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Does Fiddle Improve with being Played?

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Mar 27, 2020 - 2:59:41 PM
557 posts since 6/22/2016

It's one of the truisms I used to hear from the old-timers: the sound of the instrument itself improves the more it's played. I was willing to accept that - but sometimes when my mind isn't busy, it gets to thinking, and I've started wondering whether that belief has any scientific basis, and if it's ever been put to the test?

I picked up a fiddle the other day that's hardly been touched for years - I was struck by how "boxy" it sounded - I've been playing it for a few days now, quite a few hours, and now it doesn't seem nearly as boxy - I don't know if I've just gotten used to it, or if the fiddle is 'opening up' .......

Mar 27, 2020 - 3:59:25 PM
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1504 posts since 12/11/2008

I've always found it to be true, but of course that doesn't mean any older instrument will always sound better than any new instrument. I gotta say, too, that the vast majority of my instrument-purchasing safaris have ended up with me purchasing new instruments. I then play them endlessly and, yes, I feel they do get better.  Heck, they sound better after a half hour.

Edited by - Lonesome Fiddler on 03/27/2020 16:01:09

Mar 27, 2020 - 4:03:22 PM
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948 posts since 6/26/2007

This gets argued a lot. I don't think there is a single answer. I have had at least one fiddle that improved tremendously over about five years without being played. Others have not. I do believe that your (and my) ears can adjust to the sound of a particular fiddle and that our playing can adjust to the fiddle. That is shown by the way great players can often make almost any fiddle sound great. But if you believe in "playing in" I'm not going to say you are wrong.

Mar 27, 2020 - 4:22:03 PM
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1642 posts since 8/27/2008

This does get argued a lot. I want to believe age and playing will improve a fiddle, but my critical self doesn't think there is much in it. A new fiddle will change somewhat in the hours after it's first strung, although even those changes seem to be more of degree than of character. At any rate I don't think there's much change after a couple weeks. Even so I will play a new fiddle like I can warm it up. I play lots low double stops loud. I make sure to keep it in tune as I play it because it feels like it wants resonation in the right frequencies. It can't hurt to try.

Mar 27, 2020 - 5:10:55 PM
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1 posts since 3/20/2020

In some cases, I believe this to be true. I bought a fiddle and took it to a man who owns a fiddle shop in Gibsonville, NC to be set up. It was a 1970s German made fiddle. He told me that it had not been played much, and that with a few months of playing, its sound quality and tone would improve. As I played it I did notice some improvement in the way it sounded.

Mar 27, 2020 - 6:01:30 PM
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116 posts since 3/1/2020

I can only speak from my own experience, but I do believe that violins become “closed” when they sit without being played. I have always found that a violin that has been sitting won’t be as responsive and rich as usual, but with a couple days of heavy playing, the familiar tone will return.

I can say that I’ve found that other players often have the same feeling. As an example, a customer of mine picked up a violin that he’d left at a shop on consignment a while ago. When he played it, he immediately remarked that the violin sounded like it hadn’t been played in a while. That was my impression as well. Incidentally, I knew for a fact that his violin had been sitting in a cabinet for months without being played at all, but my customer had no idea. There have been so many times that multiple players have agreed about this situation that I have been convinced of the truth of the conventional wisdom. It’s worth pointing out that players can’t agree about very many aspects of tone, but they do often seem to agree about this one trait.

Mar 27, 2020 - 6:13:30 PM
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1885 posts since 10/22/2007

There a supposed opening up, long term. Like weeks or months.
Then there's a supposed short term anomally. I had a hundred year old fiddle with a one piece back. Looked liked pretty thick finish on the back too. I felt like it took a half hour to 45 minutes to get that thing to open up. Didn't matter how many years i played it. I subsequently got what i thought was a better violin. It sounded better right away, and only got better. And really doesn't improve, but it always sounds ready.
My final,opinion: Setup can improve tone. Playing can improve tone. I know some players can get more out of any instrument they play. (not me) I also believe you can only get so much out of a given instrument, no matter what you do or who plays it.

Mar 27, 2020 - 6:14:10 PM
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10775 posts since 9/23/2009
Online Now

When my daughter majored in voice one thing she said that is a common belief among opera singers is that your bones in your sinuses, etc., will actually change according to the vibrations of your voice...the more you sing, the better your skeletal structures will resonate with the sound waves.

I've also known many guitar players who would set their guitars on stands where a lot of sound vibes came through...near stereo speakers, TVs, barking dogs, whatever...saying the sound vibrations coming through the wood would actually tone the wood to make it more sensitive and resonating with sound.

True or not...according to any actual science, I don't know. But an awful lot of musicians sure seem to think so.

Mar 27, 2020 - 11:37:53 PM
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1504 posts since 12/11/2008

Peggy -- When me and my buddies started playing acoustic guitar in the late 1960's, we'd lean them against our stereo speakers sound hole inwards to help 'break them in.' Did it work? Who knows? And who can remember so far back?

Mar 28, 2020 - 6:13:21 AM

239 posts since 12/2/2013

It's "magic" is worth a big markup!
tonerite.com/products/violin-tonerite

Mar 28, 2020 - 6:46:23 AM
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RobBob

USA

2671 posts since 6/26/2007

Everything is made to be used. To not use it defeats its purpose. I pulled a fiddle out of the closet yesterday and played it. It sounded fine when I first started but after a 1/2 hour or so it began to sing. It has had a lot of playing time one it hen I used to used it on shows and tours. You can see the wear, but it is still a most beautiful instrument.

Mar 28, 2020 - 9:39:46 AM
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4242 posts since 6/23/2007

I have read articles that attributed improvement in sound quality to an instrument being exposed to various sound frequencies. And, this can be accomplished without playing the instrument. I once read an article about a luthier in Minnesota building a guitar, and not liking the sound when he was finished making it. He hung the guitar in an out of the way place in his shop. Years later a customer insisted on playing the guitar. So, they took it down, cleaned it up, tuned it, and tried it out. It now sounded great.

I am waiting for the arrival of a recently purchased flattop guitar with an Adirondack Spruce top.
This type if wood has a reputation for improving in sound quality over time. The top of the guitar has been processed using "torrification".

Guitar makers are now using this process to give wood a sound similar to that of an aged guitar. I wonder if any luthiers have used this process for the tops of fiddles ? I don't know if it is true, but one person wrote "torrification" was just a more effective drying process. I am seeing that term more and more. Considering how careful good luthiers are about the woods they use, the process may not be needed for violins/fiddles.

Edited by - Dick Hauser on 03/28/2020 09:41:11

Mar 28, 2020 - 9:44:15 AM
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116 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by mmuussiiccaall

It's "magic" is worth a big markup!
tonerite.com/products/violin-tonerite


The Tonerite is a tool. It's not magic, but it is helpful for warming a new violin up when it's just been set up. I think actual playing is the best way to open up the sound, but when you work in a shop and set up several instruments a day, there just isn't enough time to break them in.  A tool like this (there are several other iterations of this device from other companies) just helps things along.

A shop where I once worked kept a couple of them on a shelf. Whenever someone set up a violin and it just seemed a little sluggish, even lafter adjustment, it would be left with a Tonerite overnight and re-evaluated the next morning. We found that the Tonerite frequently had a positive impact. Again, it's another tool. Results vary and it doesn't make Strads out of Suzukis. 

Mar 28, 2020 - 9:48:06 AM

1642 posts since 8/27/2008

quote:
Originally posted by The Violin Beautiful
quote:
Originally posted by mmuussiiccaall

It's "magic" is worth a big markup!
tonerite.com/products/violin-tonerite


The Tonerite is a tool. It's not magic,


Whether or not it works is debatable. It is way overpriced for what it is - a vibrator.

Mar 28, 2020 - 9:49:10 AM
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116 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Dick Hauser

Guitar makers are now using this process to give wood a sound similar to that of an aged guitar. I wonder if any luthiers have used this process for the tops of fiddles ? I don't know if it is true, but one person wrote "torrification" was just a more effective drying process. I am seeing that term more and more. Considering how careful good luthiers are about the woods they use, the process may not be needed for violins/fiddles.


Torrification is a process of heating wood to change its molecular structure, effectively baking or roasting it. This has been tried many times over the last couple centuries. It can give the wood a nice color, but too much heating makes the wood brittle and weak. Taking the top off a violin that has baked wood is a real pain. 

Mar 28, 2020 - 11:09:57 AM
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LukeF

USA

48 posts since 10/15/2019

There must be some truth that playing violins and other wood instruments will improve in sound quality, otherwise all the museums in the world that have violins in their collection would not be playing them periodically.

Mar 28, 2020 - 11:42:57 AM
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Swing

USA

1950 posts since 6/26/2007

From my experience of buying a new 5 string, the difference between when it was purchased and over a long period of time playing it...playing makes a huge difference .. in comparison to my other fiddle which is from 1935, it still sounds less dynamic and full.... tone rite is just a string vibrator and when you vibrate the strings the whole instrument vibrates and it has been noted that the resin cell structure in the wood changes over a long period of being vibrated... now there are other ways to create the vibrations...playing hard is one of them but there are mechanical ways to do the same thing without spending lots of time.

Play Happy

SWing

Mar 28, 2020 - 2:26:55 PM
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1349 posts since 4/6/2014

Thing is, the whole fiddle is an amalgamation of natural materials that have to settle down to a happy medium under tension in a given environment to do a given job. if you left a pair of leather walking boots in a given environment without being used they would get hard/soft, and not be as comfortable doing their job as a pair that had been used for a couple of weeks in that environment....Same with a fiddle.

Mar 28, 2020 - 4:19:01 PM

116 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Wood
quote:
Originally posted by The Violin Beautiful
quote:
Originally posted by mmuussiiccaall

It's "magic" is worth a big markup!
tonerite.com/products/violin-tonerite


The Tonerite is a tool. It's not magic,


Whether or not it works is debatable. It is way overpriced for what it is - a vibrator.


I'm sure you could make a cheaper version fairly easily. There are others available on the market, but Tonerite is the most recognizable brand. I've never bought one, so price hasn't been an issue.

Mar 29, 2020 - 8:27:48 AM
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4242 posts since 6/23/2007

I once met a luthier who used one of th0se vibrating fish tank oxygen suppliers to improve the sound of new fiddles he built. He just sat the vibrator on the fiddle. I can't make any comments on the effectiveness of this practice.

Mar 29, 2020 - 6:46:10 PM
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18 posts since 3/29/2020

I have a fiddle that sounds boxy and tight when I pick it up. I might go a week without playing it and I always think it's gotten tight on me in that time.

I play it, and half an hour of hard playing in, it sounds goooood. But. BUT. I never know if I figured out how to play it so it sounds good, if I merely got used to it, or if it actually opened up a little. I suspect the former two.

I've recorded it at all stages, and it always sounds about the same, so probably yeah, the first two.

I think there might be some merit to the notion that an instrument opens up in the first few months or years of its life. I honestly don't know. Someone should do an advanced audio analysis of a brand new fiddle every month for a couple of years. Same strings, same mic, recording space, bow, same music. It would be very interesting.

Edited by - The Body Electric on 03/29/2020 18:46:55

Mar 29, 2020 - 7:07:07 PM
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62 posts since 1/19/2018

Sounds crazy but I’ve always said those things have a mind of their own. I remember when my uncle gave me his fiddle and I started learning he said that fiddle know a lot of tunes you just have to coxes it out of it

Mar 30, 2020 - 1:36:54 PM

1504 posts since 12/11/2008

Dick -- Me and the wife have several steel string acoustic guitars but only one is specifically touted as having an Adirondack spruce top, my Martin D-18 Golden Era from the 1980's. Supposedly, you can tell the difference between an Adirondack Spruce top and the more common Sitka one because Adirondack looks like a cheap, wide-grained piece of generic wood, but my Golden Era top is physically gorgeous. The axe also has some of the biggest, most gorgeous tone I've ever come across. Perhaps too gorgeous and too big. It's tough to sing over.

Mar 31, 2020 - 7:34:59 AM
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18 posts since 3/29/2020

quote:
Originally posted by frank rehagen

Sounds crazy but I’ve always said those things have a mind of their own. I remember when my uncle gave me his fiddle and I started learning he said that fiddle know a lot of tunes you just have to coxes it out of it


Man, I love this. I've played well worn fiddles that seem to know tunes I've never played. 

Peter Anick has a story like that about his composition, "The Magic Fiddle," so we aren't alone in that. 

I also read an anecdote about a student taking a lesson from a virtuoso at a musical conservatory. The teacher had an old Italian instrument, and when he left the room, the student of course had to saw on it a bit. On his return, the teacher knew his instrument had been played because, as he said, "it doesn't play in tune like it did."

Apocryphal, to be sure, but it all adds to the mystique of this little wooden box. 

Mar 31, 2020 - 10:55:18 AM
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465 posts since 9/1/2010

I found this trial where they took two identical violins and ran them through the same testing.  One was kept in a museum and the other played over three years.  I personally skipped to the conclusion part of the article, as the report is a bit bland to read.

https://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/reprints/IntaViolin.pdf

For those that don't want to bother with looking I'll say that they didn't really find many variations at all.  Could argue that three years isn't long enough I suppose.

In my experience, I do think wood instruments sound better with age and lots of playing. 

Mar 31, 2020 - 5:42:18 PM

116 posts since 3/1/2020

I think there are some things that the current scientific studies are unable to measure, especially when it comes to the way a violin feels to a player.

There are all kinds of devices to measure the wood, like impedance sensors, piezoelectric impact hammers, Lucchi meters, and more, yet all of those tools give an incomplete picture of an instrument. The fact that there is more than meets the eye with violins is a major reason that violin dealers and salesmen have such an important position in the violin world. Nothing can replace the expertise that comes from careful study and a genuine understanding of the instrument.

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