response and the soundpost

Edited: November 25, 2017, 6:15 AM · I looked thru the archives and can't find an answer to my question. Will the fit of the soundpost affect the response of the violin?

Replies (43)

November 24, 2017, 6:36 PM · yes
November 24, 2017, 6:42 PM · Absolutely
Edited: November 24, 2017, 6:47 PM · it also has a great effect on the likelyhood of a soundpost crack developing, a poor fit is much more likely to cause a crack than a good fit. A well fitting soundpost is very important, and judging from the instruments I buy 90+% of them have improperly fitting soundposts.
November 24, 2017, 7:45 PM · The sound post is soooo important, however quite labour intensive to really optimize, hence perhaps why a vast majority aren't properly fitted. Many instrument's profit margin don't justify spending several hours in fitting the sound post. Who's willing to pay $300 to fit a sound post on a $500 instrument?
Edited: November 24, 2017, 7:51 PM · Fitting a soundpost takes about 20min to an hour, rarely more, I charge $40 to fit a new soundpost, only $20 if I can tweak the existing soundpost to an accurate fit.(like when the soundpost is not a good fit but is longer than it needs to be, it can be made to fit and end up in the proper position)
November 24, 2017, 10:30 PM · Yes, a lot. When I bought my violin it sounded 'tight' but the maker changed the sound post (at my teacher's request) and it probably added thousands to the price value, it's that much better.
November 25, 2017, 6:11 AM · Thank you everybody. When I bought my French violin a little over a year ago, I had a violin shop look it over. The luthier kept remarking on how loose the soundpost was, but it has a really nice sound. As he put it, "It sounds better than it should". It's just that lately I've thinking that the response could be a little better.

The luthier does not like French instruments, saying that they have a nasal sound. This one doesn't and I worry that a new soundpost would bring that out.

Edited: November 25, 2017, 1:41 PM · My violin isFrench, and certainly not nasal; but it still sounds best with a not-tight soundpost (and not-tense strings.)
November 25, 2017, 8:12 AM · @Leon, I would worry about going to a luthier who expressed a dislike for the nationality of my instrument just as I would avoid a doctor prejudiced against my own nationality.
November 25, 2017, 5:26 PM · Thank you again everybody.

Marjory, I think I will take your advice. I went to a very well known shop in Chicago, and the proprietor of the shop was very nice and down to earth. But he definitely had his own opinions and ways of doing things.

I always wondered what a persons thought process was like when, after working on a Guarneri de Jesu, they next pick up a fiddle like mine. It has to be a little less exciting. (Just a little.)

Edited: November 26, 2017, 8:49 PM · Leon,

Probably relief. If they drop your fiddle their insurance and or pocket isn't going to suffer horribly.

Edit: I've knocked my sound-post down before and set it back up with a pointy coat hanger. It was the same sound post, but I put it in a slightly different spot and it sounded a bit better. I think I'd like to have it looked at by a luither one day, but that requires travel.

November 27, 2017, 12:01 AM · Lol I don’t know why, but that title sounds really poetic. Reminds me of ‘Death and the Maiden’!
November 27, 2017, 2:26 AM · French?

My JTL viola, made in Mirecourt, but sold in the London branch, has an English or French "vowel" sound depending on whether I use the bridge set up in London (Guivier & Sons), or the one from my present Parisian luthier (Bernard Sabatier), which has more cut-away "heart" and "kidneys", and skinnier legs.

My new viola, from Mr. Sabatier's workshoi is definitely not nasal, but has an unusual shape (2-cornered symmetrical, not his assymmetric 3-cornered one)

November 27, 2017, 8:00 AM · I'll bet if you took a violin to 100 shops, 99% of them would tell you your post is leaning or crooked or otherwise not fitting correctly.
December 13, 2017, 2:27 AM · Leon , don't fix what isn't broken . Heron Allen says in his book Violin Making as it was an is (that has many pages on the sound post including accounts of historic experiments ) writes that the number one reason why a fiddle that is correctly made doesn't sound properly is that the sound post is too long . He also warns that there are only so many times that this important component can be adjusted . This is because of the risk of damage the the inside of the instrument where the sound post is located . He also mentions that microscopic movements can have a big effect .
When a sound post has been adjusted there is an immediate brightening of the tone . This disappears after a few days and it is only then that the success of the proceedure can be accessed .
December 13, 2017, 5:59 AM · Ken,
What you say Heron Allen wrote-big effect of microscopic movements, immediate change of tone that seems to disappear in a few days - my own personal experience exactly!
December 13, 2017, 6:46 AM · I wonder whether this fading effect is objectively confirmed on audio recordings. At least, my audio memory is probably not capable of noting subtle changes in tone color over several days. When comparing loudspeakers, I know that the change in sound color can be dramatic from one speaker to the next, but I get used to the brighter/duller sound within a few minutes and stop noticing it.
Edited: December 13, 2017, 6:03 PM · Han, I think you have a good point. But I don;t know what quality of recording and playback systems would be required to really detect the changes. My own sound post adjustments were certainly detectable since it was only seconds between before and after. For long-term change I would judge it this way: If I did not want to fool around with the soundpost days after I had moved it I had probably achieved the result I sought.

As for the two violins that I last had professionally adjusted I have not had any desire to fool with their soundposts in the 15 years since. At that time, when I picked up my two violins I also spent some time in the back room with the shop owner and played my just adjusted instruments and a Stradivarius and an Andrea Guarneri and then drove home with more satisfaction than envy.

I have heard/read that violin virtuoso Mischa Elman was known to visit the premier luthier in "every" city he concertized to have his soundpost adjusted. Wonder if his hearing was fading (or did his vehicle need new shocks?).

Edited: December 13, 2017, 9:31 AM · Andrew yes ! This is why sound post adjustment is so difficult . Reading between the lines one of a luthier's many important skills is to select the perfect piece of wood and pop the sound post in the sweet spot right off . A good deal of experience and dead reckoning is required . I believe that the wood should be very slightly softer than the belly to avoid bruising . There are so many ways to affect the tone of a violin mucking around with the s/p would be the last one I would choose .
December 13, 2017, 11:09 AM · Yes
December 13, 2017, 3:04 PM · "But I don't know what quality of recording and playback systems would be required to really detect the changes."

Given the phrasing: "an immediate brightening is detected" and the claim that one will notice the brightening disappear over days, based on aural memory, I'd expect that the fading effect - if it exists - is so pronounced that a smartphone would be sufficient, as long as the recordings are made at the same location (room, positions of player and microphone). Smartphone mikes are noisy but they do have a decent frequency redponse.

Edited: December 14, 2017, 5:52 AM · I don't know whether a smart phone would do the recording job or not. Haven't tried it. Certainly, something better than the internal speaker would be needed for playback.

The recording and playback quality certainly matters quite a bit. When I first started trying to use recording to help with adjusting and remembering violins, and to get a better idea of how they sounded from a distance, it could be challenging to even hear a difference between two different violins. That was back in the pre-digital audio tape days.

Some soundpost adjustments can take and hold. Others, like when a new soundpost has been fitted, or the instrument has spent some time without tension, can take some time to "settle in". In any case, I like to allow at least a few days, just to be safe, if I'm allowed that much time. Even a new set of strings (they start out at a slightly higher tension) can destabilize an instrument for a few days.

Edited: December 14, 2017, 5:34 AM · David - your account closely reflects my own recent experiences. While auditioning violins at dealers and auction houses I use a Zoom H1 digital recorder (with a much higher quality mike than a smart phone's) as an aide-memoire, playing back the recordings through an elderly but good-quality sound system. Some differences that I thought would be very obvious turned out to be scarcely perceptible. That and the equivocal results of double-blind trials lead me to conclude that the only really consistent and reliable way of evaluating a violin's tone is by close personal contact. One reason could be that in addition to vibrations conducted through the air, bone-conduction makes a significant contribution. What the audience hears is of secondary importance - it's the player's perception that matters the most!

When it comes to evaluating the set-up, particularly the soundpost, I also agree that the settling-in period is crucial. A violin I recently bought at auction turned out to have a slightly warped (scooped) neck and fingerboard which my local luthier was able to correct. He also fitted a new bridge and adjusted the soundpost. My initial impression was that the E-string now sounded brighter than before with disconcertingly prominent tones G and D. My suggestion that I might try experimenting with small shifts of the bridge and soundpost was greeted a little frostily! Sure enough after a week or two the sound settled down (or did my hearing adapt?) and although I still feel I have to be a little careful in the relevant areas I'm very happy with the overall result.

Edited: December 14, 2017, 6:44 AM · Steve, I use a fancier setup (basically one of the simpler versions of a computer-based recording studio), but a number of my clients have had impressive results with one of the Zoom recorders. I have been pretty impressed when I downloaded their files and played them back.

A good set of headphones can help with hearing subtle details which might otherwise be hard to distinguish.

December 14, 2017, 6:59 AM · This is a fascinating idea . I hadn't even thought of using recording to log changes .I assumed the results would not compare with the feel of the instrument when being played !
Edited: December 14, 2017, 9:09 AM · A high quality cassette deck would have better sound quality than an MP3 recorder, what matters most is not the recording format(unless its very low quality) but rather the quality of microphones used and the quality of the speakers used for playback.

Built in microphones in recording units are generally not very high quality, and regular computer speakers not really good enough for playback. I have my computer sound routed through my stereo, into $3000 audiophile loudspeakers I built myself. Even so, the quality of sound on youtube is not that high compared to CDs or LP sound quality. Because youtube sound is considerably worse than CD quality.

December 14, 2017, 9:39 AM · The Zoom is not just an MP3 recorder. Even the $100 one will also record and playback at a significantly higher rate than CD quality.
December 14, 2017, 10:00 AM · Yeah but it doesn't have a $300 microphone, does it!!
Edited: December 14, 2017, 10:36 AM · It has inputs for external mics if one wishes to use them.

My main point though is that even some of the very inexpensive recording devices have gotten pretty good, good enough to detect changes in the sound of a violin over time, whereas I wasn't very successful trying to do that many years ago. What helps me even more is editing a short passage of the recordings made at different times into a repeating loop, so there is no time lapse between the two, and one can automatically hear them repeatedly.

When doing these comparisons, one must be careful to take all the normal precautions, such as being in the same room, with the microphone and player and instrument in the same position. If not, these can make bigger differences in the recorded sound than changes in the instrument.

December 14, 2017, 12:03 PM · I think the reason small changes in the soundpost "wear off" after a few days is because the sound may be different without being better. So you just get used to it. I think most people would be happy with their adjustments if the luthier moved their soundpost randomly.
December 14, 2017, 12:06 PM · I think the cause for the changes is "settling." The wood interfaces gradually increase their contact areas. I've noticed the same thing when moving a bridge - same reason.
December 14, 2017, 12:12 PM · Ken, I think even the greatest expert in the world getting the soundpost in the sweet spot first shot is "dumb luck." I've watched Haide Lin at Ifshin erect my fallen soundpost and reset it. Even though he is the man who set it in the first place 10 years earlier (before I bought that cello) he still gave it 5 shots before he returned it to my hands - of course that only took him about 5 minutes total.

December 14, 2017, 12:42 PM · I've never witnessed a soundpost adjustment. Can it be done without loosening the strings? Or are they just really fast in tuning a violin? Surely I wouldn't able to retune four loose strings in just 40 seconds...
December 14, 2017, 1:50 PM · Paul, there's probably some truth in what you have said. In the fiddle trade, we often joke about "psychological sound adjustments". Most people in our trade fully realize that this is not only possible, but easy to pull off. The very best in our business don't rely on doing that.
Edited: December 14, 2017, 2:39 PM · I spent some time a while ago moving the sound posts around on a couple of my violins. I came to the conclusion that yes, you can achieve dramatic effects, but the fundamental instrument is always there in the background. i.e. you can't improve the instrument just kind of change its colour.
December 14, 2017, 2:55 PM · A luthier once told me that setting a soundpost is the one thing that can be guaranteed to reduce a grown man to tears on occasion.

A couple of weeks ago I received back from Bristol Violin Shop my repaired #1 violin (anon, most likely second half of the 18th century). What necessitated the repair was that the bridge had snapped in two while I was playing. That bridge was fitted straight and wasn't bent, but it was about 25 years old. I inspected the break with a lens and there appears to have been a small defect within the wood. As we known, cracks in a material can propagate from the smallest defects, and this propagation will accelerate and result in a fracture if the material is subjected to high and variable loading, as a violin bridge is. So that seems to be the likely explanation. Fortunately, because I was using gut strings and no tuners, there was no damage done to the top when the tailpiece collapsed.

My luthier replaced the bridge with a new one, and took the opportunity to adjust the soundpost. From the faint scuff marks in the dust within it looks as if he moved the post no more than 2mm. The new bridge was also slightly repositioned 2-3mm towards the tailpiece. I had a new set of Chorda gut strings fitted; and, btw Mr Luthier, the precision of the loops you fashioned on the E and A strings is a pleasure to behold (memo to self - learn how to do it like that!).

As I more than half expected, the returned violin feels like a new instrument, with noticeably more power and resonance than before. With a new bridge and strings, and soundpost adjustment there is an obvious playing-in period to be enjoyed, and this is what is happening now. The new bridge has a different profile, the strings are new, and the nut-to-bridge length is about 2-3mm more than it was before (it's a slightly over-size violin anyway) so this is a new learning curve for me to get to grips with. It's all progressing well and I'm looking forward to the next orchestral rehearsal in January.

December 15, 2017, 3:18 AM · Trevor , When you say slightly oversized exactly how long is the back ?
December 15, 2017, 4:33 AM · Trevor,

What was the reason for not reproducing the vibrating string length that you were used to for many years on the violin that suffered the fractured bridge?

In my experience, a small shift in bridge location can be "felt" by the fingers as a subtle shift in intonation positions. I now very carefully measure the nut to bridge length of the strings before replacing them or the bridge, and reproduce that length.

Edited: December 15, 2017, 8:21 AM · Ken, 360mm (not including the neck button, of course). The back length of my Jay Haide, by comparison, is 355mm.

Carmen, I'll ask the luthier when I next see him, but my guess is that the original positioning of the bridge (the one I was always used to) was to make intonation a shade easier, and the bridge shift made by my luthier corrected this and, in conjunction with a small soundpost shift, has significantly improved the tone. The improvement isn't only as I hear it under my ear but to other people. I took the violin to rehearsal last Tuesday (its first outing since back from the luthier, and I'm still on the getting-used-to-it learning curve I referred to earlier) and a couple of players in the section remarked on it, especially the power of the G. The vibrating length of the A is 333mm (on the Jay Haide it is 328mm).

The violin's neck is slightly shorter than a modern neck - it's certainly shorter than the Jay Haide's. Curiously, I wasn't aware of this until a few months ago when someone in my orchestra noticed it. I measured and compared it with the Jay Haide and it is indeed more of a Baroque neck than a modern one. There is no evidence that the neck has been shortened or altered in any way - I checked with my luthier when I took the violin in for repair. I am aware of it with the new setup because the B on the E string is now very slightly further up the finger board, but it's no problem.

A little more about the violin's history: it has been in my family since 1850, its last owner being my Mother. Due to the outbreak of WW2 it was put away in 1939, survived a few house moves and didn't see the light of day until 1988 when Mum got it out of a cupboard and gave it to me with strict instructions to look after it and learn to play it. It wasn't in good condition - bridge and soundpost down, a couple of splits in the belly, broken tail button, and sundry scratches and marks all over. I wasn't playing the violin then, and it wasn't until the mid-90s that I got round to having it overhauled, with the eventually intention of learning to play (which I started in 2001). The luthier who did the refurbishment then (he's no longer around) brought it back into playing condition with a new soundpost, bridge, tail button, repairs to the splits and a general clean, and it must have been he who located the bridge in the position that I've been used to all these years.

I bought the Jay Haide in 2003 as my general purpose #2 violin.

December 15, 2017, 10:51 AM · Thanks Trevor , I know the Bristol violin shop . What happened to Richard Bristow on the other side of Park St. and I hear that John Stagg has retired as well .
December 15, 2017, 11:12 AM · Ken, as far as I know, Cremona House (under the direction of Richard Bristow) is still in business, although their website is under reconstruction. It was Cremona House (under various names) that looked after my cello for half a century, did the initial restorative work on my old violin, and from whom I bought the Jay Haide in 2003. I don't think Bristol Violin Shop was around at that time, certainly not near the centre of the city. Most of my business now is with Bristol Violin Shop.

I understand John Stagg has retired for health reasons, a significant loss to the archetier's craft, but the good news is that Bristol Violin Shop, a very short distance up the road, is geared up to handle bow rehairs.

December 15, 2017, 11:12 AM · 333mm is definitely on the long side. Going from 328 to 333 would bother me, especially with the 4th finger placement in first position.

It will be interesting to hear if he adjusted the string length according to some "standard practice" formula because the body length is a bit bigger than a typical 4/4. My instincts tell me the length could have remained at 328mm and any tweaks needed performed with the sound post and/or tail piece.

If you have no problem adapting to it then why mess with a good thing I guess.

Edited: December 15, 2017, 1:49 PM · Carmen, as you say, I have no problems adapting to the 333mm. Whatever the luthier did has certainly improved the violin. Having been a lifelong cellist has blessed me with a decent left hand reach so I can if necessary do a minor 6th in the 1st position on the G without any trouble. Incidentally, that particular stretch saved me a lot of bow flapping in a symphony the other week where I had to play on the G string a near-tremolo sequence of rapid A-F's in 16ths for a couple of bars. The 1st violins don't seem to get that sort of interesting stuff we get in the 2nds ;)

Incidentally, the other dimensions, width and depth, of the old violin are in proportion to the length of the violin, so the interior volume is that much larger than the Jay Haide's by about 4% I'd guess. The instrument is also 50gm lighter than the Jay Haide.

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