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Can an otherwise harsh fiddle sound better when crosstuned?

Posted by bj on Saturday, September 6, 2008

It seems to be the case with the cheapo romanian fiddle.

I got tired of putting the tuning up and down and up and down on my good fiddles. So decided to just put the crappo romanian in A tuning since I really don't care if it borks it (it cost 38 bucks on Ebay and I basically bought it as a second fiddle and for the hardshell case, back before I got the little french fiddle.)

Well hotdamn. It seems to have opened it up a fair bit. Where it used to sound dead and harsh at the same time, it now almost sounds like an acceptable fiddle. Almost. The notes ring a fair bit more, though it still sounds a bit overly bright and tinny, even with synthetic strings.

Still, it's a pain to play doublestops and drones on with the classical bridge, so . . . I think it's time for me to learn to file a bridge. Though I guess that could bring the harshness back since there will be less bridge mass.

Or I can just leave the french fiddle in A, since it will eventually need the neck shimmed anyway . . .

7 comments on “Can an otherwise harsh fiddle sound better when crosstuned?”

FiddlerFaddler Says:
Saturday, September 6, 2008 @1:44:22 PM

If you have one of those composite tailpieces with the integral tuners, try switching to a wooden tailpiece. My buddy that got me into the fiddle got a violoncello (see - I returned the favor!), and it was way too harsh sounding. For the cost of a tailpiece, it became a rather nice-sounding instrument that is downright enjoyable to play. This effect is only magnified on the violin.

If it sounds dead at all anywhere in its range, then you should have a fiddle fixer check it out for the placement of the soundpost. If your soundpost is in the wrong place, it could mess up the sound pretty badly, and if it is jammed in too tightly where it doesn't belong, it could eventually crack the face of the instrument. My fiddle case fell out of my minivan, and unbeknown to me, it knocked my soundpost out of place, and when my repair person checked out my instruments, she had me pass my finger over where the soundpost was, and it was puckered out and obviously puckered out and in danger of cracking. Putting it back in its rightful place saved the instrument from an uncertain fate, and made tne tone quality more uniform throughout its range and sweeter sounding.

Romanian fiddles tend to be built heavily to withstand brutish younguns, I reckon, so they seem to prefer heavier gauge strings with higher tension to get all that mass resonating with conviction. My Romanian fiddle was brighter with steel strings, but I put synthetic strings on for the sweeter sound; it was also less aesthetically offensive when I was still in the early stages of learning!

If you think that double stops are difficult to play on it, maybe the bridge is too high. My Romanian fiddle's bridge is classically shaped, and it's the shuffle bowing that is tougher because more wrist movement is required. When playing double stops you only should notice the difference in the shape of the bridge when switching pairs of strings, especially when doing so rapidly.

bj Says:
Saturday, September 6, 2008 @1:52:29 PM

The bridge is definitely high, especially on the E side. I really don't wanna put any dough into this fiddle, since I have two others, so I'll play with it myself. It'll be a good learning experience. Thanks for the tip on the wood tailpiece. This one has some sort of cheap looking composite or plastic tailpiece, and it looks like the finetuners might not be integral, so I can probably swap them out to a wood tailpiece. Oddly, of all the finetuners on my three fiddles, these seem to work the easiest and best.

musekatcher Says:
Saturday, September 6, 2008 @10:06:05 PM

I think AEAE tuning flatters any fiddle. I think some fiddles like the extra tension, but some do not. I have a fiddle that audibly gets softer with AEAE, and is louder in GDGD. But in the end, I think a good fiddle sounds better in any tuning than a lesser fiddle.

FiddlerFaddler Says:
Saturday, September 6, 2008 @10:06:14 PM

My CT geigenbaumeister taught me to put petroleum jelly on the threads of my fine tuners if they are balky. It works!

Russell Sampson Says:
Sunday, September 7, 2008 @12:08:10 AM

File the bridge on an emory board & stick a foam earplug under the tailpiece also check out old timers blog on taming fiddles by glueing a coin on the back

bj Says:
Sunday, September 7, 2008 @5:36:51 AM

Musekatcher, you're right. My other two fiddles sound great no matter what they're tuned to, though the Stockdale does seem to favor AEAE a bit as well, but it's not nearly as pronounced as in this romanian fiddle.

Thanks, FiddlerFaddler, for the PJ steer, I'll give it a try.

Russell, I've got a dremmel, which seems to be easier to use than an emory board for stuff like this, though I also have to be really careful not to chew too much off.

fiddlepogo Says:
Sunday, September 7, 2008 @8:07:44 PM

AEAE can enhance some fiddles, and make others sound awful.

When you think about it, probably every fiddle, nay, every stringed instrument on the face of the earth has an optimum resonant frequency.

Good violins are to sound good at something like standard
pitch and in GDAE.

For instance, I had to learn to make sure that EVERY guitar I try is tuned
to A 440. If it sounds just wonderful at Ab, and I'm not going to tune it to Ab,
that doesn't help me at all.

Now using a different tuning isn't quite the same as tuning an instrument
flat, but it's similar in that certain fiddles will resonate better that way-
and certain ones won't.

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