Most significant upgrade/change in your violin/fiddle/viola
I'm searching for ways to improve the general sound of my Stentor Conservatoire I. Practice is key, I know. But in the persuit to maximize sound quality, I wonder what gave the most significant change in your instruments aside from hours of scales? Or if anything helped at all?
It's already been setup by a luthier. I've changed the strings to D'Addario Preludes and the next set will be Thomastik Dominants in the next few days and hopefully I'll be able to upgrade the cheap bow that came with the instrument. I'm currently experimenting with a number of rosins (namily Thomastik and Pirastro). I'm contemplating replacing the tailpiece...if only for the esthetic reason to match it with the light brown Flesch-style chinrest that replaced the previous Ebony Dresden-style.
Probably the bridge. I had one where the string action was a bit too high. New strings make a big difference as well as peridically checking that the instrument is in tune with itself.
A real upgrade would be to sell it and buy the Verona, which is already a "professional Stentor model" for 415€. The out of the box Verona with Tonicas (that come with it) is a lot better than the Conservatory 1 with whatever strings or mods you put on it, there's no comparison.
Proper setup - professionally installed and adjusted bridge & soundpost - these are the things that made big differences to my violins.
In marked contrast to Andrew (and I suspect most of the v.com fraternity) I don't think strings, rosin or tailpiece make a great deal of difference to sound quality. Today we're confused by choice, fooled into thinking there's an important difference between Omo and Daz. And if you want to stay on good terms with your luthier, don't suggest any change to his set-up, let alone the bridge!
I'm absolutely with Steve Jones. And, without being judgemental, I don't see the point in investing hundreds of $/€ into an instrument that's part of a $300 "outfit". Not because I generally dislike cheap factory instruments (in fact, one of my violas was purchased for €290 with a fake label, and after installing a new bridge and soundpost it's a fairly usable instrument), but because I believe it is a waste of money if you're on a budget.
Dear Mark, it is a common trap to fall in. Although you say you already know that practice is the key, it may be that you simply do not know enough yet about violin playing, bowing and sound production, finger placement, intonation, all crucial aspects of technique (and not just "scales") that create your sound. There are no shortcuts. You first have to deserve a better violin, so to speak, by learning how to properly play it. Sorry if this sounds derogatory, I don't know your level (would be good to put some brief bio here on the site so that people know your background and better discussions can arise in this way). There is this great quote (mentioned recently here in another thread) about a violin teacher telling their student: Perlman can make your student violin sound like his Strad, and you can make his Strad sound like your student violin :-)
Sounds like you have worked hard to find great upgrades. But I think your next step ultimately will be to upgrade your instrument.
It doesn't matter if they're playing a Stradivarius, Del Gesu, modern which purports to compete or exceed, etc., one can hear when professionals play out of tune, which they do at times and did more commonly historically, and as learning violinists we also develop our ability to hear intonation better as we learn how to play more in tune.
Last summer I spent a lot of time and research to determine how to make my $1k workshop intermediate student violin sound better. It was fine in 1st position, any higher than 2nd, odd things started happening with the sound. All the details don't matter for this post. Finally a local luthier came out and bluntly told me that it wasn't worth the expense to fix or upgrade more than I had already done.
"You first have to deserve a better violin, so to speak, by learning how to properly play it." Don't you think this is a little puritan, Jean?
I cut my bridge on the very thin side. Removing mass on the G side of the bridge, especially at the feet and the top corner, helped my violin boom a lot more. The catch is that you need to know your violin can handle / needs this kind of modification---else you'll be left with a really disgusting sound and an inoperable bridge. You can also move the soundpost around, although that's more like if you were turning the tone knob on a guitar than totally altering the sound of the violin. Anyways, if a luthier has already seen your instrument, I wouldn't worry about these things.
Yes Albrecht is right in pointing out that my post was too puritan. I apologize and retract it and wish Mark all the best.
I agree with those who have said that it makes little sense to try hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on strings, rosin, tail pieces, bridge jobs and other expensive operations in the hopes of realizing significant improvement in a low-end student violin. All that money would be better applied toward a different (better) instrument. If there are small modifications to your bridge that can be made inexpensively, or if your sound post can be adjusted, that's different, but it sounds like you've tried all of that.
No offense taken Jean and no need for apologies. I completely understand you. I've been playing (electric) guitar for near 22 years and 'feel' that instrument and all the equipment that accompanies it. Improving tone, at least in my opinion, is much less complicated.
I agree with Paul.
The pricing, fortunately, is quite different here. In USD:
Hours of open string practice :)
The Conservatory I is a 170€ outfit these days, very far from 400€. For 415€ you get the Stentor Verona outfit which is a lot superior, it's not in the student category but in the Advanced.
From a £20 Boosey & Hawks viola "built to withstand a school environment" (i.e. like a tank) to a £100 JTL, which I still use half a century later (now insured for €4000). A huge gain in subtility!
I agree with Buri on working on tone production and use of Alexander technique. I've been working from The Dounis Collection for about a year now (F.M. Alexander was a contemporary of D.C. Dounis!) and have reset my technique to be able to play without a shoulder rest. I can legitimately say that I can hear the true tone of my "relatively inexpensive" instrument. For me, elimination of tension in both hands was the most significant change in my playing, specifically with sound production.