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Al Cramer

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Posts posted by Al Cramer

  1. Hi --

    This is a weird string question. 

    A while back I bought one of those "gamba-shaped" 16+1/4 violas that yitamusic sells. I also bought a set of sensicore octave viola strings (plus the extra sensicore e-octave-viola string). I tossed out the low C from the set & strung up the viola GDAE, thus getting an oversized octave violin that sounds really, really nice even without amplification (though it does want to be played with a cello bow).

    My problem is: the A string just broke, and sensicore octave viola strings are no longer available. What to do? I just ordered a set of Zyex viola strings, hoping  to replace the broken A with the G from the Zyex set. I think that ought to work, but am worried about the more general question of string replacement if sensicore's remain unavailable. Does anyone have any ideas?  Should I consider something like 1/4 size cello strings? Would that rip the instrument apart?

    Many Thanks!


  2. That's an interesting idea. I notice you suggest a 1/16 cello as a good match to modern da-spalla. There's a luthier here in USA who says he does conversation of kid sized cellos to da-spalla, but he says you should start with a 1/8 cello. I confess I don't understand how fractional cello sizes work (I sort of  get that it seems to have more do with the volume of the soundbox (Dim**3) rather than the length of linear measurements (Dim*1)).  I haven't been able to find a site that gives the dimensions of fractional-sized  cellos down to 1/16: if you know of one, please post the URL.


  3. Harley marty, we are thinking alike! If I had an extra 5 grand hanging around that needed spending, I'd definitely get in touch with Mr.  Badiarov. Alas I don't.

    An idea I've been considering is: what if I took my octave-violin-tuned viola and tied some frets on it? Then I'd have a viola da braccio. I haven't done this yet because I dislike playing  fretted instruments for intonation reasons; also I'm not sure what to use for the fret material (nylon fishing looks good but you need a range of diameters). The idea is to improve the sound of the instrument. If you look at pictures of viola da braccio, they look very similar to the dimensions on the instruments we're working with.  If you ever try something like this, please let us know what happens.

    Best of luck! 

  4. Hi Harley --

    A couple of months ago I did what you're doing, except I bought a 16.5" "gamba-shaped" viola from yitamusic.  (gamba-shaped means the shoulders slope more, and lower bout is notably wider than most violas). For strings I'm using sensicore octave viola strings (the set is C, G, D, A, and sensicore also makes a "octave viola E string", so I bought the set + single E string and threw out the C). For bow I bought a carbon fiber cello bow from www.fiddlershop.com (from whom I also bought the strings).

    I'm really pleased by the results. It gives a big rich sound, but plays very agile, so I can do all the roles and cuts that I do on the fiddle. Some random notes:

    1. On violin I use a chin rest but no shoulder rest. On this instrument I wound up dispensing with the chin rest as well. I tuck it up under my chin & rest it against collar bone (same as violin) but angle it down more, so my left hand is lower than it would be for fiddle. Holding it this way, I can shift up & down as easily as I can on violin.

    2. I found finger pressure to be important re tone on the D and G strings. If I don't press somewhat harder, the notes sound muffled. Bow placement on strings (where contact point is, relative to bridge) seems to be more finicky than it is on violin -- the lower strings want to be bowed a bit further away from the bridge.

    3. It seems to want more bow, played lower down on the stick, I think because of the thicker strings. I'm glad I bought the cello bow -- don't think I could make this axe work with a viola bow.

    4. My instrument really takes off in the higher positions. It has something to with string resonance... I find that if I play the B part of of various jigs & reels in third position, I get a really amazing tone. 

    Best of luck and thanks so much for posting! Why don't you post something on youtube? (was thinking of doing that but chickened out. Maybe of you went first....)






  5. Could I add Regina Carter to the list of modern blues fiddlers? I know she's a jazz violinist, but to my ears there's a real strong blues feel to her music (sort of like Joe Zawinul, the great Austrian keyboardist). 

    Palousian, that's a great post you made! I thought a lot about what you wrote & very much agree. But there's more to be said. Been thinking in particular about rhythm and beat. I kind of associate blues with a back-beat feel. Like it's always there, even when you're not doing it. Then there's that thing Billie Holiday did, where she'd come in just a little behind the beat. 

    There's so more to think about when you're thinking about the blues. It goes way beyond which scale notes get flatted!

  6. My pinkie fingers are very short. What I do is:

    1. right hand  -- use a Russian instead of Franco-Belgian bow-hold. Since pinkie finger is just sort of floating up, it's shortness doesn't matter.

    2. left hand -- scales + scales +scales. If you're in first position, use the pinkie to finger the fifths. If you're in third, feel the way the 4th finger can establish the tonality of everything. Pinkie is strong. Pinkie is smart. You just need to figure out a way to work with it!

  7. Did you know it's possible to practice scales in your head? At this point in my playing I'm trying to rid myself of the idea of "positions" and just move  up & down the fingerboard to make fluid musical phrases. So I do lots of scales,  tritone & seventh chord arpeggios, little 6-2-5-1 chord progressions, etc.. I'm finding that at least half of this stuff is mental, and I can practice it while walking my dog.

    I got into this idea by listening to Olympic athletes talking about their training. Skiers and gymnasts would talk about how their coaches would make them "visualize" their moves. Being a rather stupid & literal-minded person, it took me a while to realize that the kind of "visualization" they were talking about had little to do with sight. Once I got over that idea, I realized: hey, maybe string players can do that too!

  8. Could you comment on the finish?

    In USA we sometimes get instruments where some shop gets in a fiddle, passes it over to the guitar guy to fix it up, and that guy sprays on some super-heavy lacquer that kills the sound.

  9. I'm totally with the people here suggesting geared pegs. I just bought 2 sets of knilling planetary pegs (1@9.mm for a viola pegbox, 1@8.5mm for a violin with really big pegbox holes) for 55$ a set. That's how I intend to solve my problems. But if you're intent on the bushing solution: I have a wood lathe because I sometimes make flutes and penny whistles and such. If you PM me with your contact info, I could try to turn you a bit of dowling from some nice granadillo wood  that would likely work.

  10. It gets even worse! The way the sound is encoded (digital or analog) is hugely important. It took Neil Young years before he'd allow his stuff to go out as CDs, because he wouldn't accept the loss in sound quality. If you still have access to a turntable, check out how much richer & truer & just plain better vinyl sounded. My guess is that whatever differences exist between these mic's risks being occluded by digital encoding.

    Sometimes I wish electricity had never been invented. A few weeks ago we lost power in the early evening, so my wife and I lit 5 candles at the kitchen table. To while away the time I took my fiddle and played a bunch of baroque tunes. I swear they sounded better by candlelight.

  11. Many thanks to Maestro Saunders for posting that article. 

    I think this has been posted before on this site, but if not -- and you're interested in cheery upbeat pictures of violin production in China -- check out

    I suppose we've all had our own experiences with lower-end Chinese instruments. My sister asked me to do setup on a Stentor violin and a Samuel Eastman viola. There was nothing to be done for the Stentor: the finish was impossibly thick, like they'd repeatedly dipped the poor thing in a vat of polyurethane, completely choking off whatever it had to offer. The finish on the Eastman viola seemed ok, and the instrument seemed pretty well made, but the sound was nasal & poor regardless of what I did re bridge and soundpost. 

    On the other hand: I got interested a while ago in octave (aka. baritone) violins. I would up buying a 16&1/4 inch "gamba shaped" viola from Yitamusic and stringing it with Sensicore octave viola strings (except I threw out the low-C and put an E at the top treble, so it's tuned exactly like a violin except an octave down).  The instrument is well made & it really rocks. There's no way it could replace a cello in a string quartet, but I do folk and jazz and am excited about what I might be able to offer my fellow players if this goddam virus goes away & we can start playing again. 

  12. What a great thread!

    I wouldn't presume to speak for Brad Dorsey, but would like to note that he & I  both live in New England in USA. In this part of the world people tend to be very pragmatic, and also hate to see stuff go to waste. On the Maine island where I live, the guys at the dump always put the lawn mowers and promising broken furniture out at the front, so people can come & haul them off and fix them up.

    Fixing up broken stuff and making it useful again is a big deal here. Of course, there's no point in fixing crap. But  the OP said the instrument -- plywood or not -- sounded good.

    Would also like to thank Brad for documenting his repair technique (also everybody else who made useful observations). This is why Maestronet is so great: somebody 5 years from now will be facing the same  problem, read this thread, and salvage their not-very-valuable-but-important-anyway instrument.

  13. This may be off-topic, but: lately I've been thinking a lot about rests in music.  I play mostly celtic/folk and a bit of jazz, and in those worlds improv is super-important. (Like you should never play the repeats in a jig the same way, you need to come up with some interesting little twist). It's taken me a very long time to understand that the notes you leave out are as important as the notes you put in. I think the music can only exist in relation to silence,  and sometimes we forget to allow space for silence.

    Two people who were masters at this were Miles Davis and Billie Holiday.

  14. I'm giving up on the virtual ensemble idea & returning to the build-a-fire-and-drink-Allen's-coffee-brandy plan. According to this excellent article:


    you need an internet upload speed of 5Mbps or more to make this stuff work. Mine is around 0.75Mbps.  If you want to check your connection, type "internet speed test" in a Google search box and hit enter. 


  15. Many thanks for the replies!

    I'm going to try some stuff. So far I've got jacktrip installed on my windows laptop; will install on my linux laptop & see what happens when I try to create a peer-to-peer connection. This won't tell me very much re the latency problem, but if results are good I'll  try to get a friend who lives 20 miles away to install the app & we'll see what happens. Then -- given what people have suggested -- I guess I'll repeat all that with the Jamkazam app. ( I'm starting with jacktrip  because of some articles that showed up on NPR).

    This probably won't work but I will report what happens in a week or so. 



  16. Your Dad sounds great &  putting his music out into the world is a righteous thing to do!

    I'm also interested in mic's for internet. It seems the one you're using goes for 300$. If I could only come up with 100$, could anyone make some recomendations? (apologies if I'm hi-jacking this thread -- if people think so I'll delete this posting).

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