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Steel Strings Cause Unexpected Change, Which Provokes Tweaking Causing More Unexpected Change.

Posted by fiddlepogo on Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yesterday evening after I'd rested up a little from the gig, I got Carthy out and started playing.  But the sound wasn't what it was before... even when steel strings are dead-dead-dead, it apparently takes a while for a fiddle to get used to them... also, the Wittner tailpiece gut is new and is still stretching.  Anyway, it sound like there was a whole lot of sound inside Carthy that was trying to get out but couldn't, if that made any sense.... soooooooooooo...

I started tweaking.

And the changes cycles around through pleasant and unpleasant as they always do until I got it to a place where it had the basic flute-like tone I've liked about Carthy, but without that bottled-up-sound-wanting-to-get-out effect... then... I noticed it.

Whoever put the fiddle together had been sloppy with the glue when they put on the fingerboard.... there was a trail of glue bumps running for inches under the treble side edge of the fingerboard overhang.  And I removed it... and....

Carthy's personality has completely changed....  much clearer E string, but no flute-like quality.

I played it for a minute, trying to decide if I liked it... and the dear wife said:

"Do you know what time it is?"

It was really getting too late to fiddle, so Carthy went back in it's case.

And now, after I start my coffee and the cat goes out I'm going to see exactly how much Carthy changed

and try to figure out what the new personality is good for!


You guys are right- I don't know when to quit.

However... if I don't like the new personality.... I suppose I could dab some glue along the same place!

(About 10 minutes later...)

Okay, cats out, coffee's in the cup and Carthy....

At first it was like the sound had shifted to the treble, but it wasn't altogether unpleasant, and after playing for about 5 minutes the lows started to come back- I guess I removed enough excess glue to qualify as a change that would need to get played in for the fiddle to get used to it. (sigh of relief...)

It's SOUNDING good on Irish, Old Time, and Klezmeroid, and actually the flute-like quality isn't completely gone, just changed somehow... it's sounding pretty good... BUT

fly in the ointment-  It feels REALLY tight.

Should I just try to play that tightness out, or should I do some loosening up tweaks??

Or maybe I should nudge the bridge forward a skosh- the bridge on Carthy has the most pronounced backward tilt I've seen.  I think that's supposed to be a good thing to keep the bridge from tipping forward, but it gives Carthy a longer scale length for the bridge being in the normal place.

What to do, what to do?????

Okay... tried it with the heavier K.Holtz bow that hadn't worked with Carthy before, and now it likes it- tight feel is gone..

(I guess the old Glasser with the wooden frog but no lining was too light now)

Playing more.... hey... I think I found something here!

Richer lows than Booker, not much edge, but just enough so I CAN do an Old Time tune and the shuffles won't mush out- they need some definition to make them work.  Irish tunes are easy... the more I play, the nicer the deep tones are getting and sounding good on the klezmery stuff in G minor.

It almost feels like I'm playing Booker, but the sound is different... and I think that's what I'm looking for.

In fact it almost sounds like it has synthetics on, but they feel like steel strings.

I think if I'm ever to go for synthetics, I'm probably going to have to put them on ALL my fiddles!

I really don't like the change in feel switching back and forth.

(still later)

As I played Carthy more with the heavier fiberglass bow, he started not liking it again... I think as Carthy gets used to a set of strings, it produces plenty of lows and mids... and it seems like both my K. Holtz bows strengthen lows and mids-

So when Carthy is played in with a set of strings, the K. Holtz bows give it TOO MUCH of  what it already has, and takes away the treble needed to give it definition.

I tried my heavy brazilwood bow that hasn't been getting much use lately since neither Booker nor Stinky like it...  and BINGO-   Carthy likes it... it pulls out Carthy's lows, but also has plenty of bite to give it definition.  Carthy also likes the Glasser fiberglass (with the unlined ebony frog and leather grip- not the plastic frog/rubber grip horrors!) which is lighter and pulls out a bit more treble than the K. Holtz bows.  I'm thinking that if any of my fiddles would "like" an expensive bow, it would be Carthy.

So, I think some of Carthy's problems will be solved JUST by keeping the fiberglass bows AWAY from it...  and I tried them both on Stinky, and you know what??? They are just what Stinky needs!  They cut the harsh highs, and add some lows, so Stinky sounds more balanced.  It's kind of a strange idea, because I've never kept both fiberglass bows in one case before- I always had them as a backup and as an alternative sound to whatever else.

And I tried the three fiddles, and it struck me that Booker has the most highs, Stinky has the most mids, and Carthy has the most lows.... no matter how you tweak them, they seem to retain those characteristics... you can add something else by tweaking (or swapping bows) to keep their dominant characteristic from being obnoxious, but you can'l eliminate that dominant characteristic.

10 comments on “Steel Strings Cause Unexpected Change, Which Provokes Tweaking Causing More Unexpected Change.”

richdissmore Says:
Thursday, March 22, 2012 @12:16:43 PM

i was thinking may be you need a new bridge is that one siting rigth?? or strate i had my luthier fix mine

fiddlepogo Says:
Thursday, March 22, 2012 @7:30:39 PM

Tilted back a little toward the tailpiece is okay, even a good thing... the main problem is that the angle is different that on Booker, which lead to them having different scale lengths and different feels.
Because I gig, AND because I'm picky, I want fiddles I gig with to feel the same, as much as possible.

Faire Fiddler Maid Says:
Friday, March 23, 2012 @6:20:05 AM

Wow.....nice blow by blow commentary..
I'm into string physics so the bottom line for me is how are the string vibrations initiated and sustained or dampened in their vibration. I would imagine that the capacity of each bow to do this is different..but is there also a human factor of how you are it really exactly the same in each case? In the end it is the final result that matters..a pleasing sound. Glad you are satisfied :)

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Friday, March 23, 2012 @6:44:20 AM

Well, I just wholeheartedly disagree, Michael, so much so that I may even read what you wrote.

Faire Fiddler Maid Says:
Friday, March 23, 2012 @7:01:41 AM

OK..I've thought some more and I'm quite interested in all that has happened...from a physics perspective.
You see, it all adds up to make the sound coming out of the box and there are many places you can effect the outcome.
The string vibration is effected by your finger pressing down on one end and the bridge on the other. When the strings cut into the bridge , it effects the vibration by limiting movement at that end. bridge angle would probably effect this. Then there is the transmission of the wave into the box via the bridge and peg inside the box. Positioning of these 2 pieces of hardware will greatly effect what goes into the the relative contribution from each string. Then comes the natural formants of the box itself which you identify as the dominant characteristic. That is how the box mixes and amplifies selective sound waves and what comes out is different than what goes in. That's why the shape of the fiddle box is how it is. I've noticed that different parts of the box vibrate when different notes are played.

Your experience really demonstrate the many aspects that add up to make that sound and how slight changes can effect the final output.

fiddlepogo Says:
Friday, March 23, 2012 @11:11:30 AM

Faire Fiddler Maid- I fear you are as finicky of a fiddle-freak as fiddlepogo!!!

And yes, glad you liked the blow-by-blow commentary... actually, I have to restrain myself from getting even MORE detailed!!!

Faire Fiddler Maid Says:
Friday, March 23, 2012 @1:13:27 PM

Yes, I admit I have a bad case of fiddle fever......and the scientist in me wants to understand ALL aspects of the instrument. I really enjoyed your post....thanks

Faire Fiddler Maid Says:
Friday, March 23, 2012 @1:30:10 PM

So ...speaking to my level of fiddle-freakishness, I'll tell you about an experiment I did.

At the last fiddle event I went to, there were many vendors with instruments. I wanted to find out if the difference between fiddle voices was related to this aspect of resonant vibration in the box. I solicited help from a friend who sang different notes into the instruments (using a tuner ) while I was holding it to feel the intensity of the vibration. We wanted to see if there were differences in which note set off the box and the intensity. Turned out all the fiddles resonated around the note C, even the 1/2 size ones. I was surprised. There was really no correlation between the price/quality and this crude measurement. The intensity of vibration was really beyond our ability to detect differences. It was all quite fun and interesting. As with most experiments, we ended with more questions than we started with :)

Larry Rutledge Says:
Saturday, March 24, 2012 @5:24:28 PM

Why put dead strings on or did I misunderstand?

fiddlepogo Says:
Sunday, March 25, 2012 @11:59:04 PM

Better dead strings that I like than new strings I don't like. Dead strings also give me a chance to hear how the fiddle will sound with the strings after the new string phase wears off- IOW, will that kind of strings be a good long term investment. Also, if a tweak improves a fiddle with a set of dead strings on it, it'll will probably sound really good with a set of the same kind of new strings. I also tend to put new strings on my main gigging fiddle most often (which isn't VERY often)

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