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Lars Silen

The response of a violin, how to measure

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I have very often discussed different aspects of violins and violin trim/setup  with my son Sebastian (http://www.sebastiansilen.com/) a professional violinist. One aspect that we have discussed is the response of the violin, how fast and accurately does a tone start/catch. If the violin reacts well to the intentions of the violinist then the player is able to use more of his "mental energy" to produce music in stead of continuously forcing the instrument to behave in the intended manner.

 

When a tone is played the process starts with the bow touching the string which causes the string to vibrate and then starts different vibrations all over the violin. It seems obvious that a violin with thick plates will require more energy input before an audible tone is generated.

 

After discussions with Sebastian we think that measuring the response of pizzicato could be an easy and fairly objective way of measuring the response of a violin. The pictures below show pizzicato on the open G-string for the Strad #1 I am working on presently, an Alto violin (Edmund Paulus Markneykirchen) and my first Guarneri. The Paulus Alto obviously has fairly thick plates and at least so far it looks like the assumption of a slow response and high damping with thick plates is true.

 

strad1_g-string_pizzicato.png?w=450&h=28

 

Birds eyes Strad pizzicato on G-string. Maximum amplitude reached in 5 - 8 ms. Notice the sustain compared to the Paulus alto. Compared to the Guarnerius it seems like there still is work to do both on the top and the bottom.

 

paulus_g-string_pizzicato.png?w=450&h=28

 

Alto violin pizzicato on G-string (Edmund Paulus Markneukirchen). The maximum amplitude is reached in roughly 18 ms. Notice the fast damping.

 

guarnerius1_g-strin_pizzicato.png?w=450&

 

Pizzicato on the G-string on my first Guarnerius copy. The maximum amplitude is reached in 5 - 8 ms. Notice the sustain compared to the Paulus alto violin.

 

Are there better/easier ways of measuring the response of a violin? Comments are welcome.

 

The original article in swedish is http://larsil2009.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/fiolbygge-experiment-med-omojligt-material-8/ .

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The only way I measure response is to play it, like potential buyers will.

 

I'll tell you my story with responsiveness. The violin I play, one I made, is extremely responsive, it feels like the sound comes out a fraction before I move the bow, which is of course impossible. It's like having a touchy accelerator in a car. For 16 years, this violin was not this way.

 

When I first made the violin, 16 years ago, I was a bit lazy and didn't carve the channel (or arch recurve) inside the purfling, so it was all kind of flat. It always annoyed me, and one day while I was practising (January this year) I went and got a gouge and just started cutting the channel inside the purfling line, into the varnish, while it was still strung up and playable. I gouged a channel all the way around the inside of the purfling on the back and belly. Then I played it, and the sound was incredible. Extremely responsive and very loud. So loud that I needed to cut a thick bridge, because I teach violin in a school, and it was too loud for that. I still have the original bridge in case I need it to be very loud.

 

I then had to strip the varnish, and smooth the arching into this recurve. The sound remains the same. Loud and responsive. I didn't expect this at the time, I only carved the channel because I didn't like the look of my edge work, and it bothered me a lot. Nothing else was altered. Remember that nothing else was touched, the instrument was strung up the whole time, the channel was the only variable. If anyone is looking to experiment with responsiveness, my suggestion is to play around with the edge of the plates first.

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Doug:

 

You have just found the key to adjusting almost any detail on a violin as I see it. Make sure the violin is tuned and playable and then start doing small incremental changes with playing after every step to check the effect of every step. In order to be able to really hear changes the modification/change cycles have to be extremely short because the short term memory is limited to perhaps 30 s. If you have very short intervals between modifications and playing it is easy to hear changes, changes that are impossible to spot if a modification takes hours before the next playing test.

 

Today I make most modifications to the plates internally with the violin playable simply because you get rid of several uncertain steps that all will influence the end result. What I measure or hear is the end result not something that will change and where one has to guess by how much it will change. I have to stress that I am extremely impressed by builders that are able to plan several working steps ahead and still are able to reach a predetermined end result.

 

bottom_plate_ring_mode_initial.png?w=450

 

You did modifications to the channel inside the purfling line. Essentially the same is done here (adjusting the bottom/top ring mode), the main difference is that I thin the channel from the inside and just as you did I play the instrument after every step to be able to judge when I have reached my goal. Doing adjustments on the inside is better because then you don't need to destroy the varnish :) . (Article in Swedish : https://larsil2009.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/fiolbygge-experiment-med-omojligt-material-7/ )

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I guess I'm lucky that the one foreign language I know is Swedish. :) Jag kan lite svenska. I even bought this book in Stockholm, it's not too bad:

 

 

post-76570-0-00247900-1402055044_thumb.jpg

 

In my case I didn't have to worry about my memory. After 16 years of playing this violin, there was nothing hazy about my recollection, the difference was massive. Fortunately the old varnish was a horrible yellow colour, and I liked it less than my lazy edging. I would have been ahead by just fixing these things without any sound improvements. :)

 

 

 

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Lars,

I think that you have to write your test procedure very tight and I think that one 'all purpose' bridge would prove advantageous

   

Just as a guess, the bridge should be recorded on the second channel to qualify the pluck

 

I would spend a little time looking at the time wave form of the ring down (mostly for phase change and rate of drop off)

 

Jim

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Doug:

 

You have just found the key to adjusting almost any detail on a violin as I see it. Make sure the violin is tuned and playable and then start doing small incremental changes with playing after every step to check the effect of every step. In order to be able to really hear changes the modification/change cycles have to be extremely short because the short term memory is limited to perhaps 30 s. If you have very short intervals between modifications and playing it is easy to hear changes, changes that are impossible to spot if a modification takes hours before the next playing test.

 

Today I make most modifications to the plates internally with the violin playable simply because you get rid of several uncertain steps that all will influence the end result. What I measure or hear is the end result not something that will change and where one has to guess by how much it will change.  

 

 

Lars Silen...

I'm curious how you make adjustments to the back (or front) plates (?), when the instrument has been finished and is strung up? do you use a 'hand' carving tool of some sort?

Did I read your process incorrectly?

You are talking about adjusting the plates AFTER varnish has been applied, am I correct in thinking this?

 

Thanks 

CraigT

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Doug wrote:

....When I first made the violin, 16 years ago, I was a bit lazy and didn't carve the channel (or arch recurve) inside the purfling, so it was all kind of flat. It always annoyed me, and one day while I was practicing (January this year) I went and got a gouge and just started cutting the channel inside the purfling line, into the varnish, while it was still strung up and playable. I gouged a channel all the way around the inside of the purfling on the back and belly. Then I played it, and the sound was incredible. Extremely responsive and very loud. So loud that I needed to cut a thick bridge, because I teach violin in a school, and it was too loud for that. I still have the original bridge in case I need it to be very loud...

Due to fortuitous happenstance, You now have another jewel in your crown Well done!

Jim

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Lars Silen...

I'm curious how you make adjustments to the back (or front) plates (?), when the instrument has been finished and is strung up? do you use a 'hand' carving tool of some sort?

Did I read your process incorrectly?

You are talking about adjusting the plates AFTER varnish has been applied, am I correct in thinking this?

 

Thanks 

CraigT

Craig Congratulations!

You are the first non Swede ;) to ask that extremely simple question. Thinning the plates or the ribs from the inside is extremely simple today because there has been a slight technical development since Stradivarius. The crucial component is found, unfortunately, in the bird slicer wind turbine generators ... the modern super magnet. You simply take two super magnets, a big one as the outside tool and a smaller one that goes through the f-hole that you glue abrasive material to. Modern magnets are so strong that you can feel the plate being sanded heat up when you work it. On the outside you use ordinary paper to protect the varnish. I have tested several protection materials including plastics but my view is that paper is the best one.

 

I use several working magnets depending on the need. Big ones for the plates and smaller ones for the ribs and for the channels at the end of the bass bar.

 

I have done some rough measurements on http://larsil2009.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/hur-snabbt-slipar-man-med-magnet/ how fast a magnet will sand/thin a plate. In the article in Swedish there are also pictures of the special tool allowing you to sand under the finger board and under the tail piece.  For spruce the sanding speed it is roughly 0.1 um for one movement forth/back. Of course the result depends on the magnets and the abrasive material but this is good enough for me. This is why I have stated that I do final adjustments in steps of 2 um (2/1000 mm) because I count how many sanding turns I do ... in this case twenty turns.

 

If you glue abrasive to only one side of the internal magnet you will fast learn how to take it out without sanding the f-hole by turning the outside magnet.

 

You are also able to make a multi purpose tool if you glue different abrasives to the different sides of the internal magnet. By turning the outside magnet you can select which abrasive to use ... in practice it is better to use two different magnets because the inside magnet is easier to take out then (see above).

 

My main tool is a 20 mm diameter 12 mm thick super magnet. This is the handle used on the outside. The inside tool presently has a rough (40 or alternatively 80) abrasive glued to a 20 mm diameter 2 mm thick working magnet. You are thus able to sand the inside as easily as you would do the outside. Trimming is then to leave critical parts of the plates slightly thick and then you step wise thin it to where you want to go. Essentially what I do is exactly the same adjustment as is done to the free plates but I do the adjustments in the assembled violin and then I am able to get rid of two uncertain steps (#1 assembly, #2 varnishing).

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Craig Congratulations!

You are the first non Swede ;) to ask that extremely simple question. Thinning the plates or the ribs from the inside is extremely simple today because there has been a slight technical development since Stradivarius. The crucial component is found, unfortunately, in the bird slicer wind turbine generators ... the modern super magnet. You simply take two super magnets, a big one as the outside tool and a smaller one that goes through the f-hole that you glue abrasive material to. Modern magnets are so strong that you can feel the plate being sanded heat up when you work it. On the outside you use ordinary paper to protect the varnish. I have tested several protection materials including plastics but my view is that paper is the best one.

 

I use several working magnets depending on the need. Big ones for the plates and smaller ones for the ribs and for the channels at the end of the bass bar.

 

I have done some rough measurements on http://larsil2009.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/hur-snabbt-slipar-man-med-magnet/ how fast a magnet will sand/thin a plate. In the article in Swedish there are also pictures of the special tool allowing you to sand under the finger board and under the tail piece.  For spruce the sanding speed it is roughly 0.1 um for one movement forth/back. Of course the result depends on the magnets and the abrasive material but this is good enough for me. This is why I have stated that I do final adjustments in steps of 2 um (2/1000 mm) because I count how many sanding turns I do ... in this case twenty turns.

 

If you glue abrasive to only one side of the internal magnet you will fast learn how to take it out without sanding the f-hole by turning the outside magnet.

 

You are also able to make a multi purpose tool if you glue different abrasives to the different sides of the internal magnet. By turning the outside magnet you can select which abrasive to use ... in practice it is better to use two different magnets because the inside magnet is easier to take out then (see above).

 

My main tool is a 20 mm diameter 12 mm thick super magnet. This is the handle used on the outside. The inside tool presently has a rough (40 or alternatively 80) abrasive glued to a 20 mm diameter 2 mm thick working magnet. You are thus able to sand the inside as easily as you would do the outside. Trimming is then to leave critical parts of the plates slightly thick and then you step wise thin it to where you want to go. Essentially what I do is exactly the same adjustment as is done to the free plates but I do the adjustments in the assembled violin and then I am able to get rid of two uncertain steps (#1 assembly, #2 varnishing).

Lars, I have been asking this question for sometime, but never asked you. :o  I will give your ideas a try. This looks very hopeful and very clever.

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The only way I measure response is to play it, like potential buyers will.

 

I'll tell you my story with responsiveness. The violin I play, one I made, is extremely responsive, it feels like the sound comes out a fraction before I move the bow, which is of course impossible. It's like having a touchy accelerator in a car. For 16 years, this violin was not this way.

 

When I first made the violin, 16 years ago, I was a bit lazy and didn't carve the channel (or arch recurve) inside the purfling, so it was all kind of flat. It always annoyed me, and one day while I was practising (January this year) I went and got a gouge and just started cutting the channel inside the purfling line, into the varnish, while it was still strung up and playable. I gouged a channel all the way around the inside of the purfling on the back and belly. Then I played it, and the sound was incredible. Extremely responsive and very loud. So loud that I needed to cut a thick bridge, because I teach violin in a school, and it was too loud for that. I still have the original bridge in case I need it to be very loud.

 

I then had to strip the varnish, and smooth the arching into this recurve. The sound remains the same. Loud and responsive. I didn't expect this at the time, I only carved the channel because I didn't like the look of my edge work, and it bothered me a lot. Nothing else was altered. Remember that nothing else was touched, the instrument was strung up the whole time, the channel was the only variable. If anyone is looking to experiment with responsiveness, my suggestion is to play around with the edge of the plates first.

... getting back to the original thread :) .

I am a amateur musician playing folk/traditional/Irish/Celtic music and my technical level in playing the violin isn't very high. I think I am able to produce a decent basic "classical" tone, and this I think is necessary for violin tuning,  but most of the finer points of playing is above me. What I thus was asking is essentially "What is response" in a violin as felt by a professional. I am also indirectly trying to dream up some kind of simple measurement that could be used to show good response/bad response . If the "response" could be quantized in some reasonably simple way through some direct measurement then we would have a path to get rid of the problem through experiments and successive changes. I know that what I am asking is like "What is quality?" and that is an extremely difficult question to answer ;) .

 

- On a violin with a really bad response, what kinds of playing tricks do you have to do to get it to work in some way (for example do you have to watch your attack on every single note?).

- On a really good violin ... what can you do differently compared to the bad one.

 

How about pianissimo/fortissimo on the bad one, what are the situations you have to watch all the time?

How about bowing awfully close to the bridge during fortissimo or far from the bridge at pianissimo ... what are the problems.

 

Feelings are welcome, there is no need for technical explanations regarding the differences.

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Craig Congratulations!

You are the first non Swede ;) to ask that extremely simple question. Thinning the plates or the ribs from the inside is extremely simple today because there has been a slight technical development since Stradivarius. The crucial component is found, unfortunately, in the bird slicer wind turbine generators ... the modern super magnet. You simply take two super magnets, a big one as the outside tool and a smaller one that goes through the f-hole that you glue abrasive material to. Modern magnets are so strong that you can feel the plate being sanded heat up when you work it. On the outside you use ordinary paper to protect the varnish. I have tested several protection materials including plastics but my view is that paper is the best one.

 

I use several working magnets depending on the need. Big ones for the plates and smaller ones for the ribs and for the channels at the end of the bass bar.

 

I have done some rough measurements on http://larsil2009.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/hur-snabbt-slipar-man-med-magnet/ how fast a magnet will sand/thin a plate. In the article in Swedish there are also pictures of the special tool allowing you to sand under the finger board and under the tail piece.  For spruce the sanding speed it is roughly 0.1 um for one movement forth/back. Of course the result depends on the magnets and the abrasive material but this is good enough for me. This is why I have stated that I do final adjustments in steps of 2 um (2/1000 mm) because I count how many sanding turns I do ... in this case twenty turns.

 

If you glue abrasive to only one side of the internal magnet you will fast learn how to take it out without sanding the f-hole by turning the outside magnet.

 

You are also able to make a multi purpose tool if you glue different abrasives to the different sides of the internal magnet. By turning the outside magnet you can select which abrasive to use ... in practice it is better to use two different magnets because the inside magnet is easier to take out then (see above).

 

My main tool is a 20 mm diameter 12 mm thick super magnet. This is the handle used on the outside. The inside tool presently has a rough (40 or alternatively 80) abrasive glued to a 20 mm diameter 2 mm thick working magnet. You are thus able to sand the inside as easily as you would do the outside. Trimming is then to leave critical parts of the plates slightly thick and then you step wise thin it to where you want to go. Essentially what I do is exactly the same adjustment as is done to the free plates but I do the adjustments in the assembled violin and then I am able to get rid of two uncertain steps (#1 assembly, #2 varnishing).

1

I gave this a try and it works like a charm

the way that I am using it is to find spot that don't sound right using a tiny hammer on the plate ('tiny',2 gram, hammer just to get the wood sound)..then a few licks with the magnets .. the sound of the fiddle really opens up and becomes more responsive ...My fiddle is now really alive!

Thanks Lars for the tip

Jim

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 If the "response" could be quantized in some reasonably simple way through some direct measurement then we would have a path to get rid of the problem through experiments and successive changes. I know that what I am asking is like "What is quality?" and that is an extremely difficult question to answer ;) .

 

I don't think there is a simple measurement that will do what you want.

Although I don't consider myself a high-level violinist, I have been trying to get opinions from them so I can understand what they are sensitive to.  My conclusions thus far are that they are most sensitive to things that are extremely difficult to measure easily... transient response, behavior as a function of bow pressure and speed, dynamic range, and things like that.  These are all variables that change depending on which string you're playing, where on the fingerboard you're playing, and how close to the bridge you are bowing.  Basic tone does matter too, and the impact response curve is a reasonable, simple snapshot for that... but it doesn't really capture all those other things.

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I don't think there is a simple measurement that will do what you want.

Although I don't consider myself a high-level violinist, I have been trying to get opinions from them so I can understand what they are sensitive to.  My conclusions thus far are that they are most sensitive to things that are extremely difficult to measure easily... transient response, behavior as a function of bow pressure and speed, dynamic range, and things like that.  These are all variables that change depending on which string you're playing, where on the fingerboard you're playing, and how close to the bridge you are bowing.  Basic tone does matter too, and the impact response curve is a reasonable, simple snapshot for that... but it doesn't really capture all those other things.

I'm afraid that you are right. Do we also have a situation where the user isn't able to voice his/her feelings. Some instruments simply behave in the way the player wants while another doesn't. Probably two players testing an instrument will describe good/bad points differently.

A part of the problem is the lack of a common language for the builder and the player.

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Lars, That's a very smart method of adjusting thickness on a finished instrument.

 

One thing that has to be kept in mind during testing is that a pizzicato or impact test differs greatly from a bowed string.

The pizzicato or impact has the highest energy peak at the moment of attack, wheras a bowed string can actually increase in amplitude after the initial attack until the maximum amplitude is finally reached.

 

I believe it is this time period from the initial attack until full amplitude is developed that would best indicate the responsiveness of the instrument.

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To confound things further, "good" response may not actually be quickest response.

There is a non-harmonic noise made before everything comes into a stable state, which could be seen as articulation, or "punctuation". Much has been written about the importance of this feature. When it is removed experimentally, it can even become difficult to identify what instrument one is hearing.

 

If a violin doesn't have a certain amount of "crunch" between notes and bow changes, I don't consider it to be a really good violin.

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Lars an opinion from a non maker, audio engineer and record producer in past life, pizzicato is a great way to get one of the many opinions about an  instrument, I would make a paralell to an unplugged electric guitar, there is a lot you can lear from it unplugged, specially about setup. So you remove one element, and can hear/measure better some of the aspects of the box.

 

Now you will not find any set of numbers that are reference for good audio (such as frequency, dB, speed etc) but it is part of the understanding about things we can not put into words all that well. 

 

I believe that measurement coupled with your knowledge of the sound of the instrument can help to clarify some things, the measurement by itself is not much. 

 

Besides the common spectrum an interesting manned to measure a violin would be with a stereo phase vector with a matched pair of mics (or equal model mics if can don't have matched) and place one on the top and one of the bottom with whatever distance you would like, as long as both of them where at exactly the same distance from the sound generation spot ( I believe that would be the string?).. send one mic to the left channel the other to the right, hard panned...Than you could see what is happening with the phase cancellation from top and bottom plates, the minimum you the sound propagating from the bottom plate cancels the top the better...

 

You could also plug in a Hi pass / low pass filter before the phase scope and check specific frequencies, that could also be done with the loudness graph that you are using.

 

Another thing I would find interesting to measure would be:

 

As you are playing the violin with another instrument, there are low end frequencies produced by the instrument that you do not hear in the music, these frequencies may just be helping to kill the other good ones, what are they? So measuring them and hearing them with the good stuff filtered out, may help on the understanding.

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To confound things further, "good" response may not actually be quickest response.

There is a non-harmonic noise made before everything comes into a stable state, which could be seen as articulation, or "punctuation". Much has been written about the importance of this feature. When it is removed experimentally, it can even become difficult to identify what instrument one is hearing.

 

If a violin doesn't have a certain amount of "crunch" between notes and bow changes, I don't consider it to be a really good violin.

 

That's right! When that "crunch" is hard to produce, the violin feels sluggish to play. When the "crunch" is really easy to produce, the violin feels alive, and very easy to play. 

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Lars, That's a very smart method of adjusting thickness on a finished instrument.

 

One thing that has to be kept in mind during testing is that a pizzicato or impact test differs greatly from a bowed string.

The pizzicato or impact has the highest energy peak at the moment of attack, wheras a bowed string can actually increase in amplitude after the initial attack until the maximum amplitude is finally reached.

 

I believe it is this time period from the initial attack until full amplitude is developed that would best indicate the responsiveness of the instrument.

Yes, I have discussed this with Sebastian, the problem, I think, is how to create a simple and repeatable way of measuring the bow response. Any ideas regarding bow response measurements? What I'm thinking of is for example a pendulum working as the wheel in a Hurdy Gurdy. This could allow a repeatable measurement of this aspect.

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That's right! When that "crunch" is hard to produce, the violin feels sluggish to play. When the "crunch" is really easy to produce, the violin feels alive, and very easy to play. 

 

 

 

To confound things further, "good" response may not actually be quickest response.

There is a non-harmonic noise made before everything comes into a stable state, which could be seen as articulation, or "punctuation". Much has been written about the importance of this feature. When it is removed experimentally, it can even become difficult to identify what instrument one is hearing.

 

If a violin doesn't have a certain amount of "crunch" between notes and bow changes, I don't consider it to be a really good violin.

This is surely true. I think this corresponds to the question of the frequency response, no sane builder is striving for a flat response from 200 Hz to 20000 Hz (as in a good loudspeaker ;) ) because the resulting instrument wouldn't be a violin anymore. 

 

I think this is also related to the feeling you may get when you pick up a good instrument, you feel it is alive, touching the neck or the plates will produce a different kind of noise than what a bad instrument produces. Again the problem is that this is very subjective ;)

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Lars an opinion from a non maker, audio engineer and record producer in past life, pizzicato is a great way to get one of the many opinions about an  instrument, I would make a paralell to an unplugged electric guitar, there is a lot you can lear from it unplugged, specially about setup. So you remove one element, and can hear/measure better some of the aspects of the box.

 

Now you will not find any set of numbers that are reference for good audio (such as frequency, dB, speed etc) but it is part of the understanding about things we can not put into words all that well. 

 

I believe that measurement coupled with your knowledge of the sound of the instrument can help to clarify some things, the measurement by itself is not much. 

 

Besides the common spectrum an interesting manned to measure a violin would be with a stereo phase vector with a matched pair of mics (or equal model mics if can don't have matched) and place one on the top and one of the bottom with whatever distance you would like, as long as both of them where at exactly the same distance from the sound generation spot ( I believe that would be the string?).. send one mic to the left channel the other to the right, hard panned...Than you could see what is happening with the phase cancellation from top and bottom plates, the minimum you the sound propagating from the bottom plate cancels the top the better...

 

You could also plug in a Hi pass / low pass filter before the phase scope and check specific frequencies, that could also be done with the loudness graph that you are using.

 

Another thing I would find interesting to measure would be:

 

As you are playing the violin with another instrument, there are low end frequencies produced by the instrument that you do not hear in the music, these frequencies may just be helping to kill the other good ones, what are they? So measuring them and hearing them with the good stuff filtered out, may help on the understanding.

Yes I buy that :) !  Most measurements are about trying to simplify some aspect of the response of the instrument. We know that the simplification only provides one very restricted view point but if we at the same time are able to eliminate irrelevant effects we are still able to learn something from the limited case simply because it may be repeatable while the full situation is too chaotic to understand. We measure different "basic" resonances in the violin body see for example  http://www.platetuning.org/html/resonances_of_violin_body.html by knocking at different parts of the violin body and placing the mic in different positions. We don't think a specific set up is the perfect one but we intentionally eliminate specific modes to be able to see the ones we are interested in.

 

One interesting multiple microphone measurement I plan to do, it is summer now in Finland so I can do it outdoors in a simulated echo free chamber, is to measure the near field either close to the G-side f-hole or close to my ear using a swan neck microphone attached to the chin rest and the compare the sound to the sound measured say 10 meters (30 ft) by another microphone. This is simply to try to learn which noises are important ...

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