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stradel

Sound development of a new violin

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Assuming a violin is already producing a good sound at the start, is it possible for it to sound even better after playing it?

Will the sound gradually open up or suddenly open to sound even more open, e.g more projection, deeper G string etc ?    

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 Yes, it will get better. 

 

 Expect that the sound will open up and 'close' back again alternately for a while (maybe a week to a month, in my experience). 

 

 How fast an instrument opens up and by how much depends on the wielder. 

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I've read that violins don't "play in" over long periods of time if that's what you're getting at. I have heard that they do momentarily react to things like body heat and breath humidity, which do affect sound.

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My experience is with Cellos, as a professional player and Cello teacher I've seen very many new Instruments and their initial development. My experience is that new Instruments often Sound really good the first couple of weeks, after the strings are played in and the the initial roughness of the first couple of days wears away. After that they will start diminishing for a while. They will Need regular adjustment or replacement even of the Sound post and Bridge as the plates start to Change shape slightly due to being subjected to pressure, and the ribs start deforming. You can Keep good Sound if you regularly check your Setup. When the Instrument settles a bit after a couple of years, Things become more stable and adjustments Need to be made at larger intervals only. I believe Cellos are somewhat more unstable than violins, judging by how often violinists take their instrument to the lutier compared to how often cellists do that.

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Cellos are a bit of a separate issue since the normal changes to the arching in the period after the cello is first strung up can have a massive effect on post fit and action.

 

With violins, I would say some new violins open up a bit or a lot, some close down. Any effects are gradual, and in my view are much more to do with explicable changes in the instrument's structure than with the calibre of the player who is "warming them up".

 

With regard to the general notion of "playing in" violins, obviously there are some very strong believers. I would just point out that

1. it's a strangely difficult phenomenon to pin down

2. when you are thinking of buying an instrument, any suggestion that it "just needs a bit of playing in" or that "it needs warming up" should be taken with a major pinch of salt

3. most "proofs" that are offered to support the "playing in" hypothesis fall at the first fence, in that there are always alternative and equally credible explanations for whatever is being perceived.

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We just finished up with a rather exhaustive discussion on the same topic:

 

http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/311917-violin-tone-break-in/

 

With my limited, but avidly interested, experience...I'm in the camp that an instrument either sounds good or bad from the beginning.  Minor changes in sound are attributable to set-up and environment.

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This is a question that interest me a lot. Last year about this time I finished building my first violin. One thing I realized when trying to assess how it sounded was how subjective that is, and that I was probably hearing differently depending on my mood and expectations. Be that as it may, the violin did change remarkably from being very new, when it sounded very unbalanced and weak, to being strong and open a year later.

 

After building that first one I started building two more together. I recently finished them and strung them up in the white, and played them for a couple of weeks. I made them as alike as I could but they sound very different. One is very alive and the other sounds tight. Right now I am varnishing them. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to their sound in the coming year. 

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Assuming a violin is already producing a good sound at the start, is it possible for it to sound even better after playing it?

Will the sound gradually open up or suddenly open to sound even more open, e.g more projection, deeper G string etc ?    

Hi stradel,

 

Here is a comment by a violinist, Ruggero Allifranchini who plays on two violins; an Antonio Stradivari of 1694 and a Sam Zygmuntowicz from 2002. At 3:00 into the video he talks about development of the new violin.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cuNeTbKa-U

 

Bruce

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I have had little experience with brand new violins. However, I have found that when used violins first come out of long-term storage, they sound muted and dull, but after two weeks to a month, the violin starts to open up and sound less dull (except terrible violins). Another exception might be really great violins because when they first come out of long-term storage, they still sound really good because of their high quality.

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A cynic might anticipate a player saying, "I just paid a bunch for this instrument.  It sounds better every week!"  (Translate:  My ear is getting more accustomed to the sound.)

 

A month later: "Gee, my new instrument is sounding like less of an improvement over my old one."  After taking it in to the maker and watching her/him adjust the set-up: "Wow!  That sounds so much better!"

 

Not that there is nothing here objectively to be measured.  But there are so many factors -- including a host of subjective ones -- that come into play.  So all we can do is make the best instrument we can.  Let it "settle".  Adjust.  And then let it sit and be played for a few months if we can afford to before putting it on the market.  

 

No doubt only one of many approaches used by experienced makers.

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We just finished up with a rather exhaustive discussion on the same topic:

 

http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/311917-violin-tone-break-in/

 

With my limited, but avidly interested, experience...I'm in the camp that an instrument either sounds good or bad from the beginning.  Minor changes in sound are attributable to set-up and environment.

Thanks for this . There is this one worrying quote :  

"--A good sound at the start is often a sign that the maker has done things that sacrifice long-term quality for immediate salability. --"
 
I am person who is focused on tone and its projection and I guess, overthinning the plates might be one which might jeopardize the violin structurally or any other aspect in the future. 
Anyone knows what the other sacrifices might be? :(  

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Thanks for this . There is this one worrying quote :  

"--A good sound at the start is often a sign that the maker has done things that sacrifice long-term quality for immediate salability. --"
 

 

I'm hard-pressed to agree with such a generalization, which is not to say that it couldn't happen from time to time, and with varying methodologies.

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"--A good sound at the start is often a sign that the maker has done things that sacrifice long-term quality for immediate salability. --"

 

I don't agree with that too. Classic Italian violins were commissioned by demanding patrons (nobles and the Church) that were not willing to wait for decades

for a "good sound" on a Strad or Amati volin. On the contrary, they wanted something that was good from the very beggining. Princes have no patience...

 

An interesting insight of the artist/comissioner relationship can be found in "Life" of Benvenuto Cellini (1500 - 1571).

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Cellos are a bit of a separate issue since the normal changes to the arching in the period after the cello is first strung up can have a massive effect on post fit and action.

 

With violins, I would say some new violins open up a bit or a lot, some close down. Any effects are gradual, and in my view are much more to do with explicable changes in the instrument's structure than with the calibre of the player who is "warming them up".

 

With regard to the general notion of "playing in" violins, obviously there are some very strong believers. I would just point out that

1. it's a strangely difficult phenomenon to pin down

2. when you are thinking of buying an instrument, any suggestion that it "just needs a bit of playing in" or that "it needs warming up" should be taken with a major pinch of salt

3. most "proofs" that are offered to support the "playing in" hypothesis fall at the first fence, in that there are always alternative and equally credible explanations for whatever is being perceived.

About playing in,  that is hard to measure as you say.   At least one thing I notice is that a new violin sounds pretty punk the first day.  It changes a lot over two or three days.   I like to think that this is equilibration of stresses,  although I do not have a good model for what is happening.  (Although I keep thinking of it !!)

 

If Michael Darnton is lurking,  I would like to point out his insistence that a good arching is very important.   I wonder if this kind of arch would be as close as possible to the final shape of the arch when it is allowed to creep for a short time.   I do not mean long-term creep which may cause warpage over years.

 

It makes sense.  If stress relief is spread over the most surface possible,  would that be a condition for the "best arching" ?  Also,  if any others wish to contribute,  is this stress relief primarily concerned with shear stress?

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I'm in agreement with Luis and David. If a violin doesn't sound good right from the beginning, no amount of hoping, and playing will change it. I don't agree with the following statement at all.

A good sound at the start is often a sign that the maker has done things that sacrifice long-term quality for immediate salability.

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IMO at least 50% of the "getting better" is the player adjusting to the new instrument and learning how to bring the sound out. It may not be conscious, can be just subtle bowing changes. I think another good chunk of it is the instrument becoming more responsive, and not exactly the tone quality itself, but its hard to separate the two phenomenon. 

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I agree with those saying don't trust 'play in' as a sales pitch. Violins vary. An honestly made good instrument might likely develop in good ways, but I wouldn't rely it as a reason to ignore deficiencies at purchase time.


My strongest and most recent personal experience with this is with my own daily instrument. I play the first instrument I made, a test violin from 2011.

When I first strung up the violin at the end of summer 2011, I played through the A maj Handel sonata. The tone was sweet and clear, but not huge. There was some sort of a veil to tone production that had to be .
'played through', but that wasn't difficult.

With time, the instrument has grown more powerful, brilliant, and immediate. These sides of the tone have grown more direct and immediately accessible. But the core sweetness remains what it was in the first minutes playing Handel.

It's still not what I consider a busting out giant sound. But when I want it can put out plenty big enough. In chamber music with winds I've actually had the experience of being asked to hold this fiddle back in a forte passage with French horn.

With this violin, time has increased the ease and directness of accessing power and brilliance. An initial sense of veil in tone production has vanished. In all ways, tone production now seems open and immediate and changeable at will. But something about the core quality and character of tone has always been the same.

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... But something about the core quality and character of tone has always been the same.

I think you make an important point. In my relatively short experience of making and setting up violins I keep finding an instrument's basic tonal quality to be a constant. Moving a sound post, replacing a bridge may improve or its character or not, but it has the same character. It would not be worth buying an instrument whose essential quality isn't appealing.

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IMHO, this is going to be an area where science as well as logic fails us.  The response of a given violin is unique, and therefore irreproducible in the precise sense.  A statistical approach would favor "playing in" as real, but all of the evidence is anecdotal humint.  My feeling is that between wood, wood condition, glues used, varnish applied, and the minor structural aberrations inseparable from handmade items made to a tradition, there are too many variables to control to analyze the case effectively.  Some violins probably do change positively with age and use.  Some just as likely do not.  You pays your money, and Fate takes over........... :rolleyes:

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I don't know, Marty.

What is the difference heard in rapping your knuckles on a spruce board versus nylon plastic?

I'm not trying to be flip. I just think a lot of things our ears easily and naturally perceive aren't necessarily easy to see in a spectrum, but they matter. We don't make or play violin for the benefit of computer monitors or lab techs. The violin is for consumption by human ears, with as much subjective sensual and emotive associations attached as possible.

We readily identify the source of many sounds. And we identify the voice of loved ones. And we hear emotion in a voice. Parallels to these things matter in a violin, and in music.

They matter artistically, whether definable scientifically or not.

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Assuming a violin is already producing a good sound at the start, is it possible for it to sound even better after playing it?

Will the sound gradually open up or suddenly open to sound even more open, e.g more projection, deeper G string etc ?    

Violins are constantly changing over time. There's a point when things get somewhat 'stabilized', but that can change with new strings and a different set up, etc. I'm sure that Strad's instruments were great from the start, and they developed further over time.

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I don't know, Marty.

What is the difference heard in rapping your knuckles on a spruce board versus nylon plastic?

I'm not trying to be flip. I just think a lot of things our ears easily and naturally perceive aren't necessarily easy to see in a spectrum, but they matter. We don't make or play violin for the benefit of computer monitors or lab techs. The violin is for consumption by human ears, with as much subjective sensual and emotive associations attached as possible.

We readily identify the source of many sounds. And we identify the voice of loved ones. And we hear emotion in a voice. Parallels to these things matter in a violin, and in music.

They matter artistically, whether definable scientifically or not.

H i David,

 

The reason why I asked about your take on the meaning of "core sound" is that I'm finding two different ideas from a few players.

 

Some of them think "core sound" refers to the basic sound character of the violin which seems to be like what you're describing.  But other players think of "core sound" as something that is good to have or bad not to have.  They might make a comment like 'Your violin does't have enough "core sound" or 'Your violin is loud enough but it doesn't have enough "core" in its sound.'

 

When I'm making  apple pies I throw out all of the apple cores.  When I'm making violins I must be also throwing out the sound cores whatever they are.

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Ah... That makes sense.

 

Difficult to talk about these things.

 

I think I've used the word in both senses at times.  But I tend think of violin sound having or lacking a core as more of a player and bowing choice, not intrinsic to the instrument. ??

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I don't know, Marty.

What is the difference heard in rapping your knuckles on a spruce board versus nylon plastic?

I'm not trying to be flip. I just think a lot of things our ears easily and naturally perceive aren't necessarily easy to see in a spectrum, but they matter. We don't make or play violin for the benefit of computer monitors or lab techs. The violin is for consumption by human ears, with as much subjective sensual and emotive associations attached as possible.

We readily identify the source of many sounds. And we identify the voice of loved ones. And we hear emotion in a voice. Parallels to these things matter in a violin, and in music.

They matter artistically, whether definable scientifically or not.

I think it is not a flip question,  and also such things can be discussed scientifically.   Wood and nylon plastic are both visco-elastic,  with the nylon likely more so.  That means the response lags behind the rapping or excitation.  This can depend on the frequency of the driving force.  For a rap,  you have a sharp impulse consisting of a sum of a wide range of frequencies.   Damping results from these phase lags,  and it may vary with each frequency component.   It is just like your car tires which warmup because they are also visco-elastic.  (the phase lag introduces damping)

 

If a substance responds immediately to a force,  and in proportion to it,  that is called "perfectly elastic."   Polymers typically are NOT perfectly elastic.  I think that one big puzzle to understand is the nature of visco-elasticity in the materials of a violin.  Various wood properties.   I don't know any answers,  but I think that is a good place to look

 

There is a lot about it in Wikipedia and other places,  but the math treatment looks pretty brutal.  (Yes,  I think it can be discussed scientifically if you ask the right questions.)  I also think that people who think science (physics) cannot answer violin questions simply have not framed the questions well.    "What do you want to achieve"  in a particular situation.  

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