Afterlength question

March 5, 2020, 4:30 PM · I am trying out a violin at the moment, and it is:

- German/Austrian origin
- 1700's
- 8000 euros
- high arching on top and back

It has an amazingly deep sound like a viola, which I think is due to the massive airspace created from the high arching. Of course the downside is that the E string is not bright enough. For some reason the violin is setup so that the tailpiece sits further down on the violin, and therefore the afterlength is approximately 1cm longer than standard.

I changed from the loop end E string to a ball end in order to reduce the afterlength, because I felt that an entire cm of afterlength on a steel E would add a lot of pressure. Is this correct or am I wrong? I feel that the sound has slightly freed up, but I'm not sure if it's placebo or if I just getting used to this weird deep and dark E string sound.

So basically I just wanted to ask if anyone can explain scientifically how the afterlength could effect the sound and pressure of this instrument (or any instrument in general)?

Replies (49)

March 5, 2020, 4:49 PM · James,
Since the after length is capable of resonating with the rest of the string, it makes sense that it can change the sound.

Some piano builders design something similar into their piano, and they call it a duplex (some designs are even tunable by sliding a fret back and forth). However, some pianists don't care for the extra resonance, and have a technician mute out the strings in that area.

The violin has essentially the same design--a main vibrating portion and a shorter after length. I don't know the ratios the piano builders use, but when the violin afterlength is in the ratio of 1/6, it encourages the formation of certain overtones, including a prominent one two octaves and a fifth above the open string.
The G string has little fundamental. It is a trick of our neuro-acoustics that fool us into thinking that it does, and this is from other, higher partials. Same with pianos and other instruments--our ear tells us a note is nice and low when there is actually little of that pitch in the sound spectrum. It's a weird phenomena.

I have seen tailpieces set both ways: as far back as possible, and tuned to 1/6. Depends on the luthier's or shop's preference. I do know that when my violin is tuned 1/6 it opens up the G noticeably.

HOWEVER--Since we have four different strings of different tensions, it's difficult to align the bridge so that you get the affect on all 4 strings. I bias mine towards the G because it needs the most help. In my experience, the E benefits the least so no one really worries about it. Yes, you can mess around with tailpiece adjustment, but if you relax the tension enough to do it, it will take a week or two for the violin to settle and show it's true stable sound.

I think this is why these violins seldom sell for much (relatively). You have to settle for either a nice high end or low end....but seldom both. That's why the Italians are so desirable. Pay enough and you get it all.

I think it is not easy to point to one characteristic of a violin to explain why is sounds the way it does. I've also seen highly-arched instruments that were not particularly deep sounding, or that sounded pinched or nasal. I've heard Amatis, for example, that were kind of strident sounding. And I've played pretty flat instruments that had a very deep sound. There are more factors than just arching.

Edited: March 5, 2020, 4:55 PM · Q: What is the string length (vibrating string length, nut to bridge)?

Q: What is the afterlength (vibrating string length between bridge and tailpiece)?

Precisely, to the 1/2 mm, at least.

March 5, 2020, 5:08 PM · I recall reading numerous discussion done On maestronet stating that tailgut length is actually more relevant and has more tonal effect to violin sound. And tailgut material (stiffness or diameter) is also another factor as it determines how vibrant/stable a tailpiece could be in terms of sound transmission.
March 5, 2020, 5:10 PM · Michael,

The vibrating string length is 33cm exactly. The afterlength is 5.95cm, and the afterlength of the E string with ball end is 4.5cm (from bridge to the metal fine tuner sticking out) and 5.1cm (from bridge to the ball).

March 5, 2020, 5:14 PM · 'The G string has little fundamental. It is a trick of our neuro-acoustics that fool us into thinking that it does, and this is from other, higher partials. Same with pianos and other instruments--our ear tells us a note is nice and low when there is actually little of that pitch in the sound spectrum. It's a weird phenomena.'

That's really interesting Scott! I currently have a Eudoxa stiff 16.25 on, which sounds deeper and lower than the Passione 16.25. The Passione is much brighter and seems to have more upper overtones and not much depth, OR do they both have a similar amount of fundamental but the Eudoxa is lacking much more in upper overtones?

March 5, 2020, 5:32 PM · For the past 25 years I have set all my tailcords so that the afterlength one of my two lower strings is tuned (as exactly as I can) to the 2nd octave of the next higher string. It is impossible to tune more than one string exactly this way because of the effect of the top windings.

As soon as they became available I installed Kevlar tailcords on all but one of my instruments.

The tonal changes caused by these afterlength and tailcord finaglings were significant (to my ears) on some of my instruments but not on others - not unlike my experience moving soundposts.

March 5, 2020, 5:36 PM · If you dare, nudge the bridge north until the string length is 327 mm. If you like what you hear, then find a longer tailpiece to fill up the space so that the afterlength is 55 mm. If moving the bridge up doesn't help, don't bother with the tailpiece, is my opinion.
Edited: March 5, 2020, 8:20 PM · I made and currently use a tailpiece with sliding adjusters that allows me to exactly tune the actual length of each individual string so that I could play around with this idea. Marco Brancallion also had a tailpiece like this.
Personally, I find this to have very close to no effect. If you push the sliders all the way forwards or all the way back, there is a slight tonal effect, but generally I think the afterlengths are too stiff for there to be much resonance there. Mostly it comes down to the tailpiece itself and the tailgut.
As for pressure I have no idea, but it doesn't seem like the change would be significant. If you wanted less pressure on the top from the E string the obvious thing to do would be to just buy a lighter E string.
March 6, 2020, 3:38 AM · Cotton, i'm very sad for you if you can't adjust the movable tailpieces in the proper way, so to have the right effect. I had told it was not immediate.

The benefits i get with my own adjustable tailpieces (on 3 violins) are evident and very pronounced, even to listeners (tested many times).

It's not uncommon for me to reset lightly the G and D strings once in a couple of weeks, in this season in northern Italy. And i assure that it's less immediate than what it seems, but with a bit of experience .....

Even the luthier who sort of invented it (who built my violins) called me 2-3 times, lately, for adjusting the TP on other owner's violins, in the area. I seem to have mastered the process. I always try to teach players (who have it) how to do it but it seems a patience job than not anyone has.
So, i'm sad for what you are loosing :)

March 6, 2020, 3:59 AM · Zoran Markovic (ZMT) has (apart from his tailpiece) an adjustable endpin. It's very easy to experiment with afterlength with that endpin.
March 6, 2020, 5:20 AM · Do we necessarily want open strings to resonate so much?
March 6, 2020, 7:03 AM · "I had told it was not immediate." Marco, I appreciate all that you contribute here, always so thoughtful. But this particular claim is one that I am having trouble grasping. How can the effects of an afterlength adjustment not be immediate?
Edited: March 6, 2020, 7:26 AM · @Paul: i'm not saying that if you set the length right at 100% you can't hear immediate results.

I'm saying that setting the right length is not immediate. Often best results don't come from exactly 1/6th. Maybe it has to be a bit sharp sometimes in the lower strings.
When you start hearing that a string resonates better in higher positions (and you can hear it with no doubt), and the adiacent string too, you're right.
But it's not authomatical. Not a thing you can do with an electronic tuner only.

Probably it's similar to the concept of stretching tuning, necessary for grand pianos.

March 6, 2020, 7:37 AM · in agrrement with Scott and Marco as my ears tell me that when adjustments are made to my instrument that the changes do not necessarily happen instantaneously and sometimes takes place over several days to a week. I have mentioned this experience on Mastronet and have been told just the opposite that any changes made in adjustment do happen instantaneously and it is my ears that are not registering the difference . Some very learned people have argued this point with me and while I do give them credence my ears are my ears in the end.
March 6, 2020, 9:12 AM · As I have said elsewhere, the 1:6 ratio only produces reliable results when the density of the string is the same on both sides of the bridge-- i.e., when you use unwrapped gut.
If you don't want to try an experimental bridge, you can correct most small errors in pitch by shaving off the silk threads. As the string gets lighter, its pitch at tension can go up by over 1/4 tone. So set the basic length to make your D or G work properly, and then adjust to get the fifths correct.
For several brands of strings, I can get them to pluck D-A-E-F#. On others, the A string won't produce an E but can be made to pluck a D, which has its own reinforcing value.
Edited: March 6, 2020, 10:52 AM · James, according to my violin dealer, my #1 violin is apparently late-18th century German (another luthier suggested it might be French - but I'm thinking German) and it has the same nut-bridge length of 330mm as yours. It doesn't have your high arching, though. The length of its back is 362mm, as opposed to the 355.6mm of a standard violin (e.g. my #2 violin), so is 1.8% longer. The bout widths and rib heights are pro rata slightly bigger than standard, which gives a larger interior volume. The G string in particular is indicative of this in that its fundamental frequency is now audible (just about!), and is visible on a spectrogram.

Would you like to measure the back length (and other dimensions) of your violin? It seems to me that your nut-bridge length of 330mm may be a result of an slight increase in back length over that of a standard violin. If you have the facilities (e.g. a sound-recording app such as Audacity that can show a spectrogram) you might like also to test for the visibility of the G fundamental, which is at a frequency of 195Hz.

The after-lengths of both my violins, which have been set up professionally by a luthier, are exactly 1/6 of their respective nut-bridge lengths.

The strings on my #1 violin are Warchal Ambers.

March 7, 2020, 8:38 AM · Adrian Heath on March 6 said: · "Do we necessarily want open strings to resonate so much?"

While the immediate answer is that it depends on what the player likes, it is also apparent from the variety of (often conflicting) answers that the action of the afterlength is not well understood.

If you play a note where an afterlength (any of them, not just the played string) is tuned to a harmonic of the played note, the afterlength will vibrate... but WON'T add to sound, it will subtract. The phase of the afterlength will be opposite to that of the played string. It is only after you stop playing that there will be a brief continued ring due to the afterlength. The over-wrap of the string damps out this effect somewhat, likely intentional by the string manufacturers.

If you want to test the physics, play a fingered D note on the G string, being careful not to touch the open D string. Then play again, but damp the open D string.

There can be some other effects of afterlength, as shorter afterlengths are stiffer and can couple the bridge more tightly to the tailpiece, but I think these are fairly minor on violins. Things get more complicated with violas and cellos.

Edited: March 7, 2020, 9:32 AM · In my experience, violinists definitely have an "ahah!" moment when the afterlength is right, but I think the common measurements are simply ways to approximate that location, and that hitting that specific note on the G string is not what is happening. It's one of the many violin equivalents of "red cars are faster." Correlation, not causation. A lot of setup is that way, in my experience: someone does something and something else coincidentally happens because another, unrecognized variable has been tweaked, and the initial apparent effect becomes a rule when that cause really had nothing to do with what did happen.
March 7, 2020, 6:37 PM · >>> If you want to test the physics, play a fingered D note on the G string, being careful not to touch the open D string. Then play again, but damp the open D string.

This sort of cancellation is one of the things that variable tailpiece eliminates, with care and maintenance.
When i hear, after some weeks of frequent retuning, a bit of cancellation like this in a string, it's a signal that it's time to reset that string's afterlength.

March 7, 2020, 8:17 PM · Don meant that the open D will vibrate out of phase with the fingered D and reduce the overall volume. I don't see the afterlength having any effect on this scenario.
March 7, 2020, 9:27 PM · Keep on investigating with your own tunable tailpiece, and you will discover.
March 9, 2020, 8:28 AM · Any item on the violin that can be set to vibrate when the instrument is played (other than the played string itself) will have a similar effect: volume reduction, with after-ring. The effects will be narrower and more apparent if the damping is low, and also more apparent if the coupling to the bridge is strong. Afterlengths, open unplayed strings, tailpieces, chinrests, fingerboards are all included. The length of string between the nut and the peg isn't very well coupled to the bridge, so it doesn't do much.
Edited: March 9, 2020, 10:23 AM · I've certainly learned something today. In my ignorance I always assumed that playing a stopped D with the open D undamped would increase the amplitude of the sound, but careful listening and one minute with Audacity persuaded me that the opposite is indeed the case. On average the amplitude increase produced by damping looks to be in excess of 50%. Fortunately damping is the norm with my "fat" fingers and I suspect other people's fingers too?

But of course in this instance the damped D is in the same octave as the bowed one. I tried contorting myself to play the open D with and without the G afterlength (closely tuned to D 2 octaves higher) damped and couldn't detect any difference, either aurally or on the screen. Cloth-eared as well as fat-fingered?

March 9, 2020, 9:13 PM · "In my ignorance I always assumed that playing a stopped D with the open D undamped would increase the amplitude of the sound"

Steve, since you're talking about a unison...another piano-related item since many of the same acoustic principles hold: When the 3 plain strings of a piano note are perfectly tuned together, the sound actually diminishes somewhat. One would think that they reinforce each other, but they don't in that way. Perhaps it's because of the phenomena of "coupling." I don't know. Anyway, there are those who believe that the unisons should not be perfectly in tune for that reason; that the piano sounds more "alive" with slightly "cracked" unisons.

Edited: March 9, 2020, 10:28 PM · The piano analogy I don't think quite applies here, since all strings are driven together by an impact. Things would be very different if you energized one of the three strings with a bow. I also think piano strings are not tuned in perfect unison in order to give the note a slight vibrato effect rather than a dead-perfect note.
Edited: March 10, 2020, 5:32 AM · But I'm still struggling to understand the contribution of the afterlength. Sympathetic resonance would presumably cause some cancellation of the third harmonic and above, resulting in a dulling of the timbre. The tunable tailpiece is attempting to minimise this, but couldn't the effect be achieved simply by using a tailpiece that results in a string length/afterlength ratio of anything but an exact integer such as 6:1?!
Edited: March 10, 2020, 6:42 AM · You can't mantain a serious distance without a movable system. It's very obvious.

Anyway, probably it's the 3rd or 4th time that i talk online about the tunable tailpiece and its great benefits, but nobody believes that.

Nothing new: i have quite "an age" and i know how these things go. (smile)
Forgive my ignorance of English (i am italian).

When someone has the inner needs to attach to some belief because of some faith or income, it's fine for me, no problem really.
I will be happy to solve all the recurring small sound problems in a simple way. And thinking that probably the introduction of modern violin fittings, the shoulder rest, the chin rest, etc, faced a similar resistance. (smile)

March 10, 2020, 7:39 AM · Steve, I haven't run across anyone yet who has been able to provide a solid technical explanation why the afterlength is so important. Yet, it seems that it is. Sometimes, observations lead to eventual technical explanation, even if not right away.
Edited: March 10, 2020, 8:40 AM · Thanks David, I was beginning to suspect as much. I just read the relevant section of James Beament's The Violin Explained. He seems to have been the most rationally-minded of any writer on the violin that I've encountered, with a convincing technical explanation for most things, yet all he has to say about the 6:1 ratio is that it's "conventional". A writer in the Haynes Violin Manual (!) on the other hand says that if the ratio is inaccurate the tone will be "off", which doesn't help much. Going back a bit, Edward Heron-Allen doesn't seem to mention the afterlength at all.
Edited: March 10, 2020, 8:58 AM · The best way to find out what afterlength does is to experiment. The kind of thing that Don is talking about is pretty much swamped by other factors that are more direct, like damping from the location and weight of the tailpiece and length of cord behind, all of which change along with afterlength and have greater effects on the tone. Worrying what the fifth partial of Gb is doing is about like throwing a cup of sand out in your backyard and calling it a beach.

I suspect that the main attraction to this type of discussion is the hope that some number will pop out that anyone at home can set and achieve perfection. That ain't gonna happen.

Edited: March 10, 2020, 9:49 AM · I agree that the effects of tailcord free length (and material) are far more significant than the afterlengths themselves, and perhaps it can be misleading to think the afterlength is having an effect, when it's really elsewhere. Other tailpiece mode frequencies, if they are within the playing range, can be incredibly important too, and would be affected by a combination of afterlength and free tailcord stiffness... but have nothing directly to do with the "tuning" of the afterlengths.
March 10, 2020, 10:00 AM · Just one other thing about "tuning" the afterlengths...
It is certainly possible to tune one afterlength to a frequency where there is a natural strong instrument response (a mild version of wolf suppression). However, this would depend on the specific instrument, so a prescribed length or frequency would not be effective for this.

There are a lot of variables moving around at once when fooling around with afterlength.

March 10, 2020, 12:13 PM · > I suspect that the main attraction to this type of discussion is the hope that some number will pop out that anyone at home can set and achieve perfection. That ain't gonna happen.

It's very obvious that a violin maker will stand behind this kind of public thought.

I see anytime around discouragement on setting violin-related things by oneself alone at home. It's passed as a "sin", you don't have to commit.
No, not only in you world, also in my world, in Italy, where teachers tell you don't have to touch anything in your violin, and send their scholars to builders in Cremona all the time. I'm used to this, and can ignore it.

This is why, in many aspects, not only regarding the tunable tailpieces, i consider myself lucky (big smile)

Edited: March 10, 2020, 12:59 PM · On my current violin I have difficulty making a C# sound nice, whether it's on the A string or the D string. I've just noticed that the afterlength on the G string is pitched at C#. I wonder if that's a coincidence. The cavity is tuned to C#, but it is never boomy.
March 10, 2020, 1:18 PM · Maybe that's why sometimes the dampening device on the cello is affixed to the afterlength, Gordon?
March 10, 2020, 5:18 PM · Yes, Marco, it's a giant conspiracy by the violin cabal. LOL
March 10, 2020, 5:25 PM · No shortcuts, just the way the pros do it. Definitely a conspiracy! [gives David the Secret Handshake, and knowing look]
March 10, 2020, 6:01 PM · ... yet i perceived a trembling in the Dark Side. (grin)
Edited: March 10, 2020, 8:32 PM · Marco, I appreciate your sense of humor!

The reality is that those of us in the trade have witnessed so much carnage from "do-it-yourself" endeavors, that we can't recommend it in good conscience. Neither Michael nor I have any shortage of work.

March 10, 2020, 7:41 PM · The key is that everyone has the right to experiment, the right to even damage something, in order to learn how to do things by himself alone.

Now, tweaking a little device like a tunable tailpiece CAN'T damage a violin, nor strings.
And, if you think upon it, it's a device that can free you luthiers from frequent strings changes or research and the resetting of some fallen bridge or soundpost, for mantaining a consistence response in the instrument that violinists do.
More free time for building violins ! (smile)

March 10, 2020, 8:20 PM · I think its more important to get the tailgut length correct, if getting the afterlength right involves an incorrect tailgut length, then its a net loss in my book.
March 12, 2020, 12:21 PM · I want to add a word of caution from a technical perspective between noticing an effect, and describing what causes it.

The former is just evidence which we can adapt to by trying different things and see if we notice anything different.

The latter has predictive value and, if not correct, can lead us down a path of changing unrelated things and falling victim to confirmation bias.

One can setup a sound meter and notice the increase in violin output mentioned by Don Noon, for example, by damping the D string when playing
a D on the G string, as opposed to letting the D string vibrate freely.

This effect can also be demonstrated with afterlengths. For example, a G string afterlength tuned to around a high B# frequency will give the open G one output, but if the afterlength is adjusted close to a high D, octaves plus a perfect 5th of the G, the violin output will drop a tiny bit.

But it this really due to strings vibrating out of phase with each other? This violated several intuitions I have about the physics of the violin. I think what is actually happening here is a simple conservation of energy problem.

The open D string vibrated more easily than a damped D string when playing a D on the G string. Assuming one is inputting a consistent amount of energy into the G string in both cases, the open D string pulls off more energy resulting in a smaller amount of energy making it into the violin body thru the bridge.

The same thing happens with afterlengths tuned to integer multiples or simple ratios of the open string.

The ears are deceived because it is possible for the player to pick up the sound of that open D string or tuned afterlength. So the energy loss might be impossible for the player to notice.

All of this can happen with the open D and the afterlength vibrating in phase with the driven string.

March 14, 2020, 10:15 AM · I always appreciate Carmen's fresh, scientifically-minded perspectives.
March 14, 2020, 12:07 PM · One thing that occurs to me— even if a D played on the G string has its energy sucked away by the open D, there is still the effect of vibrato. The not-pure-D portion of the note when vibrated might well end up sounding relatively more loud. That is a different timbre than, say, a C-sharp that is vibrated. Will it sound louder or project better even with the purest part of the note lessened in volume? No idea but that might be worth considering.
March 14, 2020, 12:32 PM · One of my favorite things in this line is the opening note of the Bruch. Notice, and try, how some players play the open G alone, some finger the octave G on the D string at the same time, and some vibrate that octave G. Try the variations, and hear for yourself the difference.
March 14, 2020, 12:56 PM · Stephen, pitch modulation, with ensuing loudness modulation can do some interesting things.

Many years ago, there was a guy involved in VSA Competition judging who insisted that during the tone judging, the instruments be played without vibrato. I did not agree. Some instruments which sound unimpressive without vibrato, become magical when vibrato is applied.

March 14, 2020, 5:34 PM · David::
Agree and this actually reminded me a story I heard, that Zukerman once asked a student to play violin as loud as possible without vibrato, to the point that sound cracks. Then with the same force, when vibrato is added, it sounded big and warm.
March 14, 2020, 5:48 PM · I think the opening of the Bruch sounds the best with a pure open G -- unmolested by weird octave vibrato.
March 16, 2020, 1:31 PM · To the posters in regards to vibrato: its true that when one adds a proportionate vibrato to the sound in relation to bowspeed and pressure, an instrument in general can be pushed beyond its cracking point. Some instruments will fare better than others, and its true that the set-up can also play a major factor.

Another point that can be added is that while the string length decisions on both the back length and string length in relation to size of the tailpiece, I know that the set-up of the sum of its parts (decisions on bridge thicknesses/opening of wings, fittings type & size, metal accessories like tuners & clamps, tailgut material, string length ratios) is a more telling factor for the sound and response of an instrument, and unfortunately it takes an individual with a thorough knowledge of each decision to engineer a set-up to make an instrument garner the desired results.

For the OP, as a quick experiment, consider putting on a loop titanium e-tuner and experimenting with a lighter and heavier tension e (goldbrokat regular and heavy can work). Generally the titanium tuner I've found lends towards brightness, and its impossible to know without seeing that instrument's arching with graduations (lightness of the instrument) to determine if that instrument may prefer lighter or heavier tension to get the desired sound. If you need focus along with that, then try the titanium tuner with an evah pirazzi platinum plated e which is fairly high tensioned already.

I also agree the the instrument overall string and back length probably needs to be reduced, that will give it more presence to the e-string. It must be a long violin. When the string length is lengthened, it generally relaxes the sound in the overall sense.

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