nathan slobodkin

Loosening soundposts

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Just had a client bring her cello in for some maintence and was told that a luthier where she now lives checked the instrument in December, said the post was too tight and had loosened it. Checking the post I felt it was definitely now too loose as well as being a bit too angled out at the top. I seldom find posts that are obviously too tight and even when I see a bulging behind the bridge or some  lifting of the treble FF I would be loathe to change it without explaining to the client that the instrument will sound less well for a while until the arching has a chance to settle. Also think bulging behind the bridge is often more a problem of a poorly fitting post rather than one which needs to be moved toward the center. Some instruments do need to have the post either moved or switched due to weather conditions but I don't see that much in healthy modern instruments. I do see new instruments where the arching has sunk from not putting in longer posts when they are needed. Comments any one?

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Nathan, it's stuff we all deal with from time to time. We can have differences with supposed luthiers who don't know jack shit. We can also have differences of opinion with highly respect colleagues.

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5 minutes ago, Dwight Brown said:

Is it at all common to have a summer post and a winter post? I’m not a cellist. Bridges as well?

DLB

Yes, it's common, but my first recommendation would be to keep an instrument within a 20% humidity range all year. That way, bridges and soundposts won't need to be switched every season, and minor tweaks to soundpost placement will suffice for even some of the most sensitive .

There's another issue though. Wide humidity swings are not the best thing for any wooden object, if preservation is a goal.

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I think a soundpost that’s too tight is just as dangerous and awful sounding as one that’s too loose. Getting just the right length so that the top is supported is what separates the skilled workmen from the hacks.

I agree that humidity swings are detrimental, and I think they cause issues with fit that can be catastrophic if not addressed. I’ve done countless patches on instruments that were split open by posts that were too tight. 

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30 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Handy that you know everything

I don't, and will readily admit to that. That's part of the reason why I visit cutting-edge workshops every year. How 'bout you?

Didn't I recently offer to pay your tuition to one of the major cutting-edge workshops, and you declined?

It's hard to help people who are unwilling to help themselves.

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I have had pretty good luck with my Fischer 3% hygrometer. Evidently if you want a 1% hygrometer it’s $$$$$$!  It is just as you say on your website that hygrometers are notorious for inaccurate readings. My instruments don’t go out of the house that much and it stays between 45% and 55% all year. I have no idea why. We put in all new windows and that helped too.  In the far off past winters at Interlochen we’re pretty hard to deal with. At Ithaca they had humidity control in the music building and almost all of us kept our instruments in lockers there. It probably saved a huge number of broken instruments of all kinds from falls in icy stairs as well.

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6 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

...Checking the post I felt it was definitely now too loose...

Do you check the post tightness by seeing how much force it takes to move one end of it?  That's how I do it.  If that's how you do it, do you loosen the strings first?

I'm wondering how the good guys do this.

I see tops with the post areas that are badly gouged out on the insides, which I assume is from moving the posts under full string tension.  So I always loosen the strings before trying to move a post.  I also like to pull out the end pin to see if the post fits well and if it's straight.

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Nathan, I believe a valid argument can be made that the bulging behind the bridge can be caused by a post that is too loose.

 I regret to say, that my experience is similar to yours in that many working out there do not have a good idea of how tight a post should be, or why.....and many are quite arrogant in their ignorance.

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18 hours ago, Dwight Brown said:

Is it at all common to have a summer post and a winter post? I’m not a cellist. Bridges as well?

DLB

Once I looked at a cello soundpost when working in Hungary. It was winter and freezing cold and humidity was presumably close to zero. when the cellist asked me to move the post for an adjustment I was only like 'Hgnnnn!&@#%$'

In the end I had to leave it as it was. When the same cellist came back a few month later I finally could move it, thought it was still tight.

 

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18 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Yes, it's common, but my first recommendation would be to keep an instrument within a 20% humidity range all year.

 

Ok, but how to do that?

For musicians on the road I think it is almost uncontrollable. 

Maybe the next challenge for case makers is a built-in automatic humidity control system. I know at least a company in Japan who already produces sensors you can install in your case and read humidity and temperature on your phone with a blue tooth connection. 

 

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13 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Ok, but how to do that?

For musicians on the road I think it is almost uncontrollable. 

Maybe the next challenge for case makers is a built-in automatic humidity control system. I know at least a company in Japan who already produces sensors you can install in your case and read humidity and temperature on your phone with a blue tooth connection. 

 

The cases already exist.

 Truthfully, it is not difficult to keep a violin in that range, all it takes is to pay attention and use a humidifier.  One thing I have tried that helps is to tie the humidity to the tightness of the bow hair.  With low humidity there are pretty specific characteristic changes in the way the instrument performs.  Once a player learns to recognize these markers, and ties them to the bow hair length (thus RH) then humidity and playability have a correlation....

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Thanks for comments. The person who loosened the post is a trusted colleague although not a close enough friend that I felt comfortable calling and discussing this. I probably should have done so. I was trying to start a conversation about the role of tension in adjusting a post and how to recognize when there is some issue that requires serious intervention such as reinforcement of the SP area to allow for adequate tension to make the instrument sound.

I have two situations which I have dealt with in my own shop which demonstrate the problem one of them a really good modern Italian which I think could sound better with more tension but has a visible bulge in the in the SP area and the other a relatively inexpensive cello which was purchased and then played /stored for 15 years without  maintenance. If I owned the Italian I would be tempted to put a veneer inside of the top to spread the tension but since the client is used to the sound of the violin which she bought from the maker 60 years ago I have not had the chance to do so and just gingerly adjust the post as needed, The treble FF wing of the cello had sunk almost 5 mm. measured at the tip and the bass wing about 2. I told the client that perhaps a series of longer posts would alleviate some of the problem but was quite surprised when a 1 mm longer post brought the wings up to almost normal. That kind of experience implies that one of the possible reasons for sinking bellies is that posts are not being lengthened when required.

I know that Rene Morel was criticized at times for making posts so tight that they opened cracks and am told that he argued that if the instrument cracked from the pressure it needed restoration any way.

Incidentally I am a fan of really strong instruments and am aware of several of mine which have gone on month long tours to several continents with no maintenance issues. One of the two players in that quartet who have my instruments said "Slobodkins are like tanks you can take them anywhere" which certainly doesn't offend me.

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1 hour ago, Jerry Pasewicz said:

Nathan, I believe a valid argument can be made that the bulging behind the bridge can be caused by a post that is too loose.

 I regret to say, that my experience is similar to yours in that many working out there do not have a good idea of how tight a post should be, or why.....and many are quite arrogant in their ignorance.

Jerry can you elaborate on the loose posts cause bulging theory? I know I see big differences in how my instruments change over time depending on how they are maintained and by whom.

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5 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

Can a well-fitted sound post be "too loose" even if it stays in place when string tension is removed?

Absolutely.  String tension alone is way too loose to have any control on playing characteristics, and also makes the  adjustment  incredibly finicky.

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3 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

Can a well-fitted sound post be "too loose" even if it stays in place when string tension is removed?

To me the feel of the post is the metric I go by. To actually fall down the post must be either extremely short or doesn't fit well.

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13 minutes ago, Jerry Pasewicz said:

The cases already exist.

 Truthfully, it is not difficult to keep a violin in that range, all it takes is to pay attention and use a humidifier.  One thing I have tried that helps is to tie the humidity to the tightness of the bow hair.  With low humidity there are pretty specific characteristic changes in the way the instrument performs.  Once a player learns to recognize these markers, and ties them to the bow hair length (thus RH) then humidity and playability have a correlation....

Does the change ln the bow hair with humidity also change how nice the violins sound?

My ex-wife had a lot of bad hair days.

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For the tightness of a soundpost I follow the simple Rene Morel rule:

'Make it snug'

(neither tight nor loose) And this is not as easy as it sounds like. It's pretty much built by working experience.

-------------------------

Here in Japan there are unfortunately many 'master luthiers' with a very big ego for sound adjustments. To protect their own status they usually threaten the customers never ever to show the instrument to a colleague. :ph34r:

Only when a musician gets too frustrated :wacko: about the sound they seek advice from another luthier. Had such cases in my shop. 

However, without looking at anyone, there are also musicians who love to fumble around with the sound post position. ^_^

For soundposts which look like standing in a dangerous angle I usually speak to customers explaining what risk there is, however if the customer refuses a change I tell them that it is at their risk.-_-

 

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20 minutes ago, Jerry Pasewicz said:

The cases already exist.

 Truthfully, it is not difficult to keep a violin in that range, all it takes is to pay attention and use a humidifier.  One thing I have tried that helps is to tie the humidity to the tightness of the bow hair.  With low humidity there are pretty specific characteristic changes in the way the instrument performs.  Once a player learns to recognize these markers, and ties them to the bow hair length (thus RH) then humidity and playability have a correlation....

Interesting idea.

Thus means that the musician must adopt the habit of putting the bow with a certain tightness in the case to see if it loosens or tightens and take action accordingly?

Who makes those cases? I know only cases with an installed hygrometer which is more or less inaccurate but st least can tell if humidity goes up or down.

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22 minutes ago, nathan slobodkin said:

I know that Rene Morel was criticized at times for making posts so tight that they opened cracks and am told that he argued that if the instrument cracked from the pressure it needed restoration anyway.

Well , unfortunately partly true. While I was in the shop we often had to make pretty tight posts. Somehow  I think this came from the stubbornness of an ageing man and snug became snugger and snugger over the time. 

None of us dealt with customers so we don't know their reaction but there were people around who absolutely hated Rene's adjustments. (Happens to anyone I guess)

Doesnt take anything away from the originsl idea and I think is confirmed by some research related to sound post  tightness. There seems to exist something like the perfect sound post pressure for each instrument.

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1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Does the change ln the bow hair with humidity also change how nice the violins sound?

My ex-wife had a lot of bad hair days.

I do not believe the bow hair changing with humidity makes much of a difference, but the humidity that caused that change certainly does.

I do not know about your ex-wife, but my l have never seen my wife with a bad hair day.

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1 hour ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Interesting idea.

Thus means that the musician must adopt the habit of putting the bow with a certain tightness in the case to see if it loosens or tightens and take action accordingly?

Only at first.  Eventually they learn how the instrument feels based on the length of the bow hair, after a bit of time all they need is the feel to have an idea.

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