Julian Cossmann Cooke

Options for creating a darker sounding violin

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I am working on a commission for a bluegrass player who wants something  with a darker sound than her Chinese instrument gives her.  I am considering  three options:

 

1. Thicker back

2. Raise the ribs by a couple of mm and use fuller cross arching

or

3. Use an alternative wood for the back (I have a nice piece of birch, for example, and some willow)

Would you use one of these strategies?  Something else entirely?

 

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I think thick back would have opposite effect.

I just made violin from .35-.36 SG  engelman spruce that ended up darker sounding then I intended (top thickness was about 2.7mm)

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Since fiddle players tend to be more accepting of alternative materials, I'd jump at the chance to try something different for the back and ribs. I encountered a dark, rich sounding fiddle with a slab alder back in Eugene Oregon once. Looked really cool too.

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Frank Daniels (franksfiddles.com) builds mostly for fiddlers and has used a variety of woods for backs.  His site has some nice photos, but not much in the way of theory.

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Yes, for sure a thinner back not a thicker one! I would probably try to go thin on the top too.

Poplar is a popular choice, willow sounds fun, alder too though not as obvious a choice ... I would definitely not go for a fruitwood (cherry or pearwood)

Not sure the arching of the table is so critical, but Irish players (and maybe bluegrass) tend to love fiddles with quite a high arch to the back - this tends to give a rather sticky sound which is articulate in the lower register, great for rolls and other ornaments.

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Wider channels.

Thinner general diaphragm thickness of plates.  Center of back mass excluded.

Lower tension/firmness overall.

 

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I am amazed that this sort of question still needs to be asked in 2018, as computer modelling of this type of thing has been around in the synthezier world for almost 30 years now.Yamaha called it "physical modelling", and around 1990 they had the Yamaha VL70m which modelled wind instruments. There are still companies making computer modelled software instruments today, one of the best being "Pianoteq" which is a very good model of a piano and sounds extremely convincing. No real samples are used ,the instrument is generated in real time in the software . The computer model, if it existed for a violin, would be able to calculate the necessary parameters to generate a darker or brighter violin etc.

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40 minutes ago, Salve Håkedal said:

I think .. "darker" is too undefined.

But why would low density wood for the back give a darker sound. In my experience it don't.

I agree,  darker is too vague.

I have some experience in trying to understand/grasp and make such a fiddle (bluegrass/folkmusic). After many years of trying for "dark", I kind of discovered that it is not  specifically "dark"  they are looking for (although "darker" is characteristics of the type of fiddle sought for).

Some folk music fiddlers are extremely picky.

The conclusion is that the fiddle has to be - Distinct/Clear with a narrower spectrum and lower body modes than usual, but not too low A0. Easy to play but still powerful and responsive.

=> The Plowden would probably be the choice for many fiddlers

 

 

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1 hour ago, Delabo said:

I am amazed that this sort of question still needs to be asked in 2018, as computer modelling of this type of thing has been around in the synthezier world for almost 30 years now.Yamaha called it "physical modelling", and around 1990 they had the Yamaha VL70m which modelled wind instruments. There are still companies making computer modelled software instruments today, one of the best being "Pianoteq" which is a very good model of a piano and sounds extremely convincing. No real samples are used ,the instrument is generated in real time in the software . The computer model, if it existed for a violin, would be able to calculate the necessary parameters to generate a darker or brighter violin etc.

Manipulating sound electronically is one thing. Building a violin to make a type of sound is quite another.

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1 hour ago, Delabo said:

The computer model, if it existed for a violin, would be able to calculate the necessary parameters to generate a darker or brighter violin etc.

David is right - stop to think why the computer model doesn't exist ...

Or at least, there are various modelled violin sounds available, all of which can be recognized by a child as synthetic from the first couple of notes. The main problem with the violin is the complexity of the input system (bowing) - I think you could model a plucked violin pretty accurately.

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My point was not that a modelled violin would be playable,but that it would indicate what happens when certain parameters are changed.

Violin makers could then take note and build there violin with greater confidence as to what the possible outcome will be. Also, it would only model a plucked violin, as introducing a bow would create an infinity of variables.  The model should have things like thicker or thinner plates, size, moving the soundpost, channels, height etc. Move a parameter and listen to the result and then build accordingly.

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The problem is that dark sound may come with unfocused sound.

Creating a dark and focused sound is difficult.

A good player will want it to sound dark and bright, depending on his will too, because he needs to create different colours in sound.

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12 minutes ago, MANFIO said:

The problem is that dark sound may come with unfocused sound.

Creating a dark and focused sound is difficult.

A good player will want it to sound dark and bright, depending on his will too, because he needs to create different colours in sound.

Yes, it can be very difficult

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35 minutes ago, Delabo said:

The model should have things like thicker or thinner plates, size, moving the soundpost, channels, height etc. Move a parameter and listen to the result and then build accordingly.

Vastly more easily said than done. People have already been chasing goals like this for decades.

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I found my notes from the last VSA on The Obie-alto project & viola spectrum lecture, given by Joe Curtin, Marilyn Wallin, Fan Tao. 

The data (n=30) presented suggests that shorter width between f-holes resulted in brighter more clear tone with quicker response.  F-holes wider apart and longer resulted in "darker, warmer, deeper voice".  

Also AO was dependent on  length of f-hole, body length, and stiffness of top.  

The data was presented as trends and that the analyses of data was still in the early stages.  Marilyn pops in occasionally.  Maybe she will comment if she sees this thread.

-Jim

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Yes Jim, but the problem is that we can make many combinations with that, for instance, f-holes wider apart combined with thicker plates, one thing can counterbalance the other, and there are many possibilities for playing with these things. 

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I suggest using top and back woods that have low speeds of sound, low arches, and thin. The ribs should also be thin.

The rib height should be higher and the overall size (length and bout widths) should also be a larger to increase internal volume.

When you're done put viola strings on it.

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24 minutes ago, MANFIO said:

Yes Jim, but the problem is that we can make many combinations with that, for instance, f-holes wider apart combined with thicker plates, one thing can counterbalance the other, and there are many possibilities for playing with these things. 

True of course.  Changing multiple parameters will leave you in the dark as to what had good or bad affects towards your goals.  As I said these are notes from a lecture not my experiences in making.  However it does look promising to build the model you're familiar with and adjust your f-holes (one, maybe two parameters).  I added the AO part because some people look at that.  I don't.  Really just trying to help Julian by providing information I have that I think is credible. Learning something along the way would be a big bonus.

Is a darker sounding violin one with a stronger G fundamental?

-Jim

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Jim, I was not critiizing you.

I'll quote Samuel Zygmuntowicz excellent article called "Interpreting Guarneri" in the Dartington Conference.

These are his comments about the Del Gesú "Kreisler":

"In general, the main purpose of the f-holes is to cut the surface of the top to allow the top to flex and pump. What can one say' about the Kreisler structure? The moderate length, 75.6mm is unremarkable. The upper eyes, however, are rather wide-spaced, 42.7, leaving a broad bridge platform, 74.4 measured at the notches. But there is something else a little about this, the,wide wings, especially the lower wings, give the f-hole hole a lot of what I call "horizontal spread" (from the inside of the upper ff lobe, to the outer edge of the lower lobe, I measured perpendicular to the centre line), and the broad sweep of the lower curve cuts a lot of wood fibres. The horizontal spread on the left ff is 48mm. And the overall spread from extreme lower left circIe to extreme lower right circIe is 131.6.

I would expect this extra horizontal cutting to free up the side to side rocking and pumping of the top. In
this case the top might well need freeing up. The Kreisler's shallow minimal channel, full arch, heavy edge and healthy graduations would all tend to stiffen the top and add mass."

And here Zygmuntowicz's comments about the Kreiler sound?

"What is the Kreisler sound? I hear it as a rather incisive, clear, and articulate sound, with many overtones and a clear focused projection, not as dark as many later Guarneris.
This seems consistent with its relatively stiff arch, channel and edge. The moderate length of the ffs also fits in this picture."



And about Del Gesù "Pannete":

"Now lets look at the Panette from a structural view. The ffs are longer (78mm long), but closer set and with less spread, and with tighter end curves. While the ffs are set at more of an angle, which-would tend to increase the horizontal spread, the horizontal spread is still less than on the Kreisler (44.5mm).The upper holes are set narrower - (39,5mm), as well as the bridge platform (72.4mm), and the overall spread of the overall holes (127.3mm). The channel is deep with a wide scoop. Altogether, it presents a less massive and more flexible structure."

And his comments about the Pannete's sound:

"The Panette has a very dark, warm sound, quite rich if almost a bit hollow. Of course, there are many other factors, such as perhaps the slab-cut back (being softer) and thinner top, which all have effects on structure and sound.
I wish it had a little more edge. If you're not used to playing it, it's a little cushiony.
Describing sound is subjective, and linking sound to specific structural details is quite speculative. Still, attempting to understand these connections is vital."

And here a bit more:

"The 'hourglass' Guarneri shape seems less braced, more flexible and able to twist. Lengthening the f holes cuts more top surface, freeing the top verticalIy. Placing the upper lobes of the f-holes closer might also encourage the twisting and pumping of the top from side to side. Because of this flexibility, the graduation might be a bit thicker, especially in the bouts and on the edges and maybe on the centre of the back as well. "

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I am not really sure what is meant by a darker sound, but brighter I get. I wonder if a new violin maker would be better off to stick to what has worked good in previous builds and just try to alter sound for customer through bridge cut and afterlength.

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