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Why new Instrument sounds better after play??


Mudoe

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I’ve been lurking for a long time appreciating the discussions, but I think it’s time I put in my 2cents worth. Quick background – I am a science type (solid state physics, some materials science, a little of ultrasonics in materials) and although I’ve done no work on violin sound science or wood material, my opinion is that fundamental ideas can explain the “opening up” idea. I know I’m a few days late, but registering for this forum takes more than two days!

Some have already mentioned things like tension, stresses, and eigenmodes. Consider a spring. If it’s new and you start exercising it, it will display some characteristic, measurable response. Put a heavy weight on it for a few days or exercise it continuously for weeks, and the characteristic response will change. Same with the violin.

Springs have characteristic responses – call it modes, eigenmodes, eigenvalues, harmonics, solutions, etc. What I contend is that if the spring is exercised (the more technical term is excited) at one of these modes for a long time, then that characteristic mode will be more easily excited the next time, that is, the response will be different and favor more of that specific mode. Same with the violin.

Violins have characteristic responses or modes. Once a new one gets played, these modes, because they are being excited, will be enhanced. Consider this thought experiment. Let’s say that our esteemed Michael Darnton has a secret powder that makes his violins sound much better. It has the properties that it is very dense, microscopic, sticks to the wood but moves around favoring areas that are not vibrating, and will stay in their position permanently after being vibrated on z times. Upon sprinkling some of this dense material to the violin back, he starts playing. The violin hasn’t “opened up” because these dense particles are in the vibrating portions of the wood so these vibrating modes are somewhat restricted. As the particles move around, they will find areas that don’t vibrate too much, and that will do two things. First, the areas that vibrate a lot will vibrate even more because the dense particles are no longer there. Second, the areas that don’t vibrate a lot will vibrate even less because the particles will be imbedded there. Both of these things will enhance the mode. Of course, this secret powder doesn’t exist, but you can think of them as the stiffness (spring constant) all throughout the wood. After playing a new violin, some areas will more easily vibrate and become less stiff. Others will remain stiff.

I hope that sheds some light. I’ll also try to comment some day on the Nagyvary spectrum and other thoughts about science and the violin.

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"I’ll also try to comment some day on the Nagyvary spectrum and other thoughts about science and the violin."

Don't make "some day" too far off Exwhyzie, we need more of you 'Science Types' to kick around here. I especially like kicking around Nagyvary, but will consider kicking around Vigdorchik and his pseudo-science, Hutchins and her genuine attempts, fresh thinking on the subject, or any other of the "scientific types" you'd care to bring up. I don't think fresh ideas would hurt either.

Have you considered making a violin yourself? If you are a maker already, great - if not, you might want to consider it. It's a cool and satisfying acomplishment for a craftsman, but also a cool diversion or challange for any thinking person. (especially type A personalities as you can see! ;-))

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xyz - interesting for sure.

Quote: "First, the areas that vibrate a lot will vibrate even more because the dense particles are no longer there. Second, the areas that don’t vibrate a lot will vibrate even less because the particles will be imbedded there. Both of these things will enhance the mode."

I take this to mean that each violin will meet its own individual optimal performance, be that good or poor overall tone. And, outside 'excitation' influences will not affect final tone quality. I have read where some makers put their violin in an "acoustical box" and expose same to (presumably) good sounds.

What are your thoughts about improving a marginal violin with external exitation?

Regis

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Dear XYZ,

Is there a term or set of link-words I could use to do some reading on the net? You are not talking here of the ideal massless spring as spearated from the masses or mass distribution in a problem.

Is this a case of metal fatigue in certain areas of a spring with mass? I would like to look further into this phenomenon.... so any links would be welcome. If there is a particular term for this sort of "memory", I would like to look that up.

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Quote:

I take this to mean that each violin will meet its own individual optimal performance, be that good or poor overall tone. And, outside 'excitation' influences will not affect final tone quality. I have read where some makers put their violin in an "acoustical box" and expose same to (presumably) good sounds.

What are your thoughts about improving a marginal violin with external exitation?

Regis


1. Yes, my belief is that each violin will meet its own optimal performance.

2. The idea is that excitation will progress the violin towards the “optimal” solution. Exciting the violin with outside influence can no way be as good as playing the violin. Think about the sound – with external excitation, the sound is being transferred through the air to the violin. If you can make a newly adjusted violin snap, crackle, and pop just by playing a CD of Mozart’s symphony no. 40, then the story would be different. I suspect you can only make the violin snap, crackle, and pop by playing it.

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You'd be pleased to know, then, that many players maintain that a violin that's been played in "knows" how to play in tune, so they say. That would be consistent with your theory, right?


That is consistent, although in the very extreme. I would file such claims in the folder labeled "difficult to prove and measure phenomena, but cannot be discounted."

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Quote:

Is there a term or set of link-words I could use to do some reading on the net? You are not talking here of the ideal massless spring as spearated from the masses or mass distribution in a problem.

Is this a case of metal fatigue in certain areas of a spring with mass? I would like to look further into this phenomenon.... so any links would be welcome. If there is a particular term for this sort of "memory", I would like to look that up.


I did a cursory search and it looks like "creep" is the technical term for those working with polymers (wood is a polymer). Here's the first relevant link I found.

http://www.plasticsusa.com/creep.html

That should be a good start. Also try to do searches on the following (or combinations of):

polymer

wood

creep

"mechanical properties"

stress

strain

"finite element analysis"

stiffness

Metal fatigue on springs or metal beams is a very good analogy. Wood is a polymer, so it will respond differently, and the forces/stresses involved with metal fatigue is surely much greater.

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Yes, glad you mention creep. There is static creep and a fast-acting creep that would lead to hysteresis in a cycle of vibration. Much the same as the disipation mechanism that heats your car tires. This is a damping situation, and your initial letter does not seem to mention disipative mechanisms. I have done a bit of reading on creep and visco-elastic effects. Finding good experiments will be quite a challenge.

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I have a small amount of experience with steel, having worked at a manufacturing plant and responsible for ordering/transportation and warehousing-shipping over 27 million pounds of it each year. We referred to your phenomenon as "cold flow". Anything made from wood or steel (anything short of the Rockwell hardness scale akin to diamonds) suffers from the effects of cold flow.

Car engine heads can be torqued to 80 ft/lbs at the factory and after one month of driving they check out at only 70 ft/lbs. What XYZ is explaining is a fact. Under tension a new violin changes drastically after hours of bowing/vibrating and 'settling in'. The phenomenon is drastic on something as delicate as a wooden instrument. Sound waves from inside a box may change it a little but nowhere near as much as handling and bowing or temperature/humidity fluctuation. Round steel strings settling into wooden 'V' grooves is inevedible and just the beginning of it all.....

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So if a less-experienced player plays a violin, often out of tune, does that hurt the violin (temporarily at least)? (I'm thinking of loaning out my violin to a pro player now...).

Also, when Paganniniest (a pro player) used to participate on these boards, he once said that every once in a while (while = months or years) he lets his violin "rest" by loosening all the strings for a few days. Then when he tunes the violin again, it sounds much better. Does that make sense? I would guess that this would be a different phenomenon.

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I'm lumping some replies together here.

1. It is obvious that something is loosening up, whether by cold creep, fatigue or some other mechanism. Unfortunately, we still don't know what part or parts are involved, or whether it's the purfling, the glue, the wood, or the varnish.

2. I don't think you can play in a violin by playing nice music to it. You have to make the violin vibrate through the bridge. You lose most of the energy going from wood to air or air to wood. Playing in by going from air to wood would require sound loud enough to get you jailed.

3.

Quote:

Also, when Paganniniest (a pro player) used to participate on these boards, he once said that every once in a while (while = months or years) he lets his violin "rest" by loosening all the strings for a few days. Then when he tunes the violin again, it sounds much better. Does that make sense? I would guess that this would be a different phenomenon.


It can be quite dramatic, but it's a short-term phenomenon only. Carl Becker acknowledges that that happens. In my limited experience, that can make a violin temporarily brighter. By the way, that's sometimes part of the effect you can get by having someone adjust your violin. You may think a luthier can work miracles when, in fact, it may just have been loosened for a few days.

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Lots of people feel that a new instrument 'opens up' after being played. While this is true, I think that a player learns how to make the instrument respond better by playing it on a daily basis as well.

I have owned two brand new violas so I find this topic interesting.

I bought a viola by Marylin Wallin in 1996, brand new. If I didn't think it sounded good in the first place I obviously wouldn't have bought it. But I did find that it seemed to sound much more open and deep after playing it for several months. But then again, I was a novice to playing viola as well as new to that instrument, so maybe I just learned to play it better. Or both.

I recently bought another new viola by a husband-wife team in San Francisco. It sounded very good from the first time I played it. I've only had it for a couple weeks now and the only adjustment I made was to stop using my fine French bow on it and use my Salchow instead. They're both very good bows and I mostly used the Thomassin before but the Salchow really makes this viola sound better.

I've also heard people say that some instruments didn't mature and sounded worse after a few years of playing. I haven't experienced it firsthand, just heard about it. Has anyone had that experience and know what might cause that? I could only imagine that it would be a set-up issue.

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Hi flaco! I've heard this stories about instruments that became worse with time. Some say that it's because the plates were overthinned, but in general I can spot this problem when the instrument is new. I believe that some players buy a I new instrument and just dicover that they are bad sometime later, and then they say: "the instrument was good but became bad with time".

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I get to see a fair number of my violins a year or two later, and can conclusively say that they then have something in them that I've never built into a new violin. Most active makers will agree with that. So from the violin's perspective, the owner may play better and have different ideas, but the violin has definitely changed a lot.

Every single instance I've seen of a violin's sound "deteriorating" has been from what I'd call neglect--someone, and usually I blame a lazy shop, has not taken care of business (usually under warantee and therefore free and dodged, unless the player REALLY complains, IF the shop is smart enough to do the right things, which many aren't). Instruments, and especially, new ones, change dimensionally a lot over the first year or two, and almost always need new posts, bridges, and often neck adjustments. If a shop just keeps shaving the minimum little bits to keep the poor thing playable, but doesn't bother to reset things truely right, the instrument's sound WILL deteriorate, and the maker WILL be blamed.

And sometimes a salesman is squarely to blame. I once saw one of my violins traded in for something distinctly inferior of a much higher price. The salesman was delighted to take the customer's money without bothering to point out that the reason my violin sounded so bad was because the player had not noticed that the bridge was shoved so far over to one side that the E string was barely over the board and the violin DID sound horrible, as a result. Guess who got blamed for a "violin that died"?

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Quote:

...

1. It is obvious that something is loosening up, whether by cold creep, fatigue or some other mechanism. Unfortunately, we still don't know what part or parts are involved, or whether it's the purfling, the glue, the wood, or the varnish.

...


For the violin to "open up," I think there are two completely different regimes.

One is the snap, crackle, pop, where the settling in is more related to “shock” type movements related to purfling, glue, seams, bridge position, etc. Think earthquakes and one tectonic plate moving against another after years of built-up stress. The change is instantaneous. Call this the rice crispies effect. (for non-Americans, it’s a cereal that uses “snap, crackle, pop” in their marketing campaign)

The second one is related to “creep,” or the change in elasticity in the wood. This is more subtle and gradual (and more interesting). The change is long term. Call this the creep effect.

When strings are loosened, the effect is more related to the rice crispies effect. Some of the stresses will be removed and the violin will want to reconfigure itself to account for the change. It’s unlikely the violin will go back to its original configuration, so that’s probably why even when a dramatic change is perceived after a short rest period, putting the strings back on will quickly put the violin back to where it was before it was loosened.

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I think you are right that any pops and snaps are due to stick-slip motions on glue joints, etc. (Some of you will notice the earthquake terminology.) However, some of the snapping could be things like tailpiece fibers breaking. You should probably not tighten a violin unless you are sure it's in good condition and those noises aren't things breaking. (I've actually seen a tailpiece break and crack the top.)

I think we can agree that there's a third mechanism, due to vibration. Creep is caused by constant, or static pressure in one direction, while vibration causes equal movements in opposite directions. Thus, vibration cannot cause creep, and the the many modes of vibration that are excited by playing ought to create a very different pattern of change than the constant tension of the strings. I assume that's why playing is required to loosen the violin up for more playing. As far as I know, the most desirable changes do not occur simply by being strung and tuned. The instrument has to be played to reach its potential. I suspect wood fatigue as the cause, in accordance with your description, but I don't think we really know what mechanism is responsible. My limited observations, and I think this agrees with your assessment, is that the violin just rings better after being played a lot, because it becomes freer to vibrate.

There is probably a fourth mechanism as well. Wood ages. How, we don't know exactly, but all other things being equal, old wood is better than new wood. Basically, I think vibrations are not as damped as with new wood. This also contributes to ringing.

For the owner of a new violin, what all this means is that you should keep it in good condition but otherwise just play it. If it's from a good maker, it should only get better.

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The one thing about Fry's book which is a pity is that the varnish doesn't work. Because of that, I think the rest of the book containing some very useful observations and interesting research is devalued, and that includes his very plausable explanations of what happens when a violin is "played in", and also why letting a violin "rest" by not playing it for a while seems to restore its tonal power. In fact, the entire book is based on quite solid scientific ground, except for this one weird exception - he seemed unable to recognize that his varnish was not viable or practical. In the single-minded pursuit of his varnish theory he observed the formation of terpene resin in one of his experments with gum spirit, but quite amazingly failed to investigate its properties any further than reporting it as a by-product of an experiment designed to illustrate something else.

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xyz...,

I agree with your original "2cents worth", and concider it worthy of further research. I recommend anyone who reads this thread to start from the beginning - there are a lot of really good ideas here.

I wonder if based on your idea, that a top with a relatively loose grain would play-in better in a shorter period of time than one with a very dense grain. I also wonder if maybe a loose grain in the low frequency areas and dense grain in the high frequency areas would be advantages, not so much for just what may seem obvious for frequency response, but also for initial play-in and settling time.

Tim

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If I may ad something. My violion was at rest for 10yrs. Now afeter o couple of months play it is improving by leaps and bound.

One thing I read is the sound improvement after releasing tension that the instrument play better. I would like to say it is a perceived thing.

My violin seems to be getting a bit softer (not as loud) as it settles, sound gets mellower and with a velvety brillaince bordering on dark. I was thinking that it was getting softer also, but my playing parteners are telling me that it actually projects beter and seems actually louder, although under my ear I could swear it is the other way arround.

One thing is for sure it is much more comfortable to play.

Just an observation.

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What you're losing as you play your violin in is pain, not sound. The noise that doesn't make music is clearing up, leaving just the stuff that contributes to the note. The perceived presence of a violin is often heightened to the player by the ammount of irritation is causes your ear. That's what's going away. :-)

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The 'science types' answered this question years ago. Strips of spruce taken from violin tops were mechanically excited to resonance at their fundamental vibrations and it was found that the amplitude of vibration increased steadily over an hour or two. Leaving them for a day or two allowed them to revert to their original stiffness. In other words, the fibers of the belly really do loosen up with playing but the playing needs to be regular otherwise you are back to square one.

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