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String spacing and tone? Players with large hands?


Andrew tkinson
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I have large hands but luckily my fingers are not too wide and I don't have much of a problem with the string spacing on violins (admittedly I am not a classical player and am happy to play folk tunes and other things mainly by ear) Here I am brandishing my old full size violin.

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Here is a closer view, luckily my nails look clean!

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Here is another view showing the hand in a position of sorts! I do admit that I have made a nut with a little bit wider spacing for this violin than the very narrow old nut that was on when I got it (I have of course kept the old nut) to help accommodate my fingers.

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The reason I am posting this is because my brother has been discouraged from his violin playing pursuits because his hands are the same size as mine but he has thicker fingers and his fingers are less flexible as he started relatively late in life and his hands have been a bit 'beaten up' by manual work etc, I have suggested to him he start playing the viola his son no longer plays, but he has "perfect pitch" and finds that the different pitch of the strings, the low string sounds C instead of the G he expects etc, is off-putting and will take a bit of getting used to (especially when playing by ear). I am at times glad I have not got perfect pitch!

 

Anyway, after that long rambling preamble, I was wondering if any makers/repairers have been asked to make or adapt a violin with wider string spacing at the nut or bridge or both, and if they have what effect if any did they actually hear this have on the tone?

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Eloffe said:

My fingers aren't particularly thick but they are thick enough to make some passages difficult.  I use examples like this to encourage me to find a fingering solution rather than a "topographic" one. I don't think a fraction of a mm increase in spacing at the nut would be a problem but then I don't think it would solve the sausage finger syndrome.

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9 hours ago, Andrew tkinson said:

 

I have suggested to him he start playing the viola his son no longer plays, but he has "perfect pitch" and finds that the different pitch of the strings, the low string sounds C instead of the G he expects etc, is off-putting and will take a bit of getting used to (especially when playing by ear). I am at times glad I have not got perfect pitch!

 

 

 

Take the C string off of the viola and move the A, D & G over.  Put a Helicore viola E string where the A string was.

You would then have a large violin for your large hands.  Perlman might have benefitted from this this too but the Helicore viola E string wasn't available when he started.

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2 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Take the C string off of the viola and move the A, D & G over.  Put a Helicore viola E string where the A string was.

You would then have a large violin for your large hands.  Perlman might have benefitted from this this too but the Helicore viola E string wasn't available when he started.

Hello Marty, thanks for that great suggestion, I didn't know you could get viola E strings, I'll mention that to my brother, he is 6feet 6" tall so the viola will look like a violin when he is holding it.

However my real question was about how larger than usual string spacings actually effect the tone and sound of a violin (disregarding the playability issues that may be introduced) I would be really interested to know if anyone has any real experience of this and can tell me what they have observed?

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My advice would be to leave the string spacing alone and learn to play with what you have. 

Perlman has absolutely massive mitts and does fine.  My instructor has tiny hands and does just fine. I don't do nearly as well as either Perlman or my instructor - and string spacing obviously isn't the issue.

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2 minutes ago, Shunyata said:

My advice would be to leave the string spacing alone and learn to play with what you have. 

Perlman has absolutely massive mitts and does fine.  My instructor has tiny hands and does just fine. I don't do nearly as well as either Perlman or my instructor - and string spacing obviously isn't the issue.

Hello Shunyata, thanks for the advice, I have big hands and I do fine (but obviously not as fine as Mr. Perlman) and I understand that the usual spacings have "evolved" that way as they work very well for most people.

However my real question is still about how larger than usual string spacings actually effect the tone and sound of a violin (disregarding the playability issues that may be introduced). Has anyone any experience of trying this on an otherwise 'normal' violin? I would be really interested to know if anyone has any real experience of this and can tell me what they have observed?

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15 minutes ago, Andrew tkinson said:

However my real question was about how larger than usual string spacings actually effect the tone and sound of a violin (disregarding the playability issues that may be introduced) I would be really interested to know if anyone has any real experience of this and can tell me what they have observed?

Are you talking about string spacing at the nut? I have big hands too. I used to like a bit wider spacing (about 17mm) but am OK 16.5 or so these days. 

I wouldnt worry about tonal changes unless you have a super high performing instrument. You will run into other problems though, with strings being close to the edge of the board, fingers falling off. But if your fingerboard/neck is a bit on the wide side you might be able to gain some playability.

Marty's suggestion would work, but violas strung as violins dont sound quite right, and I always thought that helicore E was nasty.

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9 hours ago, Eloffe said:

Lol, when I was starting violin lessons (as an adult) I complained that my fingers were too big and my teacher had me watch a Perlman video. Problem (perception of fingers being too big to play violin) solved! :) 

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3 minutes ago, deans said:

 

Marty's suggestion would work, but violas strung as violins dont sound quite right, and I always thought that helicore E was nasty.

The light gage Helicore viola E string might sound a little brighter but not as loud as the medium and heavy gage ones.

Larsen also makes an E viola E string but I haven't tried those.

The violin's string length was increased about 200 years ago from 318mm to 328mm when gut strings were used.  Breakage was a problem for the gut E strings so the 328mm length was probably the maximum safe length especially when the A tuning was increased from 425Hz to 440Hz.

The higher strength steel strings now available could enable the string length to be again lengthened without causing a breakage problem.  If string length is increased  and the string tension is kept the same the only way of maintaining the same tuning frequency is to decrease the string's mass per unit length.

The decrease in string mass would make the strings easier to bow and would decrease the severity of any wolf notes.

This change in string length would create a huge opportunity for shops to again lengthen the necks and fingerboards or to sell longer 9/8, 5/4, 3/2 ...size new violins.

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20 minutes ago, deans said:

Are you talking about string spacing at the nut? I have big hands too. I used to like a bit wider spacing (about 17mm) but am OK 16.5 or so these days. 

I wouldnt worry about tonal changes unless you have a super high performing instrument. You will run into other problems though, with strings being close to the edge of the board, fingers falling off. But if your fingerboard/neck is a bit on the wide side you might be able to gain some playability.

Marty's suggestion would work, but violas strung as violins dont sound quite right, and I always thought that helicore E was nasty.

Hello Deans, thanks for your answer about the tone (and for not mentioning Itzhak Perlman :), I shouldn't have mentioned my big hands if I was really wondering about the effect of wider spacing on sound!) I can see what you are saying about fingers falling off the edge of the fingerboard, I think I will have to experiment and make the widest string spacing I can on a conventional nut and bridge and see what happens, and then maybe try a slightly wider fingerboard?

I wonder if no one has tried this much because no one asks for this modification as most players start young and adapt (I am ok with normal string spacing as I have been playing stringed instruments since I was about 14, and I am maybe easily pleased, but my brother came to the violin late when his children started to learn and found his thick stiff fingers a bit of a problem)

Thanks again for your answer.

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7 hours ago, Shunyata said:

My advice would be to leave the string spacing alone and learn to play with what you have. 

Perlman has absolutely massive mitts and does fine.  My instructor has tiny hands and does just fine. I don't do nearly as well as either Perlman or my instructor - and string spacing obviously isn't the issue.

 

17 hours ago, Eloffe said:

Itzhak Perlman does ok

So have either of you measured the string spacings on Mr Perlman's fiddles?

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10 minutes ago, Guglielmus Carinius said:

So have either of you measured the string spacings on Mr Perlman's fiddles?

Good point. Somewhere in the back of my mind is a story about Perlman playing the Heifetz David violin, but he requested some changes in the neck. I'm not sure if I got this right, maybe I'm just imagining this, and not sure what those changes may have been. 

I have definitely seen smaller players (hands) with narrower than normal setups.

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29 minutes ago, deans said:

Good point. Somewhere in the back of my mind is a story about Perlman playing the Heifetz David violin, but he requested some changes in the neck. I'm not sure if I got this right, maybe I'm just imagining this, and not sure what those changes may have been. 

I have definitely seen smaller players (hands) with narrower than normal setups.

Other people who worked on Perlmans violins may remember differently but as I said my recollection of the Soil is that all was exactly to Francais shop specs. I do not recall his Guarneri although I know he had one.

I have seen smaller players who preferred narrower necks but not too many who wanted narrower string spacing. I don’t believe any one has ever asked for a neck larger than 24.5 mm wide. I generally encourage normal necks and string spacing although I did just make a neck graft with a 23 mm wide neck for some one who insisted on it. I would not make a new violin with anything but a standard set up unless paid in advance for the full price. 
 

As far as tonal effects from string spacing I can’t imagine it would make a difference.

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In the past I used to make my violin and viola neck widths a few mm wider than normal.  If a player thought it was too wide I would just shave it down until they were happy.  This worked well but was time consuming.

I have now have started to use simple bolted on necks and I'll begin to make several different width necks that can be quickly switched back and forth to satisfy different people.  Similar to trying out different chin rests and shoulder rests.

I'll also make some necks longer than standard in various amounts to find out how far I can stick my neck out. 

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Just now, Marty Kasprzyk said:

In the past I used to make my violin and viola neck widths a few mm wider than normal.  If a player thought it was too wide I would just shave it down until they were happy.  This worked well but was time consuming.

I have now have started to use simple bolted on necks and I'll begin to make several different width necks that can be quickly switched back and forth to satisfy different people.  Similar to trying out different chin rests and shoulder rests.

I'll also make some necks longer than standard in various amounts to find out how far I can stick my neck out. 

I forgot to mention that I'll also offer interchangeable 5 string necks/fingerboards.

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1 hour ago, Shunyata said:

If your fingers are "too large" is a mm or so spread across four strings really going to make any practical difference?

I always found that the difference between 16.5 and 17 to be noticeable. If you could push 17.5, I think it would be significant, and a lot of pickier players might find it unplayable. But others might not even notice.

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21 hours ago, deans said:

Good point. Somewhere in the back of my mind is a story about Perlman playing the Heifetz David violin, but he requested some changes in the neck. I'm not sure if I got this right, maybe I'm just imagining this, and not sure what those changes may have been. 

I have definitely seen smaller players (hands) with narrower than normal setups.

Did Perlman play the "David" for any length of time?

I did cut myself an asymetric nut when playing a work with a 1/2 step trill on an Augmented 4th double stop. It sort of worked to help relieve the mashing of fingers. Then a teacher told me that it can help to push the inside string out like a guitar string bring to make space. I do that now. Widening the space ( 1+mm ) between the a- and e- strings helped a bit.   

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8 hours ago, David Beard said:

Big hands offer more advantage than disadvantage.   

Totally.  The usual thing is struggle with stretches.  That's exploited in Paganini, the reason it's considered hard.  Never heard of anybody struggling with half steps, except Perlman said on video half steps in the highest positions are difficult, or something equivalent to that

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22 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

It's an unusual website in that likely as not somebody here is the person who works on Perlman's fiddles, not just some bored random dude like us.

Is two times not enough? When the Soil Strad which was Perlman's go to fiddle at the time was being serviced at the Francais shop in 1993 the string spacing was 16.5. It is possible that he has asked for something different at this point but I would have to hear that from some one who has worked on the instrument more recently. 

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