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The Black Prince

Violin too loud - advice please

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<snip>

Hence I am reluctant to change the bridge based on the thoughts of an English luthier until I am more educated myself.

It is a minefield for a novice. And the dratted violin sounds different every day!

James

You probably need to find a luthier you can trust. We amateurs unfortunately have to depend on others for a lot of things ... The person who made the instrument should have put a good bridge on it. As for the soundpost, it often needs adjustment or replacement on new instruments after they've been played a while and been through a few changes of season.

The fact that the instrument sounds different every day could be due to your being different every day...different mood, different energy, different playing, etc. A good violin will be sensitive to exactly where the bow contacts the string, which might be part of the difference you notice.

Trying a different set of strings is a relatively inexpensive and easily reversible thing to do.

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I vote for the luthier :) , just look for a reputable luthier near you (there might be much more near you than you actually think) and tell him your thoughts. Who knows, it might just need the sound post adjustment everyone recommended, then you would probably walk out of there in 10 mins. Oh and by the way, I commented the bridge change becouse it can help making your violin mellower (I mean just a bit thicker, nothing exagerrated). Good luck!

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If the problem is primarily when playing in your practice room, I agree with the suggestion to use some kind of hearing protection. It's not uncommon for violinists to have some hearing loss, and a few use protection regularly when practicing, and even when performing in a loud environment.

If the problem is that the violin is too loud to blend well with other instruments, there's technique, also already mentioned. Almost any violin can be played very very softly.

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If the problem is primarily when playing in your practice room, I agree with the suggestion to use some kind of hearing protection. It's not uncommon for violinists to have some hearing loss, and a few use protection regularly when practicing, and even when performing in a loud environment.

If the problem is that the violin is too loud to blend well with other instruments, there's technique, also already mentioned. Almost any violin can be played very very softly.

Prince,

I'm relieved to see really experienced setup people, like David Burgess, Stradofear, and others who have posted, not advocate the "move the soundpost" solution. While moving the soundpost is not really a complicated process, it is still an invasive one. And in even good shops with experienced technicians, on rare occasions, the treble f hole can get nicked and the inside of the top can get scuffed. It's happened to a good fiddle of mine. Why take the chance if you don't have to.

Given that your fiddle speaks "loudly" (which usually mean speaks freely and responds easily) I would suspect that your soundpost is in the optimal position for most players. That judgment is reinforced by the fact that your teacher doesn't seem to think it's too loud. If you get the soundpost moved now, you may find you want it moved again later on, back to where it was. You've thus doubled the risk of any harm occurring.

If you really are determined to do something to the fiddle, the least invasive and least potentially harmful fix for the fiddle being too loud is softer sounding strings, along, maybe with some ear protection.

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It's hard to hear the violin from here, so no one can tell. Some violins are just nasty sounding and brash. A great old Italian violin won't destroy the player, but I did play a modern instrument once that would. It sounds like your teacher thought it was OK, so who knows? But I absolutely wouldn't let anyone but a top-notch repairman make adjustments, and then only seldom. And there's no excuse for adjusting a violin and then returning it with new nicks.

I also vote for hearing protection, especially for your left ear.

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I'm relieved to see really experienced setup people, like David Burgess, Stradofear, and others who have posted, not advocate the "move the soundpost" solution. While moving the soundpost is not really a complicated process, it is still an invasive one. And in even good shops with experienced technicians, on rare occasions, the treble f hole can get nicked and the inside of the top can get scuffed. It's happened to a good fiddle of mine. Why take the chance if you don't have to.

Given that your fiddle speaks "loudly" (which usually mean speaks freely and responds easily) I would suspect that your soundpost is in the optimal position for most players. That judgment is reinforced by the fact that your teacher doesn't seem to think it's too loud. If you get the soundpost moved now, you may find you want it moved again later on, back to where it was. You've thus doubled the risk of any harm occurring.

If you really are determined to do something to the fiddle, the least invasive and least potentially harmful fix for the fiddle being too loud is softer sounding strings, along, maybe with some ear protection.

?

I'm confused. I mean, I accept that you have had a bad soundpost adjustment experience, but what's the alternative? Do you go years without adjusting your soundpost? Do you ever have it done? I usually have it done once or twice a year, and I know many professional musicians are in the shop far more often than that for the procedure. Soundpost placement is a major factor in timbrel balance which is the problem as described. As you play and as the weather changes and as you bang the instrument around in your case, the soundpost moves. It's a fact of life. Fearing to move it is foolish.

On the other hand, whoever suggested he ask his teacher has provided good advice. If you're just starting to play, I don't think you can form an accurate picture of what the instrument should sound like under the ear (quite a different experience from playing other instruments).

When you say it's too loud are you saying that it hurts your ears or just that the sound is unpleasant? Basically, are you fearing hearing damage? If not, don't wear the earplugs (seems like overkill to me). I believe that hearing loss in string players is possible during solo practice, but I know that most of it occurs in orchestra rehearsals.

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...the soundpost moves.

This is probably a minority opinion, but in most cases it really shouldn't if it fits well. And it is possible to damage the top if it is not well fitted. Don't let just any hack touch it.

If you're just starting to play, I don't think you can form an accurate picture of what the instrument should sound like under the ear....

Indeed.

Basically, are you fearing hearing damage? If not, don't wear the earplugs (seems like overkill to me). I believe that hearing loss in string players is possible during solo practice, but I know that most of it occurs in orchestra rehearsals.

Most of us have probably never used hearing protection. I have better high-frequency hearing in the right ear, and I'll bet this is common among violinists and violists.

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Okay - to answer the questions:

I am not worried about hearing loss. As well as being a classical pianist I have played rock guitar for many years. I am used to "loud" and I wear in-ear monitors for stage or recording use.

Let me take a step back, I have only recently started playing the violin seriously but I am making very rapid progress (putting in the hours, I can already read music and have a decent ear, and I have an excellent teacher).

I am exploring the tonal palette of this violin and I do find that if I follow the dynamic markings on a piece then f and above is very loud in my music room. Part of the reason for this is with no other instrument do I have my ear only a few inches from the sound hole so it is taking a bit of getting used to. It is not raucous or shrill - I have no problem with the tone, except that I am not wild about the E string.

That said I have probably done 20 hours practice since I originally made this post and I am becoming much more used to the overall sound. Possibly it is me simply being unused to bowed instruments close to the ear. So that was a good point.

I don't think the violin is properly set up yet - and part of the reason for that is that it was in storage for a few years. I have searched for luthiers near where I live and there is only one. However, there are others further afield and I will go and see one soon. I don't want to hand a violin over for adjustment and come back in a week - I want it adjusted whilst I am there so that I can hear the difference and decide if it is better or worse. I do think it is worth experimenting with some different strings. I do not want to go down the mute route as I think (having tried them) that they adversely affect the tone, but more importantly I will never understand the tonal range of the instrument if I always play with a mute on.

I will see what my teacher has to say tomorrow and then take it from there.

Thanks everyone for the input. It has all been useful food for thought.

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?

I'm confused. I mean, I accept that you have had a bad soundpost adjustment experience, but what's the alternative? Do you go years without adjusting your soundpost? Do you ever have it done? I usually have it done once or twice a year, and I know many professional musicians are in the shop far more often than that for the procedure. Soundpost placement is a major factor in timbrel balance which is the problem as described. As you play and as the weather changes and as you bang the instrument around in your case, the soundpost moves. It's a fact of life. Fearing to move it is foolish.

Lymond,

From your posts and your profile I can see you're an experienced player and you probably know your instrument well from years of owning it and know instruments in general from having played on and heard many. Advice that might apply to a beginner would not apply to you.

I no longer play or practice seriously. The days of 4 hours of practicing per day and a couple of hours per week of performing are over me, so I'm probably more tolerant of a fiddle being slightly out of adjustment than someone might be if he's earning his living by playing or is seriously studying. I do have a couple of violins that need some sound post adjustment. It's not an urgency with me.

A fiddle having a couple of sound post adjustments a year, if the player is playing seriously, doesn't sound excessive, as long as they're done by someone experienced, and by someone who is confident and experienced enough to tell the player that you really don't need one done, if one isn't needed.

I would say that sound post adjustments shouldn't be treated like oil changes on a car, where 2 or more oil changes a year are the norm no matter how much or little one has driven. Sound post adjustments should be done only if some tonal change or deficiency calls for one. If that happens only once a decade, that's fine. If a fiddle requires yearly adjustments, or more often, and the need is based in fact, then so be it.

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Lymond,

I would say that sound post adjustments shouldn't be treated like oil changes on a car, where 2 or more oil changes a year are the norm no matter how much or little one has driven. Sound post adjustments should be done only if some tonal change or deficiency calls for one. If that happens only once a decade, that's fine. If a fiddle requires yearly adjustments, or more often, and the need is based in fact, then so be it.

..............................

I couldn't agree more but Black Prince says of his sound post

'It is set several millimetres behind the bridge (towards the tailpiece) and as far as I can see is roughly in a line with the E string side of the bridge.'

If 'several' mm means more than 3mm there could be a real problem with the post. A good luthier will easily remedy this.

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skiingfiddler,

The only thing I objected to about your advice was the implication that soundpost adjustments are dangerous and should be avoided. I only mentioned it because it was a factor in sound quality that had gone unmentioned.

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I am not worried about hearing loss. As well as being a classical pianist I have played rock guitar for many years.

??? So you've already lost your hearing. And you're worried about playing a violin? :)

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Hello

I am new to violin playing, though a very experienced musician with classical piano (diploma) and rock guitar (don't ask!). I have a Cremonese violin made in 2005 that I have owned since new but have just recently begun playing - which is a fascinating and rewarding experience.

It is fitted with Dominant strings and though it is opening up quickly, it is very loud in my practice room (indeed everywhere!). I am using an Arcam Veloce CF bow, which possibly does not match the instrument very well, but is what I have for now.

Obviously I could use a mute but a) I don't want to compromise tone whilst I am learning how to make this instrument "sing" and :) a simple bridge mute on the D & A strings does not cut the volume enough - it cuts it a bit but mainly "deadens" the violin, to my ear.

I have discussed this with my teacher and she will consult her orchestral friends for advice on a string change. However, I would value input here before I see her next week.

I am looking for a warm and controllable tone if that makes sense. As I am a Violin novice, strings that will take a lot of playing in are probably not ideal.

Many thanks.

James

+++++++++++

Seriously speaking, I think that you just play a bit soft would be fine.

Your right hand can controll the volume, (such as bow pressure, rosin on hair , contact point etc.) using less energy.

It is not a problem of your violin.

I would leave the sound post alone. Soundpost is like the soul of the instrument. I don't think a surgeon knows how

to tinker it.

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+++++++++++

Seriously speaking, I think that you just play a bit soft would be fine.

Your right hand can controll the volume, (such as bow pressure, rosin on hair , contact point etc.) using less energy.

It is not a problem of your violin.

I would leave the sound post alone. Soundpost is like the soul of the instrument. I don't think a surgeon knows how

to tinker it.

I experienced otherwise. A good violin will allowed to play soft and loud without much effort, and easy to predict/control.

I recently just tried the Pirastro Tonica (new formula), it's powerful, but stiff, harsh, and sometimes thin. Very difficult to play with different color changing and dynamic control, it'll just give that 2D stiff tone. Went back to dominant, voila, so much more control to offer, with warm and soothing sound.

I know many players want power from their violin because they want to be heard. But really, you don't need power to be heard, you need a sound that's pure, soothing.

Your mileage may vary.

BTW James, if dominants doesn't work on your violin for a warm and controllable tone, I can't think of a string that can give significantly better result. Maybe guts will do, but most of the time you have to face it - it's the violin.

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Well, this has been an interesting post topic, I would recommend having a luthiere check it over, ask around and find out who other players recommend.

I find your reluctance to have a post adjustment done because of having to leave the violin for a week a bit of a jolt, When I do an adjustment I have the player here to play the instrument for me while I listen to the sound, make an adjustment and then have it played again, repeat as needed until we arrive at the sound the player wants. Sometimes it goes quickly sometimes not, it helps if I have worked with the player before and we have developed a common "sound description language" so we can refer to the quality of sound and mean the same thing and also if I have a feel for the instrument and what it sounded like before the bump or weather change or what ever happen to alter the sound. It really helps if the player brings another player along then we can both listen to the sound from across the room. the hardest part is describing the sound and how it should change and putting it into the soundpost movement working theory I use to alter the sound, and of course often as not the adjustment is counter intuitive to what I expect.

When someone comes in for an adjutment I have them play the insturment and describe the sound and what is good and what needs to change, this is when we talk about how we define certain words and what it means in sound characterics, I check over the set up to see if the post in tilting or poorly fit or anthing else that might impact on the sound. Then if all looks well, make the first change - often setting the post upright and fitting the angles is all it takes, listen to the sound again and proceed from there.

The most frustating days are when a player just says "it doesn't sound right" or "make the sound better" without being able to define what that is.

I can give just a general and probably too simple outline of my working theory while thinking of your problem, others will have other ideas or ways to approach it.

In your case i would check to see if the post is too tight, if playing near the bridge is difficult that may be the reason, if the post is too near the bridge foot the sound may be too focused, too hard and thin, this may translate as too loud, hard to say for sure, too far back from the foot and the sound gets muddy, wooden and mushy (I know, very loose terms), the nearer the foot the harder the consonant quality of the sound, moving it back adds more vowel sound, the balance between the two is judgement - in terms of frequency curves think as the close to the foot position as a narrow high peaked graft with few upper and lower harmonics, the further back postion as the vowel sound with a broader bell curve with more partials in play.

If the e string seems strident and edgy, moving the post in toward the center of the instrument will balance the string pressure on the bassbar adding the brightness to the other strings and boosting the lower partials, warming the sound and deepening the texture.

The final movements of the post may be in terms of less than 1mm the player and the instrument usually knows when that spot is reached.

String selection and bridge are also important - on difficult violins switching the e from a steel to an aluminum wound helps alot. the whole proceedure is an process that involves time and cooperation, trial and error but it should result in a sound that you want

Reese

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In conclusion....

I took the violin to an experienced luthier today, who deals with a lot of pro players.

He re-set the bridge (30 second job) adjusted the soundpost slightly a couple of times and transformed the tone in about 5 minutes. In another 10 minutes he polished out the varnish mark on the back, that the local luthier had said meant I needed to leave the violin with him for a week.

The volume is much more acceptable with the tonal change he achieved, and he recommended that I leave the Dominants on for a week or so until I get used to the adjustments he has made.

I had to practically force him to accept payment for this work. It was well worth the 60 minute drive.

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If you can stand them (though they require more tuning than modern strings, for about the first 400 years no one thought that was a problem) gut strings (wound gut, not plain) might be a nice solution. They'll take some of that extra energy, calm it down, and also give you a more complex tone quality that you might like.

Gut is all I play (Pirastro Oliv's, a plain gut A and steel E is my current setup, although I've played Eudoxa and Passione strings as well). I tell you, gut is WONDERFUL, having a complex sound and power without being harsh under the ear. The violin I play now came with Evah Pirazzi strings, and these were alright, but too much of one thing and not enough of everything else. Gut gives a great blend of the best, and is NOT the tuning nightmare it is made out to be. I live in Minnesota and our climate varies as much as any, nonetheless I find pitch stability to be no problem whatsoever (and, this time of year, I almost never have to tune more than a very minor amount).

From your reply it looks as though you got a "fix" of sorts, but I'd still give gut strings a try some day. My prediction is that you will never look back.

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In conclusion....

I took the violin to an experienced luthier today, who deals with a lot of pro players.

He re-set the bridge (30 second job) adjusted the soundpost slightly a couple of times and transformed the tone in about 5 minutes. In another 10 minutes he polished out the varnish mark on the back, that the local luthier had said meant I needed to leave the violin with him for a week.

The volume is much more acceptable with the tonal change he achieved, and he recommended that I leave the Dominants on for a week or so until I get used to the adjustments he has made.

I had to practically force him to accept payment for this work. It was well worth the 60 minute drive.

Hooray! It's nice to hear positive outcomes.

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Thanks CT. My teacher plays gut too and also has no significant stability issues.

The only reason for not changing strings immediately was that I wanted to avoid altering too many variables at once. I think it is worth experimenting with string choices and I will do this.

I must admit I have been very surprised at how much audible difference some simple set up changes can make.

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James,  If it is any consolation, I have EXACTLY the same problem with my violin. I made my living building and repairing stringed instruments. I’m 72.
     To address the ‘loud’ problem, I have moved the sound post to soften the tone.  Unfortunately, the problem persists.
     As a luthier, I am not an exceptional violinist. It has been enough, in most cases, to play through scales and a few “technical tunes” to check playability and voicing. 
      When I retired, (5 years ago) I decided to actually learn how to play the violin (fiddle). I have a very good ear (you will have take my word for that).  The medium-priced, student-grade instrument that I have now was OK until I recently put on Dominant strings. That’s when I got the symptoms that you have described, i.e., loud to the point of being harsh. I thought these strings would calm down. They didn’t.

     As a luthier, my belief is that the instrument top is too thin at the recurve for Dominant strings. The system is in over-drive (akin to speaker distortion). As a player, I’m done with Dominants and will change to a ‘softer’ set, (Infeld Red). If that doesn’t work I’m going for a trade in. 
     We shall see.

Woody

     

Edited by WoodyStrings
Corrections

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BP - a few thoughts. 

First, it is true that most violinists are looking for a loud-ish, responsive violin that projects with minimal effort. It seems you have one of those. In some ways it is like driving a real sports car - responsive and powerful but not easy to control without learning how to drive it.

One clue was in your post about your teaching suggesting more bow pressure: this can also lead to a harsher sound. I'm sure your teacher knows this and I don't mean to contract that person. But a real fundamental aspect of bowing is the "three factors": Bow speed, bow pressure (or weight), and contact point. The book by Simon Fisher "Basics" covers this very well. I suggest having a look at it. 

Your bow may not be ideal for that instrument, but it may be the least of the issues. 

You also mentioned your E string "sounding like a harmonica" - this to me says "harsh sound, with some 'grind' in it, which isn't want you (or anyone, typically) wants at all. 

Bowing is very challenging to learn. Most players spend their lives working on their bow arm & hand. There are dozens of strokes to learn and master. 

I do think gut strings like Pirastro Olive or Eudoxa (the old standards from 20+ years ago) or maybe Passione (much newer) will be better than Dominants in terms of a "rounder" sound, although I do agree that it won't be a night and day difference. 

It is possible that the sound post needs adjustment - this can make a significant difference. 

In my opinion, I agree with Michael Richwine and also skiingfiddler that probably the biggest key here is to learn to play softly with good tone.

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On 3/13/2020 at 6:44 PM, WoodyStrings said:

James,  If it is any consolation, I have EXACTLY the same problem with my violin. I made my living building and repairing stringed instruments. I’m 72.
     To address the ‘loud’ problem, I have moved the sound post to soften the tone.  Unfortunately, the problem persists.
     As a luthier, I am not an exceptional violinist. It has been enough, in most cases, to play through scales and a few “technical tunes” to check playability and voicing. 
      When I retired, (5 years ago) I decided to actually learn how to play the violin (fiddle). I have a very good ear (you will have take my word for that).  The medium-priced, student-grade instrument that I have now was OK until I recently put on Dominant strings. That’s when I got the symptoms that you have described, i.e., loud to the point of being harsh. I thought these strings would calm down. They didn’t.

     As a luthier, my belief is that the instrument top is too thin at the recurve for Dominant strings. The system is in over-drive (akin to speaker distortion). As a player, I’m done with Dominants and will change to a ‘softer’ set, (Infeld Red). If that doesn’t work I’m going for a trade in. 
     We shall see.

Woody

     

IMHO, it sounds (P.I.) like you might have a very responsive fiddle which requires more reserved bowing.  When you barely move the bow while touching an open string, does it still sound (this is good, BTW)?  When bowing an open string as you do normally, does it wolf?  You may need to start using higher positions to avoid open strings for forte, as well as generally throttling back on how hard you are driving the fiddle.. 

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When my hearing started to fail (in my 50s), and my intonation became "troublesome" as a result**, I used a cheap drugstore ear plug in my left ear when I played. I fitted it loosely so that the sound in my left and right ears were equalized. I calculated that this amounted to about a 12 to 18 DB decrease in the sound getting to my left ear (depends on how you hold your head). This is a very inexpensive way to reduce the loudness of a violin. Alternatively, some musicians purchase "musician's earplugs" that reduce the sound pressure to their ears a specific amount while (supposedly) passing the tembre that is characteristic of the instrument and important to sensitive playing. By using the plug in only one ear I was still able to hear all the tonal qualities my violin produced.

** Overdriving an ear results in hearing the notes as sharp and can result in violinists compensating by playing flat (that is a known and published phenomenon). What happened to me was that I heard the louder tone (from my left ear) as sharp while hearing the softer tone (from my right ear) in tune at the same time and not being able to even tune the strings properly. Even today, when tuning my violin to an oboe (z.b.) I finalize the job by playing my A string in cello position so neither ear hears a louder sound and is overdriven.

 

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Am I missing something?  Last time the OP posted anything on this forum was February 15, 2010...

Anyways, I would rather have the problem with a loud instrument than a muted instrument.  Just learn the play it and adjust. 

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Andrew - good point about ear plugs - I know several pro violinists around here who use either one (in the left ear) or two of the "musician's" earplugs. They are designed to give a neutral sound while reducing the level moderately - 12 to 15 dB would be a good range. Makers include Etymotic, Eargasm, etc. 

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