Arbutus Tailpiece

February 28, 2020, 4:59 PM · I was wondering if anyone here has bought the Arbutus tailpiece for violin or had experiences with it that they could share? For those that aren't familiar, it's essentially a tailpiece with a small, adjustable internal weight that can be pushed forward or backward to change the vibration modes of the instrument it's on (primarily to split a large, single wolf tone into two smaller wolf tones on different pitches).

It seems that it was originally designed for cello, then violin and viola models were introduced, but I can't seem to find any reviews regarding its use on those smaller instruments.

I do recall Bruce Berg posting about its use on his Amati and using it to enhance the power of his G string, but that's all I could find.

Thanks!

Replies (23)

Edited: February 28, 2020, 5:37 PM · It's a gimmick. They claim that adjusting the position of the weight alters the resonant modes of the tailpiece, and that by aligning these modes with the body modes of the instrument, it may attenuate a wolf tone. While it may be true that the vibration of the tailpiece does change based on the position of that weight, it wouldn't be by much. The same effect can be achieved by changing the afterlength, tailgut length, and length / mass of the tailpiece itself, with a greater range of adjustability.
February 28, 2020, 6:45 PM · It's going to make a difference---everything does. The question is whether it does what YOU want on YOUR violin, and there's obviously only one way to answer that question.
Edited: February 29, 2020, 6:29 PM · I have it and it works.

However, it does not completely eliminate wolf note, but rather the weight movement will slightly change the pattern of your violin, where you can sort of shift the note from a spot on C to somewhere between B and C.

Moving weight forward and back also changes the characteristic of the tone, really similar to the effect of tailgut length change. But at a more micro-level.

But as Michael states, everything makes a difference. I would say essentially a great setup (by experienced luthier) would do exactly the same trick.

A good post fitting, and a good setup would do a lot more than this tailpiece does. Not saying this tailpiece does not work, it does, but at micro level.

February 29, 2020, 9:10 AM · Which brings up something, and that is that many of the problems I see here can be fixed by a COMPETENT workman. Things like E string whistles are setup defects, for instance. But people insist on cheaping it out using expensive DIY fixes, and I guess there's also a problem finding competent help these days. :-)
Edited: February 29, 2020, 9:47 AM · I had an aunt named Arbutus, who preferred to go by the name "Peg". I kid you not.
Edited: February 29, 2020, 12:04 PM · That's a splendid idea, Dmitri! Pegs with a moveable, titanium-coated weight to adjust the resonant modes of the pegbox. Arbutus pegs: starting at only $200 for an unfitted set!
February 29, 2020, 3:08 PM · Michael, I don't think a lack of competent help is the primary reason for the emerging popularity of DIY fixes. I think a big part of it is that not everyone knows how to articulate exactly *what* they want their violin to do. Or, sometimes extensive experimentation is necessary to even stumble across the ideal sound. Not everyone is willing to make a luthier sit there, adjusting their violin for multiple hours until they decide which adjustment is ideal. Even if they did, they might go home later and realize they want something else. Having some degree of easily changeable control at home allows a whole different layer of sound experimentation. Yes, for more obvious goals, such as eliminating a wolf or stopping a whistling E, clearly a well trained luthier is best. But for "exploring" different sounds, I think some of these devices can be helpful. I think the same idea applies to trying different strings.
Edited: February 29, 2020, 4:07 PM · I really disagree with what you're saying on a very fundamental level, but I don't think it's worth pursuing here. It's too long of a discussion.
Edited: February 29, 2020, 6:29 PM · Erik,
I agree with you on your comments and that’s really why I bought the tailpiece in the first place.
It took me a long long time to make one of my violin to sound as good as it is today, and it’s really a lengthy process. It was unplayable on G passed 5th position (severe wolf and unfocused), and now being good to play Ravel Trigane.

But please be careful that there is only so much you can do with accessories or string combo.

Agreeing with Michael on this part, that it takes a “Competent” luthier to really dig out the potential of your violin. However, the pain I went through is that the so-called competent luthier is a hard find, because not all luthier is willing to spend that lengthy hours and days to do it. I’ve met many luthiers (some known ones) said it’s the violin, and there is not much you can do.
But it essentially needed one Great Luthier with patiences, and took 2 sound post recut, and 2 new bridge (tried different blank), and multiple other adjustment on setup (tailgut material/length, tailpiece with diff weight/type, chinrests and let along string combo”ssssss”) to get where it is. But it essentially require a luthier with a lot of good knowledge on setup, and most importantly time/patience to get there.

But getting back to the original topic, the Arbutus is a well designed product but it’s got its limitation.

March 1, 2020, 8:56 AM · Mr. Musafia! That is hysterical!
March 1, 2020, 11:03 AM · This tailpiece seems rather heavy. I recently upgraded my tailpiece to a light setup which is not uncommon, and it made a significant effect in opening up the sound of my instrument. I even put on a light titanium fine tuner, and even that little bit of weight saving made a noticeable difference on my instrument, so I wonder how such a seemingly heavy setup would work out. The adjustability of its weight distribution seems like an interesting idea, but I would be more concerned with its overall weight myself.
March 1, 2020, 2:56 PM · I just went and took a look at the arbutus. With the exception of the sliding weight, it looks pretty normal, and nicely done.

If you want to mess around with the principle, get some Blu-Tack. It's a sticky adhesive putty used for jobs like sticking up posters. Take a small ball about the size of a pea (or smaller or larger, or load it with lead powder, even), and try sticking it around on different spots on your tailpiece. I haven't, but I'm going to guess you'll get max change from putting it on one of the corners near the E or G string holes, then less and different, incrementally, as you move it towards the centerline or back to the tail. At the center of the small end it shouldn't have any effect at all. And the effect will change with the weight of the blob.

There used to be a fad of messing with this, then after finding the Magic Spot, moving the stuff around to the underside of the tailpiece where it wasn't visible.

March 1, 2020, 3:41 PM · Michael, it's funny you mention that, because the very same idea popped into my head earlier today. I was thinking of two small magnets on either side of the tailpiece instead of blu-tack, though.

Do you feel the fad went out of style because people realized they could achieve the same effect through an easier adjustment method?

Edited: March 1, 2020, 6:16 PM · I think it was too much bother for the benefit. I could hear the difference, but it was nearly within random variation. I haven't done these tests in a while--like 20 years--so maybe now I wouldn't agree with myself. :-)

Something that players often don't understand is how little of what they sense and actually goes out there to the listener.

Among my people it's acknowledged that I have a pretty good set of ears, but it always reaches a point where I have to say "that thing you are fixated on is not getting 10 feet to me." One of the simple cases of that is the shhhhhhhhh bowing noise some people get on the E string, but in that case I do understand why it's distracting.

Now I don't want to discount those things because I believe, as an adjusting strategy, that the player must feel totally comfortable with his instrument, and that this helps the player. But they also need to realize that the tiny difference they hear that I can't in that one note that they never play and then only as a 32nd note, THAT does NOT matter to the audience.

There are plenty of things like that which I can hear and there's a difference, hard to tell if it's good or bad, it's totally subjective, but in real life it's like "So what, let go of it."

Edited: March 1, 2020, 7:45 PM · I can again attest to the efficacy of the Arbutus tailpiece. They helped sound production on my Brothers Amati, Cappa, and Thomas Kennedy. The tailpieces are also beautifully crafted.

@ Cotton Mather, what experience and expertise do you have to make your judgement as opposed to a professional who has performed extensively, has a BA, MM, and DMA from Juilliard?

Or have you studied violin making and repair at a known school,apprenticed with known repair, restoration person, or are you simply self trained? I am not aware of any of your credentials. Please inform us.

Edited: March 1, 2020, 9:09 PM · Bruce, your impressive level of pomp and self-absorbedness is matched by only a few in our world. Bravo! Admittedly never having been, I'm not sure what they teach at Juilliard. But if it's how to blow your own ego out way of proportion then they certainly do a good job! Everything you say seems only to serve to minimize others and place yourself on a pedestal.

As a tinkerer who has made several of his own tailpieces and experimented with this same idea I can positively say there are simpler options to achieve the same effect. Believe it or not, a $20'000 piece of paper is not needed to be able to have learned a thing or two.

Edited: March 1, 2020, 10:52 PM · People might bear in mind that adjustments that make no difference on normal violins can have gigantic effects on good ones. So if you have, say, a $20,000, to pick a number, violin you won't likely see a big difference with many adjustments, where a better instrument is going to respond much more to everything you do to it, adjusting and playing, both. That's why artists spend the big bucks.
March 2, 2020, 12:03 AM · Very true, although I would expect a $20K instrument to fall within the "better instrument" category.
Edited: March 2, 2020, 5:11 PM · Who said I said they were useless? Would be a nice bit of irony for me to say that right after having auditioned at the University of Toronto and York. And my instrument is reasonably fine—more than sensitive enough to hear these changes—but thank you for making assumptions.
March 2, 2020, 3:52 PM · Michael, you better be charging more than $20k for your violins after a statement like that! :)
Edited: March 3, 2020, 10:34 AM · For those interested, here is a scientific paper written about the properties of the Arbutus Tailpiece.

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0277/9891/files/Co-op_Student_-_Mode_shifting_report.pdf

The conclusion is that it works.

March 3, 2020, 12:36 PM · I don't believe anyone said it didn't work at all. If you read their own data, they show that other adjustments already possible on standard violins can have the same effect and have a greater range of adjustment, which is also my point.
Edited: March 3, 2020, 1:08 PM · Worked for me after all standard adjustments, string changes, etc. on 3 different violins.

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