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Peter Lynch

The influence of the nut on violin sound

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I have been surprised on several occasions by how making a new nut improves the sound of an under-performing  violin.  It seems there is maybe more going on there then just keeping the strings in the proper position.  Has others found this as well?  I am curious of how makers think of the nut in terms of sound/acoustics or what ideas / observations you have. .  I am not talking about "tuning" a nut (if there is even such a thing), Just theories of how the nut is or is not not involved with the acoustics of the "system" .  Thanks

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2 hours ago, Peter Lynch said:

I have been surprised on several occasions by how making a new nut improves the sound of an under-performing  violin.  It seems there is maybe more going on there then just keeping the strings in the proper position.  Has others found this as well?  I am curious of how makers think of the nut in terms of sound/acoustics or what ideas / observations you have. .  I am not talking about "tuning" a nut (if there is even such a thing), Just theories of how the nut is or is not not involved with the acoustics of the "system" .  Thanks

For me this seems likely to be a psycho-acoustic effect.

Although it's not a measurable phenomenon, I am convinced that the action of a violin affects how we hear the sound. If the string spacing isn't comfortable or more specifically if the nut is high and creates a sense of tension under the fingers, the sound seems more rigid or harsh. Conversely the modern generation of Juillard sluggers can easily feel that any violin with an easy action is sounding flabby.

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When something has knowingly been changed, we are then bound to look for an improvement as a justification for changing something in the first place.

I think how we perceive things has a lot to do with our moods, and level of happiness at that moment. It is therefore no surprise that after someone has fiddled with your nut(s), you will feel happier, and play better than before they did so.

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Just like the bridge, the string depth being too deep can affect the responsiveness of the string. 

String spacing can subtly affect the tension/balance between the strings.

As well, string grooves that aren't straight can affect the tension on the individual string.

A sharply pointed front and a steeply slanted surface on the profile instead of a nicely rounding surface can create a pinched point on the string which would affect the tone of the string.

 

All of this would only be noticed on a well setup, well adjusted instrument.

 

Just a few things that come to mind for sound.  Not to mention the physical wear of the string.

Dorian

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23 minutes ago, Michael.N. said:

Once you finger a note the nut is out of the equation. 

Yes.  I can't see that the nut could influence the sound of anything except the open strings.

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So you reject the idea that the action can have a psycho-acoustic effect?

The fingertips are phenomenally sensitive, and the sensation under them contributes massively to our perception of the sound.

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32 minutes ago, Michael.N. said:

Once you finger a note the nut is out of the equation. 

Isn't that like saying, as soon as the bridge stops the string, nothing past that influences the sound?

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1 hour ago, martin swan said:

For me this seems likely to be a psycho-acoustic effect.

Although it's not a measurable phenomenon, I am convinced that the action of a violin affects how we hear the sound. If the string spacing isn't comfortable or more specifically if the nut is high and creates a sense of tension under the fingers, the sound seems more rigid or harsh. Conversely the modern generation of Juillard sluggers can easily feel that any violin with an easy action is sounding flabby.

I think you mean "psychological", i.e. due to the influence of suggestion or auto-suggestion rather than simply the mechanics and neuronal processes of the auditory system. The science of psychoacoustics is concerned with understanding exactly how those processes translate into perception. Of course somatic sensation in the fingertips might conceivably have some direct neuronal influence on the auditory system, but as far as I'm aware this has never been demonstrated experimentally. The big question of course is whether the effect of changing the nut  is perceptible to anybody but the player

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11 minutes ago, martin swan said:

So you reject the idea that the action can have a psycho-acoustic effect?

The fingertips are phenomenally sensitive, and the sensation under them contributes massively to our perception of the sound.

I do not reject this idea; I find it quite interesting.  But your terms "psycho-acoustic" and "perception of sound" imply that any difference that the nut makes on fingered notes is in the mind of the player.   I don't deny that this could be important to the player, but it is in the player's mind -- not in the actual sound of the violin.

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4 minutes ago, Brad Dorsey said:

I do not reject this idea; I find it quite interesting.  But your terms "psycho-acoustic" and "perception of sound" imply that any difference that the nut makes on fingered notes is in the mind of the player.   I don't deny that this could be important to the player, but it is in the player's mind -- not in the actual sound of the violin.

So the sound of the violin is not in the player's mind? 

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43 minutes ago, Brad Dorsey said:

It's there, but, as matesic says, it's not "perceptible to anybody but the player."

Maybe I'm alone in this, but the notion of an objective "violin sound" that exists outside of any player's or listener's perception seems to me like a conceptual dead end.

Therefore the idea that you could carve up perception of sound into a) the bits that everyone else agrees on and b) the bits that only you experience ... similarly a dead end.

So if, as I propose, perception of sound is modified/influenced/modulated by tactile aspects of playing, that is psycho-acoustics. To call it auto-suggestion is true, but only in a very limited way - in the same way that we might describe auto-immune diseases as "all in the mind" ...

If violin sound had any objective manifestation, then we could measure it and we would be done with the whole old vs. new debate in a flash :lol:

 

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I wouldn't rule out the tactile effects that Martin suggests. Not at all. 

The other factor that might be at work is that the strings are likely to have been subject to a big reduction in tension before being brought up to pitch again. I've no idea if that's a large enough change to do anything, just something else to put into the mix. 

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1 hour ago, barnesviolins said:

Isn't that like saying, as soon as the bridge stops the string, nothing past that influences the sound?

What's changed though, the afterlength?

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28 minutes ago, Michael.N. said:

What's changed though, the afterlength?

Not sure what has changed.  Peter didn't mention what was wrong with the original nut and why he made a new one.

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2 hours ago, Michael.N. said:

Once you finger a note the nut is out of the equation. 

 

25 minutes ago, Michael.N. said:

I wouldn't rule out the tactile effects that Martin suggests. Not at all. 

The other factor that might be at work is that the strings are likely to have been subject to a big reduction in tension before being brought up to pitch again. I've no idea if that's a large enough change to do anything, just something else to put into the mix. 

A good, confident tactile response might allow us to bow better ( more confidently ) and vibrato in a more fluid motion - if that is determined to be better.

The long wave from scroll to end block is real. The dynamic movement is mostly throughout the body, but i believe the neck almost moves a bit. When working on guitars and basses, tapping on the fingerboard creates two chimes on either side of the finger and a low thud, sometimes sustained, from the entire instrument.

Bowing inputs great amount of energy into a short section of a wire that needs only a flea's kick ( a big one ) to be audible under tension. Though guitar and bass have higher tension strings, both deal with the tension differently, guitar with very low bridge ( long neck ) and bass with large surface area ( short neck, ) the instruments both vibrate well along their entire lengths. So why not violins, violas and cellos?          

 

4 hours ago, rudall said:

Might the answer not lie in why the nut was being replaced?

Andrew

The Whole-y Trinity of saddle, bridge, nut... Good fit, good spacing, and good materials makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise. 

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1 hour ago, martin swan said:

Maybe I'm alone in this, but the notion of an objective "violin sound" that exists outside of any player's or listener's perception seems to me like a conceptual dead end.

Therefore the idea that you could carve up perception of sound into a) the bits that everyone else agrees on and b) the bits that only you experience ... similarly a dead end.

So if, as I propose, perception of sound is modified/influenced/modulated by tactile aspects of playing, that is psycho-acoustics. To call it auto-suggestion is true, but only in a very limited way - in the same way that we might describe auto-immune diseases as "all in the mind" ...

If violin sound had any objective manifestation, then we could measure it and we would be done with the whole old vs. new debate in a flash :lol:

 

I get you Martin. You might go so far as to say that "sound" is analogous to "sight" in that it only exists in the mind of the hearer, and you'd be right. When a tree falls in a deserted forest there is no sound, only vibrations in the air. Unfortunately we lack a physical acoustic noun analogous to "light". But sorry - auto-immune diseases are another thing again - nothing to do with the ghost in the machine!

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2 minutes ago, matesic said:

But sorry - auto-immune diseases are another thing again - nothing to do with the ghost in the machine!

Of course - I'm just resisting your attempt to simplify the perception of sound by separating it out into "real" and "imagined".

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3 hours ago, FiddleDoug said:

The nut at the end of the bow can have a big influence on how the violin sounds (at least in my case). :lol:

So does the nut at the end of the chisel.  :lol:

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As a maker, my take is that if "this nut sounds better than that nut" that it would be attributed to the height set up and how that effects the player, the set up , however material choice can be important as far as balancing the open string tone with the depressed tone,particularly the G and D string. I think this is quite noticeable when swapping out a Ebony nut for a bone one, bone seems to be more strident, at least the few times I've monkey'd with it.

I do feel that on guitars the material choice can effect things more dramatically as there is often many open notes being played. But I do look for more dense material generally, I do think it effects the open G, and I do think of the open G somewhat as the sonic "name or introduction" of the violin, which leads to its "signature" sound

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8 minutes ago, jezzupe said:

As a maker, my take is that if "this nut sounds better than that nut" that it would be attributed to the height set up and how that effects the player, the set up , however material choice can be important as far as balancing the open string tone with the depressed tone,particularly the G and D string. I think this is quite noticeable when swapping out a Ebony nut for a bone one, bone seems to be more strident, at least the few times I've monkey'd with it.

I do feel that on guitars the material choice can effect things more dramatically as there is often many open notes being played. But I do look for more dense material generally, I do think it effects the open G, and I do think of the open G somewhat as the sonic "name or introduction" of the violin, which leads to its "signature" sound

IMHO, the spacing, depth and shape of the grooves has the most influence, along with just enough pencil graphite.  :)

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