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Setup for Strings or Violin?


fdl13
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I was curious if a person should select their favorite strings first and then have the violin setup to maximize the violin's performance with those strings? Or, should the setup be tailored to the violin and you select the strings that work the best with that setup?

I've been leaning toward finding the strings that I like the feel of best and then having my new (1957 Eugene Knapik) violin setup to maximize their performance. I'm assuming that the optimal bridge design and soundpost fit/placement would vary based on the string tensions used. What's everyone think?

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I buy strings I think I would like according to feedback about the strings and give them to my luthier for setup. I am wondering is there anyway you know how a violin would sound before it is properly set up; my violin usually comes having some repair work done.

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My very, very limited experience suggests that the characteristics of the tone and response of the violin can be drastically varied by the bridge, soundpost and strings. So, my original question could also be phrased as: Which of these (3) components should be decided upon first when trying to optimize the playability and tone of the violin.

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It sounds logical to me that one would want to make sure that the violin fucntions optimally - therefore, that the bridge and soundpost are properly fitted and adjusted - before one can hope to find out which strings work best on that violin. Unfortunately, it is my experience that many people do it the other way round, and choose strings which best mask defects in setup. What makes it worse is that often in such cases players become accustomed to the sound produced in this manner, to the extent that if they do actually one day get the bridge and post looked at, they don't like the result. No matter that the e-string doesn't whistle any more, or that the response is better, or that they can actually now procude a sound on all strings in all positions. Not to mention the kind of violin which, if the tone isn't masked by a stick of old Emmenthaler cheese masquerading as a post, a butcher's block for a bridge, and heavy-gauge Aricores, sounds so bad that no human being will survive being exposed to it for longer than 5 seconds.

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My violin has had a bridge and soundpost made and fitted to it by a professional luthier. The strings that it was setup with were Evah Pirazzi which I don't like: too loud under the ear and too tense under the finger.

I have been trying different strings without changing the setup. Some strings I like the the feel of and their general tone qualities. In general, I like strings like the Vision Orchestra and Obligato weich both of which are low tension sets. Neither of those sets feel as responsive to the bow or set the violin into vibration like the Evahs. The question is, would a change to the setup, specific to those string sets improve the responsiveness and vibration of the violin.

PS I'm not going to make changes myself. Any setup will be done by a professional.

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That's impossible to tell - it depends what the violin is capable of. My aim with setup is to maximise the potential of the violin overall, whereas others might try to aim for a more specific result pertaining to tone or even a specific string. Within the normal parameters of bridge trimming one cannot radically alter the qualities of a violin. For instance, when I try to get more (or less) out of a G- or e-string, more often than not there is a price to pay tonally in another area. One thing which I have mentioned before, which has been echoed by some, and detested by others on this board, is that not all "professional" luthiers actually take the trouble to make a soundpost really fit, which I find weird. On the one hand, the payback from a post that really fits cannot be overestimated, and on the other, tweaking of the bridge, messing around with all kinds of strings and so on can't really have the desired effect without the post being A1 in all respects.

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OK, walk me through your process. A customer has brought you a violin that has frayed, worn out strings on it. The customer likes a very responsive violin with low tension strings and wants a warm rich tone. This violin will only be used for studio recording (over dubbing parts on country music songs). In what order would you attack this challenge?

I'm keeping this discussion alive because I need this violin to be as good as it can be. I want to know what I need to know (or more) to make sure I can help the luthier to give me what I want.

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OK, you ask the questions, you get the answers.

Based exactly on you question, I'll look at the model (dimensions, arching, guestimates of thicknessing). If these are "on course" for your requirements (as in, an entry-level Palatino, juggernaut old German crackmeister or oversize Fernch workshop model won't be, but an approximately 356mm body-length generic Cremonese model of whatever origin and age, with appropriate rib heights and thicknessing might do), I'll look at the neck set and saddle height next: in other words, I'd be looking at the string angle over the bridge, the bridge height, and the division of the angle over the bridge. If the violin passed stage 1, more than likely stage 2 will need work - perhaps big time, big money work. After that it gets easier - a good sound post fitting, good bridge fitting, appropriate tailpiece and string afterlength, and you choose some nice mild strings: PIRASTRO Tonica, JOHN PEARSE Artiste, whatever.

Do keep in mind that the above procedures require that specific order: you need 1 before 2, and 2 before 3. You don't get to pass 1 and 2 and go straight to 3. At least, that's how things pan out for me.

The good news is that an amazing number of violins get through stage 1 OK. The bad news is that an equally amazing number hit the dirt at stage 2 (neck set and saddle height, AKA fingerboard projection and string angle over the bridge). By the time you get to stage 3, which is what your question was all about, you're basically in the home straight.

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Jacob, thanks for hanging in there with me. This is very important to me.

My violin passes your steps 1 and 2 with flying colors, that is why I skipped to step 3. What I am getting from your explainations is that I should now try to find the string that works well with the professional setup that's currently on the violin and once decided on the string, take it back to the luthier for the final tweaking to optimize the setup for that string. Am I on track?

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quote:


Originally posted by:
fdl13

My violin has had a bridge and soundpost made and fitted to it by a professional luthier. The strings that it was setup with were Evah Pirazzi which I don't like: too loud under the ear and too tense under the finger.

I have been trying different strings without changing the setup. Some strings I like the the feel of and their general tone qualities. In general, I like strings like the Vision Orchestra and Obligato weich both of which are low tension sets. Neither of those sets feel as responsive to the bow or set the violin into vibration like the Evahs. The question is, would a change to the setup, specific to those string sets improve the responsiveness and vibration of the violin.

PS I'm not going to make changes myself. Any setup will be done by a professional.

Not liking your fiddle because it's too loud would be, for most violinists, like not liking your spouse because s/he's too pretty/handsome. You might be working hard at getting rid of a quality most violinists would prize. The fiddle sounding loud under your ear may be an indication that the violin has the projection that most professional violinists seek. It would be worth having someone else play the fiddle to let you hear it out from underneath your ear and see if you still don't like the sound.

But then again, if you're playing to be heard only by you, then the sound under your ear is the only sound that matters.

Another way of dealing with a loud fiddle is to put a little cotton in your left ear, or both ears. I'm not kidding. I put a little cotton in my left ear because I find that as I grow older, I'm more sensitive to volume and high frequencies. They hurt my ears. The cotton tones the fiddle down for me, and the fiddle still produces the big sound I want.

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It's a great violin; a real find. I like it very much, I'm just trying to make it the best it can be for recording. As long as a microphone can pick it up from 3 feet it's loud enough. I just don't like playing high tension strings (Evah Pirazzi) and want to get a great tone and responsiveness with a low tension string.

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"My violin passes your steps 1 and 2 with flying colors, that is why I skipped to step 3. What I am getting from your explainations is that I should now try to find the string that works well with the professional setup that's currently on the violin and once decided on the string, take it back to the luthier for the final tweaking to optimize the setup for that string. Am I on track?"

Sounds OK to me...

I don't know this for sure, but I would guess that almost any new-generation string (Obligato, Vision) would have higher tension than some old-style nylon core strings, hence my suggestion regarding Tonica and John Pearse. The reason I didn't suggest Dominant as well is because they seem louder than the other two on most violins.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
fdl13

I just don't like playing high tension strings (Evah Pirazzi) and want to get a great tone and responsiveness with a low tension string.

*Cough, Cough Pirastro Oliv Cough Cough*.

They give a rich, complex tone and offer a wider variety of tone colors than any synthetic I've used. They are also lower tension than most, if not all, synthetics. In string guides, people seem to say gut strings are slower responding than synthetics, but I haven't really noticed it--I think if the violin is set-up well and is generally responsive, you won't need to worry about gut ruining anything. You do have to tune Olivs more often than synthetics, but the amazing sound of the Olivs more than compensates for the extra tuning. Just a thought!

I also believe that it's important to get the violin set up and then to match it with strings. Chances are, a good set-up will make most strings sound good (though I could never imagine Infeld Reds sounding good on my violin. Eww.).

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"Communicating with your violin" - I'm starting to get worried that some here might suspect me of being crazier than I actually am. My initial comment in this regard was just an oblique reference to the stupid idea some have of "liking" a certain kind of string when it happens to work on a specific violin, and then blindly believing that they will work on all violins. There is a local teacher whose attitude in this regard almost makes me go apoplectic - she believes Aricores work on her violin. Consequently, she forces all her pupils to use Aricores as well.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
skiingfiddler

Gut core strings...don't last as long as synthetics.

Looks like skiingfiddler beat me to the punch! I have to politely disagree with the above statement, however. My first Oliv G lasted me two full years. I only replaced it because I was afraid that it might have declined so slowly over time that I didn't notice. The new Oliv G I put on did have a bit more sparkle, but the difference was so small that I wouldn't have minded putting the old one back on. My teacher said that back when he was performing, he could leave an Oliv G on his violin for a full year before he had to replace it; Dominants would only last a month or two at most. So, although Oliv G's are lots of cash, in my experience, they prove to be more economical over the long run, provided you don't take them off prematurely to play with other strings. :-)

The A and D seem to last as long as synthetics or much longer--they usually tell you they're tired of working by snapping unceremoniously. I don't use Oliv A's (Synoxa A instead), but my last two Oliv D strings have lasted over six months each before I decided to replace them--though, like my G string, they really didn't need to go.

For reference, I've never had a synthetic last for more than three months before sounding like a rubber band.

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Here's something else to think about. This is a new fiddle for you, and I believe you said it has been newly set up. If the fiddle has had a lot of adjustments made to it recently, it needs some time to settle in. It might be worth playing the fiddle for a week or two as it is and see what happens to the sound.

By the way, Eugene Knapik has a pretty good write-up in Wenburg's THE VIOLIN MAKERS OF THE UNITED STATES. He worked professionally as a repairer in Chicago for Wurlitzer and Warren from about 1930 to the 1960's. So this is a guy who got to see some nice fiddles, and that helps in one's own making. So you probably have a fiddle worth getting adjusted properly.

But there's such a thing as tampering with a fiddle too much, never letting it settle in. Just playing a fiddle for a while can do a lot in making the tone less harsh. If you feel that the people doing the set-up were competent and you currently have a decent set of strings on the fiddle (and Evahs are more than decent), then it might be best to postpone judgement on tone and response for a week or two.

A fiddle which is in "optimum" adjustment one day, may not be in "optimum" adjustment the next day because temperature and humidity may have changed. But that doesn't mean you want to keep having the fiddle tampered with on a daily basis. Sometimes you have to settle for less than "optimum" in order to avoid the wear and tear of excess tampering.

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