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Bridge design for a 5 string


Deo Lawson
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Hey everyone,

To accomodate the extra string the bridge is a bit taller than a standard violin... actually I hope the neck drops some because I feel I overdid it a little. The body is also little bit wider overall. Anyway, I've already made a couple bridges but the results have not been satisfactory.

I've been getting a very dry bass response with piercing midtones (1-2kHz). The E string especially gives the impression of an icepick in your eardrum. Surprisingly the C string sounds the best right now. Does anyone have experience with balancing 5 string tone?

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2 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

The top is too thick.  Maybe the ribs too.  

The top is actually a little on the thin side, save for the very center. I'd like to explore the bridge and sp before tearing it up for any big changes

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What is the general thickness and the thickness at the very center?

Can you do a finger nail tap on the bridge and get a frequency response curve with Audacity software or with something similar?  

My impression from your description is that your high frequency fall off is starting at too high a frequency.  I try to have the fall off start around 3000Hz to avoid overly bright or harsh sounding notes.

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4 hours ago, Deo Lawson said:

I've been getting a very dry bass response with piercing midtones (1-2kHz). The E string especially gives the impression of an icepick in your eardrum. Surprisingly the C string sounds the best right now. Does anyone have experience with balancing 5 string tone?

Strong peaks in the "transition hill" range (mid-tones) is what I listen for when trying to tell if an instrument is new or very old.  The peaks seem to even out somewhat over time, even on new ones.  Also, a weak response in the higher frequencies will allow the mid-tone peaks to stand out in painful relief, which also is often a characteristic of newly made instruments.

So I think we're talking about tonal balance of a violin, not anything specific to a 5-string.   And IMO it has to do with the details of the arching and graduations and bass bar, not a simple thick/thin choice.  Perhaps something can be done with adjustments, but I would expect that to be very limited.

5-string fiddles should have a pretty nice C string, as the C# air mode will give a strong first overtone.

I assume this is a newly made instrument, and I'd give it a few weeks or months to settle in before doing anything drastic.

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1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

5-string fiddles should have a pretty nice C string, as the C# air mode will give a strong first overtone.

I assume this is a newly made instrument, and I'd give it a few weeks or months to settle in before doing anything drastic.

I make 5 stringers and it does sound like yours is too new to evaluate. The best advice is to give it more time to settle in before making any adjustments.

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3 hours ago, Derek Law said:

Image is extra bridge for my 5 string cut by the maker. For my instrument, the G string bow clearance is not sufficient, and I am going to bring it in and get the C string lower by a little bit.

E8A297AA-9565-4CFD-BA27-8C8E3C5B3A87.jpeg

Who is the maker of your 5 string?

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7 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

 

What is the general thickness and the thickness at the very center?

Can you do a finger nail tap on the bridge and get a frequency response curve with Audacity software or with something similar?  

My impression from your description is that your high frequency fall off is starting at too high a frequency.  I try to have the fall off start around 3000Hz to avoid overly bright or harsh sounding notes.

Generally it's 2.2-2.4 in the cheeks. In the very edges it's thinner, and thicker towards the seam. At the very centre it goes up to 3.7 or 3.8 I think.

I have made yet another bridge, looking at the one that was posted... With a much lower beam and more distance between the cutouts I've got the tone from piercing to just nasal. Still pretty mid-y but I'm optimistic that the bridge can still bring more sound out of this instrument. Maybe I'll post some photos later.

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7 hours ago, Deo Lawson said:

Generally it's 2.2-2.4 in the cheeks. In the very edges it's thinner, and thicker towards the seam. At the very centre it goes up to 3.7 or 3.8 I think.

If you're talking about the top grads, that's pretty extreme variation.  I started out with a similar graduation concept (thin cheeks and edges... the "speaker cone" idea), and generally found it to be loud... but with the excessive and unpleasant midfrequencies that you describe.  I don't do that any more, and use a hybrid of what I see in Strad/Guarneri patterns.  But arching probably matters more.

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I developed and sold several 5- string models 12+ years ago with a production shop. We tried a number of permutations, different rib heights, body lengths, fingerboard widths, largely to find out what the market preferred. Turns out I may have been overthinking it. I sold a few bespoke 5-string violas to symphony players with hand problems, but ultimately people seem to be looking for a fiddle with a decent C string. The final product ended up getting incorporated into the line of an established manufacturer and importer, and continues to be well received.

I started my design with the bridge, because the biggest drawback I found with existing 5-strings at the time was playability. I kept the same arch and string-to string spacing as on a violin, but just used a 45 mm bridge, since that allowed plenty of room. If you just think of it as a fiddle with a C string, you'll probably have an easier time of it.

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8 hours ago, charliemaine said:

 

Excellent maker. Could you possibly post body dimensions?

Measurements taken from form from the certificate:

LOB 383, UB 197, MB 133, LB 245. It is essentially a 15" (plus a little), but quite wide, absolute measures slightly wider and ratio-wise quite a bit wider than Gasparo Kievman, which was already on a class of its own in terms of width vs. length among classical instruments.

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6 hours ago, Derek Law said:

Measurements taken from form from the certificate:

LOB 383, UB 197, MB 133, LB 245. It is essentially a 15" (plus a little), but quite wide, absolute measures slightly wider and ratio-wise quite a bit wider than Gasparo Kievman, which was already on a class of its own in terms of width vs. length among classical instruments.

Thank you. So a viola then.... Lauren Rioux's 5 string viola made by J. Cooper is very nice. I've seen several other players with Cooper fiddles and they all look and sound fantastic. You're lucky to own one.

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5 hours ago, Don Noon said:

If you're talking about the top grads, that's pretty extreme variation.  I started out with a similar graduation concept (thin cheeks and edges... the "speaker cone" idea), and generally found it to be loud... but with the excessive and unpleasant midfrequencies that you describe.  I don't do that any more, and use a hybrid of what I see in Strad/Guarneri patterns.  But arching probably matters more.

I'd agree the arching is more important. You see this kind of very thin in the flanks, thick in the middle on a lot of Amati school instruments including Stainer, and it works well. The "Amati smile" can be seen in CT cross arch sections. 

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9 hours ago, Derek Law said:

Measurements taken from form from the certificate:

LOB 383, UB 197, MB 133, LB 245. It is essentially a 15" (plus a little), but quite wide, absolute measures slightly wider and ratio-wise quite a bit wider than Gasparo Kievman, which was already on a class of its own in terms of width vs. length among classical instruments.

A 5-string won't tolerate a high C-bout width (because the bow will run into the C-bouts), unless the player only tickles the top and bottom strings, or alternately, uses a bridge curvature flattened so much that the middle strings can only be tickled.

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10 hours ago, charliemaine said:

Thank you. So a viola then.... Lauren Rioux's 5 string viola made by J. Cooper is very nice. I've seen several other players with Cooper fiddles and they all look and sound fantastic. You're lucky to own one.

Thanks. The 5-string viola actually sounds like a violin (I was surprised when I first got it) with a very solid C-string, but to me even though it is 15", it sounds like a violin in sound timber (to my ears). I have a good instrument, I just wish I am a better player! Because ultimately it is the player who determines the sound and music.

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2 hours ago, David Burgess said:

A 5-string won't tolerate a high C-bout width (because the bow will run into the C-bouts), unless the player only tickles the top and bottom strings, or alternately, uses a bridge curvature flattened so much that the middle strings can only be tickled.

It is a trade-off, given the bridge structure (as shown in photo attached before) I am actually surprised that I never have problem with the A string. I am also perfectly fine with the D (but you can see there are lots of angles left for the D), and the E turns out ok. I feel I have too much room for the C string but not enough for the G as the bridge is currently cut.

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1 hour ago, Derek Law said:

It is a trade-off, given the bridge structure (as shown in photo attached before) I am actually surprised that I never have problem with the A string. I am also perfectly fine with the D (but you can see there are lots of angles left for the D), and the E turns out ok. I feel I have too much room for the C string but not enough for the G as the bridge is currently cut.

Would you describe your playing style as being closer to that of a "pusher", or a "tickler"?

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

Would you describe your playing style as being closer to that of a "pusher", or a "tickler"?

Probably more 'pusher'. On something like 3rd position as the string is pushed down by the left hand the bow clearance will require very exact bow angle, and at 5th or higher (if my left hand presses all the way to fingerboard) I believe is is physically impossible to get a clean sound, even if I tighten the bow to what I can accept as the max.

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21 minutes ago, Deo Lawson said:

Personally I found it very easy to manage the bridge curvature. The hardest part is learning that going all the way up with the right hand does not land me on the G string...

Takes some practice to get used to. At first I am often confused what string I was on ... 

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