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How does my fiddle (really) sound?

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Feb 23, 2020 - 8:31:52 AM
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RichJ

USA

294 posts since 8/6/2013

At one time or another most of us find ourselves in search of the absolute best sounding fiddle we can lay our hands on. So, how do we know when we find it? There’s a number of obvious ways, but the more I think on this, the less sure I become. Naturally the simplest is how the thing sounds while we play it. But, is this the same for those listening from various distances? Easy enough to judge, just hand the fiddle to someone else while you listen. Keep in mind this test can give false results if you select someone so good they make any fiddle they touch sound good. Then there’s the further complication of one’s hearing which for us older folks seem to get a little worse every year. BTW, hearing aids don’t help much here, at least for me. Mine horribly distort the sound so I never wear them while playing.

Feb 23, 2020 - 9:47:02 AM
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1585 posts since 8/27/2008

Also, you should listen to your fiddle played by others in different situations. Playing in a group or jam might sound different from hearing it with one other instrument or by itself. I've had fiddles that seemed good when played alone but which didn't cut through so much in a group.

Feb 23, 2020 - 10:03:06 AM

RichJ

USA

294 posts since 8/6/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Wood

Also, you should listen to your fiddle played by others in different situations. Playing in a group or jam might sound different from hearing it with one other instrument or by itself. I've had fiddles that seemed good when played alone but which didn't cut through so much in a group.


Thanks Brian, good point I forgot to mention. It will be interesting to hear other comments, but it may well be there is no all round best sounding fiddle.

Edited by - RichJ on 02/23/2020 10:03:50

Feb 23, 2020 - 11:18:03 AM
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825 posts since 8/11/2009

Sound is a thing that changes too, over time, maybe as you progress, what you want to hear changes. I have a Nippon fiddle from 1919. I like it the least of any fiddle I own, under my ear, but get more compliments about how great it sounds, than any of my others. I'm still working on what it is I'm supposed to learn from that, lol. In the end the one I play the most has a sweet sound under my ear, almost creamy, thick, but is certainly not my loudest fiddle. Its almost easier to distinguish a bad sounding one, than to pick between several that sound good. Something else related to sound, is the ease of getting the notes to sound right and also balance. With the one I play the most, its just easier to get each note to sound good, the balance is even, and it seems easier to play in tune as well. So many things to consider. I got the chance to play an actual Vuilliame once, and honestly, thought it was hard to play, hard to get the notes to sound right to me. About 15 minutes later the concert master from the local symphony came into the store and also wanted to okay it, OMG, she made it sound amazing, a truly unbelievable difference. So how much is the instrument, and how much is the person, all I can say its all so fun, enjoy each step of the journey, and I almost think, the right instrument will find you one of these days, rather than you finding it.

Edited by - bandsmcnamar on 02/23/2020 11:20:10

Feb 23, 2020 - 1:24:48 PM

1474 posts since 12/11/2008

To get a true assessment of a fiddle's tone I've always cajoled a fiddling guinea pig to play any fiddle on my purchasing radar...me, of course, an appropriate listening distance away. Luckily, because I lived in a major metropolitan area during my buying days, I never had to depend on mail-order. I'd go to a shop and have a salesman play a candidate or I'd drag a fiddling buddy to the store. I'd play it and then they'd play it. One time I went to a store with one my fiddles to compare it with their stock and the salesman told me not to buy anything new. My fiddle was more than good enough.

On a related note, though I've got no problem with it I've found that it's the rare fiddler that'll allow you to play their fiddle. Is it because you might cough and spread germs on it? Guitar players, on the other hand, are usually much more mellow about passing their instruments around.

Feb 23, 2020 - 1:59:47 PM

doryman

USA

24 posts since 2/10/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Lonesome Fiddler


On a related note, though I've got no problem with it I've found that it's the rare fiddler that'll allow you to play their fiddle. Is it because you might cough and spread germs on it? Guitar players, on the other hand, are usually much more mellow about passing their instruments around.


I guess a fiddle is about half way between a guitar and a harmonica with regards to feeling ok about others playing it and spreading germs.  I don't mind at all if someone wants to play my guitar or my fiddle, but I draw the line with my harmonicas!   

Feb 24, 2020 - 8:38:39 AM

RichJ

USA

294 posts since 8/6/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Lonesome Fiddler


I've found that it's the rare fiddler that'll allow you to play their fiddle. Is it because you might cough and spread germs on it? 

For older fiddlers probably more like drool on it wink

Feb 24, 2020 - 12:25:16 PM
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Players Union Member

boxbow

USA

2471 posts since 2/3/2011

quote:
Originally posted by RichJ
quote:
Originally posted by Lonesome Fiddler


I've found that it's the rare fiddler that'll allow you to play their fiddle. Is it because you might cough and spread germs on it? 

For older fiddlers probably more like drool on it wink


Hey, now!  I've been drooling from a very early age!

Feb 25, 2020 - 6:42:45 AM
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2219 posts since 10/1/2008

Yeah ..... I always prefer to hear an instrument played by another person before I buy it when possible.
Insofar as passing my instruments to another player .... only if I know them and know they value and protect their own tools. To a stranger at a jam, nope. I see that picture in my head of the Martin guitar Norman Blake loaned and didn't get back for a year. It looked like someone took a dinner fork to the top. R/

Feb 25, 2020 - 11:25:55 AM
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1808 posts since 10/22/2007

I've always said, loud wins. I have one from a concert violinists shop. We were discussing the volume of this one. He picked it up, and virtually blew my ear drums out.

But i think a good fiddle resonates too. Not nasselly. Not harsh. Not screechy. If you play those double stops and it makes your toes curl, buy it if you can.

Not to muddy up the water, but ones choice in bows, strings, rosin, yada-yada.

Feb 25, 2020 - 2:10:41 PM

1585 posts since 8/27/2008

Loud is good only if it's balanced across the strings and up the neck.

Feb 25, 2020 - 10:44:33 PM
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193 posts since 6/21/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Wood

Loud is good only if it's balanced across the strings and up the neck.


What is this "up the neck" you speak of?

Feb 25, 2020 - 11:05:08 PM

2433 posts since 9/13/2009

I personally think loud is way overrated... certainly not the most important quality in an instrument, or music. Tone, balance and clarity across the frequency range wins over just loud. As well as dimensional dynamic range, that ability to control sound quality, for flexibility.  Amplification can be used if needed be just louder.

I generally try  to avoid playing with those that involve that loudness wars or competition that emerged... thinking they need loud instrument and to play at maximum volume, trying to play louder than the other guy(s).  IMO, learning to listen and balance is more important. The overall louder it is, the harder it is to listen and balance, often ends up making the overall sound muddier... and making a bit of a cyclical folks trying to be louder yet. 

Edited by - alaskafiddler on 02/25/2020 23:07:51

Feb 26, 2020 - 8:10:55 AM
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1585 posts since 8/27/2008

quote:
Originally posted by alaskafiddler
The overall louder it is, the harder it is to listen and balance, often ends up making the overall sound muddier... and making a bit of a cyclical folks trying to be louder yet. 

I'd say that a louder violin has an advantage because the instrument has a greater dynamic range. A loud instrument doesn't have to always be played loud. So I don't necessarily agree a loud instrument is harder to balance in a group. A weak violin has to be overplayed to be heard which is a disadvantage too. But I take your point about loudness wars. Players should be sensitive to the overall sound they're making together.

Edited by - Brian Wood on 02/26/2020 08:11:17

Feb 26, 2020 - 8:40:36 AM
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1808 posts since 10/22/2007

Here the scenario: highschool baseball tryouts. They have everybody line up and run the 40. I asked why? The scout said, we can teach them how to bat, throw, and catch, but we can't teach natural speed.

So when i say loud wins, i mean, i can make adjustments to get color, balance, playability. Inherent loudness is an atribute that's difficult to improve upon without some big surgery. And even then, maybe not.

Brian gets it. I do have L. R. Baggs bridge i can plug into a Fender champ 100w amp. But that's just to run with drum kits and telecasters. It's simply better to have power and not need it, than to need power and not have it. This applies to a whole bunch of things.

Feb 26, 2020 - 9:22:26 AM

1585 posts since 8/27/2008

quote:
Originally posted by snakefinger
quote:
Originally posted by Brian Wood

Loud is good only if it's balanced across the strings and up the neck.


What is this "up the neck" you speak of?


Volume and tone are even in the upper positions as well as first position.

Feb 26, 2020 - 1:30:51 PM
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1318 posts since 4/6/2014

An understated fiddle is an under rated tool. You can play it aggressively and it will growl,without being too loud, or play it soft and sweet. What it won't do is stand out in a crowd, which is sometimes an asset too. But when you want to stand out you need a mid rangy beast, that squawks and complains if you get things wrong.

To play  "Up the neck"  you need one of those, trebly mid rangy beasts, and learn to tame it. Or things will just sound muted and muffled with a "Nice sweet" under stated fiddle.

Feb 27, 2020 - 8:59:47 AM

193 posts since 6/21/2012

I’ve been lucky enough to have heard my fiddle played by Cathal Hayden, John Carty, and Randal Bays among others and it’s always been quite a treat.

Mar 1, 2020 - 8:49:17 AM

4215 posts since 6/23/2007

If you are playing, and want to hear as much as possible, play in front of a large window, mirror, or in a reflective environment. Some fiddles like hard tiled bathrooms for doing something like that.

Having a good fidder/violinist play an instrument allows a listener to hear the full potential of the instrument. It is the fiddlers responsibility to develop their playing ability. As you probably already know, and generally speaking, the person playing the fiddle and the audience don't hear the same thing.

A couple of days ago a luthier sampled both of my fiddles while I stood back and listened. The formerly #1 fiddle is now fiddle #2, I am also going to have Wittner geared tuners installed in the new #1 fiddle.

Mar 1, 2020 - 4:34:34 PM

gapbob

USA

665 posts since 4/20/2008

The directionality of it matters, you can get a violin where the f-holes are directed towards the ears and it will sound quite loud, under the ear, but be quiet far away.  Worst of both worlds, damage your hearing and not reach the audience how you want to.
quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

I've always said, loud wins. I have one from a concert violinists shop. We were discussing the volume of this one. He picked it up, and virtually blew my ear drums out.

But i think a good fiddle resonates too. Not nasselly. Not harsh. Not screechy. If you play those double stops and it makes your toes curl, buy it if you can.

Not to muddy up the water, but ones choice in bows, strings, rosin, yada-yada.


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