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What can be done to make your violin sound best and which part can make the difference?
First, we must see how the sound is being created.
When the bow touches the strings it commends a vibration. This vibration is transmitted through the bridge to the top plate. From the top plate the vibration moves to the back plate through the sound post and ribs. As air inside starts vibrating, sound comes out from the ‘f’ holes. Both bridge and sound post are very important in creating this sound.
A second factor is playability. When you play the instrument easier, you can produce a better sound from the instrument. This is mostly affected by shape of the bridge, conditions of pegs, string hight, fingerboard, etc.
To adjust the sound we check all fittings and accessories.
Let’s check each factor;
The bridge must be standing centred to the ‘f‘ holes(not too much right or left). This is sometimes difficult because the fingerboard is not aligned or the ‘f’ holes are not symmetrically placed. In which case one must make a compromise different to each instrument.
Ideally the distance from the top edge to the bridge is 195 mm. (400mm for Cello) Which is around the height of the cut of the ‘f’ holes. This can vary slightly, but never more than a couple of mm.
The back of the bridge should be angled 90 degrees to the top plate. The back of the bridge must be completely flat whereas front side is slightly arched. It is very common that a violin bridge tends to bend towards the fingerboard and the cello bridge bends towards the tailpiece. This happens due to pulling of the strings each time you tune.
The sound post is a small piece of spruce standing inside of your instrument just behind the bridge. It helps to support the top against the pressure given by the strings and transmits the vibration of the sound to the back of the instrument.
First let’s check if the sound post is standing in the right position.
The standard position of the sound post is around 3mm behind ( 5-7mm for cello) the bridge and 1¬2 mm inside of the outer edge of the bridge’s feet. In theory the bass bar and the sound post are symmetrically placed.
After checking the sound post is standing in its standard position making proper contact the adjustment can start.
Normally, nearer to the bridge produces a clearer sound. When the sound post stands too far from the bridge your instrument tends to sound rough. Standing with higher tension, it creates stronger sound. These are movements of less than 1 mm. In order to get it placed right several trials are needed. It is a good idea to sit with your violin maker for good half-hour to move, try and find out best for you.
Once you find the perfect position it doesn’t mean this is always will be the perfect position beecause instruments are made with wood, Changes caused by temperature and humidity often occur. So, if you notice that your instrument is not sounding the way it used to, get it checked!
The nut is a small ebony block where the strings touch the upper fingerboard.
The nut is small part but important to the playability.
The fingerboard is made from solid ebony wood. It is not a perfect cylinder shape but it is hollow in the centre. If it is not hollow, the G string hits against the fingerboard and will make noise.
With pegs it’s the same as with the fingerboard; regular maintenance is something that cannot be missed. After years of hard work pegs turn not too smoothly anymore. This is when a peg needs to be reshaped.
Pegs must move easily but at the same time must stay in place when your instrument is tuned. Hard to move or extra force needed to stay tuned is not good.
The instrument itself is very important, but keeping it in good condition and regular sound adjustments are important just as much.
Just a slight movement of the bridge or sound post sometimes makes a huge difference in sound. Any instrument has the possibility to sound openly and freely. If you find it difficult to get the sound out, there might be something wrong. Please get it checked!
Bring your instruments once in a while to a violin maker specialised in sound adjustment.
Sound adjustment can be personal. Each person has a different ear and each violin maker different techniques. Go to someone you trust and share with the feeling of the sound, then try bit by bit!
Here I wrote something very general. I hope it helps you to understand the condition of your own instrument and that you will get the maximum out of it.
A happy musical life to you!
Tomoko Koizumi , violin maker and owner of Haagsche Viool en Cello