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The $44 fiddle... another "silk purse" project


Don Noon

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The purchase of this white violin for $44 (from International Violin) was originally intended for practice in varnishing and antiquing, before I attempt such risky stuff on my VSA viola.  As such, it looked to fill the bill fine, with even some light curl on the back maple.  The racing stripe on the top is not a concern.

post-25192-0-15609800-1399833543_thumb.jpgpost-25192-0-10570400-1399833545_thumb.jpg

 However, as an acoustiholic, I just can’t pass up the chance to find out what it sounds like, and perhaps figure out something about why it sounds like that.  I expected this to be an item for “The most gawdawful horrid sounding violin” thread, and the initial weigh-in at 418g (with no pegs, strings, bridge, varnish, tailpiece, or chinrest… 100g more than my last violin at this stage) looked like it was going that way.  However, upon stringing it up, it was unexpectedly powerful, especially on the lower strings, and far better overall than many other VSO’s.  The signature mode frequencies (and even the amplitudes) would never stand out as unusual in a catalog of Guarneri spectra.

post-25192-0-60196600-1399833508_thumb.jpg

However, there are the typical “new, and not that great” characteristics of very strong output around 1kHz, and weak, uneven output in the higher frequencies.  To me, this translates into a sound that’s loud, nasal, and lacking clarity and projection.  In playing, the transition hill resonances show up as unpleasantly loud spots on the E string.

So, prior to using this VSO as varnish practice, I’ll try one more time to see if I can re-shape the response of an existing instrument into something better, by moderating the transition hill and increasing the higher frequencies.  Regraduating to enhance the low end is relatively easy… this is much more difficult, and previous attempt haven’t been very successful.

 

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What made the racing stripe? Looks like a skunk fiddle.  :D

 

I like this project. You are examining a different violin for sure and perhaps can learn something you never considered. Go for it.

 

Yep... good advice.

 

I have seen wood like this used on white violins before, I do not believe it is all that uncommon to see. Especially on the more affordable price range violins - I'm surprised to see them going for not much more that I paid many years ago

 

Otherwise, the grain on this wood looks nice - straight and narrow - just like I like it.

I have bought white violins in the past, for exactly the same reasons, I didn't want to use "my violins" for various practice of varnishing experiments, and it is very surprising how well some of them turned out.

 

And yes, generally, they did sell very well.

I never signed my name to one, of course, but had a fictitious makers label in, and would explain first, that it was a "white violin" they were buying. Of course I also had to explain what a white violin was, and why it was so cheap compared to a violin made by me.

 

Kind of puts things in an interesting perspective, though, huh?

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The purchase of this white violin for $44 (from International Violin) was originally intended for practice in varnishing and antiquing, before I attempt such risky stuff on my VSA viola.  As such, it looked to fill the bill fine, with even some light curl on the back maple.  The racing stripe on the top is not a concern.

attachicon.gifDSC_0028.JPGattachicon.gifDSC_0029.JPG

 However, as an acoustiholic, I just can’t pass up the chance to find out what it sounds like, and perhaps figure out something about why it sounds like that.  I expected this to be an item for “The most gawdawful horrid sounding violin” thread, and the initial weigh-in at 418g (with no pegs, strings, bridge, varnish, tailpiece, or chinrest… 100g more than my last violin at this stage) looked like it was going that way.  However, upon stringing it up, it was unexpectedly powerful, especially on the lower strings, and far better overall than many other VSO’s.  The signature mode frequencies (and even the amplitudes) would never stand out as unusual in a catalog of Guarneri spectra.

attachicon.gifSpectrum WF3 140510.jpg

However, there are the typical “new, and not that great” characteristics of very strong output around 1kHz, and weak, uneven output in the higher frequencies.  To me, this translates into a sound that’s loud, nasal, and lacking clarity and projection.  In playing, the transition hill resonances show up as unpleasantly loud spots on the E string.

So, prior to using this VSO as varnish practice, I’ll try one more time to see if I can re-shape the response of an existing instrument into something better, by moderating the transition hill and increasing the higher frequencies.  Regraduating to enhance the low end is relatively easy… this is much more difficult, and previous attempt haven’t been very successful.

 

They grade by appearance.  Your racing stripe got you a great discount,  I am sure.  I have reworked a lot of white violins.  The linings especially are usually poorly done.  But the sound of nearly any white violin is gratifying and fun to play.  At least that has been my experience.

 

The secret of Cremona it seems to me,  is to loose as little of that white-violin sound as possible.  With whatever ground and varnish you will use.

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So? 

 

what's the plan?

 

First thing is to find out what it currently IS.  Spectra are done, and I just quickly checked the modeshape of the 1 kHz peak, in case there was something obvious to do about it (nope).  Then disassembly (done) for weights, taptones, grads...

 

I might be in trouble trying to make something out of this.  The top without the bass bar is currently 77.9g with M5 of 315Hz.  That tells me the spruce is exceptionally poor in terms of stiffness/weight.  Graduations are 3.5 along the centerline down to 2.5 in the cheeks and (unfortunately) just above the F-holes.  I like to keep it thicker above the F's, so I'll have to splice in some wood there.  Otherwise, I'll just take it closer to what I normally do for a graduation map, and just go a bit lower on the taptone.

 

The back is probably on the order of 140g.  The ribs are normal thickness, the endblocks are small-ish, and the cornerblocks (yes, it has them!) are very small.  The neck looks about normal.  Grad of the back are only a little thicker than usual, so it must be pretty dense stuff.  Again, I'll just take out some wood to get closer to my normal map, and see what happens.

 

The assembled body modes were originally reasonable, but going lower shouldn't hurt.

 

As a general graduation concept, it appears this fiddle went with the "thick all along the centerline and thin at the edges" pattern, which I think leads to the pattern of strong midrange and weaker highs.  That's not what I do.

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That tells me the spruce is exceptionally poor in terms of stiffness/weight. 

 

post-25192-0-74737900-1399859745_thumb.jpg

 

This shows graphically that it's at the bottom of the stiffness/weight chart for plates.  The dashed line shows where I think I can get to... similar to my previous white fiddle (which was terrible) or my first violin (where I intentionally used what I thought was my "worst" wood, and it wasn't that bad).

 

The red points are mine, blue from others, and black from Cremonese.

 

I don't think there is any hope of making a brilliant, powerful, soloist violin out of this, but perhaps it might make a usable fiddle.

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Hi Don, why do you like to have the wood thicker above the sound holes?

 

1.  On all the graduation maps of Strad and GdG I've seen, this area is almost always relatively thick... never the thinnest area of the plate.

2.  In theory (mine, anyway), the B modes flex this area, so keeping it thick will allow the rest of the plate to be thinner, and perhaps add damping to these modes to reduce wolfing.

3.  Coupling the bass C rib to the bass bar might give more acoustic output to the CBR mode, strengthening the D string.

4.  It seems to work good.

 

That last one is the most important.  There might be other things too, about creating some kind of pivot point to transfer energy of the higher frequency modes into the upper bout, but that's in the realm of vague speculation.

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1. On all the graduation maps of Strad and GdG I've seen, this area is almost always relatively thick... never the thinnest area of the plate.

2. In theory (mine, anyway), the B modes flex this area, so keeping it thick will allow the rest of the plate to be thinner, and perhaps add damping to these modes to reduce wolfing.

3. Coupling the bass C rib to the bass bar might give more acoustic output to the CBR mode, strengthening the D string.

4. It seems to work good.

That last one is the most important. There might be other things too, about creating some kind of pivot point to transfer energy of the higher frequency modes into the upper bout, but that's in the realm of vague speculation.

I found that to be true on my last violin. It was a little thin under the treble F hole and had a serious wolf tone on open A. You could feel that area of the top plate vibrate excessively.

I agree re flabby top. you might try treating the interior with minwax wood hardener it should increase stiffness more than weight, then take it from there.

Or some something similar.

OR make a new top-easy ;-)

Oded

I coated the plates with Verice Bianca which added additional stiffness and now that same area is no more active than the rest of the plate.

I still think that area as Don mentioned could stand to be thicker. In this Guarneri model that I used, the areas north and south of the F's seem to play a big role in sound production. I still is a bit Wolfy but now on the bass side when playing the in the 4th position on theG and D strings.

My viola which is the same design , has similar issues on the upper positions on the lower two strings. I had come to the same conclusion and my next viola will be thicker there as Don mentons.

Joe

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Don,

I am really trying to understand what you do. Am I correct in that you give every piece of spruce an arch from a pre-determined graduation map? If not, how do you derive the correct graduations...based on the wood, the model of violin, average graduations of some "ideal" example, averages of modal measurement results over time for a given set of graduations, or something else?

Is the measuring and experimentation you do based on the supposition that the key to ideal sound is found in the weight, spruce stiffness or grain pattern, and graduations? I know some guys feel it's in the ground, the ff shape, the arch shape, other things, or a combination.

I see you have had success with your m5 being in the correct range several times. What was the character of the sound of these violins? How many measurements do you look for at once? I don't understand the information you get from the m5 measurement...I can read your awesome graph just fine, but in other words, I have wondered how many measurements would have to perfectly match a Strad in order for the listener to have an identical experience of the sound of the fiddle you are testing?

Sorry for ignorant questions, but my level of understanding this stuff has been too low to know what your graph means although I can read it (got that going for me!! Lol) and I would like to understand. Tia for any explanation you can take the time to give me (and any others too far behind the 8 ball on the acoustic theory advancement of modal measurements).

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Me too. :)

 

I'll try to give more than a cute answer later,  I'm winding down for today.

Hey...thanks for that if/when you can. There is a ton of interesting stuff on platetuning.org but nothing that shows a standard method...i take that back. Marty K's chart on there (I believe?) claims to show areas to adjust in order to improve two modes independently in either direction. Ok...so that's very interesting. Still don't know what it all means. Lol, and i don't want to ask for too much...so if you could offer a reasonably dumbed-down explanation of how to interpret the data in just the chart you posted, that would help me.

I am literate, mostly, but clueless on the plate tuning discipline (not that I know that much about any of it)..I will do some more research too. :)

If there are beginner articles or something...? That would help. I read some Fry tonight. So whatever else. I was thinking I should probably ask this in a pm so as not to co-opt your thread but I bet any article or suggestions you post in here wouldn't just be downloaded one time. So if you can help me with reading material, awesome, but I know I'm not the only one who wants to understand this language of plate tuning but hasn't asked.

Tia

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Hey...thanks for that if/when you can. There is a ton of interesting stuff on platetuning.org but nothing that shows a standard method...i take that back. Marty K's chart on there (I believe?) claims to show areas to adjust in order to improve two modes independently in either direction. Ok...so that's very interesting. Still don't know what it all means. Lol, and i don't want to ask for too much...so if you could offer a reasonably dumbed-down explanation of how to interpret the data in just the chart you posted, that would help me.

I am literate, mostly, but clueless on the plate tuning discipline (not that I know that much about any of it)..I will do some more research too. :)

If there are beginner articles or something...? That would help. I read some Fry tonight. So whatever else. I was thinking I should probably ask this in a pm so as not to co-opt your thread but I bet any article or suggestions you post in here wouldn't just be downloaded one time. So if you can help me with reading material, awesome, but I know I'm not the only one who wants to understand this language of plate tuning but hasn't asked.

Tia

Hi Tia,

Violins are notoriously bad at following rules. For any particular rule that you can conjure, there is a violin out there that defies it and either sounds good or bad when the rules clearly indicate that it shouldn't.

Making violins is largely a faith based activity, a religion, if you will.

Underlying the apparent simplicity of the violin, a box with strings, there is enormous complexity. It's probably what makes the instrument so successful, beautiful and rich.

There have been numerous fashions, fads and fantasies in the violin making community over the years. Varnish, wood treatment, density, fungus, loose purfling, specific weight, balance point, tap tones, special graduation, arching, varnish (oh yes many of these have multiple iterations ;-)

One reason that no one theory has dominated is because establishing a clear line of cause and effect if notoriously difficult on a violin. And probably no one thing controls the sound of a violin. It is most likely a combination of many factors (amen).

Which brings us to plate tuning. Martin Schleske wrote a very detailed paper discussing the relationship of tuned plates to resonant frequencies of the finished violin. The relationship seems very tenuous. He also has a handbook for violinmakers available for download on his web site. If you're interested in the "science" of violinmaking you should read everything Schleske has written. Especially his article on whether science is useful to the violinmaker.

Despite the fact that Martin has proven that plate tuning doesn't work there are many very successful violinmakers who (secretly) do a lot of plate tuning in the privacy of their workshops.

There are very few 'hard and fast' rules in this business but IMHO material properties, good arching, proper set-up are high on my list of things you need to get right for a violin to work.

And of course my pet obsession, that after you've gotten all the rest right, a final tonal adjustment to the surface of the unvarnished violin. But I'm still out there in the desert on this. ;-)

Oded Kishony

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