Stay in Tune vol#112
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
I saw my first flowers popping their heads out of the leaves the other day so I can officially call it Spring. Even though it's still possible for more snow and a small frost I think it would be safe to try to put in some lettuce or spinach in the garden just about now. But Hey!, "What does that have to do with guitars"? nothing I guess It just seems that I always start out my articles by talking about theweather. I have know idea why I do that.
Anyway I have again been swamped in this week with a variety of different repairs. I have had two violins come in the shop the other day and one being of very good quality and the other obviously being of lesser quality. A student model if you like. The oddest thing that I have not seen very often (or never) was that the better instrument was set up in the worst way. For one, the sound post was on the bass side of the bridge and the bridge was very poorly fitted to the body and also in the wrong position. I wondered how any good sound was coming out at all. Obviously it wasn't sounding so good that is why the customer brought it to me. I had to remove the sound post and of course it did not fit properly into the correct position (which is approximately half of the diameter of the post between the back edge of the bridge foot and the front edge of the post). Of course you must start out with the bridge being in the proper location. The bridge should be located sort of with the front edge of the foot of the bridge parallel with the notches that are usually present on the inner and outer sides of the "f" holes. The feet of the bridge should land between those two marks and I like to favor the foot being closer to the notch that is closest to the fingerboard. ( usually the notch on the outside of the "f" hole). It can be a bit tricky to get the sound post to fit securely without being too tight as to put any undo pressure on the top or the back. I usually fit these posts with the strings in a slack position and fit it just tight enough so that it stands securely and is also fitted precisely to the inside arching of the top and back. These tapered ends can be sharp if not properly fitted and can do damage to the top or back It must be standing straight up and down and also forward and backward. You can take out the end pin that holds the tailpiece on and look through the hole to get a good view of the sound post’s position and whether or not it is parallel to the body. The positioning of the sound post is responsible for most of the quality of tone that the violin will produce. It is very important that it is adjusted to it's proper position. Moving it lengthwise with the body (backward or forward) can alter the tone. By moving it closer to the bridge usually produces a more intense , bright tone and farther away , a more mellow or softer tone. moving the post "laterally" can change the "tightness" of the top and can free up the lower registers and can possibly even out the sharp or brighter tones in the higher registers. It can be a complicated trial and error process and sometimes the suttle movements can only be heard by a very well trained ear. In my shop I never claim to be a "Master" violin repairman. Having said that, I have had very good success taking violins and cellos and making them into very good playing instruments. By refitting the pegs, readjusting or possibly installing a new well fitted bridge, new strings, and adjusting the sound post position, an old violin can come back to life.
Refitting the tuning pegs is a problem that I have found that many older or used violins have in common. The constant tightening and humidity changes over time can wear a peg out of it's round, tapered shape which can slip or possibly get stuck. I have even had them break off before. The pegs are supposed to be harder wood (made of ebony) than the pegbox (maple) which can also wear out the taper in the pegbox . The best way is to use a tapered reamer and a proper peg tapering tool. This enables you to get the proper taper on the peg and through the pegbox so that the pegs don't slip and the they also don't bind up. The problem is that these tools can be pretty expensive for the average violinist and the knowing the proper way to use them can also be a major factor.
Years ago, fine tuners were looked down upon and they weren't used very much because it was believed that the violin should have good fitting pegs so that the fine tuners were not needed. This process can be a little expensive 50 to 75.00 (or much more at professional violin shops) for a good peg replacement. The new fine tuners have seemed to take hold well with the new generations of violinists. It sure does make a big difference in tuning the instrument. Many violins are fitted with small "fine tuners " at the tailpiece which helps out the problems of tuning quite a bit. You can get the string pretty close to in tune and then dial the note to perfection with the fine tuners.
So if anyone is out there that has an old violin sitting in the attic or closet that needs to be dusted off and restrung up to bring back the playability of the violin or cello please give me a call at (440) 474-2141 and make an appointment for a set up . The price can vary some due to the extent of the problems, but most of the time violins can be setup and playing well for under $100.00 including strings. So until next time, Have great week! and please "Stay in Tune"
Patrick from Liam guitars/Wood-n-Strings