Sign in to follow this  
John_London

what determines the sound a luthier aims at?

Recommended Posts

The primary purpose of a violin is to amplify the energy of the strings. Not to look beautiful or be valuable or any of a thousand other things. Therefore, whether we choose to recognize it or not, violin making is a technical rather than artistic endeavor. 

The sound a particular violin makes is the result of technical decisions made by the maker even if though don’t know they made them. 

Deciding what a violin should sound like and then building it is a matter of data acquisition, selection of appropriate materials and model, and execution.

If a player comes to me with a commission I begin by hearing them play (analyzing their method of tone production), listening to recordings of their favorite artists and their instruments, and discussing the playing environment (soloist, orchestral musician, amateur).

From this information I will make conclusions as to the best choice of model and dimensions (materials, overall stiffness and mass, etc).

If I am making an instrument to spec it is according to what I believe most players will like based my experience as a maker.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 14/02/2018 at 10:35 AM, John_London said:

whereas the older players we have on record always sound like themselves because the training was more fluid, apparently less directive, and the musical concepts different.

I listened to a few recordings you suggested of Marie Soldat-Röger, and frankly,the sound was so poor, that I doubt any sensible conclusion can be drawn from them.

On the other hand, Rachel Barton Pine,playing on the same violin, sounds vastly different,which I think can mostly be attributed to the greatly improved recording equipment which is used today.

I agree with you that strings and a modern setup change how the violin sounds,but the use of vibrato by modern musicians is probably a much bigger factor in a violins tone,along with better balanced bows than were available when Guarneri made the violin.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, curious1 said:

<snip>

If a player comes to me with a commission I begin by hearing them play (analyzing their method of tone production), listening to recordings of their favorite artists and their instruments, and discussing the playing environment (soloist, orchestral musician, amateur).

From this information I will make conclusions as to the best choice of model and dimensions (materials, overall stiffness and mass, etc).

If I am making an instrument to spec it is according to what I believe most players will like based my experience as a maker.

 

Very interesting, thanks! :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/13/2018 at 7:59 PM, John_London said:

 In which case the idea of exceeding the old makers does not exist, only the idea of matching them, and 'almost as good as' would mean 'almost the same as'.

 They had better go to YouTube and seek out recordings of Marie Soldat-Röger.

My real view is the whole quest is hopeless.

However, plenty of knowledgable people, for example in that 'Secret of Straidvarius' thread, do seem to have the concept that they are aiming for a good or particular sound when building an instrument.

I just try to match, not possible for me yet or I'll settle for close enough, I'm slowly getting closer to that.  These days or this next one, will be a low height Strad back, a high Strad belly,  Del Gesu back plate thickness and probably Maggini belly thickness- undecided there as of today.  I can't forget my Contreras inspired thick looking edges either.   If one is going to meet or exceed the classics he/she may as well follow the past examples.

I thought her Mozart was outstanding.  Some ladies had it made back then.  Play all day and no work.

There's always hope and I know it can be done - just not by me yet.

I'm at page 17 after a few days of reading.  So far, there are no secrets.  

 John_London what do you use for a violin these days?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, uncle duke said:

 John_London what do you use for a violin these days?

I use a violin to play for myself and close family. I should preform really and put something out there on youtube instead of posting stuff on forums--though far better players put stuff on youtube which get a tiny number of hits! I am not in an amateur orchestra and unlikely to join one because I travel the whole time. Chamber music would be nice, and when I did it I enjoyed it, but not recently.

However, to say I play for myself does not tell you as much about appropriate choice of instrument as a seller might think: the reason the violin is a chosen source of amusement for which I am willing to spend far more than I would on a car is the fascinating quest to create certain sounds and musical ideas and to conquer certain technical challenges so that playing is relaxed if not effortless. It is an outlet for a certain strange violin fever which has lurked, sometimes dormant, sometimes active, since childhood. So if I want to make certain sounds the instrument needs to be capable of it. I like Szerying's comment about the Le Duc having a human voice. It does not need to be heard at the back of the hall, and if I find myself in a position where it does, I will not be too proud to use a pickup. Neither does it have to be heard well under the ear, where I expect a bit of 'zhit' and lack of volume is ok, and where there is a knack, albeit possibly illusory, of projecting one's hearing. (Some violinists will expressly teach students to do that.) So, big sound aside, a lot of what I am willing to pay for as a hobby is not different than what many soloists say they want an instrument to do, albeit no one is likely lend me an instrument worth millions. If the violin is only a good student instrument I can still work on most of the challenges which I focus on in my practice sessions, though achieve a bit less and have a bit less fun and less exploration than is possible with an master-made instrument, and the playing is where the focus should be in my view, not in kidding oneself that audience will really have a better musical experience if you 'find your voice' by buying a particular instrument, or if you play very good violin x rather than very good violin y. Yes, some instruments are more generous in responding and maybe suggesting sounds than others. They are more alive.

Primarily, the instrument should also be visually alive. That visual aliveness, if it makes any sense, is my key test for evaluating an instrument. Because I am a sceptic about one instrument being tonally better than another.

I am a sceptic about tonal qualities because also I suspect that the person trying out a violin, and who thinks they know it will still be inferior to that Strad they tried after the same amount of setup work, or that they can predict how the instrument will respond after two years' playing or big humidity changes, are probably kidding themselves. Therefore the focus on looking for the voice in the instrument, rather than creating the voice with the mind and hands, is the wrong way to think although it is what many dealers recommend. However, the look of the instrument, and a very approximate idea of how resonant it is, are something one can evaluate before purchase, and is probably as good a guide as you are going to get.

I am on the whole persuaded by the Frtiz/Curtin blind trials: even if under the most rigorous testing the great instruments of the past were to win,  most of them do not blow away the recent instruments decisively enough from the point of view of audience or player, to justify their price and inconvenience, and I cannot imagine changing that view if I were making a living performing, though admittedly that is speculative. The same is going to go for comparing one  new instrument with another: so much of it is in the setup, the humidity, the playing in, the maker's name, the room acoustics, the bow, and the expectations of the player, that provided the violin is basically made to very high standards, it is better to stop worrying about the instrument, find something which visually speaks to you as a superb piece of craftsmanship, then focus on giving it a voice.

Have I tried a lot of fiddles? Not enough I suppose. I know what it is to struggle on low-grade German instruments, I own a nice Mirecourt student instrument which is entirely adequate for almost all purposes (though probably wanting in the projection a soloist would need), and a modern master-made DG copy, so I do know the difference between these is huge on certain levels which I could describe in detail; and I contemplate buying a Strad copy--partly for fun, but I really only need three instruments because I live in several places and prefer not to fly with an instrument routinely.

If any of the hardware really matters that much, it is the bow. Some players play with the left hand. I grew up playing that way, but the violinists I like play with the bow. For those who find that nonsense, fair enough but perhaps put it in another thread!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If a maker's instrument has a certain sound that is probably a failure. In an ideal World the perfect instrument should enable the musician to make the sound they want. Luthiers should be humble. It is musicians not luthiers that make the music

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Melvin Goldsmith said:

If a maker's instrument has a certain sound that is probably a failure. In an ideal World the perfect instrument should enable the musician to make the sound they want. Luthiers should be humble. It is musicians not luthiers that make the music

 

Sounds like a wonderful ideal. It never occurred to me that a maker could even aspire to that. I have read and doubted so much advice about searching for the instrument with the sound you like within the budget, and how a bigger budget will aways bring someting better into the frame. By contrast, this ideal, when pointed out, seems obviously the right answer.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, Melvin Goldsmith said:

If a maker's instrument has a certain sound that is probably a failure. In an ideal World the perfect instrument should enable the musician to make the sound they want. Luthiers should be humble. It is musicians not luthiers that make the music

 

I agree 100%

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Melvin Goldsmith said:

If a maker's instrument has a certain sound that is probably a failure. In an ideal World the perfect instrument should enable the musician to make the sound they want.

 

Agreed, but some instruments require more effort and concentration for the musician to do that. I think that's a large part of what musicians are speaking of when they refer to "sound", assuming it is someone who has reached the skill and experience level to be able to pull many different sounds out of an instrument in the first place.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I disagree that the best violins do not have a ‘sound’. Violins are resonators and each violin has its own resonance profile. This is its ‘sound’. To argue that Szeryng’s ‘Le Duc’ and Perlman’s ‘Soil’ don’t each have a unique inherent voice and that their voice is not rejoiced in by their owners is absurd.

The neutrality that players value is in the response or behavior of the string. When the string behaves in a coherent and predictable manner the player is able to manipulate it according to their need. This manipulation changes the profile of the string’s energy (pitch, harmonic profile and amplitude). This neutral character of the string is highly prized by violin players. This quality is not what gives a violin its voice but instead tells it what to say.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
56 minutes ago, curious1 said:

"To argue that Szeryng’s ‘Le Duc’ and Perlman’s ‘Soil’ don’t have a unique inherent voice and that their voice is not rejoiced in by their owners is absurd."

I believe that violins do have their own voices and those voices speak with national accents. In so far as a good maker can control the sound his instrument makes, I think he strives for the most agreeable tone of his own language. Spoken Italian is much more open and clear than French and it seems to me inevitable that a maker will have his national sounds in mind when making a violin. 

Just recently, I took delivery of a violin I bought at auction which had a French label but I thought might be Italian. The first few notes played on it confirmed French. Flute like and nasal rather than bright and open. I'm speaking primarily of 18/19thC instruments when national characteristics were more apparent. These have largely disappeared today as violin making has become international.

Glenn

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What determines the sound,,,?

I do,,

If I want a low rumbling fundamental,,,you use, a low back with long straight Del Gesu style arches, the thinner you go the lower it goes, the same with a top. You learn by experience how that works.

If you want a clear clean soprano without too heavy low fundamental, you look toward an Amati, in general style.

Strad style can lean either way. His arching style gives another choice in flexibility,, You mix and match between arch heights and arch styles and general size of the box. Narrow c-bouts behave differently than wide ones.

The weight of, and the difference of the materials does make a difference in sound and feel. I have repeatedly seen a group of engleman fiddles separated out from the sitka ones. a dozen,, split half and half, one person likes all the engleman, someone else picks out all the sitka. They do sound different if both woods are clearly in their maximum state. The characteristics however can lean either way and can be almost identical, in which case there would be no difference in sound based on the top wood alone.

So with each style of arching there is an area of working, it can be left a bit thick and therefore stiffer, and the fundamental sound will be there, focused clear, maybe a bit tight. Thin it a bit and it will start lowering the fundamental and loosening up, there is a range of working  thicknesses, ,,the overall sound will be the basically the same, just modified. But if you try to make it sound different than the style calls for you could go too far.

Example,,Trying to make an Amati style arch,,,, sound like a low arched DG ain't gonna happen. You can move that direction a bit,,but kind of like leaning toward a pretty, unknown girl,, just a bit too much and shes gone.

Try to make an Amati type sound,,, with a low arched, wide c-bout DG style arch,  would be impossible. First to tighten up the fundamental with a low arch requires thick grads, and to try to emulate that type of pure clear soprano it wouldn't speak like it should. what ever it is is all it will ever be, with in a range of working flexibility, and that can be quite a bit.

The shapes of the arches determine the vowels that a fiddle will most easily speak when the graduations are correct. The  Ah, eeh, ooh, flute, trumpet, ect,, are in the strings. They have all of this information available to the player,, but is only audible if the instrument is capable of amplifying it, I know some will argue that it is not an amplifier, But I supply the power to make it one,,,

Then you have bass bar of course, all types of deviations,, some good some not so good. a significant difference can be made with one. They're often changed in hopes of some improvement that doesn't nessasarily happen every time.

Then varnish,, it can make a radical change or not, depending upon whats done, or whats not done. And of course red goes faster, and brown smells old.

What the A-0 is tuned to, makes a difference to the character and vowel sound. That is the tuning of the air resonance of the box itself. The relationship of the fingerboard to this frequency can make a difference.

The length and width of the f's,,,,,,

On and on and on,,,,you have to make lots of fiddles, in groups, so they can be compared side by side to really see all of this played out in real time to put all the pieces together.

It is a life's work.

Then there is making this thing work, that is done with graduating the box,, this does not define the sound it Refines the sound that has been geometrically constructed,,,and , when it's right,,,, all violins do this regardless of their tonal peculiarities,,,,,,

the sound post will be easy to adjust and be predictable

The notes will start easily without excessive scratching, sounds like a little crunchy pop, all the notes will feel the same in the way they start and feel, almost a rubbery sticky feel that is very firm, like the bow is looking for the string to grab a hold of and that is very important because the fiddle IS the bow.

The equivalent amount of speed and pressure has the same effect on all the notes.

The G string feels bottomless, like pulling on a spring, it consistently gives the impression that you can get a bit more, like you can always go a bit further. This sensation is caused by the dynamics of the string following the bow precisely, even at full volume the slightest change in bow speed or pressure is instantly followed by the sound, like the string is glued to the bow. Versus pulling a loud honking note that stays there too long after you've tried to make it sound real sexy,, a real dud. Rachel Barton Pine was mentioned,, she tries to cut your fiddle in half to see if the g string can stand her abuse, she is way cool,, any fiddle she plays will not sound the same as it ever has before. Lots of people that play , make fiddles sound completely different from each other.

The G string plays easily all the way up,,,the high notes really sparkle.

Playing on different places on the strings sounds different,

You get excellent tone at the lowest possible speeds as well as full throttle, no dead spots to play through to get to the tone, the tone is always there to do with as you wish.

This is just a few of things that are available to the Luthier for how one determines the sound.

So it sounds like what ever it is,,, and the pallet that a fiddle has to offer is what's available for the musician to work with.

There's not a fiddle that's ever been made with normal wood, graduations, varnish, and model that I can't make sweet and balanced, and very playable. But it will be what it is,, nothing less nothing more. Every fiddle will sound with it's own voice,it can be modified with in a workable range, some are larger than others.

Many fiddles can't even speak their voice,, they're not really finished yet, thus the search for the old great ones that have marvelous voices.

So those are some of the considerations I have to make when making a fiddle.

Evan Luthier

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, curious1 said:

I disagree that the best violins do not have a ‘sound’. Violins are resonators and each violin has its own resonance profile. This is its ‘sound’. To argue that Szeryng’s ‘Le Duc’ and Perlman’s ‘Soil’ don’t each have a unique inherent voice and that their voice is not rejoiced in by their owners is absurd.

 

I am with Curious1 on this. Maybe there is a breed of muscular pro players who say "I don't want to be given a sound, I make the sound" and maybe such a player is more likely to gravitate towards modern makers than old instruments, but I just don't meet these people. This is the sort of "Formula 1 car" paradigm, where the violin is a functional tool subservient to the genius of the player. I'm much more familiar with the "soulmate" paradigm, where in addition to this utilitarian side, people are looking to be inspired or to fall in love. There are endless interviews with famous soloists speaking in exactly this way about their instrument, though I suppose we just don't hear much from the Nigel Mansell types.

A conversation I had yesterday with a client is typical. He is a very accomplished concertmaster (or leader of the orchestra as we call them here), and he has had 2 del Gesus on loan during his career, so he's someone with considerable experience. Right now he's looking for an instrument to buy for himself. Talking about what he was looking for, the most pertinent thing he said was that if for example he was performing "The Lark Ascending", he wanted to be able to start on an open D, rather than having to start on a stopped G string just so he could make a nice noise ...

He was looking for an instrument which, at its least manipulated, had a complex and captivating voice.

I agree that there should be a neutrality in the way the instrument responds across the range ie. it should be consistently responsive everywhere, but this is a property which can be found on humpty sounding violins as well as great ones. This is really a sine qua non. Beyond that, people always try violins against other violins, and they are looking to be seduced ...

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, martin swan said:

... he wanted to be able to start on an open D, rather than having to start on a stopped G string just so he could make a nice noise ...

Maybe show him something with an uncovered gut D :-)

There may be an element for self-selection in the buyers you meet. For the kinds of buyer you write about, the facilities of a dealer to show a range of instruments are hugely valuable. For someone who is not searching for that special instrument, I think they can still love their particular instrument, whilst being more flexible about picking a soulmate, so ordering a new instrument or even taking a punt at auction, is less of a problem.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, curious1 said:

I disagree that the best violins do not have a ‘sound’. Violins are resonators and each violin has its own resonance profile. This is its ‘sound’. To argue that Szeryng’s ‘Le Duc’ and Perlman’s ‘Soil’ don’t each have a unique inherent voice and that their voice is not rejoiced in by their owners is absurd.

The neutrality that players value is in the response or behavior of the string. When the string behaves in a coherent and predictable manner the player is able to manipulate it according to their need.

Also agreed.

I don't try very hard to make a sound targeted to a specific player's desires any more. I have managed to do that semi-successully in the past, but some people wanted some weird sounding instrument, which would be a challenge for them to resell in the high-end market. I'd rather not do that, since I care no less about investment or resale value for the client, than I do about hustling some fiddle out the door.

That may have worked out OK, since I don't know of any my violins on the market right now (and I've made a lot of them), aside from one at Bein and Fushi  (I just found about about one yesterday) listed at 32K.

Yes, I certainly appreciate the opinions of dealers or appraisers in either creating or sustaining that market, despite my not selling though dealers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Evan Smith said:

The notes will start easily without excessive scratching, sounds like a little crunchy pop, all the notes will feel the same in the way they start and feel, almost a rubbery sticky feel that is very firm, like the bow is looking for the string to grab a hold of and that is very important because the fiddle IS the bow.

The equivalent amount of speed and pressure has the same effect on all the notes.

The G string feels bottomless, like pulling on a spring, it consistently gives the impression that you can get a bit more, like you can always go a bit further.

Evan, I really enjoyed your entire post (lots to chew on) especially the quoted part above.  The violins I have enjoyed seem to have the same firmness/stickiness to the start of the note.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
29 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Also agreed.

I don't try very hard to make a sound targeted to a specific player's desires any more. I have managed to do that semi-successully in the past, but some people wanted some weird sounding instrument, which would be a challenge for them to resell in the high-end market. I'd rather not do that, since I care no less about investment or resale value for the client, than I do about hustling some fiddle out the door.

That may have worked out OK, since I don't know of any my violins on the market right now, aside from one at Bein and Fushi  (I just found about about one yesterday) at 32K.

Yes, I certainly appreciate the opinions of dealers or appraisers in either creating or sustaining that market, despite my not selling through dealers.

I usually aim at the sound that's closest..........to a Strad, of course.  ;) [Unerringly beans Burgess with a bouquet of camellias]. :lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
54 minutes ago, John_London said:

 

There may be an element for self-selection in the buyers you meet. For the kinds of buyer you write about, the facilities of a dealer to show a range of instruments are hugely valuable. 

Yes, the only kinds of buyers I meet are searchers, people who wish to try a lot of instruments (not just from me either). And all are searching for that special voice ...

I can only think of one client in the last few years who didn't choose the most beautiful sound, and he was a young concertmaster who needed to assert himself and be heard by the rest of the orchestra above all other considerations. However, not even he was looking for a neutral palette ... he just wasn't that concerned about the lower register.

Even the rare customers who tell me they are more concerned with investment value than sound always switch lanes later in the process.

I have real trouble imagining a different kind of customer, but they must exist. You have described yourself that way. For such customers, I think the road of commissioning a new instrument could be very rewarding.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Violadamore said:

I usually aim at the sound that's closest..........to a Strad, of course.  ;) [Unerringly beans Burgess with a bouquet of camellias]. :lol:

Why would anyone expect otherwise?  :lol:

You are a treasure!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Evan Smith said:

What determines the sound,,,?

....

So those are some of the considerations I have to make when making a fiddle.

Evan Luthier

Thanks for taking the trouble to write such a long and informative post.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

With 50 good makers (take the 32k price out of the equation)  then the chances of their violins sounding 'similar' are good,  but each one will have it's own voice and likely each maker will tend to make that sort of instrument....ie, not the same sound as the other makers. At least that's what I'd hope would happen.
Then the obvious things, is the violin for a soloist (not many are) or a chamber player or a jazzer who uses steel strings or a b'rock player.....etc. 

Otherwise, if a maker is (or was) a good player with a degree of taste then the sound they want may be largely their own concern.  


 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.