G string not (always) sounding properly

Edited: September 28, 2021, 5:50 AM · Hello,

I have a longstanding issue with the sound of my G-string that I am trying to investigate systematically.I am conservatory-trained and have also studied AT; I don't have this problem on other violins.

Basically, there are times when it is difficult to "catch" the beginning of the note changing strings at medium to low volume and using longer bow strokes. When it's like this, it hardly sounds at first, unless I really dig in at the beginning of the stroke.

Changing the string solves the problem - for a very short time, a few days.

I've noticed that the problem comes and goes, so I have been wondering whether the weather is an issue, and I'm starting to track this as a variable. Today I had the interesting experience of it changing *during* the practice session - after an hour it was sounding correctly, and with minimum pressure.

I've read similar threads and know there are many potential factors. My luthier has suggested a new bridge, but given the above I'm wondering whether it's worth the risk (money, and changing the sound). I'm very happy with the other strings.

My question is really this: can weather be the decisive factor with some violins? Even small changes in temperature or humidity, such as must have been the case today? I live in Barcelona now, but it was the same in the UK. Do I just have a temperamental violin? It's French, early 20th c., 7/8ths. Or can changes to a violin set-up make it more stable?

Any ideas / thoughts would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Replies (30)

September 28, 2021, 6:40 AM · I have found the "brand" of string can make a difference as can the rosin I use. And I have different bows for different strokes (and other situations) on different violins

Right now one of my violins is at the luthier's for soundpost work to try to make it "easier to play" for problems not unlike yours.

September 28, 2021, 7:06 AM · Thanks Andrew. Yes, I've tried one different brand the luthier recommended. It worked for a few days, and then the same problem. Since then I've had the same effect simply replacing old for new strings. I use Dominants usually.
September 28, 2021, 7:14 AM · Over the years I have found that the best G-string on my violin (18th c) is gut core, medium or light gauge. This gives the best response and a reliable attack. Similarly with the D - what works best is light gauge plain gut. With the G and D strings I've long come to the conclusion that heavy gauge, whether gut-core or synthetic, is not the way to go.

But then, no two violins will behave the same way.

September 28, 2021, 8:11 AM · Are you sure the string is not buzzing against the fingerboard?
September 28, 2021, 11:25 AM · Weather (mostly humidity) is something that affects wood acoustics, so if you have a violin sensitive to small changes, it could be a factor.

Is the G string problem on specific notes, or the entire string?

Bow/hair issue?

September 28, 2021, 3:51 PM · Nicolas asked:
"My question is really this: can weather be the decisive factor with some violins? Even small changes in temperature or humidity, such as must have been the case today?"
______________

Absolutely. The average humidity in Barcelona right now is around 80%, which I consider to be much too high for the long-tern health of an instrument, let alone the acoustic consequences.

Conditions in my part of the world can be similar, or worse, so I keep my instruments in a room with a dehumidifier under such conditions, with the relative humidity never rising over 60%

September 29, 2021, 3:17 AM · Thanks for all the comments - that gives me plenty to mull over and investigate. Trevor - strings are something that I do need to experiment with more systematically. I'll bear your suggestions in mind.

Lyndon - no, I don't think so. There's no audible buzzing, and the luthier didn't identify this as an issue.

Don - the entire string. I'm curious to know how the bow can affect this - this isn't something I've considered. A weight issue?

David - thanks, I'll consider that.

September 29, 2021, 8:31 AM · Nicolas,
You are describing a problem with string startup... so the bow and hair are definitely involved in getting a string going. I tend to do zero maintenance on my bows (I don't play much), and I notice that after a few years, they don't grab the strings well, even when I put more rosin on.
September 29, 2021, 8:34 PM · I will also recommend trying a gut-core G-string, medium or light gauge, even if the others are synthetic. Sometimes I read in ads for strings that they are "just as good as gut", or that gut strings are slow in response. My experience is the opposite; they respond quickly because they are more flexible than other materials. The Heifetz recordings should be enough evidence of that. As for rosin, ideally we would have a different rosin for the different strings, which is impossible. For a cheap rosin, try a cello grade version.
September 29, 2021, 10:47 PM · To add to Mr. Quivey comment, most gut core Gs are very responsive unless they are the highest gauges of some brand lines. Indeed, the least responsive wound gut string I have tried was not a G, but a high tension variant of an Oliv Gold/Aluminum wound D. It may still work for some, of course.

Many modern synthetics require a bit more weight to attack the note. Just compare a new set of Pirastro Evah Pirazzi with any old Eudoxa gauge combination. The latter speaks more easily, with less pressure (and generally easier to play with bow speed rather than sheer pressure.) The EP would need a bit if not much more pressured bite to attack and start the tone, otherwise it will fail to sound. The Eudoxa bite happens almost naturally, and without much effort. The EPs are very responsive indeed, but only with more pressure, which people has been accustomed to with the modern prevalence of synthetic strings. Not saying it is wrong or right-just stating a mere observation of the current state of general string preference and its effect on players' bowing styles.

None of the other issues described above should be dismissed, however.

A light synthetic could also work if you are not amenable to using gut core Gs, and given the problem is not related to the other issues (bow hair, humidity, etc.) Hope you are able to figure out and solve the issue soon.

Edited: September 30, 2021, 3:10 PM · It would be helpful to know what G-String that you're currently using? Maybe someone has experience with that particular string? The fact that changing the string helps for only a limited time, points the finger at the particular brand of string?

Eventually, it will probably come down to some experimentation. Of course, it doesn't help that G-Strings are the most expensive. Almost $70 for an Pirastro Olive. Jeepers!

Edited: September 30, 2021, 5:10 PM · Your soundpost is in just a bit too tight. Go to a shop that you trust and have them push the post inward 1/2 mm or so. It won't take much. If it is really TIGHT! try a half mm more.
Edited: October 1, 2021, 10:15 AM · continued, - I just re-read your original post and noticed something that I missed, and no one else has mentioned; You have a 7/8 Violin.
That cancels my suggestion to try a light gauge G. I do not know if anyone makes strings calibrated specifically for 7/8. Trying all three gauges of the G string is too expensive. You might get a clue by first trying all 3 gauges of the Goldbrokat E ($2 each max.) An alternate test is to raise or lower a string a half-step and see how the instrument and string respond. Just don't raise all four of the strings a half-step at the same time. The Luthiers on the panel will know more about this than I.
October 2, 2021, 3:20 AM · Apologies for a slow response on my part - all the replies are very much appreciated.

Don - when you say maintenance on your bow, are you referring to rehairing? That certainly may be part of the problem. The last rehairing I had done was some years ago and I wasn't especially pleased with the job then - there are a few slack hairs on the bow when tightened.

Adalberto / Joel - I will experiment with gut-core and low / medium gauge strings.

Neil - I have had the same problem with Dominants and a Larson string that was recommended by the Luthier. I can't find the packet so I am not sure what the exact specifications for the latter were. The current string is a Dominant medium Gauge.

Michael - I will probably experiment with the other variables first, because I'm very happy with the general sound of the violin, but if all else fails I will consider that.

Joel - yes, I have always wondered whether it being a 7/8s is the main issue. It would be interesting to have more information about how this affects the sound; I don't think I've ever come across a post here dealing with that. I have no idea how common, if at all, it is for advanced / professional musicians to use 7/8s.

October 2, 2021, 3:46 AM · michael gave the best advice, loosening the soundpost won't ruin the tone, it will just augment your bass response a bit, that's the only thing I think would solve this problem, it doesn't appear to be a string problem.
October 2, 2021, 5:26 AM · Ok, thankyou!
October 15, 2021, 8:54 AM · An update, and basically the plot thickens. Luthiers, I need your advice more than ever!

I had a spell of the G sounding properly. Around 10 days, every day. And then, it became unreponsive, as described above. This coincided with a fall in daytime humidity (to the early 50s) and cooler weather here (low 20s - celsius). This fits a pattern, I think, although I have never recorded these things systematically until now.

Following Michael's suggestion, I took my violin to an experienced luthier (who I haven't consulted before)recommended by two professional friends with the idea that he could loosen the soundpost a little. However, the luthier looked the instrument up and down, made some measurements and started to list a number of things that he felt were likely to be impairing the sound (although it's possible some of things he mentioned were to do with playability: the conversation was conducted in Spanish, and I am not a native speaker, though basically fluent).

These include a) the bridge itself and bridge placement b) the horizontal distance between strings c) the fingerboard, which he said is set too low on the G string side (it's higher on the E side, apparently).

Should I get the work done that he recommends? I do trust him - he seemed impressively knowledgable - but the fact that he didn't listen to me play seems odd. I love the sound of my violin on the E, A and D strings, and it's only the G that is problematic (albeit very problematic at times, and clearly holding me back). I'm concerned that he may boost the G and the overall balance but I'll lose the qualities of the other strings. Obviously, changing the bridge is something that is reversible, but is that the case with the fingerboard?

It's not just sound I'm concerned about. In terms of playability, is an elevated fingerboard on the G-string side and presumably marginally narrower distances between strings going to require a radical readjustment? I play with a great deal of ease and freedom, having studied AT, and worry that these changes will set me back a long way in terms of technique, although perhaps it's worth it in the long term.

Apologies for the length of post!


Edited: October 15, 2021, 9:25 AM · I'd suggest doing it in steps. Get a bridge that is correct for the current position of the fingerboard. That may help your playing anyway, particularly if the action of the G-string is currently too high and the strings are not spaced properly.

(Are they properly spaced at the nut?)

Some violinists have winter and summer bridges to compensate for the top swelling slightly in humid weather.

But what about the soundpost? Is it too tight?

I don't know if it was suggested here, but you could also try E-strings of different tensions to see if that changes the sound of the G-string.

Finally, if possible, you could also get a second opinion from another luthier.

October 15, 2021, 9:24 AM · The fact that it changes with the humidity makes it even more likely that the soundpost is the problem, all these other things he's talking about changing would not be affected by humidity.
October 15, 2021, 9:45 AM · That's the thing, George. He didn't mention the soundpost, and frankly I was too startled by the range of things he was bringing up to go back to it. I don't doubt his integrity but I wonder whether he was looking more with an instrument maker's eye to what normally would optimise the sound of a violin to what might actually fix the more limited problem I raised.

Yes, not sure whether the spacing issue relates to nut or bridge - that seems like an important thing to establish. And the gradualist approach makes sense though I worry about throwing even more money at the problem by tackling it in stages, and possibly not having a solution at the end of it anyway (the subtext to all of the above is that I have been considering whether in fact I simply need to upgrade the instrument - I have been playing the same one for 25 years, and maybe my musical needs and technical level have run beyond what the instrument is capable of serving. But if it's so badly set up, who knows?)

Lyndon - yes, because of that I think a second opinion is in order.

Thanks both.

October 15, 2021, 9:46 AM · If my luthier suggested all that, I'd go ahead and get it all done. Of course, I trust him implicitly! In fact, my luthier has suggested all that with some instruments, and I have got it all done. Good luthiers today know how everything should be on a good violin in terms of ratios and lengths, etc. There is lots of info out there for them, great workshops they go to, shows, etc. and a lot of talent in that field now.

I would not get it done piecemeal, for a couple reasons. Most of these items are interrelated, and depend on the whole to sound and play right. If you do some adjustments but not others, neither you nor the luthier can judge them, and the luthier can't do the fine tuning he needs to do when finishing up.

The idea of being worried about having your violin set up properly and playing well may just be people's adversity to change. However, it should be much easier to play and sound a lot better if everything's put right. Maybe you will need a little time to adjust to it, but it's great to have it all done properly.

October 16, 2021, 12:15 PM · Lyndon wrote,
"all these other things he's talking about changing would not be affected by humidity."
___________________

They sure can, from string height over the fingerboard, to string choice, including the tension of the strings.
As Mr. Huhn already mentioned, changing the tension of just one string can put a fiddle into its "sweet spot", or move it outside "the zone".

October 16, 2021, 12:56 PM · Let me say first that the soundpost change I mentioned on Sept. 28 in the first reply to OP's quest made an incredible improvement to my violin - solved ALL the problems.

Secondly, if I had your persistent problem I would try a grippier rosin and a lower tension G string.

October 16, 2021, 8:28 PM · David, what I meant is those other things the luthier talked about would not be effected by humidity in such a way to cause the G string problem, unless the G string was just too low to the fingerboard
October 18, 2021, 2:41 AM · All these varied insights are much appreciated.

Andrew - I have tried a grippier rosin (Guillame), and initially I wondered whether this had in fact done the trick (until the weather changed). Even now, I think the response is better.

Tom - I think I'm pretty comfortable with the idea of change in terms of the physical aspects of violin. My technique has changed drastically in the course of solving a pain-related issue over the last ten years, and I have experimented with pretty much every chinrest / shoulderrest / no-rest combination you care to mention. My worry is over sound - that this will change significantly with the changes he proposes, and that there's a risk I will not like it (even if the G itself becomes more stable / responsive).

David / Lyndon - yes, I guess this is the issue I would like more clarity on. If humidity is the issue, as it appears, could changes to the fingerboard angle (boosting height on the G side) plus string spacing counteract its affects on the G and stabilise the response?

October 18, 2021, 6:52 AM · Maybe. If you tune the violin a quarter-step, half-step or whole step sharp, does it get better or worse? (This is a diagnostic which can give some indication of what raising the fingerboard and bridge would do)
Edited: October 18, 2021, 8:45 AM · Just a note to add that there are many perfectly-playable good violins that do not have dead-perfect fingerboard and neck geometry, and so the decision to get the fingerboard and/or neck adjusted can be dependent on how far off from ideal they are.

It would be interesting to know how high the actions of the individual strings actually are and the bridge height, overstand, etc..

If you change the bridge and/or change/adjust the soundpost and the violin plays easily and sounds good (and fixes the G-string problem), then you can stop there and not worry about doing the fingerboard/neck adjustments.

Personally, I am very sensitive to high string action, and my luthier adjusts my violins to suit my preferences, usually just by lowering the bridge and/or nut slightly (most often just the bridge). This adjustment has never noticeably changed the tone of any of my violins, but has improved my playing comfort enormously.

October 19, 2021, 8:41 AM · Thanks.

It's now humid again, and the problem has gone. When that drops, I'll experiment with the tuning as you suggest David and see what happens.

Bridge measures 25 mm on the E side, 33 in the centre and 28 on the G side. Overstand - 5 mm.

String action - E - 3mm. G - 6mm.

Edited: October 19, 2021, 10:01 AM · 4/4 strings on a 7/8 will already have lower tension than on a 4/4, so the recommendation to try a lower tension G string doesn't seem right to me. David's suggestion to retune seems best. But if you have verified that it's a humidity issue, I guess the different woods will all swell or shrink by different amounts, so it's complicated. The problem seems to be when the weather is dry and the soundpost is too tight because it shrinks less than any of the other woods?
October 19, 2021, 6:04 PM · Nicholas, there are several reasons why an instrument might be temperamental but by far the most common one will be a poorly fitted post. Humidity is certainly a factor but a post that is either too loose or too tight will amplify climactic variations. You've also mentioned other possible adjustments, essentially these seem to be associated with a checklist if standard modern measurements that many luthiers firmly believe are correct, essential or imperative for every instrument. I'd exercise caution here, especially if you have a fine instrument that suffers from the odd setback concerning one string. An 'overhaul' might leave you with a very different instrument.


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