accidentally deleted my post, which:

Adrian, first any manipulation of a violin can have temporary effects. This is the bane of adjusters looking for stable results.

Second, any expectation on the player's part can affect the resulting sound, so one trial with a gullible accomplice proves exactly zero.

Incidentally, I have had ideal opportunity to check Fry's measurements for asymmetrical grads in Cremonese violins and found his conclusions completely unsupported.

May 10, 2019, 9:56 AM · "...any expectation on the player's part can affect the resulting sound, so one trial with a gullible accomplice proves exactly zero."

Absolutely. In addition, even without the "expectation" part, a player will never play something exactly the same. I have been at many blind testing competitions, where the exact same violin (same player, piece, and location) from round1 of playing seems to sound very different in round2... and looking at the scores from the tone judges, I'm not the only one who finds this.

May 10, 2019, 10:08 AM · OK, I shall have to extract the relevant "soundbites" to do a side to side comparison, and LTAS etc.
BTW haven't you lot already done this (to make your scepticism more scientific..)?
Edited: May 10, 2019, 11:06 AM · I have indeed done many FFT sound bite comparisons, and found that the variations in playing are too large to overcome when looking for small "improvements".

That's beside the huge problem of being unable to tell from the FFT what is an "improvement", and what is the opposite.

May 10, 2019, 3:43 PM · Adrian wrote:
"For William Fry's scrapings, Don Noon has said he couldn't hear any differences on the video, but I certainly can: perhaps my copy (not from U-Toob) has better quality sound?"

It could also be that you are more vulnerable than many to "placebo effect".

Fry bringing in some groupie probably made his presentation more convincing, for some people.

May 11, 2019, 4:55 AM · David, I realise that Fry explained what he wanted before each "scrape", but I do know how to switch from "music" mode to "acoustics" mode.

Don, I agree that what is "better" is somewhat open to discussion!

Edited: May 14, 2019, 10:34 AM · I have recorded four-octave chromatic scales on my violas, with different bridges, mutes, and blobs, in the same session. (I didn't try multiple "identical" recordings, though.) I wanted to find if I could see in the LTAS what I heard, and vice versa. To a limited extent, yes.

A previous session in a different venue, with different LTAS resolution looked quite different, but the differences between mutes, violas etc still stood out. So I am beginning to "see" what my own preferences look like.

On my 15.75" narrow JTL viola, I tried a new ( well fitted!) soundpost with a slight tilt (bottom end 2mm towards the treble side): slight reduction of the 700Hz and 1000Hz peaks. A small blob on the treble f-hole wing reduced the 1000Hz peak considerably (and shifted it downwards). Other new peaks appeared, so I must keep testing. Thank you Messrs Noon and Buen! I'll put all this on Maestronet..

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