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Good-sounding travel violin


AmaliaB
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Has anyone published plans or specifications for a really good-sounding acoustic travel violin?  The ones I've listened to (on YouTube--haven't heard one in person) tend to sound a bit scrawny and thin.  Thanks!

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Traveling with a violin isn't that difficult since they're small.

I'm assuming (by acoustic) you are not interested in an electric violin, although that would work well for travel. Depending on the model, it won't be as prone to humidity issues and is certainly quiet to play when it's not plugged in (therefore the sound would be 'thin') but you can also play with all kinds of volume and effects when you do plug it in.

Otherwise I would just get an inexpensive "normal" violin. One that sounds "good enough" that you want to play it but is not so expensive you'd be upset if it happened to get damaged. To make it quieter to play - use a mute. There are also several different ways to mute a violin.

Any of the other, novelty types, of travel violins I've come across, are not going to sound great. There's a reason they are few and far between. Any slight decrease in size (so slight to really not be worth it) results in a decrease in sound quality.

FWIW, you could also consider a 3/4 size for traveling. It is significantly smaller, so you'd have to adjust your fingering etc., but that might not be a concern for you.

For traveling I'd spend more effort looking for a good case than for a specialty instrument. Something sturdy with convenient carry handles, shoulder straps, backpack straps, etc. 

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2 hours ago, Michael_Molnar said:

How’s a “traveling “ violin different from a violin?

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There's a reason for the size and shape of "regular" violins.  Reduce the plate size or body size, and you'll get something different.

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3 hours ago, AmaliaB said:

Has anyone published plans or specifications for a really good-sounding acoustic travel violin?  The ones I've listened to (on YouTube--haven't heard one in person) tend to sound a bit scrawny and thin.  Thanks!

I'd call it a camping violin or a pocket fiddle or a pochette or dancing master's fiddle if you're feeling fancy.

You might find some variety trying different models of vielles.

But I think the answer to your question is "no."  They are what they are.

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11 hours ago, Don Noon said:

6a00d8341c22ff53ef01b8d2dbb9a1970c-800wi

There's a reason for the size and shape of "regular" violins.  Reduce the plate size or body size, and you'll get something different.

It could sound like a violin in the highs lacking the normal lows. I think it is somewhat like the voice, you can hear and understand the whispering highs.
I filled a cheap violin body with cotton. It lost some of its lows, but did still have its highs intact. Boring to play over time I guess, but could work for practicing in sensitive environments.

Violins may be loud, but not like trumpets and brass instruments. The sound insulation is worst in the lows usually, but a violin doe not have much power below 250 Hz. That is fairly high and the sound insulation is usually not so bad there. 

 

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I think we need more information on what sort of travels you plan to do and what you'll be exposing the instrument to and whether you'll consider it disposable...

One of my customers goes on extended vacations with her parents and often needs to be able to practice while doing so to be ready for auditions etc when she returns home.  She bought a Lewis & Clark cello, which I was able to adjust to work pretty well.  

This was of course just for fun, and not a serious practice session...

https://youtu.be/-srL_OAe7oc

 

 

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2 hours ago, Mark Norfleet said:

I do remember a traveling violin@David Burgess made which was good for disrupting parties and meetings…

At the Cleveland VSA convention in 2016, he had a remote controlled violin with wheels on it. Driving it around the stage and the floors. :-)

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Do take a look at cases: for 150-200$, you can get slender cases that fit in overhead bins on most flights, but are strong enough to endure pretty rough handling if demoted to baggage (just make sure you throw a damp cloth in because the humidity often isn't).

For camping, my travel violin used to be a D pennywhistle. Then I upgraded to piccolo so I wouldn't be stuck in G & D.

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Thanks to everyone for your good suggestions!  But actually I was just thinking it would be a fun project to build one.   With a good plan to start from, I wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel.

If I do start from scratch, I have a lot of questions about what would give it the best sound, within its limitations.

For example, I imagine a wider body would be better than narrower (say, 6" instead of 4"). But what about depth? Would deeper or shallower have more resonance?  Same for lower or higher arching.  And shape--is a "waist" helpful acoustically, or is it just necessary on a full-sized instrument? 

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15 hours ago, AmaliaB said:

Thanks to everyone for your good suggestions!  But actually I was just thinking it would be a fun project to build one.   With a good plan to start from, I wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel.

If I do start from scratch, I have a lot of questions about what would give it the best sound, within its limitations.

For example, I imagine a wider body would be better than narrower (say, 6" instead of 4"). But what about depth? Would deeper or shallower have more resonance?  Same for lower or higher arching.  And shape--is a "waist" helpful acoustically, or is it just necessary on a full-sized instrument? 

@Marty Kasprzykis the guy to talk to for unconventional instruments that sound good. I'd go his route and make one with flat plates, braced internally. Use an inexpensive local  hardwood like walnut for the body, forego a scroll, and spruce or Paulownia for the belly, split perfectly on the quarter. Messing with rib depth can get weird fast. A stiff rib structure seems to be good (Andreas Preuss). From here I'll ask the tuners to take over. 

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In addition to searching Marty Kasprzyk's posts, you might want to google "savart violins" and "trapezoid violins" (Savart was king of trapezoid violins). I just tried that and it was interesting: it seems the trapezoid people are intersecting with the balsa-wood top plate people. 

The 19th century American painter William Sidney Mount is also interesting re flat-topped fiddles. If you want to know about what he was doing, here's a place to start.

https://www.rickertmusicalinstruments.com/2011/03/the-william-sidney-mount-historic-1852-cradle-of-harmony-violin.html

 

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For soloists newly made instruments are often travel violins one concern there is customs taxes which can become enormous for antique violins and hence require to fill forms. You also can’t have rosewood etc any more. However, good new violins also cost a fair amount of money. 

If you are looking for something really cheap that sounds and costs only a few hundred I would buy some Chinese on eBay. Some of them do have a reasonably good sound. 

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1 hour ago, uguntde said:

you are looking for something really cheap that sounds and costs only a few hundred I would buy some Chinese on eBay. Some of them do have a reasonably good sound. 

You only have to buy a few hundred of them to find one that doesn't sound like a tin box.

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11 hours ago, Al Cramer said:

In addition to searching Marty Kasprzyk's posts, you might want to google "savart violins" and "trapezoid violins" (Savart was king of trapezoid violins). I just tried that and it was interesting: it seems the trapezoid people are intersecting with the balsa-wood top plate people. 

The 19th century American painter William Sidney Mount is also interesting re flat-topped fiddles. If you want to know about what he was doing, here's a place to start.

https://www.rickertmusicalinstruments.com/2011/03/the-william-sidney-mount-historic-1852-cradle-of-harmony-violin.html

 

Mount's 'cradle-of-harmony' violin's influenced me to make some bent top and bent back violas like his.  Attached is a photo of one of them which uses a spruce guitar plate which is easily bent to shape for the top.  The back is two layers of thick curly maple veneer vacuum bag laminated to shape over a mold. 

Screen Shot 2021-03-11 at 3.53.43 PM.png

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I made this travel fiddle years ago for an extended trip around the world in mostly developing countries. It sounds as bad as you'd expect, but is ergonomically very close to a regular fiddle, and fits in a small bag.  The neck and body are made of a single piece of mahogany, the top is cherry.  I also modified a Glassier bow to split in half so I could practice on a full size bow.  Now I usually use a 1/8 size bow because it's a bit quicker and less fussy for quick playing, and fits in the case.

When I was traveling I used a 4" Lexan tube as a case so it was basically indestructible.

I had never made an instrument before, and was just learning to play, but it still serves me well 20+ years later.  I always throw it in the car when taking a trip in case I have some extra time to kill.  I play old time fiddle, so I don't have the same tonal demands as a trained classical player. 

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On 6/2/2022 at 2:01 AM, AmaliaB said:

Thanks to everyone for your good suggestions!  But actually I was just thinking it would be a fun project to build one.   With a good plan to start from, I wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel.

If I do start from scratch, I have a lot of questions about what would give it the best sound, within its limitations.

For example, I imagine a wider body would be better than narrower (say, 6" instead of 4"). But what about depth? Would deeper or shallower have more resonance?  Same for lower or higher arching.  And shape--is a "waist" helpful acoustically, or is it just necessary on a full-sized instrument? 

Do you want to use the standard violin 325mm string length and normal neck length or do you want something shorter?

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Hi Marty --

Thanks so much for sharing the photo of the Mount inspired instrument! (Please excuse my posting -- I should have said "bent-flat-top" instead of "flat-top"). Am very curious: the stuff I've read about Mount instruments says they're extremely loud. Did you find that to be the case? Also, how's the sound quality? Years ago I had a record of some classical violinist playing 19th century fiddle tunes on a Mount violin (I think maybe from the Smithsonian). I seem to remember the tone as being quite nice, but I was distracted by the fact the player couldn't fiddle, he totally butchered the phrasings & bowings. (He sounded as bad as me trying to play Mozart, except our mistakes are the exact opposites).

 

 

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The Smithsonian recording using one of Mount's violins might be this one:

https://folkways.si.edu/gilbert-ross/the-cradle-of-harmony-william-sidney-mounts-violin-and-fiddle-music/classical-historical-song/album/smithsonian

My similar violas were very loud but they sounded too bright because my top and back plate arch heights were much too high which made the instrument too stiff.

I suspect that Mount's instruments could have been very successful had he had the interest in promoting them more but his livelihood as a painter was a higher priority.  A lot of inventions fail to be commercial successes because of a lack of sales/marketing skill and effort rather than because they didn't work.  

I also think it is sometimes a mistake to patent some ideas because it prevents others from using them.  Therefore they are never widely adopted even though they might be superior to prior art.

 

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3 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Do you want to use the standard violin 325mm string length and normal neck length or do you want something shorter?

I would like to use the standard length if possible.

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Thanks Marty --

Your observations are much appreciated. American history is littered with these amazing odd-ball characters. Mount is one of my favorites. His paintings are actually pretty good, and speak to  a really optimistic social agenda. The guy makes me think of Walt Whitman.  I'm pleased to learn that his odd excursion into violin making actually had some merit...

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9 hours ago, AmaliaB said:

I would like to use the standard length if possible.

If you want your narrower violin to sound like a typical one then the various plate mode frequencies should be similar.

The plate mode frequencies are dependent upon the longitudinal direction stiffness and the cross direction stiffness which are in turn dependent upon the material's elastic modulus in these directions and their cross section shapes.

Plate stiffness S is proportional to the inverse of the width w squared:  S ~1/w^2.  So your narrower plate is naturally much stiffer in cross bending than a normal violin width plate and your violin will have a much brighter sound than normal.

One way of reducing the cross bending stiffness back to normal is to cut many parallel longitudinal grooves into a thick narrow plate.  Another way is to glue on many parallel longitudinal thin  braces  (like small bass bars) onto a thin narrow plate so that the plates are stiff in the longitudinal direction but real flexible in the cross direction to give something like single faced corrugated cardboard. 

Screen Shot 2022-06-04 at 8.31.56 AM.png

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