Can tailpiece tap tone tell us anything about the quality of an instrument or its setup?


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I'm looking for a new professional violin, and whenever I try a new one I like to tap the tailpiece just to see what it sounds like. Every tailpiece seems to have a different pitch and different decay time, and sometimes a tailpiece will put out a dissonant collection of several pitches at once. I've noticed that on the nicer-sounding instruments I've tried, the tap tone of the tailpiece seems to match that of the body of the instrument (if it's a pure tone). However, from what I understand, too much resonance behind the bridge can cause wolfiness. 

I'm not a luthier, just a performer, so I'd like to know if anyone thinks there's actually a connection here, in their experience. Does the tap tone indicate some quality of the violin, or just the tailpiece itself? Should this be taken into consideration when choosing tailpieces? Or does the tone only reflect some aspect of setup?     

 

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14 minutes ago, Mark Norfleet said:

Really?!

It’s something I do regularly when trying to track down sound and response problems on an instrument.  

Yes, you or I,  but not a player!

Yes, the mass, the afterlength, ect, but if a player went through your stock of instruments tapping the tailpiece to decide which instruments to play or not, what would you do?

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1 minute ago, duane88 said:

Yes, you or I,  but not a player!

Yes, the mass, the afterlength, ect, but if a player went through your stock of instruments tapping the tailpiece to decide which instruments to play or not, what would you do?

Don't worry, I do this purely out of curiosity! I play every violin and only tap afterwards just to see. 

I'm looking for any sort of perspective and discussion from a purely acoustical and technical point of view. 

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Maybe it would tell you something if.

1. The tailpiece would be the same material on the same tailpiece model with the same length and the same mass.

2. The tailgut would be the same material and length between lower nut and tailpiece would be on each instrument the same

3 The force of the pulling strings would be the same 

But I guess, just playing the instrument tells you more, or not?

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8 hours ago, duane88 said:

Yes, the mass, the afterlength, ect, but if a player went through your stock of instruments tapping the tailpiece to decide which instruments to play or not, what would you do?

To elaborate a bit..., it's not always easy, but I try to listen openly to the observations of players and do my best to make sense of and learn from them.  This has led me to a few valuable insights about the things players perceive and how I can at least attempt to satisfy them.  If a player had decided to not even try an instrument as a result of what they heard by tapping a tailpiece, I would invite them to try it and leave it at that.

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23 hours ago, Bodacious Cowboy said:

Please could you explain in more detail, Mark?

Along with others I don't think tapping the tailpiece can tell one much about the basic potential quality of the instrument, but if there are extraneous noises coming from it, noises that would not necessarily be heard while playing, it can be quite indicative of an instrument that is not working it's best, both in overall sound quality and response characteristics.  If I hear any sort of fuzz, buzz or rattle when tapping the tailpiece I track down and eliminate or at least significantly quell the source.  Likely sources include chafing of a treble string on a fine tuner, a loose string rider, rattling between the TP and the gut/tail adjuster or even loose overspinning wire on the balls at the end of strings.

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The sounds you hear when tapping a tailpiece might not have much to do with the actual modes of the tailpiece... like tapping a bridge doesn't tell you much about the modes of the bridge.  Most of the sound is going to be coming from modes of the body that get excited by tapping the instrument somewhere.  With that in mind, there might be a bit of information about the sound of the instrument itself that comes out when tapping the tailpiece... but far less than tapping the bridge, and super-far less than playing it.  

Some tailpiece vibration modes can be adjusted to mesh with the instrument modes in ways that even out the response, or make it worse.  It's very tedious to do, and it helps a lot to know exactly what vibrations you're working with and what effects to listen for.  I'd only do that now for violins with a specific problem resonance, but almost always I just set up the tailpiece in the same way that works.

This is all assuming a solid setup; as Mark says, tapping the tailpiece is good for checking for rattles and buzzes, like tapping the edges of the instrument to check for open seams.

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On 12/3/2020 at 4:43 PM, Ethan45vio said:

I'm looking for a new professional violin, and whenever I try a new one I like to tap the tailpiece just to see what it sounds like. Every tailpiece seems to have a different pitch and different decay time, and sometimes a tailpiece will put out a dissonant collection of several pitches at once. I've noticed that on the nicer-sounding instruments I've tried, the tap tone of the tailpiece seems to match that of the body of the instrument (if it's a pure tone). However, from what I understand, too much resonance behind the bridge can cause wolfiness. 

I'm not a luthier, just a performer, so I'd like to know if anyone thinks there's actually a connection here, in their experience. Does the tap tone indicate some quality of the violin, or just the tailpiece itself? Should this be taken into consideration when choosing tailpieces? Or does the tone only reflect some aspect of setup?     

 

When experimenting with a range of different tailpieces (ebony, plastic, rosewood, boxwood,  aluminium, composite on a well played Stainer Copy that had a D string wolf tone I found that a cheap Chinese rosewood tailpiece with 4 nasty and cheap fine tuners created a far worse -  dreadful wowowing wolftone on the D string. The wolf tone all but disappeared when I fitted a Wittner composite integral tuners tailpiece to it. 

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On 12/5/2020 at 7:16 PM, Don Noon said:

The sounds you hear when tapping a tailpiece might not have much to do with the actual modes of the tailpiece...

(...) Some tailpiece vibration modes can be adjusted to mesh with the instrument modes in ways that even out the response

Don, it's a very good remark you made here.

I don't have my notes from my Cremona school years at hand, but I remember some articles from the Catgut Acoustical Society  written in the 90s. The main vibrating frequencies from the violin corpus, neck, fingerboard and tailpiece were listed, and the modes were illustrated and placed over a piano keyboard for reference.

 I don't remember the process that was described in the papers, but it probably was making a set of tailpieces available in different weights and lengths, plus some plasticine and small weights (I have found small metal printing types, birdshots etc.) to change the weight a little. But, the tailpiece fastener also matters. Changing the tailpiece fastener length and elasticity makes the resonating frequency move too.

Carleen Hutchins wrote that tailpiece tuning was a useful practice in adjusting the response of some violins. She provided anecdotal evidence in the paper but not much about the methods for measuring the vibrating frequency. Maybe she did so in other papers.

 

 

Edited by Giovanni Corazzol
corrected date of CAS paper
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21 hours ago, DuffersEdge said:

When experimenting with a range of different tailpieces (ebony, plastic, rosewood, boxwood,  aluminium, composite on a well played Stainer Copy that had a D string wolf tone I found that a cheap Chinese rosewood tailpiece with 4 nasty and cheap fine tuners created a far worse -  dreadful wowowing wolftone on the D string. The wolf tone all but disappeared when I fitted a Wittner composite integral tuners tailpiece to it. 

The results could have easily been the opposite on a different instrument. That's the problem with small sample sizes.

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12 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

The results could have easily been the opposite on a different instrument. That's the problem with small sample sizes.

I 100% agree. My point was not that Witner composite tailpieces are best for reducing wolf tones ( I do not have the data to claim such a thing) I made the information of my sole trial available to the thread author simply to confirm what they said regarding tailpieces being related to wolf tones and their reduction in some cases. Of course, not in all. 

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2 minutes ago, DuffersEdge said:

I 100% agree. My point was not that Witner composite tailpieces are best for reducing wolf tones ( I do not have the data to claim such a thing) I made the information of my sole trial available to the thread author simply to confirm what they said regarding tailpieces being related to wolf tones and their reduction in some cases. Of course, not in all. 

OK, thanks for explaining, and for your contribution.

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