Edited: December 19, 2022, 6:57 AM · Tinker ... tinker ... tinker ... Do you think a change of furnishings (fingerboard, tailpiece, tuners) from ebony to rose or boxwood, would have an appreciable effect on a fiddle's tone?

Replies (29)

Edited: December 19, 2022, 9:21 AM · For the player, yes; for the listener, I doubt it.

BTW I think your avatar could perhaps benefit from a shoulder rest!

December 19, 2022, 9:47 AM · Adrian - whole-body rest I think ...
December 19, 2022, 11:33 AM · William, yes it could, and probably will, depending on how sensitive you are to small-to-medium changes in sound and playing properties.

Will the changes be for better or for worse? Depends on what you like. Pretty much need to try it to know for sure. And even then, you may change your mind later, as your tastes in sound and playing properties change over time.

December 19, 2022, 3:03 PM · Before changing all the parts on your violin, try changing your technique. You'll get bigger and better results.
December 19, 2022, 3:46 PM · Of course you'd have to "play in" your new tailpiece, pegs, tuners, etc., for several months to really be sure ...
Edited: December 19, 2022, 4:24 PM · I am of the mind that the desire to tinker with equipment is directly proportional to one's doubt in the idea that practice leads to improvement.
Edited: December 19, 2022, 4:38 PM · Drole. Would less wood (shorter, thinner) attached to the fiddle have an effect as well?
Edited: December 20, 2022, 4:27 PM · Yup. Might be better, might be worse.
Edited: December 19, 2022, 11:03 PM ·
These all can have a substantial effect on tone for the violinist and the listener.

I've fiddled a lot with furniture, and my advice is to have a good luthier set them up. After my attentions, my violin sounded terrible. There are variables that aren't common knowledge. Like, distances, densities, etc. When I finally got my luthier involved to set up furnishings, it got done right. What a difference in tone! You didn't mention tail-gut, which can also have a huge influence.

The furnishings on my violin include a Pernambuco tail-piece (standard length and weight), a single Hill-style tuner for the E string, and a Kevlar tail gut. Kevler was an improvement on a titanium tail-gut.

Of course, a lot depends on the violin. But, this is the setup my luthier thought best for my particular violin.

December 20, 2022, 12:18 PM · Thanks all ... I have a shortened, ebony fingerboard on my viola and wondered if correcting its length would improve tone. Think I'll leave it. I changed the ebony tail piece for a much lighter one in palissandro. Time will tell if it makes a difference. Thanks again.
Edited: December 21, 2022, 8:46 PM · Look at all those baroque violinists. They've sawed off their fingerboards. Also, they play without vibrato. So it seems logical to conclude that vibrato originates in the the last two inches of the fingerboard.
December 22, 2022, 12:44 AM · By the same token a violin should play faster with the corners shaved off.
Edited: December 22, 2022, 5:45 AM · Christian, that did not apply to my 1962 decision to change from steel to gut (Synthetic weren't an option then, but I still don't think one can quite beat the best gut for sheer performance quality), in time for performing movements 1&2 of the Brahms D-minor - not that I was THAT assiduous in practising!
Edited: December 23, 2022, 5:20 AM · If you really mean fiddling and not violin playing, and you don't play higher than first position, then a long fingerboard is pointless.
As to tailpieces, if they mattered that much, you'd think Wittner would avoid alloys and "composites".
If these things mattered, then Stradivari wasted all his effort, didn't he.
December 22, 2022, 6:10 AM · And OP, I would predict that the best wood tonewise for a tailpiece (not necessarily anything else) will be the wood one uses for bridges, which I think is maple (although, if I remember rightly from participation in a London College of Furniture student's project, boxwood was the one material tried that seemed to be as good as maple for bridges; all the others were worse, metal an absolute disaster). But this is purely theoretical, considering how many of us are prepared to live with metal tailpiece adjusters, which I think affect the tone far more than change to the wood of a tailpiece would.
But you can't beat ebony for stability and durabiity.
December 22, 2022, 11:18 AM · John, I could see moving from steel to gut making quite a difference, but I'd bet that you weren't fretting about new rosins or experimenting with new peg materials in an attempt to improve your tone.

Maybe it's more of a U-shaped curve, where the advanced player can then get back to tinkering and get something out of it.

December 22, 2022, 2:26 PM · John Rokos, ouch!
Furniture student's project???
What was the sample size?
Different things work on different instruments.
December 22, 2022, 5:57 PM · Has anybody built or tried a carbon fiber bridge ? Just curious.
December 22, 2022, 6:37 PM · carbon fibre is not a wood like tone material, it would sound more like plastic
December 23, 2022, 1:53 AM · What does plastic sound like? I'd love to do the experiment.
December 23, 2022, 3:05 AM · try tapping on it, it makes a thud instead of a ring
Edited: December 23, 2022, 3:35 AM · Surely a wooden bridge doesn't ring? Its job is to passively transmit vibrations, not to resonate with certain frequencies which would inevitably colour the sound.

Apparently aluminium is a very efficient sound transmitter on account of its low density. But I gather the impedance of the bridge needs to be higher than that of the belly so aluminium's may be too low.

December 23, 2022, 4:55 AM · According to the Cambridge Companion to the Violin, at low frequencies, the bridge acts as a lever with the soundpost being its fulcrum. The bridge itself resonates at about 2kHz boosting high frequencies. I haven't read the whole article in a while, just glanced at it recently for a question about bridges and saddles on a uke forum.
December 23, 2022, 5:10 AM · I'll take a look at my copy tomorrow, if I can find it. My instinct is that it must be the whole system that resonates, not just the bridge. Don or David should be able to advise.
December 23, 2022, 6:51 AM · Brian Kelly, bridges have been made out of almost every imaginable material, including carbon fiber.
Edited: December 23, 2022, 9:39 AM · From having massacred (intentionally) a number of bridge blanks and old bridges, I have found that the height, width, distribution of thickness, and the extent of the cutouts all make a marked difference to the resulting tone.

December 23, 2022, 8:38 AM · My one-time Cambridge Companion Professor Sir James ("Jimmie") Beament FRS, zoologist, double-bassist and terrible composer, has a lot to say about the bridge in his The Violin Explained. It's all very complicated and I'm not sure even he fully understood what goes on.
December 23, 2022, 11:07 AM · Fingerboard?
If we "pluck" the free end of the fingerboard, it rings (very briefly).
This resonance can add to, or subtract from, others.
We can test this by adding some mastic under the free end to hear or feel the difference.
Edited: January 14, 2023, 11:35 AM · Re metal tailpieces: I have lined the underside of mine with bathroom silicone mastic to stop the metallic ringing.
The newer Wittners are in a light resin and don't "ring".

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