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Violin Too Thin - Sounds Boxy


Brad H
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I just set up a nice looking French factory violin that was incredibly light. Unfortunately the tone reflects the lack of wood and is hollow and boxy...no treble at all. I don't know what the thicknesses are but...has anyone successfully added wood on the inside for tone (I know it is done for stuctural purposes but this fiddle is fine structurally)? If so, does one glue in a piece of thin spruce veneer in the heart and graduate, or try to chalk fit the reinforcement?

On a related topic, how much does the graduation of the back affect the treble range? I ask because the top seems fine structurally so maybe it is the back that is too thin.

I would rather not open the violin so are there setup adjustments to bring out the high end?

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From the fact that a violin of being light weighted alone is not suffficient to say it is thin or need reinforcement.

I have played a few my friends' light weight violins which were expensive ($ 30K - 200K) and had remarkable good sounds. They stood out to me at time that they were so light and easy to play.

No wonder they paid good money for them.

I think it may be just the kind of wood is used to build it ( light weighted wood to begin with).

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Yes, Yuen, it is easy to play and I used to be attracted to that deep, dark tone. But the tone is, in general, lacking in complexity and is hollow (boxy), kind of "yelpy" and thin on the A and E strings. As you suggest, the lightness may be the wood used, but I attribute it to overly thin plates.

Not being an acoustician, I will guess that the vibrations drop out of an overly-thin plate too quickly and before they can travel very far. Or does a thin plate not allow amplitude of vibrations to develop? Can anyone explain why overly thin plates are detrimental to tone?

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Regarding guitars, a thicker top contains more ovetones, a more

complicated formant structure.  This give both more treble

capacity and more timbre range, all other things being equal (which

they never are, of course.)  Same goes for piano soundboards.

 I say this having actually done vibrational and FFT analysis

of both in controlled experiments.

I see no reason why a violin would be radically different, although

it's true that the soundpost introduces a variable that's difficult

to qualify.  I would defer to David's expertise on that one.

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How about a heavier bow?

I have a violin (Eastman 905, one of their master lines), which is noticeably lighter than anything I've got my hands on. I used a CF bow (an acknowledged good bow, <60 g) on the violin, and the sound was quite thin. Then I tried a P. wood viola bow (hasn't been shown to anyone else yet, > 70 g), and the sound was much fuller and richer. I don't know the rationale behind it, but always use the viola bow with this violin. That seems to work well for me.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
David Burgess

My current theory is that insufficient mass in the soundpost area of the back allows too much post movement at high frequency. The soundpost must be somewhat rigid to enable the "tweeter" area of the top to be driven well. Sort of a mechanical crossover network.

That's funny: over the last couple of years I'd come to sort of just the exact opposite conclusion, both from my own violins and from the idea that thick del Gesus sound dark because of their thick backs restraining, through the post, the more delicate, brighter side of things (Strads bright; del Gesus dark; Strads thin, del Gesus thick---put your fingers on a speaker and the highs go away first). Then last week I finished a very thick del Gesu model that was quite a bit brighter than I'd thought it would be, and now I'm back at the beginning, trying to figure it all out again. I have to go back and look at the recordings I made and see if what I think is happening really is happening. . .

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Thanks for the suggestions on the heavier bow and thicker bridge.

David, This may be a dumb question...by "too much post movement" are you referring to up and down movement?

Allan, At least in guitar and piano soundboards, the arching is taken out of the equation. Is optimum thickness as critical in these instruments as in the violin?

Melvin, No, I haven't done much experimenting yet. I had another thinned-out violin with essentially the same kind of tone. It didn't respond to my tinkering in any meaningful way. I will try lowering the bridge to reduce the downward force of the bridge.

I have equated thicker plates with brighter sound so it is interesting that del Gesus, with their thicker plates (is the top thicker, too?) are darker. Or is that relationship (thicker = brighter) only true for top plates?

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You have to be careful where you make the bridge thick: a thick bottom muffles things; a thick top darkens them. If you want to brighten up things, thin the top, and open the kidneys outwards and a bit upwards to take off dead weight in the upper half of the bridge that mutes highs. I don't think this, alone, will solve the problem. Another thing you can do is move the post south, and OUTSIDE of the bridge a mm or so, which throws more weight over onto the bass bar, preloading it and restricting its movement. Both Peresson's flat violins and Tertis' viola design rely on that (according to Peresson and Tertis: from the horse's mouth to your ear :-) to stiffen up the bass a bit. It sounds like a great idea on paper, but this doesn't work all the time, either.

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Thanks Michael and Melvin. I will try the adjustments one at a time starting with the lateral post move which you both agree on. I will adjust, then let it be for an hour before trying the next move (I hope that's long enough for the violin to complete its response.)

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Brad, you did not mention whether the violin was re-graduated.

With 19th- and early 20th-century French trade violins I think I can say that the ones I've worked on were too thick, without exception, the neck set too acute, also without exception, and that the graduation systems of the back did not promote a good response, almost without exception.

If the violin was re-graduated, was the neck set altered? If everything was made thinner, and the neck angle is still steep, the kind of sound you describe is more or less what I would expect with such a scenario.

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Jacob, I don't see any obvious signs that someone has been in this fiddle. There is an internal stamp (Salzard a Paris) that is still sharp and there aren't any external indicators, but I would agree with you that regraduation is a strong possibility. When I moved the bridge north (reducing the string angle and vertical string force), the response seemed better. So I will sacrifice some string clearance and lower the bridge (currently 34mm). However, I am not optimistic that I can significantly alter the tone with any setup adjustments.

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This is about what Michael comments on dark and bright sound ,, about 2 years ago I was looking for dark sound in violins I make , However I didn't want to over thin any of the plates , The way I found that time was something to do with the front arch and some other things but mainly was by how the arch look like ,, On the other hand and regarding plate thickness I also found it confuse and in my oppenion and my limited trails I found dark sound not only produced by thin plates, I have a violin that measure about 4 mm. in the middle and the thinnest point is about 2.5 for the front and same for the back if not a bit thicker and it sounds very dark . ,, IMHO is dark and bright sound has nothing to do with plate thickness as much as the violin archs look like .

Regards,

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The light/dark tonalities of instruments, sometimes referred to as the 'timbre' of an instrument are determined by a number of interacting elements. As has been noted here both thick and thin violins can sound dark or bright. In my opinion the timbre is determined by the spectrum spread of the instrument, more low frequency = dark etc (self evident) The areas on most violins responsible for high frequency radiation are the ribs and the area surrounding the F holes. One method to determine where high frequencies are radiating from a particular instrument is to place a weight at avrious locations and play the instrument, listening or measuring high frequency output.

I agree with all the set up suggestions and I'd add: brighter strings, tinkering with the tailpiece (try lighter tailpiece, shorter tailgut) thinner diameter soundpost.

I've found that trying to fix this kind of tonal problem one of the toughest.

Good Luck

Oded Kishony

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Michael, you and I might actually be saying or observing the same thing from different perspectives.

A "dark" sound of a Guarneri is different to me from a "boxy" sound.

The funny thing is that when you look at these things on a spectrum analyzer, "boxy" will have a strong low frequency component. "Dark" will have less. Something is going on elsewhere in the spectrum that fools our ears into believing that there's a lot of "lows".

An interesting experiment is to play violin recordings through a graphic equalizer. Turning up the lows doesn't create "dark and rich" like I would have expected, at least not for me, but creates "boxy".

A lot comes down to how we interpret these words though.

Brad, by "too much post movement" I meant up and down movement. If we think of the treble bridge foot as the driver, the area on the other side of the post as the "tweeter", with the post acting as a fulcrum, it would seem that less post movement would create higher "tweeter" efficiency. High frequency motion conveyed through the post to the back would be wasted, because the back has too much mass to be a good high frequency radiator anyway, even if it's too thin. I think of "boxy" as too much low and not enough high, hence my theory on back mass.

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quote:


The areas on most violins responsible for high frequency radiation are the ribs and the area surrounding the F holes.

Oded, Can you specify the relationship between these areas and treble response? I am going to assume that thickness/mass would be the only variable here and that thicker ribs would accentuate the treble (?). Interesting because I saw a lot of light coming through the ribs when inspecting the interior. Considering your quote above and my assumption of rib effect, one would be led to believe that the thin ribs may be responsible, in part, for the boxy sound. I had never thought of ribs as influential in tone. I hope I will be corrected if way off base.

David, I would agree that dark and boxy are two different voices, boxy being significantly less desirable. In view of the opinions posted, maybe we can't equate dark/bright tones directly to plate thickness, but it seems to me the case for direct relationship between boxy sound and thin plates is stronger.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, has anyone ever added back tonewood to a fiddle for non-structural purposes?

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Brad

Just to satisfy my curiosity, has anyone ever added back tonewood to a fiddle for non-structural purposes?

I have. It was done to give more "core" to the sound, or that was the idea.

Did it work? The fiddle was much improved, but other significant changes were made at the same time, so I'd hesitate to say.

Oh, one other time too. Doubled the entire back on a Strad. Came in sounding like doo-doo. Previous chest patch on the back had been graduated quite thin, nasty repairs and patches all over. Same kind of improvement, but also can't say for certain that it was from the back changes.

Not sure you can get those ff hole areas Oded was talking about shakin' really good without enough soundpost support.

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At Bein and Fushi, when I was there they were still fond of "tonal patches", a habit they later dropped, because "sounding like doo-doo" was a common result. If you think about it, there isn't a good reason why plywood would sound better.

Another strategy, for dealing with floppy tops (which is still where I think your problem lies), is long, thin diagonal braces. This sometimes works, often not enough, but the tonal results at least aren't negative.

As for raw back thickness, it might be worth noting that the general characteristic of Venetian violins is a thin back with a thicker top. No one complains about them, but they usually don't have the intensity of Cremonese violins. Also, if you look in the Hill Strad book, you'll see that the general tendency of Stradivari was to lose almost 1/64 of back thickness for every decade he worked, with some of the later violins as thin as 3.6mm in the center of the back. In my experience, the later ones have generally been the brighter ones, on average.

I was really curious where this thread would lead, because I regularly have violins with this problem, and while the only thing I can consistently see to account for it is a low, flat top arch, I haven't found a successful cure.

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quote:

Originally posted by: David Burgess

My current theory is that insufficient mass in the soundpost area of the back allows too much post movement at high frequency. The soundpost must be somewhat rigid to enable the "tweeter" area of the top to be driven well. Sort of a mechanical crossover network.

Micheal Darnton:

That's funny: over the last couple of years I'd come to sort of just the exact opposite conclusion, both from my own violins and from the idea that thick del Gesus sound dark because of their thick backs restraining, through the post, the more delicate, brighter side of things (Strads bright; del Gesus dark; Strads thin, del Gesus thick---put your fingers on a speaker and the highs go away first). Then last week I finished a very thick del Gesu model that was quite a bit brighter than I'd thought it would be, and now I'm back at the beginning, trying to figure it all out again. I have to go back and look at the recordings I made and see if what I think is happening really is happening. . .

I go back and forth with this issue all the time. Glad I am in such good company.

You are both seeming to refer to the entire center of the back of the violin, or maybe even the areas commonly seen as concentric circles thickest in the center and thinning generally outward. Let me confuse us all more....

I am focussing these days on how the highest part of the arch "comes in for a landing". Let me try to explain:

The theory I am leaning towards comes from making violas where you have this vast expanse of c-bout area. How to use that to the best advantage is always a fun puzzle to solve. There is all this wood, all this arching height, all this opportunity to strengthen or weaken with width of recurve, with thicker or thinner graduations, etc.

But recently, I have focussed more and more on the area just (ca.15 mm) inside the rib/linings at the waist line down to the stop. I think, all things being equal (ha!) that if this is too thin power goes out the window; if it is too thick the tonal color palette is quickly reduced. There is a sweet spot. It is very hard to flex this area with fingers very effectively, but it is worth trying. And although I nearly complete the outside arch before beginning graduations, this is one area where I expect to recarve the outside as I work toward just the right shape and strength.

Any body else playing with this?

Marilyn

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Marilyn, I'm familiar with messing with this area, but a friend and I had come to the conclusion what goes on there had more to do with the precise shape coming up off the purfling than with the thickness. The way you're working you're not only changing the grads, you're also modifying the arch slightly, in the right direction.

My friend switched his arching in this spot to the one he determined was the one that seemed to work the best, and has been having very consistent results, without changing anything since. I recently had an Amati in my shop that measured UNDER 2mm in that area, and it was both complex AND a powerhouse in all the best ways. . . . but that's just one violin, of course.

I'm sure there's a third opinion about this, as well.

To bring up an old point, on which I seem to be singing solo, I didn't have to change my arching when he did, because I was already using curtate cycloids, which do give the correct shape in this area, where he was doing what he'd been taught in school (and the Hills reinforce)--coming up fast from the purfling, which makes things in this spot not concave enough to flex in the right way, I believe.

Anyway, we both agree that there's something important going on there. . .

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