Tom Fid

Are light fingerboards the answer?

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Like most university press releases, this is a little over the top:

https://today.tamu.edu/2019/03/05/new-violin-design-could-change-the-instrument-forever/

(In The Strad as "Examining the acoustic properties of fingerboards made from different materials.")

Quote

Professor Emeritus Joseph Nagyvary at Texas A&M has conducted violin research for 40 years. After exhaustive tonal frequency tests, chemical analysis, and detailed measurements of key parts, he believes that making violin fingerboards lighter and shorter would bring their sound closer to that produced by the instruments of Italian masters centuries ago. His work is published in the latest issue of the music journal The Strad.

Breakthrough, or just "gone emeritus" science?

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I used to be in the employment of a couple who it turned out were related, by marriage, to the Nagy family. They, my employers, manufacture harps and dulcimers. They came back from a family Christmas and the husband let me know that they now had acess to violins made by a man who had discoverd the secret of Stradivarius. I replied, "Nagy? Again? I think that this must be the 11th time that he has discovered Strad's secret."

He has done some good research and if nothing else has caused the introduction of rigorous science to the violin field.

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25 minutes ago, Tom Fid said:

After exhaustive tonal frequency tests, chemical analysis, and detailed measurements of key parts, he believes that making violin fingerboards lighter and shorter would bring their sound closer to that produced by the instruments of Italian masters centuries ago.

So the original Strad neck gave the original Strad sound?

Wow, whooda thunkit?

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too bad none of them have the original neck and baroque fingerboard.   Too bad they all have the same modern fingerboard and setup.  Imaging how much better they would sound if that were not the case.    Maybe fingerboards should be made of compressed shrimp shells chitin.  

 

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2 hours ago, Tom Fid said:

Like most university press releases, this is a little over the top:

https://today.tamu.edu/2019/03/05/new-violin-design-could-change-the-instrument-forever/

(In The Strad as "Examining the acoustic properties of fingerboards made from different materials.")

Breakthrough, or just "gone emeritus" science?

One of the reasons Joseph Nagyvary's claims are met with skepticism is that they tend to be couched in extravagant language.  But I am of the opinion that that is a normal human tendency when one has spent as much of one's life on a subject as Joseph Nagyvary has.  Folks who are full-time makers easily can fall into the same trap, myself included. :)

In this case, the flacks at TAMU have done him no favors by "enriching" his claims with similarly glowing prose.

All that said, Joseph Nagyvary's research merits the attention of being reviewed and tested by his peers to see if it stands up.  The best science (assuming it's not bought by some corporate entity with a vested interest in the results) usually does -- again, in my opinion.

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I recall trying to make some sense out of this idea when he presented it at VSA 2018, but I  don't recall finding any.  I tried out the violin he brought with this magic fingerboard on it, and didn't find anything to rave about.  I don't recall exactly what my technical thoughts were, but I'm not inclined to take the time to go over it again.

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About 30 years ago at Texas A&M, Nagyvary was the first to prove a theory that he had spent years researching: that a primary reason for the pristine sound, beyond the excellent craftsmanship, was the chemicals Stradivari and others used to treat their instruments due to a worm infestation at the time.

His findings were verified in a review by the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific organization.

 

More pseudoscience. Next he will be insisting that the maple finger boards also need to be treated with insecticides to get the "pristine sound."

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How about the nails that strad&co used? The probably where made of a special alloy similar to wootz steel! :D

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Strad also scraped microscopic particles of wood off the inside of the finished instrument with wire coathangers and sandpaper.   He also tuned the scroll.   What diabolical cunning! 

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17 minutes ago, Jerry Pasewicz said:

Wait...I thought the secret was cow urine......

I thought that he was banished to the Chicken Farm outside of College Station...

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Looks like everyine better get started altering all the FBs on soloists Strads and DGs so they can sound like Strads and DGs.

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I thought too that light fingerboards are always the best. I think now that it needs to be adjusted in relation to the stiffness and mass of the body. A light body with low stiffness needs a lighter fingerboard and a heavy and stiff body a very heavier fingerboard. 

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In guitar land there is much research related to this, and or how the mass of the neck, and particularly the headstock mass contributes to the dynamics.

Ir has been somewhat determined {by someone I don't know, but I do "buy it"} that a tapered gradient of mass lower going to a light upper, in this case scroll is better for not robbing either through de-constructive motion or damping .

So with a violin fingerboard, there is so much natural taper that the fingerboard pretty much does this naturally.

However in the case where you may have the ability to cut your own out of a blockblank, or more importantly on a guitar that does not have the amount of taper that a bowed instrument does.  It is a good idea to draw a center line and then place the stick on a fulcrum point to see if it has a uneven weight distribution, and or when balance on the center, is one end of the stick heavier than the other, if so, put the heavy end down over the body and the light end up at the nut....

with violins, how important this is could be debatable, but with guitars its very important as well as keeping the headstock as light as possible...

the basic physics being the '"flagpole effect"  

I can not help but wonder if this principle was not a "secret" that seemingly has not een discussed that I am aware of related to choosing wood for the plates.

when we talk of variation on material, that to a certain extent is what we are talking about, now, a large portion of wood is pretty evenly distributed , but there definitley are peices of wood that have dramatic weight differences withing the same piece whereas if balance on a fulcrum, the balance point can be way off center.

I do not recall every discussing or reading about this aspect, the weight gradient distribution and looking for it when choosing wood....seemingly if one did find such a board,based on the principle {if it applies} we would want to have the heavier end in the lower bouts.

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10 hours ago, MikeC said:

Strad also scraped microscopic particles of wood off the inside of the finished instrument with wire coathangers and sandpaper.   He also tuned the scroll.   What diabolical cunning! 

Drat it MikeC - there you go again -  chasing moonbeams and sawdust and confusing everyone by suggesting the most obscure and difficult way possible. :-)

Anthony left a clue in one of his letters where he told his client that the delivery was being delayed because the varnish still had to dry. Obviously he did the final response tuning by adding/removing layers of varnish at discrete spots on the OUTSIDE!

Far easier, quicker and more convenient as it can be implemented  while the instrument is strung up. Minimal delay between trial and correction.

cheers edi

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Maybe we should save time by doing away with a separate fingerboard and just carve the neck, FB and nut as a single piece of wood.  :P

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1 hour ago, Jim Bress said:

Maybe we should save time by doing away with a separate fingerboard and just carve the neck, FB and nut as a single piece of wood.  :P

Paging Dr. Marty!

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Another factor with ebony FBs is the stiffness it lends to the neck.  Some people think the stiffness is important and beneficial enough to increase the stiffness of the neck by inlaying a carbon fiber rod along the length of the neck.  I know there are titanium rods for this as well, but maybe only guitar makers are using those.  In any case CF has a higher density than maple so they are making the neck heavier not lighter.  I haven't done it myself yet, but some very knowledgeable and successful (sell what they make) makers use CF rods.

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3 hours ago, Jim Bress said:

Maybe we should save time by doing away with a separate fingerboard and just carve the neck, FB and nut as a single piece of wood.  :P

Hi Jim - and there is I - urging my juniors to try invert the problem whenever they seemed to have came against an impasse.

Of course -  you are absolutely right. It's blindingly obvious when someone points it out. 

It flows so logically once you have developed the integral bass-bar.

How come Anthony and mob not see it and take the next step? :-)

cheers edi

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1 hour ago, JacksonMaberry said:

Paging Dr. Marty!

I had thought of naming my first son "Doctor" to save a lot of future college expenses.

I was making real light violas to make them easy to hold so I made  one piece fingerboard/necks all out of one piece of Paulownia wood . A scroll was not used to further reduce far out weight.  This wood isn't very stiff so I inlaid a thin walled carbon fiber tube (more efficient stiffness/weight than solid rods) down the center of it.  This assembly did save a lot of weight however a very good viola player friend tried one of them and said that in his experience that heavy fingerboards always sounded better than light ones on his very good century old Italian viola.

He said saving weight to help reduce the possibility of injuries was helpful but it was much more important for him to achieve the most loudness with a good sound.

When I modeled the vibration amplitudes of an instrument body I concluded that any thing that vibrates that doesn't produce sound is wasting energy that could be better used to produce sound. Vibration textbooks have chapters on vibration suppression because vibration is often harmful.  One of the ways of reducing vibration of a machine for example is to add a light spring-mass tuned to the same frequency as the problem vibration.  

The light mass vibrates wildly and since its energy is proportional to its mass times its velocity squared it can suck up energy from the larger moving mass of the machine which makes it vibrate less or even eliminate it.

The same idea is used for those wolf note suppressors  where a small spring /mass is attached somewhere to the instrument's body or when a small weight is added to the string's after length or when Ted White's adjustable sliding weight tailpiece is tuned to a wolf note.  

If we reverse the situation and want our body to vibrate as much as possible it suggests that the instrument should be the light body and the added mass be the heavy body. 

Martin Schleske has shown the fingerboard/neck has many different frequency bending and twisting vibration modes.  The fingerboard/neck is too small an area to produce sound so all these vibration modes are taking energy away from the instrument body which suggests that the fingerboard/neck should be heavy.

All of the famous old Italian violins were converted to longer and heavier ebony fingerboards. It seems logical that this wouldn't have been done if the violin's performance had gotten worse.

I make my instruments with bolted on necks. One of my goals for the year is to make several different weight neck/fingerboards and switch them back and forth to see if anything actually does happen to the sound.

One final thought--spelling and grammar checkers really help engineers.

 

 

 

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