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Craig Tucker

The truth about violin set up.

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Nothing in this post is written in concrete, and it is all my opinion and nothing more.

The longer I am involved with the internet, and how forums work generally, the more I realize that “the truth” very often gets lost, amidst all of the myriad theories, guesswork, arguing, and even inexperience, many people speaking with an air of assumed authority that simply isn‘t there.

What the general outcome is, for me, is that much information gets into the mix, obfuscating the simple truth - that is not only unworkable - but - which is entirely fictitious and adds a tremendous amount of confusion to subjects that are very often much simpler than presented.

One area where I find there is a lot of “false authority“ and guesswork, is the area of “set-up”.

The first thing in set up that I think that gets missed, is in regards to the basic subject of cutting or adjusting a “proper” or “correct” bridge.

One subject of priority that I believe gets missed, is the fact that a “proper bridge” is cut, first, in accordance with traditionally accepted methods. The “look” of a properly fit bridge can be identified for the most part, simply by looking at it. The aesthetics of the bridge tells volumes about the abilities of the person who fit the bridge.

Workmanship here is not incidental, but, instead, is critical - as critical as the shaping of things such as the scroll and edges. There is no reason for sloppy work, and evidence of rushing or omitting the basics, is evidence of an amateur attempt. The amount of work trimming the bridge, to alter it’s tonal characteristics is also critical, but is minute compared to the general look and fit (the bottom of the feet - the curve of the top edge, the thickness, and the string height, the “French facing” and etc) of the bridge which is expected to show a certain amount of traditional accomplishment and much care.

I find that very many people believe that the mysterious “tonal rules governing enlarging the heart or kidneys” are paramount - and perhaps, in a way they are. But in my opinion, such things as those things;

A. have no real hard fast rules and are learned over the years, and ,

B. change anyway depending on who you speak with,

so, after the basic, aesthetic, and traditional critical aspects are learned properly - you can move on to include those more subtle things - in any event they are not usually, in the real world, the things that you learn first..

The next issue, in my mind, has to do with the sound post - where a similar thing happens.

The first thing involving the sound post, for someone who has not made or set very many, is that measuring one and cutting it to fit properly is very much the one crucial aspect of the job. All the theorizing about where to fit the thing is a very distant second - and is very much like I have mentioned with regard to the bridge, everyone you ask will have a different opinion about it, most of them are simply parroting what they have been told, or what they have heard, or what they have surmised. In any case it is a distant second to getting the fit for a primary starting location - right.

The truth about “positioning the sound post” is that the only way that you, as the repairman or even as the maker, can learn what is correct for any particular violin, is by practicing for years by doing it to many violins. And while there may well be many rules that apply generally, there really isn’t an exact formula that always works in a single particular way.

In any case, it has been my experience that a newbie should get and use the standard tools (as in an “S” shaped post setter) and just start getting the needed experience by measuring for the post - cutting one to size from proper stock - and learning to fit one properly by matching the bevels properly to match the arches of the belly and back. There’s nothing mysterious about it and it may take years to learn how to do it correctly. AS you learn this basic skill, the rest (re - positioning, etc.) will follow of its own accord. (sorry about all of the "properly" 's, but i believe it is the correct word...)

I am writing this as I become much more seasoned in these things.

I have heard many theories about what can be accomplished with set-up, and what cannot be accomplished with set up.

The truth for me is, that proper set-up is our last line real world method of controlling the tonal output, and is critical in adjusting for playability, making sure that the potential of the violin is realized, and that it is always at its best. And while set-up cannot change the basic nature of the violin, it is a method of radically changing the characteristics of any violin in order to wring the most out of that particular single instrument.

Finally, I believe that, when reduced to its basic essentials, there really isn’t a great mystery about what it is or how it works. It is fairly straight forward.

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CT,

I had been considering posting a subject like:

'Most Enjoyable and Despised aspects of Building/Repairing'

Your thread here struck a chord with me and brought what I'd been thinking to the front of my mind again. I am near retirement and fairly new to the luthier art/skill, having got a late start a couple years ago. Think I'm making good progress but wish I'd discovered this luthier journey several decades ago.

Anyway I love to cut bridges ( or maybe it's destroy bridges )and am trying to develop my signature cut at this effort. I have no compulsion to build a new instrument at this point and love tending to old fairly inexpensive trade shop fiddles in an effort to give them re-newed life. I grab and digest everything that I can find on the net and in books and the following link has some good articles on bridges and the homepage has plenty of old bridge photos to study. It's been a bit of help to me.

I acquired a couple branding irons in December and have built an alignment jig to locate the brand exactly on the desired spot on the bridge. Always a new hill to climb.

http://www.violinbridges.co.uk/ref.php?link=main

Steve

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This should be good. As a setup novice, I happily confirm the amount of mythology--for sound posts especially. Bridges, some. Not much mythology about pegs, tailpieces, etc. But there is a dearth of opinion in general for tailpieces and pegs. String lore is amazingly logical. How did that happen?

4.gif

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Well said CT, and I think could be said of all aspects of violin making.

I wish I could have back all the YEARS I personaly wasted not concentrating on the BASICS. It took me way to long to realize that workmanship and style and tradition are paramount, the rest,,,,,,,

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CT,

I had been considering posting a subject like:

'Most Enjoyable and Despised aspects of Building/Repairing'

That's a great idea - you should think about starting it!

I believe that I could have titled my post;

"The most commonly misunderstood aspect of violin repair/making"

I also believe (in my experience) that this is what hurts most newer makers in competition.

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Well said CT, and I think could be said of all aspects of violin making.

I wish I could have back all the YEARS I personaly wasted not concentrating on the BASICS. It took me way to long to realize that workmanship and style and tradition are paramount, the rest,,,,,,,

Yeah, me too.

That's why it's very important (for me) to weed out exactly who I listen to, when on-line.

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thanks ct for the basic and logical outlook on this.

As an amateur I do enjoy reading about all the info on this site. I like seeing the conversations about the higher learning matters of fine tuning and varnishes and the like. For the many good craftsmen on this site its great that they can share their knowledge with the less educated and experienced, while also talking over our heads. Its a great mix, and your post helps me to remember not to put the cart before the horse.

I had been thinking about tap tones for a number of years wondering how I could gain this knowledge, as of late from what I am reading, they seem to have fallen from grace. Having watched these topics come and go it was good to spend some time with the little grey cells and conceptualize all the ideas here. And is some respects has saved me a lot of runs down the wrong path. SO thanks to all the contributors to the site.

.

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And is some respects has saved me a lot of runs down the wrong path. SO thanks to all the contributors to the site.

I agree.

My thanks too - Many thanks, in regards to violin-making, regarding many many wrong paths I might have gone down - and some contributions that have had nothing to do with violins, but from whitch I continue to learn also.

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CT isnt it the case as all things violin making/repairing related, is that you need to have done the job 1000s of times to get a proper insight and feel to it, and to have good mentoring in that process, I believe you simply cannot see the sublety unless you can do it second nature, a bit like a good surgeon, and also control exactly what you are trying to do and the desired end result..no myth just repetition and good counsel.

The irony for us it that when we reach that stage, eye sights fail, hands claw up, judgement and ideas can become too comfortable, I wish I had the eyes and hands of my daughter with my experiance..

I have cut thousands of bridges and have photographed and measured many many more and still feel I am still learning, but what will always be evident by looking at a bridge is hand to eye co ordination, a good grounding in what a bridge needs to do, and someone trying to do their level best..which is all we can ask for.

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Recently I put the bridge and post in the traditional place on a new viola. Then just for kicks I moved the bridge back about half an inch so it was about 3mm BEHIND the post ! What did the viola sound like ? Try it yourself, and see. :)

Oh, and I'm currently making a viola with a back whose arching is about 28mm at centre, the front is 23mm, the ribs are 36mm, and the plates are 'normal' thickness......how long will the post be ? :huh:

Cheers. ;)

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CT isnt it the case as all things violin making/repairing related, is that you need to have done the job 1000s of times to get a proper insight and feel to it, and to have good mentoring in that process, I believe you simply cannot see the sublety unless you can do it second nature, a bit like a good surgeon, and also control exactly what you are trying to do and the desired end result..no myth just repetition and good counsel.

The irony for us it that when we reach that stage, eye sights fail, hands claw up, judgement and ideas can become too comfortable, I wish I had the eyes and hands of my daughter with my experiance..

I have cut thousands of bridges and have photographed and measured many many more and still feel I am still learning, but what will always be evident by looking at a bridge is hand to eye co ordination, a good grounding in what a bridge needs to do, and someone trying to do their level best..which is all we can ask for.

Ha ha!

There is much that is the truth here, so I will not try to separate this post into individual quotes, that I can answer individually...

Other than to say, good post - It can easily be seen that there where firsthand observation and experience is, the comments themselves show it.

“Still learning” - yes, always.

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...The first thing in set up that I think that gets missed, is in regards to the basic subject of cutting or adjusting a “proper” or “correct” bridge...

People often bring me violins to see what work might be needed. I look at the bridge to see if: 1. The feet fit the top of the instrument well. 2. The height of the strings above the fingerboard is correct. 3. The curve of the top of the bridge conforms with my template. 4. The bridge is not warped or badly leaning. These are the things that I consider essential. If the bridge meets these criteria, I tell the customer than it can be used. Sometimes a bridge can be used after being altered by re-cutting the top or pressing out a warp.

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...that “the truth” very often gets lost, amidst all of the myriad theories, guesswork, arguing, and even inexperience, many people speaking with an air of assumed authority that simply isn‘t there.

What the general outcome is, for me, is that much information gets into the mix, obfuscating the simple truth - that is not only unworkable - but - which is entirely fictitious and adds a tremendous amount of confusion to subjects that are very often much simpler than presented.....

Although I whole heartedly agree with you, I also value hearing the un-authority theories and postulates. For me, it forces me to think thru the ideas myself, research and validate the information, and understand "why" I agree/disagree. It prepares me for the day when a client comes to me and says that they "met a chap who guarantees that they can improve the tone of any violin by drilling holes into the underside of bridge feet"

I usually can quickly determine what online information is "quality" vs what is suspect... but because I like to consider all theories from all angles, every post can be a learning experience, and then, I try to find proof (when I have time). I think I should have been born in Missouri!

... and posts like yours and Maestronet make a superb learning tool!

Cheers... Mat

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I can agree that set-up is not all that complicated. Good fitting feet, post that fits, fingerboard that is planed and finished well, etc. Those "basics" are the bulk of it, but it takes awhile to master those. After that there is a myriad of nuances, but I think a lot of people move on to the nuances before the basics are grasped.

I also think it may be hard to know you don't have the "basics" down until you are into the next step. I still have my first instrument. I don't show it to a lot of people now, but when I was making it, I thought I was the next prodigy. Somehow I thought I figured it out when so many others in history somehow missed it. Over time I developed more critical eyes and I see that instrument a little differently now. I'm sure I might see the stuff I do now differently in 20 years.

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The basics appear basic, but they aren't. I'd say that 80% of the violins that come to me for adjustment have posts that don't fit. We work very closely with another important local shop, and 100% of the posts I've seen from them do not fit (another local shop with a good rep for adjusting whom we rarely work with has posts that fit nearly 100% of the time, by the way).

The method I was taught nearly 30 years ago to see if a post fits, which some still use--visual + tapping to see if it spins--simply does not work. The visual fit is especially a joke: who can see a .001 gap in the darkness inside a violin, or anywhere? Yet a lot of shops still sent out posts to that standard. A post that doesn't fit has a certain specific sound: even my partners can hear it now and tell ME when a post doesn't fit (there was a discussion here a while ago where people said you can't hear fit: those people should learn to hear it, or get out of adjusting into some other field probably would be better, because I hear them repeatedly telling here all sorts of things they don't hear that others do).

Anyway, Craig is right, but very few shops, in my experience, meet the most basic, supposedly easy, standards (posts are just one example). They all think they do and that they are the best at it, possibly in the entire universe, of course.

Rather than just end on a trashing note, I will say that the most consistently perfect setups I have seen, from which I've learned something every time I've seen one, have been from Phil Perret. I can't think of anyone better, of the setups I have seen.

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People often bring me violins to see what work might be needed. I look at the bridge to see if: 1. The feet fit the top of the instrument well. 2. The height of the strings above the fingerboard is correct. 3. The curve of the top of the bridge conforms with my template. 4. The bridge is not warped or badly leaning. These are the things that I consider essential. If the bridge meets these criteria, I tell the customer than it can be used. Sometimes a bridge can be used after being altered by re-cutting the top or pressing out a warp.

The only thing I don't do is press out bridges - but that's a personal "phobia" of mine. I have noticed that your pragmatic approach is usually much like my own approach.

A poorly fit bridge, or one in mechanical trouble (nearly folded in half - cracked and glued - etc.) for me means, the job has revealed its own solution, unless there are other pressing mechanical problems that need attention.

Almost universally, a bridge that is problematic is paired with a post that has problems also - (like, it has been stood up and shoved in wherever it fits or, its in the wrong position - or its standing on high points, or, most commonly, its in way to tight) - those things alone, (dealing with the bridge and post) when corrected, very often turn the violin completely around.

I'm glad Michael mentioned this point, because I didn't want to seem to be overly negative about it all, but, those specific problems are virtually universal.

Between replacing old dead strings, setting poor set-up problems right, and fixing or rehairing trashed bows… lies at least 75% of my daily repair load.

P.S. I am happy to see that this post has turned the corner into various approaches used to remedy these problems, or how to approach them initially.

In post #1, I intentionally didn't get specific, other than mention that the "problem" existed. From one point of view it's a simple thing, but the specifics are not.

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well seems like ct says it quite simple, even mid priced chinese violins get it right. while michael says its incredibly difficult, but hes not going to tell you how to do it unless you come to his workshop....

all i can say is i consider it quite difficult, and working on lower price instruments usually under 5000usd, people say i get a good tone out of my instruments, not to say someone like michael would not get as good or better tone, but their price is going to be way higher

obviously the fit of the soundpost is paramount before you get to the perhaps less complicated part of adjusting the position. fitting a soundpost is difficult painstaking work, moreso than fitting a bridge IMO if michael says hes got a better method to fit soundposts than using his eye, wed love to hear about it, details please, not another its a secret or id have to kill you comment

its quite impressive to claim to do things better than everyone else, but its 10 times more impressive to back that up by telling people how they can do it better too.

ps ct i think violin bridges can comment that theres practically nothing in common to all top shop bridge fitting, how you fit and carve a bridge is a personal musical and artistic decision you make, most bridge fitting tends to be rather lazy on the carving, and i personally think that tends to mute the tone.

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Lyndon, over the years here I have posted, in complete detail, almost everything I do, but I have grown tired of repeating things for people who were too "smart" to hear them the first through tenth times I said them here. You want to know how I make sure a post fits? It's in the archive, and quite a few people have told me how helpful it was to them. There are also quite a few people on this board who could tell you about visiting my workshop and watching me work as I explain to them exactly what I am doing as I do it, and why. I like having visitors, I don't work any differently or slowly when someone's standing over my shoulder, and I don't have secrets. Fifty articles in the GAL Journal (one in the current one, in fact), convention appearances, Maestronet posts, the summer classes, people visiting my shop and asking questions via email. . . I think you have the wrong target when you accuse ME of keeping secrets.

And, by the way, I have, ever since I've been on my own, had a shop policy of not charging for adjustments. The clock doesn't run until I cut something. I find that's been a great policy for getting people to come in quickly when they have a problem, before it develops into something horrible: they know I won't charge them $100 to "consult", without doing anything, as I know some shops do. I got that idea from attorneys and accountants, who don't seem to hurt for business.

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funny i carefully read everything you said in the last big discussion we had on fitting soundposts, and short of ridiculing my methods, you had very little to say about your own methods, but took many many words to say it, you just said you can tell how good a fit is by tapping on the installed post, am i the only one that would like to hear about this or can you guide us to the archive where youve discussed it?

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funny i carefully read everything you said in the last big discussion we had on fitting soundposts, and short of ridiculing my methods, you had very little to say about your own methods, but took many many words to say it, you just said you can tell how good a fit is by tapping on the installed post, am i the only one that would like to hear about this or can you guide us to the archive where youve discussed it?

Which is why I recommend that a beginner (so, you should listen up, Lyndon) get started by acquiring the standard tools for the job, and just start doing it over and over again, traditionally on actual instruments.

Aside from the theorists chiming in with their accumulated thoughts on the matter, and also without having a solid idea about exactly what Michaels method is, the very first thing I do, when it is called for (in other words, always) is remove the string tension, and start knocking the post with the setter - which tells me exactly what's going on with it.

Oh well, this discussion was fun while it lasted.

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...you just said you can tell how good a fit is by tapping on the installed post. . .

Actually, I said the exact opposite, and this situation is why I don't bother to post much any more: I am tired of challenges from people who can't read, don't think, and place the greatest amount of importance on self-advertised tool size rather than content.

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