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Some Scary Tweaks and Prims give Booker a New Personality

Posted by fiddlepogo on Friday, June 24, 2011

I got into tweaking instruments with my Stratocaster electric guitar.  The thing is, most tweaks on a Strat are reversible- since many of the screws are machine screws.  If you don't like how the new screws sound, put the old ones back in!

Fiddle tweaking is scarier, since the tweaks aren't reversible, for the most part.  You are gambling the tone you now have for... well, you don't know what!!!  You hope it's an improvement, but sometimes not, or at least not improved enough overall  to keep it.  And then??? Another cycle of tweaking to hopefully get back what you had... but it will never be EXACTLY what you had.

And then, there is the difficulty of STOPPING something that's become a habit. 

Anyway, in the last month, I've had a COUPLE of times that I was really happy with Booker (the Knilling 4KF Bucharest's) sound, BUT I found something else to tweak, and lost what I had.

Then, a few days ago, in the process of getting back to something good, something unusual happened.

Booker has a number of virtues- clarity and a nice clear singing E string being the two main ones.  And somehow the clear E string has survived ALL the tweaks.  But this new tweak added something new.  BASS!!!  And Booker has NEVER had a significant low end- the G string always seemed a bit wimpy compared to the other strings.

At first the bass showing up in the G string made it sound like it belonged to a different fiddle.  Then a few more tweaks and playing it in caused it to blend better... BUT at the price of some of the clarity that Booker has always had.  It didn't sound bad, but part of me wanted the old Booker personality back.  (Booker has mostly had a bold yet smooth masculine sound that suits my concept of an Old Time fiddle sound very well )

Yesterday I jammed for the first time with a hammered dulcimer player up from another city on family business.  It went well- the percussiveness of the hammers and my percussive bowing style are a natural match. But we were jamming at the mansion, where I like to play on summer evenings, and Booker wasn't projecting as well under the awning as before, so I wasn't happy.  Oh yeah, and there was a gig I did before we jammed, and Booker didn't do as well there as a few weeks ago, so I REALLY wasn't happy.

BUT, the new local luthier had ordered a set of Prim mediums at my suggestion.  I had been thinking of putting them on Stinky, since she likes Prims better than Thomastik Precision Lights that I've used on Booker for around 3 years now.  My brain, knowing my history with Prims was saying they are a bright string and Booker is a bright fiddle, and that combo would be too bright, but some intuition told me to do it anyway in the hope that the new and different strings would make the tweaks and the new bass tones come alive.    I put them on last night, but wasn't able to play them, since the wife had gone to bed and requested SILENCE!  (sometimes she's okay with me fiddling her to sleep, though)

So I was in suspense when I got up this morning.


they WORK!!!  I actually like them!!

I'm glad someone told me Prims need some break-in time for the treble to settle down.  I didn't know that back in the 1970s, and took a set of Prims off my Guarnerius copy within the first few hours because they were so bright.

At first, they were definitely bright, but as I played, I could hear the edginess descend from a really high range, down, down, down, into a REALLY nice place where it's giving the low end some bite, yet without being harsh.

Slightly different feel, but one I can easily get used to.

Between the new low tones showing up in the G string, and the different flavor in general, Booker seems like a whole 'nother fiddle... and fortunately one I really LIKE!!!  With the admittedly old Thomastik Precision Lights, depending on how it was tweaked, Booker was either sounding almost too sweet, or too harsh, and I couldn't find a middle ground.

The Prims seem to have enough edge to allow Booker to BE BOLD like I want him to, but with some subtlety and smoothness too.  And an additional benefit- Irish tunes now sound really good on Booker, both the tone and that ALL the ornaments seem easier to execute, even the bowed ones!

WHEW!!! What a relief!

And hopefully I like the change enough to refrain from tweaking Booker anymore!!!

Now Stinky and Estelle (the Eastman) are a different story.  But actually I'm thinking maybe they just need different strings.  I'm going to put the used Prims that are on Estelle on Stinky, since she like them before, and then probably give Estelle something else- maybe Black Diamond 7207s, or Zyex.  I really need to get familiar with some more kinds of strings, but it's hard when they're so expensive.  One of the recent tweaking breakthroughs seems to help add focus to the bass and some singing instead of shrieky treble, but it doesn't take away the basic nasality I'm currently not liking about Stinky and Estelle (except on Irish stuff, when I think it makes them sound more like bagpipes!)  That nasality is either inherent in the fiddles, or inherent in the strings.... or maybe they just don't compete very well with Booker, and then I neglect them and they get nasal.

Oh yeah... one good thing about Stinky.... after a recent bout of tweaking, I heard something in Stinky that made me think it would sound good cross-tuned, and sure enough, when I put in AbEbAbEb, it sounded GREAT.

(GDGD- treble strings too slack, AEAE, bass strings too tight, AbEbAbEb- JUST RIGHT!!! Make the guitar and banjo players use their capos!!!)

So if nothing else, I COULD leave Stinky cross-tuned....after all, that's one of the reasons I bought her on e-Bay about 5 years back!!!

If new strings and a sound post tweak don't improve Estelle enough, I may trade her in on something else.

But I think maybe I just need to put some violin strings on her- sounding violinny has always been her forte.

(update edit- I didn't put the Prim E string on Booker, since the Westminster E has been working so well- instead, I put it on Estelle the Eastman since her E has been her biggest problem- as you go higher past the G, the tone changes.  With the string I had on it (not sure which, some special E) this tonal change was pronounced and unpleasant, but with the Prim E, it's more subtle and actually makes the quality musical.  She's still a tad grainier sounding on the other strings, but with the E sounding nicer, I may be able to make myself play her more and get rid of some of the tightness in the sound.)

5 comments on “Some Scary Tweaks and Prims give Booker a New Personality”

bj Says:
Friday, June 24, 2011 @7:04:34 PM

Gee, for someone who didn't want anything to do with Prims, you've certainly become a believer! LOL! Nice thing about them is that they sound good, crosstune easily and last a really, really long time. I got almost a year out of my current prims, but they're now starting to sound "off" so it's just about time to change 'em. They may not be the cheapest string out there, but they're a very good value.

WoodshopFiddler Says:
Friday, June 24, 2011 @7:21:43 PM

Hehe. Another Prim convert. Check his name off the list, bj.

If we could only get Humbled...............

bj Says:
Friday, June 24, 2011 @7:54:28 PM

HAHAHAHAHumbled? Yeah, right . . . Though I betcha Humbled's a closet Prim user . . . Probably has one on his secret "I really love Oldtime better than bluegrass" crosstuner . . .

fiddlepogo Says:
Friday, June 24, 2011 @8:34:59 PM

Although, maybe I spoke too soon!!!!
I come home after a guitar gig, then played Booker with the new Prims, and boy did they change just sitting in the case!
They are threatening to become midrangey.... we'll see tomorrow.... hopefully they'll be MOST of the way settled in by then.

I wouldn't say I'm a believer YET... I've learned to take fiddles and strings on a case by case basis. One fiddle will like 'em, another won't. But yeah, if a fiddle likes them, Prims have several things to recommend them, including long life and crosstunability- I agree.

fiddlepogo Says:
Saturday, June 25, 2011 @3:41:33 PM

And they're STILL changing. Now they're edgy and a bit grainy, but otherwise not too unpleasant. Whoever talked about waiting for Prims to settle in before you decide was right on the money as far as what I'm experiencing with Booker.

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