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Regraduating a violin


Clare@Iscaviolins
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Are there any UK Luthers who would be prepared to regraduate a violin? It is a modern instrument (1989) well made but with a very muffled tone. Sadly the maker is no longer around and the only other person I know who has one made by him uses it for amplified playing. I want to keep it and use it for a number of reasons but although it has a good set up and quality strings it is just too quiet and muffled to use other than for practice. Might regraduation be a way forward even though an expensive one?

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The use of the description "muffled" isn't very encouraging.  "Stiff" or "shrill" would be more indicative of an instrument that might respond well to regraduation, where the usual goal is to re-balance the tone to gain bass response.  I worry that your instrument just has poor wood that can not really be un-muffled.  That said, remote diagnosis via internet and undefined terms isn't likely to be very reliable, and the instrument really needs to be evaluated in-person by someone who knows what they're doing.

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8 hours ago, Clare@Iscaviolins said:

Are there any UK Luthers who would be prepared to regraduate a violin? It is a modern instrument (1989) well made but with a very muffled tone. Sadly the maker is no longer around and the only other person I know who has one made by him uses it for amplified playing. I want to keep it and use it for a number of reasons but although it has a good set up and quality strings it is just too quiet and muffled to use other than for practice. Might regraduation be a way forward even though an expensive one?

Some luthiers will be weary of modifying a contemporary colleague's work to such a degree. You need to have it seen by a professional before such drastic measures are taken. The regraduation and probable subsequent rebarring may even end up costing much more than the instrument itself is worth. Plus you'll end up needing a new bridge and SP to boot. I'd say your money is better served in putting it towards a new violin. 

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If you like the tone, keep it, if it's a matter of amplification, amplify where possible and move on to another instrument if not. If you regraduate it you may spend a great deal of money. You will end up with a totally different beastie, perhaps not to your liking. Personally, I love experimenting with regraduating bellies and backs especially on old cellos and some violins but never on anything valuable or a contemporary maker, it just seems disrespectful. My experiments are exactly that, experiments. I agree with the old timers when they say that Tony Strad made his tone changes with very very small amounts of material removal. Just my opinion. This is a rabbit hole and there are folks chasing that dragon at Oberlin every year, simply fantastic research! And just when you think you can wrap your head around it and it makes sense for a minute, someone else comes up with some new imaging technique, 3D print scan, or acoustic study and you are back out in the weeds again! And that is what gets me to the bench every day, because I was thinking about it last night.

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It can be useful having a violin for amplified performances.

Putting your money into a good amplification system for it might be a better investment and provide some relevance for the poor violin.

If the wood is indeed as poor quality as you described you might need a necromancer rather than a violin repairer.

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Everytime a player thinks about regraduating, revarnishing, etc., first ask to play an instrument made by the luthier who will do the work. If you see he can't make a good sounding instrument, he will not be able to improve yours by regraduating or revarnishing. 

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Thanks for your input everyone. I will keep the instrument and carry on using it, I expect, because it is an absolute size match (coincidentally) for my usual instrument, which is slightly undersized. With a matching set up by the same Luther I can switch between the two easily. I just wish it sounded a bit better!

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1 hour ago, Clare@Iscaviolins said:

Thanks for your input everyone. I will keep the instrument and carry on using it, I expect, because it is an absolute size match (coincidentally) for my usual instrument, which is slightly undersized. With a matching set up by the same Luther I can switch between the two easily. I just wish it sounded a bit better!

Sometimes, the set-up can make a big difference. What strings are you using? A different bridge, or trimming your existing bridge can make a difference.

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1 hour ago, FiddleDoug said:

Sometimes, the set-up can make a big difference. What strings are you using? A different bridge, or trimming your existing bridge can make a difference.

If the bridge is abnormally thick/heavy, I'd agree that getting the weight and distribution right would make a significant difference.  Strings too, if you haven't changed them in a few years.

But from regraduating many violins (none of high value) as educational experiences, I stand by my original comment.  A quiet instrument remains a quiet instrument, and loud remains loud.  Regraduation mostly is like twisting a "balance" knob on an amplifier  in the "bass" direction (exception:  if the top plate is insanely thick, then both ends of the spectrum can benefit).  The notion that a delicate removal of wood in the magical places can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse is just plain false.  Wood selection and arching are baked into the result, and those are huge factors in what the instrument is capable of delivering.

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I find Don's comments interesting, in that wood and arching sort of set the floor and ceiling of an instrument.  I have a cheap instrument (100 bucks) that I was thinking of opening an regraduating just for the educational experience.  Sounds like it's better to leave it alone and learn something different.

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47 minutes ago, dpappas said:

I find Don's comments interesting, in that wood and arching sort of set the floor and ceiling of an instrument.  I have a cheap instrument (100 bucks) that I was thinking of opening an regraduating just for the educational experience.  Sounds like it's better to leave it alone and learn something different.

If is just a cheap instrument it might be fun to first strip all the varnish off of it to see if the sound changes.  Then regraduate from the outside surfaces while it is still strung up to see how the sound changes as you remove wood.  

This eliminates the problem of getting the sound post set exactly the same if you disassemble the violin and regraduate from the inside.  And it eliminates the work of regluing. 

When you're done revarnish it again to see how the sound changes.

If it never does sound any better at least it will probably look better and it might be worth 125 bucks.

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While I understand the aversion to regraduating violins, I think that for a great many instruments it was almost part of the making process.  So many pretty  grim sounding violins have been made playable for students. I did hundreds of trade fiddles  in my time.

I, and a couple of my friends have found ourselves regraduating our own instruments after 10 or15 years. All of us had the sense that the spruce had become stiffer over time,  also less translucent. All of us make new with pretty thick plates, mind you.

I realise that  I  run the risk of Jacob's wrath, and a firing squad, but there you are.

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29 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Those who know exactly how thick (or thin) the perfect Instrument should be, should make new ones.

There are only those who think they know, and believe there is such a thing as a "perfect" instrument.  

Most of us commoners take our best guess, hope it turns out decently, and diddle with it if the instrument (or the client) tells us to.

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2 hours ago, Fiddler45 said:

.....anyone?

8-12 hours.maybe as little as 4, lots of "depending on this that or the other"  I prefer to not do such things, I don't think fiddles should be opened up unless they need to be for crack repair or such.

The only times I've ever heard regrad help is on my own instruments that I was intentionally leaving stupidly thick in areas in order to do testing.

I mean if you can look to the ff's and see "stupid thick" as an indication that areas may be thicker than usual, well then maybe, but if the ff's area looks "average" you can probably assume the rest has been thicknessed "properly" and that this then leans in to what Don was saying, there is no turning bad wood choices around

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