Chin Rest Experimentation

Edited: November 20, 2022, 1:48 AM ·
I've owned my violin for a few months over a year now, and I'm still learning about its idiosyncrasies.

Most recently, I've been adjusting my chin rest. It's a standard, non-Guarnari type, chin-rest that attaches just to the left of the tailpiece. I've learned that I have to be very careful about how a chin-rest is attached, because if it encroaches too much onto the violin's top, it negatively impacts the violin's voice. So before tightening it, I've positioned the underside of the chin-rest so that it overlaps the edge of the ribs a minimal amount. Else, both the volume and the depth of tone is negatively affected. To summarize, the less chin-rest surface area that touches the violin, the better.

In a visit to my luthier last week, he recommended that I remove the cork, or even sand down the portion of the chin-rest, that extends from either side of the metal clasp that attaches the chin-rest to the violin. My chin-rest extends about a half inch to either side. I had my chin rest positioned about a half inch away from the tailpiece. So, I removed the cork, and I moved the chin-rest a little closer to the tailpiece.

I was nearly stunned by the improvement to my violin's voice. The D string took on a deeper resonance, and the A and E string both had a sweeter tone. Definitely a significant improvement. So, I moved the chin-rest just to the left of the tailpiece, and the tone improved a little better yet.

Subscribing to the philosophy that, if some's good, more might be better, I played the violin with the chin-rest entirely removed. Hmm; . . . interesting. The tone is a little deeper on all strings; but, I'm not sure that I like it as well. I think that some "fuzziness" can enhance tone.

So, I think that I will next experiment with a Guarnari type chin rest that I purchased at a violin shop yesterday. This is the type that clamps on to either side of the tail-piece. On principle, my luthier holds the cross up to these chin-rests, because they can inhibit vibration of the wood whose grain leads up to the sound post. I have a hunch that the violin will then have a voice similar to that when no chin-rest was attached. I'm inclined not to venture into this realm too much. But, we'll see.

QUESTION (Finally): What have you learned over the years about chin-rests and how they're attached?

Replies (22)

Edited: November 20, 2022, 1:50 AM · I was once told by a luthier that a chinrest that clamps on either side of the tailpiece was *preferable* because there is a block inside the violin at that spot that can better withstand the pressure than clamping the chinrest over the unreinforced wood to the left of the tailpiece.

At any rate I have used a Guarneri style chinrest for decades as do many of my colleagues, with no complaints about the resulting sound.

November 20, 2022, 4:15 AM · I leave well enough alone and in 60 years have learned nothing except obvious things like making sure there's plenty of clearance above the tailpiece. Why is it "Guarneri-style" can anyone tell me?
November 20, 2022, 4:32 AM · What have I learned about chinrests? The Guarnari style was best for me for the majority of my playing life. I also liked the fact that it clamps on the block. Happenstantial I learned that the corkscrew in a Swiss Army Knife can be used to loosen and tighten the clamp if/when you lose the little tool.

A year ago I broke my neck (for those medically trained: Forward displaced fracture of C2 & C3) which was fixed by a fusion of C0, 1, & 2 which makes turning my head to the left impossible and the Guarnari chinrest almost demands a slight twist to the left.

Now I use a Flesch Flat which allows me to hold the violin firmly without creating torsional stress on my cervical spine. I'm also learning how to play with my head 90-degrees to my shoulders (straight ahead).

As to the naming: All of those names are of famous violinists. Did they invent them? I don't know. My guess it is all about marketing a celerity name.

Edited: November 20, 2022, 7:18 AM · It's just a way of identifying the different chinrests; numbers would do as well, or dog names.

My limited "experiments" on a number of violins (mine and those made by a friend) led to my continuing preference for left-mounted chinrests based on the fuller tone I hear when playing most of them tested (not all, however). Thinking back to my youth, I don't recall ever seeing a center-mounted chinrest until receiving my first SHAR catalog in the 1960s .

I did have some chinrests for a while that had a rubber (or "plasticized") mounting material instead of cork that sounded better. However, because as I got even older they did not fit the shape of my jaw as well as others I had used I tried removing the cork from those older chinrests and replacing it with some rubber tape with adhesive on one side. This was as effective in sonic improvement as the first ones mentioned in this paragraph - so I continued to use them for years. I think the rubber provides some "shock absorber" type of isolation of the chinrest from the instrument - I have had it on chinrests on 4 violins and 2 violas ever since.

A few years ago I noticed that the rubber slightly disfigured the violin finish where the chinrest was clamped so added a thin layer of cork to the rubber surfaces to contact the violin surfaces (front & back) - the tonal improvement is still apparent to me when I play.

That's about all I have to contribute to this subject.

November 20, 2022, 7:54 PM · The chinrests that clamp on both sides of the tail-piece, at the end-pin block, are safer for the violin. Those would be the Guarneri, Flesch, and a fairly new one that I like; Ohrenform. Side-mounted chinrests should also be OK, but must be clamped right across, in line with the ribs. The wood of the top plate is very thin where it meets the side.
Edited: November 27, 2022, 12:25 AM ·
I think that I misused the term, "Guarnari," which I now believe to be a particular type of center mounted chin rest.

What I originally meant was center-mounted chin-rest.

Edited: November 20, 2022, 10:25 PM · For me, a good fit to my jaw is the only consideration. As it turns out, no off-the-shelf chinrest on the market (not even the Wave Da Capo or others marketed as ultra-low) allows me to fit my viola between my jaw and collarbone at all. In addition, although my small hands call for a center-mounted chinrest, my short neck does not allow me to use one. The cup needs to be lower than the tailpiece.

For many years I used a Kaufman chinrest, one of the lowest available, but it was still too high, and I had to use a shoulder rest to support my viola because I simply could not fit it on my collarbone. After trying a few other options, I finally got a custom-made chinrest that allows me to use my collarbone for support. It's ultra-low, and side-mounted but cut to center the cup as close to the tailpiece as possible without actually putting my head on the tailpiece.

November 21, 2022, 6:31 AM · George, do you really think that Guarneri and Stradivari anticipated Spohr's invention by 100 years or so?
The Kreddle is suitable only for people with a long neck. For me with my normal length neck but sloping shoulders, it was a disaster.
November 21, 2022, 8:40 AM · John,

I believe that market focused individuals will use any name that isn't already copyrighted in order to sell their product.

I also believe that if any of the current famous violinists attached their name to any violin accessory there would be instant sales. It's not "just" a chinrest -- it's a... (insert name of your favorite violinist here)!

November 21, 2022, 10:01 AM · I'm switching over too a Guarneri style chinrest. 1) I've heard and read the same as other supporters of such have voiced not just on this particular discussion, but other discussions here on violinist.com through the years. 2) Out of necessity. Both of my rotator cuffs are in bad shape, my bow arm the worse. Neither can be repaired and in a few years to come I'll have to go through reconstruction, so says my bone & joint Doctor. Since I play my violin much like we see in paintings of the Renaissance through Baroque of viols, and other such instruments including the earliest violins, it's been suggested, "Do you really 'need' a chin rest at all?" That's now another journey for another post somewhere or someday.
Edited: November 21, 2022, 4:17 PM · Royce, I get what you're saying in the last couple of sentences of your post. For age-related reasons, I have fairly recently retired from a lifetime of symphony orchestral playing, initially as a cellist, and as a violinist for the last twenty years. The time has come to say farewell to all that, giving me the opportunity and time to focus on the violin music of the Baroque era, particularly that of Corelli and Handel.

Over my 20 years of violin playing I have got through 4 or 5 chinrests of one sort or another, finding out that each one in turn didn't really do the job. So I've now learnt how to play fluently both without a chinrest and a shoulder rest (which I haven't used for years). I have spent some time in looking closely at videos of top Baroque violinists in action, in particular the lively playing of the Freiburger Barockorchestra under Gottlieb von der Goltz, who leads as well as directs. This orchestra has recorded all of Bach's Brandenburg concertos, and their video below* is what I looked at in detail.

Important points I gleaned from the video:
1. Good postural relaxation, with a straight back (no slouching!) whether you're seated or standing.
2. The violin rests on the collar bone.
3. The violin is held horizontally. A violin sloping downwards is not a good idea.
4. The right arm should be as relaxed as possible, with the elbow always hanging low. This encourages relaxation, which in turn encourages the left arm, hand and fingers also to be relaxed.
5. The right hand should never "grip" the violin's neck. The neck should rest comfortably between the thumb and first finger. This enables shifting up and down without problems.
6. Position of the player's jaw/chin. From the video, when the jaw is in contact with the violin it is usually located immediately above the tailpiece; at other times it may be out of contact with the violin. When doing a downwards shift my experience is that all that is needed is a light contact of the jaw/chin providing just enough frictional engagement
to enable the shift, making sure the left hand isn't gripping the neck.

A couple of historical observations:
1. Shoulder rest. Invented just before or soon after WW2. I remember in my school orchestra in the '50s the leader turning up for the first rehearsal of the term with what the conductor called "a contraption" hanging from the back of his violin. Within weeks every violinist had one fitted (which shows what influential teachers can do). The conductor of one of the leading London chamber orchestras at that time forbade his players to use a shoulder rest, on the reasonable grounds that it would affect the overall tone of the orchestra.

2. Chinrest. Invented in 8120 by Louis Spohr, an eminent violinist/composer/teacher of the period. No one knows why he invented it; my guess fwiw is that he may have had a pupil with difficulties who couldn't control the violin easily. Anyway, by the middle of the 19th century it had really caught on. Before 1820, going back 2-3 centuries the chinrest was unknown, but we can see from the high quality of the violin music of that period that there doesn't seem to have been any need for a chinrest.

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uw2dlZ8V4-0

November 21, 2022, 3:56 PM · Trevor, I challenged George Wells on dates, but you have gone beyond him.
Invented in 8120 by Louis Spohr ... My mind has boggled twice over!!!
November 21, 2022, 4:14 PM · John, typing "8120" instead of "1820" is one of the age-related reasons I referred to!
The spell-checker on my WP unfortunately doesn't do dates. In view of your post I'll leave the error as it was!
November 21, 2022, 5:03 PM · Stardate ****?
Edited: November 27, 2022, 12:24 AM ·
My most recent adjustment was to remove some of the cork (thinnish rubber on the bottom) from between the two clamps, which is in addition to removing cork to the right of the right side of the clamp, and removing cork to the left of the left side of the clamp.

Again, a significant difference. The tone appears to be more "pure" than previously. But please note, "more pure" doesn't necessarily correlate with "more pleasing".

Ordinarily, I would have thought to adjust the chin-rest to make the violin more comfortable, and more secure under the chin. But there are other, more important considerations involved. (Though, one does not want to risk dropping the violin inadvertently while playing.)

Clearly, violins are very touchy instruments. (Do brass musicians have similar experiences?) I think, once I get to something that I really like, I shall just leave it alone.

November 22, 2022, 8:59 PM · @Andrew Hsieh, I use the Kaufmann chin rest too. I carved mine down some, especially on the outside there there is a ridge that clashed with my jawbone.
November 22, 2022, 9:01 PM · Those of you who like Guarneri Style center-mounted rests, have you tried the Zuerich model from Wittner?
November 22, 2022, 9:46 PM · I no longer use the Kaufmann. It was what came with my viola, but even the bottom of the cup was too high.

My custom-made chinrest is a cut-down Brandt.

November 23, 2022, 11:14 AM · I've used a Kaufmann style rest almost exclusively over the years. But I was thinking of something even lower too. Also thought of trying to play without a chinrest just to experiment and see if I like it.
November 23, 2022, 12:41 PM · Below find the review of the Joachim chinrest I posted on concordmusic.com (the only place I have ever seen one). The Joachim is just 1/2 inch high (approx. 1 cm). I modify it as described in my review.

"Ideal chinrest for me:

It turns out this Joachim is the ideal chinrest for me to purchase at this time (at last my 20-year search has ended). My ideal chinrest for the past 50 years has been the "original Stuber" as manufactured in Germany until that time. More recent searches for that old chinrest to use on more recently purchased violins and violas failed since the Stuber chinrests available today are manufactured in the Far East to different dimensional specifications. To obtain the old design one must have it custom made for well over $100, which I did once.

By applying one-half of an "Impressionist" ("Impressionist chinrest comforter" sold by many dealers) to the top of a Joachim chinrest and molding it with one of my old Stubers I have been able to achieve the same playing comfort I have enjoyed on my other violins for the past half century. I cover ALL my chinrests with a cotton chinrest cover and they ALL feel the same."

November 24, 2022, 7:02 AM · Trevor, just a parent not a player- but surveying the main soloists of the day, most of them are playing with chinrests and shoulder rests. I don't think HH is suffering to much tonally.
Lots of legitimate reasons for personal decisions, but hard to see how broad statements are accurate.
Edited: November 27, 2022, 9:07 AM ·
QUOTE: Neil Poulsen ยท 11/27/2022 12:24 AM
". . . Again, a significant difference. The tone appears to be more "pure" than previously. But please note, "more pure" doesn't necessarily correlate with "more pleasing . . . "
==========
I was playing tonight, and the "more pure" voice to which I referred above is growing on me. I rather like it. It's still sweet, just a little more subtle.

But, I noticed that the edge of the chin rest was extending over the edge of the violin just a bit. So, I nudged it in a little to make the two edges even. Maybe it moved about a millimeter, or a little less. Indeed, that minor adjustment has taken my violin back closer to it's previous voice, before it became "more pure."

I feel a little silly discussing these "minuscule" adjustments. Yet, the difference I hear in the violin's voice is pretty apparent. I really had no idea of the influences on tone that chin rests can have.


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