What would happen to the sound if F holes were on the side? (or Not present)

December 14, 2017, 2:14 PM · 1. I was reading a 1980's book a long time ago on acoustics and it claims somewhere in it that violins in an engineering perspective should have the F holes on the ribs and rather not the top in order to send the sound the best to an audience.

I was wondering if any of you guys are like acoustical engineers that can verify on that.

2. That leads me to think, what if we had a hollow violin, but with no F holes for sound to escape directly through? Would it be a muted violin? After all, the ribs are thin enough for some sound to escape.

Replies (14)

Edited: December 15, 2017, 4:26 AM · I've run across instruments with ff holes in the sides, as well as the back, and didn't detect any advantage. In every case I can recall, it was worse.

No ff holes? A simple and easy experiment is to put tape over the ff holes. Not that I'm recommending this without taking extreme precautions, because tape can pull varnish off the instrument when it is removed. Yes, it sounds "closed" and muted, even though much of the sound radiated by a violin doesn't come through the ff holes, but is radiated from the outside surfaces of the violin.

December 14, 2017, 5:12 PM · If the f holes were covered, I imagine it would be similar to hearing an electric guitar that isn't plugged in.

I have also wondered what different shaped f holes would sound like. I used to regularly picture different math symbols going in place of the f-holes, since the f-holes began to remind me of the integral notation starting when I learned about it during middle school ( I think that there is actually a calculus textbook with a violin on the front cover ) But I bet the difference in sound wouldn't be too big, if you made the shape large and thick enough. I have seen basses with slightly different shapes f holes, and didn't hear too much of a difference.

As for different position, my closest experience to that was when I one day took my viola out of the case to play for a church service and found that an entire piece of the bottom had fallen off, and had left a rather large hole near the chinrest. From what I remember, it didn't improve the sound.

December 14, 2017, 7:58 PM · Why don't you buy a violin and cut some holes in the side with a drill and see how that goes. By the way the little triangular cuts in the middle of the f-holes are very important for certain overtones. This was discovered by Amati.
December 14, 2017, 8:45 PM · I have never heard that the notches have anything to do with sound, and personally don't think it's true. But having the F-shaped holes cut into the top plate definitely does influence the way the top plate vibrates, and therefore influences tone.
Not having F-holes at all would completely remove the A0 air resonance, and therefore give a very thin-sounding G string, in addition to some other tonal oddness.
December 14, 2017, 9:10 PM · I met a guy who made a violin from a kit. He decided to be different and put the f-holes on the side. it sounded like Lieschen said, an unplugged electric guitar. Quiet and no tone at all.
Edited: December 15, 2017, 12:11 AM · The museum of the Stradivari International Violin Making School in Cremona exhibits a series of instruments without F-holes, with F-holes halved in length, and variations thereof. I believe they were part of an acoustics experiment by maker Peter Tartar, who taught at the school until the late '50s.

It would be interesting to play those instruments and compare their sound directly.

December 15, 2017, 3:24 AM · Aren't the f holes there to allow air the violin to move so that the plates are not inhibited in there vibration .
December 15, 2017, 4:20 AM · If the sole purpose of the f holes was to allow air to escape so the plate could vibrate freely, then one could place the holes just about anywhere, including the sides or back.

A fundamental design challenge for all unamplified musical instruments is to get a balanced range of natural modes of vibration across the audible spectrum. Things like the bass bar and sound post are all design evolutions meant to get a "good" range of modes by forcing the top plate to vibrate in certain ways.

The f holes and the air volume form something called a Helmholtz resonator. The length and area of the f holes, together with the volume of air inside the violin, can be "tuned" to a specific frequency to boost the sounding power of notes around that frequency.

Changing f hole shape and placement or altering the air space also changes the shape and frequency of the vibration modes of the top plate. This will alter the distribution of modes that define the violin sound. So you end up with things like a viola d'amore or a violin de gamba.

A modern re-engineering of the violin gives you the electric violin where only the barest of frames is needed to present the strings to the bow. Timbre, tonal balance and power are all easily handled by the electronics.

But the visual aesthetics are gone. The best violins not only sound fabulous, they are sculptures that reflect artistic vision and a high level of craftsmanship.

December 15, 2017, 5:38 AM · I was just kidding about the notches in the f-holes. LOL.
December 15, 2017, 9:23 AM · I'm not sure about the sound, but people would look at you strangely at rehearsals and concerts.
December 16, 2017, 1:47 PM · @Everyone I dunno about if putting on the sides would actually make it sound like an unplugged instrument. Search up Julius Zoller Violas (Or violins if he has those)
December 16, 2017, 7:45 PM · National Electric Violins were one of the earliest electric violins and featured no f holes in their design. The earliest ones reportedly had f holes, but a solid top reduced feedback, but also their acoustic sound levels. More information about them can be found at http://www.digitalviolin.com/Kislingbury.html
Edited: December 16, 2017, 9:25 PM · I think Carmen is correct about the need for the exchange of air to allow the plates to vibrate freely because the air volume inside must change when the plates vibrate and they cannot if the volume is kept constant or resisted by closing the volume.

By analogy the other week I had lung function (breathing) tests in an enclosed plexiglass "box." In the final test the box is completely sealed and the patient is asked to inhale and exhale while the volume of air exchange is measured. It is virtually impossible to move air into and out of one's lungs under that condition. Same problem with a sealed violin.

If you have noticed, even guitars have air vents.

December 19, 2017, 1:55 PM · Yes, but some - like Ovations - have those vents in strange places. Mind you, Ovation guitars are generally intended to be used with a pickup, which gives a good acoustic sound without having to worry as much about feedback on stage. And the plastic back makes a good salad bowl when you're not playing.

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