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How much does a soundpost off by 1cm (3/8") degrade the sound of a violin?


mezzopiano

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I recently bought this violin built about 15 years ago by a now late German amateur / hobbyist. It is unusual / wrong in multiple ways, but it happens to have a clear and loud sound. However, the sound is very thin and has little "body". I noticed that the soundpost is in a completely wrong position, i.e., completely outside the bridge foot (see image). I read that if the sound post positioned more to the treble side than ideal, the sound gets thinner.
Can I expect a substantial change in sound if I got a properly positioned soundpost?
Of course trying would be the easiest way to know, but I can still return the violin to the seller, so I would rather not take out the soundpost and have a new one fit before I know whether it's actually worth trying (the seller might not complain, but will not reimburse the costs for a new soundpost, which would be a substantial part of what I paid for the instrument).
Thanks in advance!

IMG_0295a.jpg

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Moving the soundpost to the usual position behind the soundpost foot may not work. If it fits where it is, it may be too short for the usual position, which would require a whole new soundpost. With the post in its current position, I would think that the front might be more prone to cracking, because there is no good support for the post foot, or the 75 lbs (x1/2 for 1 foot) of pressure from the strings.

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Thanks, yes, that's what I meant (sorry if that wasn't clear): the present soundpost is clearly too short for the correct position and a new one is needed. The question is: is a substantial change in sound to be expected with a new, properly fit soundpost (if that can be told in advance anyway)?

PS I am going to correct the title.

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  • mezzopiano changed the title to How much does a soundpost off by 1cm (3/8") degrade the sound of a violin?

Glass half full?

How much to improve the sound?

There are reasons that soundposts are not where they might be in a traditional shop. There are guidelines that help us ( hopefully ) determine what is working or not. 1mm is often too too much.

My intuition, given normal dimensions and reasonable grads, that there could ( would ) be improvements ( not in clarity ) but overall balance of the tonal range for the instrument. Without checking wood density or arching, there are plenty of things that might change, but go wrong? 

When someone is searching a significant distance away for the ideal soundpost position, it could also be a compensation for the player.

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5 hours ago, mezzopiano said:

...built about 15 years ago by a now late German amateur / hobbyist. It is unusual / wrong in multiple ways...

This aspect of your violin would be my best guess for thin tone with little body.  I don't think that a soundpost in the position shown would create the thin tone, although it might contribute... depending on details of the top and back graduations, etc.  It might also get an even thinner tone if you install a new soundpost in the "correct" position.

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May'yyybe something good, may'yyybe something bad. All you can do is try, keep the old one, pay for a new one, if you don't like, put the old one back, or pay to cut another. I don't think any luthier here or in real life can definitively say "it will be better" other than it being more structurally proper placement

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A reasonable guess would be that the treble might get a bit more 'solid' or smooth with a post in the usual area but you'd have to test it to find out.  Several things seem variant about that violin, purfling, ff holes for instance. It's hard to tell from the angle of the photo but is the distance between the ff holes less than the width of the bridge? If so that could affect the bass bar position.

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Thanks for your replies!

@LCF You are right about the distance of the ff holes. I attach a picture of the position of the bass bar, which seems indeed also off.

@Bill Yacey This might indeed be the case. I showed the violin to my teacher yesterday and his impression was - he has seen and played many violins, though he is not a luthier - that the thin sound may also be caused because the wood used for the top is very hard, either because the spruce is too dense and/or a hard varnish was used. Certainly the surface is quite bumpy. And it has a hairline crack from the left (base) f-hole upward with no sign of impact; my teacher's suspicion is that this might be because the wood used for the top might be brittle or incorrectly/insufficiently seasoned.

@Don Noon, I fear you are right, it's not just the soundpost. I was hoping for a "magic cure", because I actually like the romantic idea of playing this violin.

@FiddleDoug, yes. And the top plate seems to be prone to cracking already, so I am also wary of what might happen if I remove the soundpost and install another one that applies pressure to a different part of the top.

Another issue is that the neck would benefit from being reset (the height of fingerboard projection at the bridge is only 24mm) and from what I can see the glue was applied with a nozzle, not a brush, so I don't know whether the maker used liquid hide glue or rather some non-reversible wood glue, which would make it very hard to open, also to repair the hairline crack.
 
After all, I would tend to send it back.

IMG_0301a.jpg

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18 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

I would have thought that a new, longer soundpost is urgently required for structural reasons. 

There certainly is that.  With the soundpost outside of the upper eye of the F, you lose the longitudinal grain stiffness for the post.  That will cause the F wing to rise, and the treble F foot to sink... and it looks like that might be happening.

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40 minutes ago, mezzopiano said:

It also costed 1/40,000 of a Stradivari. The back of the violin is nicer, though :-)

 

Worth that much for the tailpiece and mute. 

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11 hours ago, Bill Yacey said:

If the sound is very thin, I would suspect the plates were left much too thick. A post adjustment won't cure this problem.

What's a "thin" sound?  Is it a lack of low frequencies, a lack of high frequencies, a lack of middle frequencies or various combinations?

 

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1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

What's a "thin" sound?  Is it a lack of low frequencies, a lack of high frequencies, a lack of middle frequencies or various combinations?

In this context, combined with the OP description of not having much "body", I would infer primarily a lack of the lower frequencies.  I think that would be the usual interpretation.  Middle frequencies would need more detailed descriptions, and even that would be iffy given that those decriptions could mean different things to different people.

If you're describing "thin sound" meaning thinly graduated plates, things go the other way.  But that's not the use here.

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18 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

In this context, combined with the OP description of not having much "body", I would infer primarily a lack of the lower frequencies.  I think that would be the usual interpretation.  Middle frequencies would need more detailed descriptions, and even that would be iffy given that those decriptions could mean different things to different people.

If you're describing "thin sound" meaning thinly graduated plates, things go the other way.  But that's not the use here.

I get confused easily"  We get a "thin" sound from having thick plates and get a "thick" sound from having thin plates?

It's easily measure the plate thickness but I don't know how to measure sound thickness.

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52 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

I get confused easily"  We get a "thin" sound from having thick plates and get a "thick" sound from having thin plates?

It's easily measure the plate thickness but I don't know how to measure sound thickness.

That's easy, you just measure all that empty space between your ears :lol:

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1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

It's easily measure the plate thickness but I don't know how to measure sound thickness.

You could measure the amplitudes of the low modes vs. the higher frequency output.

It's easier to listen, though... if your reaction is "bleah", then it's thick, if you cringe and grimace, it's thin.  Unless you're hearing is shot, then forget it.

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A related soundpost Q, which I hope is not too much of a diversion ...

Given all the discussion over the years about the age of wood being one (of many!) aspects that can create a beautiful sounding violin, and given that the soundpost and its exact position in any particular violin can clearly make quite significant changes to a fiddle's tone, I'm curious:

Is there any advantage or disadvantage to using "new" soundposts, cut from recent wood, as opposed to recutting and reusing old but still structurally "robust" soundposts?

Might old soundposts, with older wood, ever offer any tonal advantages? Or is the key to the "best sounding soundpost" come down to how the luthier cuts and places it — and have little or nothing to do with the age of the wood used for it?

I'm a player, not a maker, so apologies if this is an obvious or wrongheaded one(!)

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13 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

I get confused easily"  We get a "thin" sound from having thick plates and get a "thick" sound from having thin plates?

It's easily measure the plate thickness but I don't know how to measure sound thickness.

When the sound is going past you can reach up and grab some of it between thumb and forefinger and rub them together to assess it. You sometimes get greasy sounds, bumpy, velvety, gritty, woolley, wet, cool etc.

Sound is very tactile. 

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I understand it is difficult to describe sound quality in words. In my case, with "thin" I meant that the sound distinctively lacks overtones (as also confirmed by frequency analysis) also when playing empty strings, i.e. without even considering tonal balance across strings.

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39 minutes ago, mezzopiano said:

In my case, with "thin" I meant that the sound distinctively lacks overtones 

In that case, weakness in the higher frequencies could well be a result of the soundpost in that highly abnormal location... although the overall construction is still suspect.

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20 hours ago, quietlifemotel said:

Might old soundposts, with older wood, ever offer any tonal advantages?

Nope.  Unless your "tonal advantage" is a slightly longer ping when you drop the post on your workbench.

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On 6/5/2024 at 1:46 PM, mezzopiano said:

I recently bought this violin built about 15 years ago by a now late German amateur / hobbyist. It is unusual / wrong in multiple ways, but it happens to have a clear and loud sound. However, the sound is very thin and has little "body". I noticed that the soundpost is in a completely wrong position, i.e., completely outside the bridge foot (see image). I read that if the sound post positioned more to the treble side than ideal, the sound gets thinner.
Can I expect a substantial change in sound if I got a properly positioned soundpost?
Of course trying would be the easiest way to know, but I can still return the violin to the seller, so I would rather not take out the soundpost and have a new one fit before I know whether it's actually worth trying (the seller might not complain, but will not reimburse the costs for a new soundpost, which would be a substantial part of what I paid for the instrument).
Thanks in advance!

IMG_0295a.jpg

There’s also the probability that a luthier working in a music store just stuck in a sound post that he had on hand, and the post was a little too short. 
      This could easily happen if the sound post was inserted without removing the button. The sound post is located correctly with respect to the back of the bridge foot, and this is about all you can judge (by eye) unless you remove the button. 

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