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Tweaking gets tonal Breakthrough on "Stinky", and Trying to Mellow Out Booker & the Eastman!

Posted by fiddlepogo on Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Really, what instrument tweaking is all about is that I can't really afford to change the tone of my instruments by changing instruments- that is, by buying new ones.  And as they say "Necessity is the mother of invention!"

"Stinky"- so called mostly because the wood smelled funny, especially when I first got it- has been a problem for that last couple of years.  It was sounding good for a while, and then 3 solid weeks of rain about 3 years ago caused something to change.  And I've been trying ever since to get that good sound back, with no real success.

I had taken the label off, and that helped some, but it revealed a LOT of really hard glue... DEFINITELY NOT hide glue!  The dental pick wouldn't chip any off of it.... it's as hard as polystyrene.

And it bothered me, since I was SURE it was impacting the sound negatively, so I have been thinking of ways to remove some of it.

Well, I hit upon a way... and the odd thing was, like with the finish tweaks, I didn't have to remove MUCH.... rubbing a slice of cork around on top of it of the glue (using a dental pick to do the pushing and pulling) took enough off so that SOMETHING opened up- something in the bass, a clear, penetrating low voice.  Before, I could use "Stinky" for learning Irish tunes since it sounded kind of nasal and it reminded me of Uillean pipes, but it wasn't sounding very good on either Old Time or on the klezmer-oid tunes I've been doing, or on the waltzes.  Now the fiddle is singing again, and the low tones seem to be causing the fiddle to open up and remove some of the tightness that was making the high end harsh. And it's sounding good on Old Time, Irish, AND the klezmer-oid tunes- I haven't tried the waltzes yet, but I'm thinking they'll probably work fine.

The weird thing is.... it sounded good a couple of years ago WITH all the glue AND the label intact.  So maybe it wasn't so much that the glue was inhibiting the back from vibrating, as that, like I thought, the 3 weeks of excess humidity caused the end block to swell, and when wood swells due to moisture, it never shrinks back all the way down.  And so the end block being slightly larger meant the fiddle's internal volume (in the sense of SPACE) was smaller,,,, and decreased below some kind of threshhold needed to get low tones out of the fiddle.  By removing the label, I'd increased the internal volume somewhat, but taking off just a little glue tipped the balance, and the nice low tones are back.

Really, it was the fact that it had ONCE sounded good that kept me from trading it in- and I got REALLY close a lot of times... just disgusted and frustrated with the sound I was getting.  Stinky is sounding so much better that I may have to rename it- I think it got that nickname because while the odd smell from the wood has decreased, for a long time, the tone was stinking!!!  In the process of trying to get the good tone back, the fiddle has gotten a new sound post (the post tended to drop), a new bridge (the fiddle once sounded better with Booker's identical looking bridge on it) and a new chin rest.  All helped a but really not enough.

I've been tweaking Booker my main fiddle too.  One thing that's been driving the latest round of tweaks, especially on Booker is the feeling that I need to tweak out excess treble and harshness out of my fiddles.  While Booker has been doing fine at gigs, the people are farther away, and I'm wearing ear plugs.  At jams, I like to sit next to the jam leaders who are singer-guitarists... but that means they can hear the treble too- and one jam leader has commented on Booker having a lot of treble, and the other is often hinting that it's too loud!  So this last round of tweaks, I've been doing it without earplugs to get the fiddles to sound pleasant or at least tolerable even without them, figuring if I can tolerate them at that range, they will be much better for close quarters at jams.  I just checked it... yup.... sweeter sound, without the excess bite, but I think it still has the volume I need.

I also did some tweaks to the Eastman VL100 so it's getting more bass- but not the same one, since I want to leave it's label intact.  There is also some harshness I'm trying to tweak out of it too.  Not quite there yet, but better.  Have to stop now- time to get ready for a gig.

I also got an insight in how to make Third position fairly painless intonation-wise.  I'm not very highly motivated to play up there, so I've needed a trick, and this may be it. We'll see about that later.

(EDIT- later that evening)

Well, I started out the gig with Stinky... and in the bigger room it didn't sound QUITE as rejuvenated as I had thought, but played it a while... then switched to Booker, who was sounding GREAT.

I was using a K. Holtz on Stinky, continued using it on Booker, which is unusual these days, but then switched to the LaSalle carbon fiber that is my main bow for Booker.  Towards the end of the rather long fiddle segment, I decided to try a few tunes on Stinky with the LaSalle carbon fiber, and was pleasantly surprised at how much better it sounded that way- much less nasal... I think the fiberglass bow is heavy enough to choke the strings on Stinky somewhat and hinder the lows.

Anyway it was a relief to find that at the end at least, both fiddles sounded good in that room which is a good room for fiddles.... if they can't sound good there, they're HURTIN'!

8 comments on “Tweaking gets tonal Breakthrough on "Stinky", and Trying to Mellow Out Booker & the Eastman!”

Rene Says:
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 @2:12:50 PM

I'm thinking perhaps your ears and hearing are a little better than mine :)

fiddlepogo Says:
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 @10:35:32 PM

Maybe.... or maybe a little more delicate to to injury- both ears now have had ear infectons that make them a little more sensitive to treble. Also, I spent 5 years getting into electric blues guitar (mid-life crisis thing! ;^D) and turning into a tone freak about my Stratocasters and "signal chain" (all the effects, cords, and the amplifier the guitar signal goes through before coming out the speaker). I decided I didn't like spikey treble and most of what I did was to either tone down the treble, or increase the low end and mids to balance it out. Someone jokingly diagnosed me with "Compulse Guitar Tweaking Syndrome"... and after I got into fiddle again, I wondered how I would find ways to tweak them without there being any screws to replace.... well, as you can see, I found ways!!! And the goal is the same- either decrease the spikey treble, or increase the lows and sometimes mids to balance out the highs.

richdissmore Says:
Thursday, February 23, 2012 @8:24:20 AM

try this put your fiddle in a closet with a 100 watt ligth blub to drive out wet or damp fiddles it worked in vetnam were it is very damp keeped our guitar necks strate i don,t see why it woun,t work leave the ligth on when in storeage this could help

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Thursday, February 23, 2012 @2:06:55 PM

You keep tweaking your fiddles and you wont have any fiddles left for to tweak! There's only so much wood and varnish on em! Are you still rubbing 'em with baking soda?

Rene Says:
Thursday, February 23, 2012 @4:35:33 PM

FP you've become the ultimate Treble Tweaking Tweaker

fiddlepogo Says:
Thursday, February 23, 2012 @8:20:59 PM


Yeah, I've heard of the lightbulb trick.... I should have done something like that... but the thing is, here in California that happens so seldom... rain tends to come a week at a time, and so far that hasn't caused problems.

Humbled- Actually I'm not doing the baking soda thing much anymore... I'm using more subtle and gradual means than that- less messy, too!

There's still plenty of finish left on them. But at some point, it sounds good enough to me and I TEND to stop tweaking.
Like Rene says, I'm a Treble Tweaking tweaker, and there comes a point where the treble is no longer obnoxious.

Rene Says:
Friday, February 24, 2012 @7:07:39 AM

Fp the TTT

richdissmore Says:
Saturday, February 25, 2012 @11:47:14 AM

remember it rains in vetnam some times more then a week at a time it rains for three months at a time but when its not raining there is hi humidy it is best to keep temp. and humidy in check it may keep the humidy regular temp it sounds like you have to try some thing to keep you from tweking so much there is no need to do this and humidy can cause trouble you keep moveing things a round to find the trouble i think your beating your self up for nothing or may be you need to buy better fiddles i don,t know i,m gussing just some thing to think about

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