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Leon Bernardel, setup question


Michael Richwine
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I just finished refurbishing and setting up a 1920s Leon Bernardel violin that I recently acquired.  Before I do much work on a violin, I do a quick, cursory setup with cheap strings to get an idea what a particular instrument might have to offer,  to see whether it would be worth putting much time into. Knowing that this wasn't going to be worth a lot of money in any case, it still sounded like it had some potential, so I went ahead and cleaned it up pretty well, made some ugly scratches go away, polished it up, and put in a proper setup. I thought my efforts were rewarded, since it sounds big, open and warm, fairly focused, powerful, but not as clear and radiant as some of my best fiddles.

The big problem is that the G string "chokes" up high, sounds strangled. It might just be my bow technique, but other , similar value violins that I have set up the same way with the same strings don't  choke that way, only student quality violins, IME, and not ones that start out sounding so good and responding  so well. Am I missing something regarding setup? Is there something that others do as a first response to try to improve response high on the G string, or is it just a sign of a weak violin? I'm curious and a little disappointed, because I had better expectations based on early indications and experience. (I've had instruments that were a little disappointing on initial setup, but which came alive after a few days of playing or just hanging around the shop, and showed that spark that takes them from OK to exciting, especially old instruments that had been dormant for decades.)

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For broad discussion, is the sensation that you are losing the "fundamental," the lower frequency? Is this just above the harmonic ( octave ) or even higher?

There used to be a lovely dealer decades ago who sold amazing instruments and his comment regarding ( like others ) playing a particular way, would remind us not to do that. And I know the reality is that disappointments surface. 

If you have a lower tension g- string, one can trouble shoot a bit. But some instruments collapse tonally in the lower end when certain parts might be too thin or intolerant of being "pushed." But having said all this, which you know, just like wolfs/ wolves, better players learn to play past them. How is the low end in the lower positions?

Not a satisfactory answer, I realize, but respectfully a start. 

 

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1 hour ago, GoPractice said:

For broad discussion, is the sensation that you are losing the "fundamental," the lower frequency? Is this just above the harmonic ( octave ) or even higher?

 

 

It sounds like  a dog having its tail wrenched. I.e., it sounds like I don't know how to pull a bow above the octave  and I'll be the first to admit to being a poor player, except for the fact that I can normally pull a decent sound all the way up the G, and that's generally one of the first things I do when I get to know a violin. My next course of action is to get some of my more skilled player friends over to play the fiddle and see whether it's just me, or the instrument.

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1 minute ago, Michael Richwine said:

  ( ... ) My next course of action is to get some of my more skilled player friends over to play the fiddle and see whether it's just me, or the instrument.

This is the strangest thing. We all have different experiences.

The initial check is important. Then beyond the reference check, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th opinions might matter.

The Amo G- is interesting. I use a high and low tension g- Dominant as a reference. This might be wrong, but they have been around the longest. Has the tone/ feel improved? 

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Based on a PM from one of our members (MD), I tried a slightly longer post, fit a bit tighter. I'm not done yet, but the one I put in fits perfectly so far, a bit farther inboard than I normally set them, a couple of mm farther in than the bass bar, and tight enough that I'm reluctant to move it around any more tonight. The G still sounds strong and focused in lower positions, and the D, A, and E sound even better than they did before, with even more of an open, rich sound than they had before. The G sounds better up high as well, and I'm eager hear what it has to "say" for itself in the morning.

I've had a couple of violins lately that responded well to sound post setups rather different than my "usual".  Now I have to figure out how, when and where to apply the lessons learned!

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2 hours ago, GoPractice said:

 

The Amo G- is interesting. I use a high and low tension g- Dominant as a reference. This might be wrong, but they have been around the longest. Has the tone/ feel improved? 

Amos have a nice warm sound that appeals to advancing violin students and mid-market buyers. The maker/ importer I used to work for puts them on all their step-up instruments.  None of my pro customers use them that I know of, but I thought they were apropos for this violin. Might have to change my mind if it keeps improving.

AFAIK, Dominants are still a good reference standard. Everybody in the violin world is familiar with them, it seems, so they provide a good basis for comparison. 

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Michael, I have found that the capability to play easily in the upper positions on the G-string without losing tonality or timbre is one of the playing qualities that can separate good violins from great violins. There are a lot of violins that sound good everywhere else, but lose it on the upper G. 

A trade-off is that violins that have good resonance on the high-G are also the the ones that tend to have wolfs in the high B area on the G (in my experience). 

I have tried the Kaplan Amo and Kaplan Vivo strings sets and liked the tone, but found their texture a bit rough under my fingers.

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30 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

Michael, I have found that the capability to play easily in the upper positions on the G-string without losing tonality or timbre is one of the playing qualities that can separate good violins from great violins. There are a lot of violins that sound good everywhere else, but lose it on the upper G. 

A trade-off is that violins that have good resonance on the high-G are also the the ones that tend to have wolfs in the high B area on the G (in my experience). 

I have tried the Kaplan Amo and Kaplan Vivo strings sets and liked the tone, but found their texture a bit rough under my fingers.

It seems that the problem I was having with the G may have been related to a generalized wolfiness. Remember, I said it sounded like a dog having its tail wrenched? A tighter post, moved north, seems to help, and also resulted in a cleaner, more open sound from the other strings. I've got a bit more tweaking to do tomorrow, but I think I'm going to have an excellent player here, that's going to punch well above its weight.

One of the basic tests I do to evaluate an unfamiliar violin, other than some quick familiar figures and double stops and response tests, is to see how is sounds up the G, and how far up I can play a clean sound easily. Good, 2- minute test to see whether it's worth spending more time on.

I just checked the instrument beside me, and can't detect anything unusual about the texture of the Amos. I don't feel any roughness. Maybe they've changed?

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1 hour ago, Michael Richwine said:

I just checked the instrument beside me, and can't detect anything unusual about the texture of the Amos. I don't feel any roughness. Maybe they've changed?

Maybe. I just noticed that my fingers don't slide as easily on them. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In regards to wolfiness, I would think it unusual to have a lot of wolf tones on the G. In my limited experience, wolfs tend to happen somewhere around Bb - B, but when a violin loses tone on the high G it just gets scratchy and weak all the way up, what I think you describe as strangled, but these are not wolf tones.

But, as you suggest, the set-up can bring out the core tones of the violin, and sometimes cure this. I find it remarkable what a tiny horizontal move of the bridge toward the treble side can sometimes do to bring out a resonant bass without touching the soundpost.

 

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3 hours ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

Back length?

356mm.

Was off at appointments this AM. Not done with the sound post, but after settling in overnight with a longer post, WAY farther west than I intend to leave it, the G is still strong. The other strings are balanced and more responsive, richer and more open than before, and when you play a slurred scale on the D and A, the notes seem to pop, and bow response is crisp, so I'd say we're getting somewhere. Wolfiness on the G is much reduced. I could leave it as is, but I'll never be wise enough to leave well enough alone, will I? :rolleyes: Gonna try moving the post toward a more conventional position, step by step, keeping it tight, to see how it responds, since I'm not entirely happy with the G in the far upper reaches.

I think MD is right in that the tighter post controls the generalized wolfiness that was making the whole violin sound fuzzy, and showing up particularly badly in the upper positions on the G. I'd never made the connection before he brought it to my attention, but it certainly seems plausible in practice, and looking back on a couple of "problem children" from the past.

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I have a couple of violins that had high-G string sound problems - so I changed strings and that solved the problems completely.

I don''t know if my solutions would work for your Leon Bernardel so I'm reluctant to offer specifics, but one thing that worked without changing any other strings was to replace my E string with a Peter Infeld Platinum-plated E.

More recently I strung both violins with Warchal Timbre sets and they are both better than ever (50 and 20 years and counting).

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4 minutes ago, Michael Darnton said:

Speaking as a shop owner, it's a bad idea to try to set up or sell a violin with the restriction that it only works with certain strings. Especially when other solutions are available.

I feel this way as well. I was taught to adjust a violin so it would work well with any (good quality) set. Whenever someone comes in saying their violin “needs” a certain combination or set of strings, that’s an immediate indication to me that the violin is not set up and/or adjusted well. 

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I agree that it's preferable to solve as many problems as possible with setup.

Been trying various tweaks as suggested. "Normal" sound post position with tight post, close to the bridge doesn't seem to work, although it's better than starters. A careful chromatic scale with a sensitive tuning app shows little tuning instabilities all over the scale, i.e. "generalized wolfiness".

So far, a very snug post, set 5mm inside the treble foot, and 2 mm back from the bridge seems to be working best. Post snug enough to be hard to move, but doesn't raise f-hole wing appreciably. Most of the wolves are gone, but there is still a noticeable wolf at c5 on the G and D. Now it's time to play with afterlength, tailpiece variations, weights, and other remedies. 

I've got to keep working with this. With the wolf, I can sell it to fiddlers, but with the sound that it's capable of, I'd like to do what I can to tame the wolf. I'll work with some players to see how easy it is to work around once I've done the best I can. I 

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On 11/24/2022 at 6:28 AM, The Violin Beautiful said:

I feel this way as well. I was taught to adjust a violin so it would work well with any (good quality) set. Whenever someone comes in saying their violin “needs” a certain combination or set of strings, that’s an immediate indication to me that the violin is not set up and/or adjusted well. 

The higher in price and desire to own a piece of history, we are sometimes placed in this situation. Awkward sets aside, including gut, Diamond, internet cables aside. Some shops might go with the warmer sets until the instrument is regularly played.

Playability with Obligatos, or perhaps Amos, I find acceptable. I have to de- tune some instruments for students who find the response and the frequency tilt a bit to immediate or strident, mostly on violins but even with violas and cellos. Students will inevitably have to learn how to locate a sizzle.

But an affordable Testore held together by a Stark e- string might be reasonable? Seasonally, the efforts required are often related to what youngsters do, to get into whatever programs their parents desire. It might be helpful to re- establish what players want and what audiences would like to hear. It's difficult because the needs have become so different.

Most shops should deliver with 3+1 set ups, but sometimes, that Mazin needs a Stark e- and g- strings.

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