How much can adjusting the sound post effects ones violins tone color ?

May 15, 2020, 1:54 AM ·

Replies (24)

May 15, 2020, 3:35 AM · A lot, indeed.
May 15, 2020, 4:00 AM · On some fiddles, a lot. On other fiddles, not much.
May 15, 2020, 4:41 AM · It's amazing how much a tiny adjustment can affect the tone as well as the volume on a violin. But it needs to be adjusted by an trained luthier because of all the potential problems if it is done wrong.

It's not just the placement -- also the length of the soundpost can make a difference. A trained luthier can cut a new soundpost and show you how the different lengths can affect the sound.

Along with the soundpost adjustment is also the bridge adjustment -- a couple of millimeters can make a huge difference in how an instrument's tone opens up (rings more) or closes (rings less).

Which is best depends on your musical taste and your concept of the tone you want from your violin.

Remember that what you hear under your ear is not the same as what the audience hears from 10-20 feet away, so bring another violinist with you so you can hear from the audience's perspective as well as from the violinist's perspective.

May 15, 2020, 10:21 AM · When I first bought my viola (£500 on eBay), I didn't realise that it had a massive crack in the back of it. So I sent it to a luthier one of my previous teachers swears by. Before it went, it sounded okay but a bit sort of dim. When I sent it, the luthier said that he had come across several other issues (including sound post). He fixed them all for me under his original quoted price. But when it came, it sounds amazing and is so LOUD. I don't know what he did, but I now love the sound of my viola
May 16, 2020, 6:21 PM · Fitting and tuning the sound post can do wonders, but I don't think it can turn a dark instrument into a bright one, vice versa if it is what you are asking.
May 16, 2020, 6:29 PM · Post adjustments are not like tone adjustments on a stereo. You can't turn an instrument into something it isn't; all you can do is to make it the best possible version of itself.
Edited: May 16, 2020, 7:26 PM · Michael and/or David, how do you guys determine the length of a new soundpost? I would be worried sick about cutting it too long and cracking the top or too short and it is ineffective.
Edited: May 17, 2020, 8:09 AM · Peter, post this " ammoon Viola & Violin Tool Sound Post Gauge Luthier Install Repair Tool Brass " on AMAZON.COM to see the kind of tool that can be used to measure the interior top-to-back distance.

I have done a lot of soundpost adjustments on my violins and cellos (never on my violas) but I have never "cut" a new soundpost. My luthier charges little enough for the job (and can do it during my lunch hour) that it is not worth it for me to just mess things up.

David Burgess's brief post sums up my adjusting experience in a "nutshell ."

Edited: May 16, 2020, 10:33 PM · Thanks Victor...
May 16, 2020, 11:07 PM · I give my soundpost a good nudge when I feel the violin is not giving me everything it has. Often over time my G strings starts to close up, and moving the post makes a very noticeable difference.
May 17, 2020, 12:54 AM · Like a reboot?
Edited: May 17, 2020, 1:44 AM · Peter, the right length is the length that fits the right place at the right pressure. If it's too long, it won't come as far away from the center as you want, so you shorten it until it falls where you want. The center is the thickest part of the violin, the ribs the thinnest. As you cut it shorter and shorter it moves farther out from the center when it's at the same tension. Just cut until it's where you want it at the tension you want. You walk it out gradually as you cut and fit; it's not something you shoot for perfect on the first cut.

As a point of fact, it's pretty hard to break a plate with a post. You'd scare yourself before you'd pull it that tight. I hope.

Edited: May 17, 2020, 5:40 AM · I've been fiddling (pun intended) with the sound post in my cheap violin after it fell over. I used this clip-like tool, rather than the traditional spike tool to set it. I do use the latter to adjust it though.

From my limited experience, the sound position affects the volume distribution across the strings as well as the overall volume.

Then on top of this, it allows some degree of tuning between a quieter richer sound, and a more focused bright sound. So as far as tonal colour goes, there is some scope for adjustment, but I would consider a smallish adjustment on top of the natural tone of the violin.

It took hours of tinkering to restore the sound to what it was previously, and in my noobness I damaged the f-hole a bit. I probably wouldn't attempt it on anything of value.

Edited: May 17, 2020, 6:20 AM · I've got a broken old violin and its soundpost and some tools. I'll be practising manipulation in case I ever need to re-erect an original soundpost, but no strings attached, so getting it into the optimum position will not be an immediate result.
May 17, 2020, 8:07 AM · Thank you Michael.How do you check soundpost tension? Do you tap on it or wiggle it? When do you start shaping the two ends of the post?
Edited: May 17, 2020, 10:31 AM · I try to fit the post as close to the center as I can, where the post ends will be parallel or nearly so. Then as it moves outwards as you begin to fit it, the ends become gradually more and more angled. Using the finest cuts you can take, considering how the fit changes as it moves over the changing interior contour, it will take a little while to get a perfect fit. Hopefully you haven't moved past where you want to be by then. If so, start over, if not, continue to refine until you are in the right spot. At each spot along the way the tension should be close to right, because tension changes fit by distorting the shape of the instrument. In the process of fitting the post you "learn" that violin in a way you couldn't if you could hit the spot and the fit on the first cut.

There are a lot of variables. The angles of the inside, how they change as the post moves, how stiff the violin is. For tightness, you just develop a feel for what a violin wants, something that's developed over cutting many, many posts. Tight enough to stand, plus a bit or a lot more, is a good start. Different players, different violins, stiffness, arching, wood, etc., need different things. It's a matter of developing understanding about a whole bunch of different factors and how they should come together, both for tightness and position.

If I've heard a violin before I start, I'll go based on what I want to change as an additional piece of info. When I work on a violin, like a player who should start learning a piece by knowing in his mind what he wants it to sound like in the end, I take the same approach to working on violins: how will it sound, what do I need to change or fix, how can I maximize the good that's there, minimize the bad? Every thing I do, I try to do with the final result firmly in mind as a target.

It's the same for adjusting for customers. I ask them to play, I listen for things I don't like, look for stress in their playing at various points with the idea of eliminating that for them, etc. I develop a strategy of what I want to accomplish, then I do it. If I missed something, they tell me and I go after that. Most adjustments for professionals who know what they want and know their violin take me no more than five minutes these days... ask my customers. I have Chicago Symphony players who haven't even taken off their coats and tried an adjustment; they tell me what's wrong, and I fix it. Since we have been working together for years we have a common language for what's wrong. I know where their rough spots are, what finer things bother them and what their instruments need, so it can be very quick.

I cannot stress enough how adjusting is simply cause and effect. There's no magic to it. Magic is what violin makers blame when their approach is random, incompetent, relying on slapping things around until you or they give up. An amusing comment I have gotten several times from new people is "What just happened here??!!" because they've never had such a fast, linear adjustment, and a violin with a solid adjustment is like a car with everything tuned just right, maybe better than they've ever had it, and they recognize that.

As I said, this is all about listening, forming an objective, doing what's needed to accomplish that objective. Building a violin is the same process, larger, more complex, harder. I don't believe this is any different from what good players do with a piece of music. Neither process should rely on random acts of charity from the Gods.

Edited: May 17, 2020, 10:39 AM · For those who are just starting I have two pieces of advice: first straighten your setter dead straight with a bend of about 45 degrees (you will understand the exact angle by trial) at each end, the bend on the sticker end about 15mm from the point. This way when you jab the post with the point 90 degrees to the post, and the stem of the setter comes out square to the f-hole, the post will be close to upright, no looking or guessing to at least come close. It's not perfect, but it gets you in the ballpark. Bend the hook end the same, a bit longer, so that it comes square out the f-hole when you are using it and you risk damaging the edges of the hole less.

Second, learn to hold the setter in your left hand! If you start right out that way with no experience either way, it's no harder, but you will find that your hand isn't obscuring your view into the f-hole, and you won't be working back-handed.

May 17, 2020, 11:20 AM · https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=soundpost+adjustment
May 17, 2020, 12:21 PM · Many thanks for that detailed explanation Michael!!
It sounds very much like a collaborative effort with players when you are " sound shaping".Are there different types of spruce used in your soundposts? Is age a major factor? How about density?
Edited: May 17, 2020, 12:30 PM · Hardness matters. I try to get material that's straight down the middle, and some soft. Hard doesn't work well for me.

Gordon: yeah, Dr Google. Ugh :-(

May 17, 2020, 2:37 PM · Fantastic, Michael (and David). Very educational. I have no intention of ever letting anyone but a professional such as yourselves do this, even though, of course, it is trainable for me, but why should I?
May 17, 2020, 2:44 PM · You shouldn't. But if someone can't resist, they should try to do it right.
May 17, 2020, 2:47 PM · Thats my conclusion too.This is not a DIY project.Leave it to the pros...
May 17, 2020, 5:56 PM · My luthier said that a lot of the "adjustments" that he does are really more like seasonal maintenance rather than attempting to correct the sound. I've never really experienced much difference in the sound after an adjustment, but I'm pretty happy with the violin overall anyway.


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