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Jul 24, 2020 - 5:47:22 PM
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5805 posts since 8/7/2009

Concerning sound post placement…

I’ve asked this question in the past and so far, the responses haven’t made me say “Oh, I understand now. Thanks.” That’s probably my fault (thick head).

As I understand it, there are (generally speaking) 3 things that go into getting things set up “right” at the sound post. The bridge has to be fit and set correctly, the sound post needs to be fit and set correctly, and the sound post placement / position is determined – relative to the position / placement of the bridge.

I have read several times that - very slight movements (directionally) of the sound post can make a big difference in the tone of a fiddle. And if that is true, then my question is this…  if the sound post can be moved by very small increments relative to a stationary bridge in an effort to improve tone, why would we not get the same results from very slight adjustments to the position of the bridge relative to a stationary sound post?

Or asked in another way… if the bridge is set and fit correctly, and the sound post is set and fit correctly in relationship to the bridge, why would we not make those final small incremental adjustments at the bridge (since those kinds of adjustments are so difficult at the sound post)?

OK. I understand that the bridge has everything to do with string position along the fingerboard, etc.  But I’m not talking about exaggerated movements. I hear folks talk about how just a slight movement of the sound post can work magic. So, I’m talking about those kinds of adjustments to the bridge position - the same proportions that the sound post would be moved.

And this makes me want to also ask – how critical is the bridge standing angle relative to the top plate to tone? I know it leads to a warped bridge if not set correctly, but I’ve never heard or read anyone saying just how much that angel contributes to the tone. I would imagine that it does. Your comments?

I realize there is an optimal angle for structural purposes, but could it / should it ever be tweaked for tone?

Jul 24, 2020 - 5:54:51 PM

GeoB

USA

12 posts since 7/22/2020

The bridge determines intonation. How critical is intonation on a non fretted instrument? I don't know.

Jul 24, 2020 - 7:40:55 PM

194 posts since 3/1/2020

It’s true that soundpost adjustments can make a huge difference in sound. The bridge needs to be in the right place. You shouldn’t move the bridge around because its position needs to be at a certain point to make the total vibrating string length right. If it’s not centered properly, the balance will be altered. That’s why the post is moved instead of the bridge.

Soundpost fit and placement is crucial because it affects the way that the plates vibrate. It acts like a fulcrum around which everything else modulates.

The bridge should be at an angle that will support the tension of the strings without warping or collapsing. The angles at which the strings break over the bridge are important as well because they are related to the way the strings feel under the bow and fingers and tonal clarity.

Setup is really the combination of a large number of components that form a cohesive whole when considered and executed well.

Jul 25, 2020 - 11:43:55 AM
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8 posts since 7/18/2020

quote:
Originally posted by tonyelder

And this makes me want to also ask – how critical is the bridge standing angle relative to the top plate to tone? I know it leads to a warped bridge if not set correctly, but I’ve never heard or read anyone saying just how much that angel contributes to the tone. I would imagine that it does. Your comments?

I realize there is an optimal angle for structural purposes, but could it / should it ever be tweaked for tone?

 


I've always heard that the bridge should be exactly vertical to the top of the instrument. This can be difficult to determine if the back of the bridge has been carved to thin it at the strings, but I think only the front of the bridge should be carved to thin it, the back should not.

To be honest, I've never really heard much difference in sound when I have made small soundpost adjustments either, but then frankly I don't much know what I'm doing most of the time. I've also never been able to hear any difference in tone with different chin rests or tail pieces, or even in types of finishes. Plastic chin rests and composite tail pieces like the Wittner do lighten the fiddle, which seems to me to make it sound better, but maybe that's just my imagination.

As for bridge position, I've heard and read multiple diverse opinions about that. Some say string length should be 13 inches from back of the nut to front of the bridge, but others say it should be 12-3/4s, or 12-3/8ths, 333mm, etc., etc. I keep mine at 12-3/8ths inches, but again, I don't know what it should be.

 


Jul 25, 2020 - 12:24:33 PM
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1793 posts since 8/27/2008

I agree with you that generally you won't notice big changes in little adjustments of a sound post. A bridge should be perpendicular to the top which can be checked with a credit card or something small. That is usually the same as perpendicular to the ribs. Two reasons the bridge doesn't want to move out of this position are first, presumably the feet were carved to fit the top correctly, and leaning forward or backward changes that positive contact. The other is that the bridge is more likely to warp if it leans too far out of perpendicular, especially toward the fingerboard.

Jul 25, 2020 - 7:43:10 PM

5805 posts since 8/7/2009

Let me dig some more. Details...

"The outside edge of the sound post should be the exact same distance from the center of the top plate as the outside edge of the bass bar." That would be the optimal position for the sound post between the f holes.

"The position of the sound post should be positioned (starting point) behind the foot of the treble side of the bridge (tail end) at a distance equal to the thickness of the top plate. That would be measured from the back side of the bridge foot to the front side of the sound post (face to face).

The optimal position of the bridge is determined by the scale length. (The vibrating length of the strings between the nut and bridge.) BUT what is standard? 12 7/8 or 13 inches. Or... is it better to use the formula to calculate the correct length based on the build of your fiddle?

...the neck length, from nut to edge of top plate, should be divided by 2, then multiplied by 3. Let us assume a neck length of 130mm, divided by 2 is 65, times 3 is 195. Add 130 to 195 and we arrive at 325mm for the scale length.

And 325mm is less than 12 7/8" (328mm). 

So, as best I can tell - the scale length is not carved in stone. There is no standard. In my opinion the optimal scale length would be determined by the build of the fiddle more than an arbitrary uniform standard. But - its enough to know that any one making a proclamation about what is "right" is really only telling you their subjective opinion.

So - when we determine the scale length and set the bridge, we will know the optimal position of the sound post from both x and y axis - based on the location of the bass bar and the bridge / scale length.

The sound post is supposed to stand straight - perpendicular to the top and bottom plates, with the grain oriented opposite of the top plate, with fhe top and bottom surfaces of the sound post top in full contact with the plates.

If this setup doesn't produce the tone that is expected, I have heard it said that you would adjust the bottom end of the sound post  and leave the top end in place for the best results. And the movement of the sound post is as small of an increment as you can make.

But that leaves the the ends of the sound post with having less than full contact with the plates. But I understand - that type of adjustment is not always considered the recommended method.

Nevertheless, my question is - if that is considered to be one of the ways to improve the tone, why would you not want to leave the sound post alone - do not touch it - if you can get the same results moving the bridge? In my opinion - you can tap the bridge feet in the direction towards the fingerboard or tail end with those same ever so slight increments. But with this difference - the sound post is not put at risk. The degree of difficultly is far less, and much easier to "put back in place" if the results make it worse instread of better. 

Again, we aren't talking about moving the bridge that much. To keep the bridge perfectly aligned  and squared both ends could be moved the same and the bridge angle to the top corrected (if either is even needed).

I'm just bewildered that it doesn't get any consideration. Sorry. 

Jul 25, 2020 - 10:10:32 PM
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1793 posts since 8/27/2008

quote:
Originally posted by tonyelder

Nevertheless, my question is - if that is considered to be one of the ways to improve the tone, why would you not want to leave the sound post alone - do not touch it - if you can get the same results moving the bridge? In my opinion - you can tap the bridge feet in the direction towards the fingerboard or tail end with those same ever so slight increments. But with this difference - the sound post is not put at risk. The degree of difficultly is far less, and much easier to "put back in place" if the results make it worse instread of better. 

Again, we aren't talking about moving the bridge that much. To keep the bridge perfectly aligned  and squared both ends could be moved the same and the bridge angle to the top corrected (if either is even needed).

I'm just bewildered that it doesn't get any consideration. Sorry. 


I don’t see a reason not to do that. Generally the bridge feet are set between the nicks on the f holes, but no harm in trying what you say, assuming the bridge feet still fit the top, which over a very small distance they probably will. The one thing you won’t be able to change that way is side to side orientation.

Jul 26, 2020 - 12:53:29 PM
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194 posts since 3/1/2020

The reason for not moving the bridge around is to maintain a proper string length. If neck and stop lengths are correct but bridge placement is wrong, the interval spacing will be altered and intonation will be more challenging. It’s much more convenient for players to be able to pick up different instruments but have them feel the same way.

I would agree that the standards are not absolute, but there certainly are standards for string length, neck length, and stop length. Some instruments are eccentric and have features like improperly placed ffs, and it can be a challenge to work around these things.

The 2:3 rule is very useful, especially when dealing with smaller instruments, yet there is an argument in favor of preserving the string length for any “full size” violin. It’s no accident that violins over 360 mm or 14” are rejected by many violin shops. These larger instruments can actually work well for fiddling or jazz, but finding buyers can be a nightmare, as a lot of people notice the extra body length and different tonality immediately.

Jul 26, 2020 - 1:28:19 PM

5805 posts since 8/7/2009

Rich - I have an immense amount of respect for folks like you who build these things - especially for folks like you who have done it all their life.

So I'm not challenging you with the intent of disproving your worth or wisdom as a luthier. I can only wish I had 1/2 the knowledge and experience that you have. If I had that - I probably wouldn't need to ask these questions...

But I want to challenge you - so I can have a better understanding. If something doesn't make sense, I need to dig until the answers do make sense.

So from where I am - if there is no standard scale length, then there is no standard string length (vibrating length between nut and bridge). And the difference a few millimeters movement will make in note intervals and how that affects a players intonation - in my mind - is not going to be significant enough to be concerned about. Especially on a fretless instrument. 

So, assuming a fiddle has had the bridge and sound post positioned dimensionally correct - what would you consider to be a normal sound post adjustment for tone improvement? More than a few millimeters?

Jul 27, 2020 - 8:03:53 PM
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194 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by tonyelder

 

But I want to challenge you - so I can have a better understanding. If something doesn't make sense, I need to dig until the answers do make sense.

So from where I am - if there is no standard scale length, then there is no standard string length (vibrating length between nut and bridge). And the difference a few millimeters movement will make in note intervals and how that affects a players intonation - in my mind - is not going to be significant enough to be concerned about. Especially on a fretless instrument. 

So, assuming a fiddle has had the bridge and sound post positioned dimensionally correct - what would you consider to be a normal sound post adjustment for tone improvement? More than a few millimeters?

 


There's nothing wrong with wanting to learn more about the instrument! Here are a few more things to consider:

As far as the body length of a full size violin, 14" IS considered the standard. However, violins can vary a little in length, as some makers like to reduce the body length slightly to make the instrument more comfortable for a wider range of players. There are a lot of people out there who are looking for a smaller violin who don't want a 3/4. But it's still the norm to aim for 14."  Some violins end up a little longer or shorter just as a result of the making process, and some older violins end up at different sizes as the result of plate shrinkage or repair work.

As setup technique has developed more and more over the years, standards for measurement have become more and more widespread. There was a time when many luthiers weren't paying attention to vibrating string length. That is certainly not the case anymore. Ever since the establishment of the great shops like Wurlitzer, Français, and Weisshaar, careful attention to exact setup standards has become a regular feature of professional setup work.

Although body length might fluctuate a little, maintaining the neck length, stop length, and vibrating string length at a standard is expected in setup. As I was saying earlier, the change of a couple mm can affect intonation, and that can be a major issue for a player who uses more than one instrument. A good player has the aural skill to be able to make adjustments for discrepancies, but no one wants to have to focus their attention on having to work around a problem.  
 

In answer to the question about the soundpost, adjustment is the process of making micro movements in the position of the post, often in increments less than one mm. If a post has to be moved more than a couple mm, it most likely needs to be replaced, as the fit will change in a move that big. Simply getting the position right isn't enough--the post has to fit well to work properly.

Moving the bridge vertically can change the string heights, which will again make an instrument harder to play. When a bridge is cut, it's cut so that the strings will be at the desired height at a specific location. 
 

Another reason not to move the bridge is the structure of the top. If a post is too far from the bridge, the top will deform over time and may eventually crack. The sound post provides that optimal support that the top needs to counteract the pressure from the strings. 

Aug 1, 2020 - 8:29:59 PM
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5497 posts since 7/1/2007

I haven't been on the forum in years, but I couldn't resist this one, because there is more misinformation bandied about regarding sound posts than almost anything else except violins in general. Since adjusting instruments to get the sound people want is what I do, and since I can get consistent results, maybe what I have to offer might have some use.
First off, the one thing that matters most is fit. Both ends of the post must fit the inside surfaces of the fiddle perfectly, or else it doesn't much matter where you put it. When the post fits right, it's like turning on a switch; a fiddle virtually "turns on".

Second there are two axes of movement for a sound post: "North-South", parallel to the fingerboard, and "East-West", across the fingerboard. North-South isn't very complicated, doesn't change the tension much, and can primarily affect the focus of the E and A strings a bit, and to some extent, volume. East-West is a whole different proposition. That's where the big changes are, and why you don't just "move the bridge". East-west movement affects tonal balance, tension, "sustain", resonance, and a whole bunch of other factors. Generally, if you move a post toward the G or the E, you have to re-cut it, or plan for the changes in tension. I generally fit the post in "home position", then move it out (toward the E) , trimming as I go, until I get the sound I'm after, but not always. Sometimes a customer is after a smoother G. Nothing is cut and dried, but I do have a fairly consistent aproach. My viewpoint has changed a bit with experience, and I'm still learning a thing or two, but one thing, for starters: If you can't fit a post perfectly, and if you don't have the patience to do it every time, you have no business whatsoever messing with sound posts, so take the time to practice and learn on a no-account fiddle.

The characteristics that I can adjust to some extent are things like bass/treble balance, focus, resonance, growl, sustain, and maybe some other characteristics, depending on what the particular instrument and strings are capable of.

Regarding string length, on existing violins/fiddles, by default I set the bridges as the instrument was made unless there is a specific reason to deviate, in which case I set the string length to suit the player (within limits) and set the post in relation to the bridge, for example, for a main player and a backup instrument. Doesn't seem to affect sound much, and I have some customers with very good ears.

Body size doesn't make much difference. I've been going through the best instruments in my shop with my best qualified customers, ranking them. Some are professional grade classical instruments, i.e. Roth XR, Anton Krutz, JB Squier, etc. Among the top ten, body length varies from 13 7/8 to 14 1/4. Different sounds, but hard to choose among them.

Recently I dug up a couple of 7/8 fiddles for a member of this board. It wasn't easy to find 7/8 fiddles that had any bottom end, but I found a couple that were satisfactory dance fiddles, with good volume and tone, after going through several that I just couldn't get a "full size" sound out of..

I probably left out a lot. I've got work to do in the morning. I'll check back from time to time and try to answer whatever I missed.

Aug 1, 2020 - 9:41:31 PM

1793 posts since 8/27/2008

Good to hear from you again.

Aug 4, 2020 - 8:13:23 PM
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194 posts since 3/1/2020

Getting the fit right on a sound post is crucial for both tonal and structural reasons.

I can’t agree that vibrating string length and body length don’t matter, though. Body length is one of the first things any dealer will check when looking at instruments. Lots of large fiddles end up in auctions because they’ve been rejected by every shop that’s looked at them. Stradivari experimented with a longer body for some of his early violins (known as his “long pattern”.) Ultimately he decided that the longer form was not beneficial and abandoned it, which was when his golden period started. History has rewarded his insight, and that’s why an average long pattern Strad is worth $5 million and an average golden period one is worth $10 million. Smaller models have occasionally proven to work quite well acoustically, but 14” is the standard. Many shops have a blanket “nothing over 14 inches” policy. As I said earlier, bigger violins can sometimes work well for fiddling, however, where the throatier voicing can be useful.

In response to the question about calculating the setup measurements, there are a couple things to address.

First, the 2:3 ratio is used to calculate mensur (neck length/2 * 3 = mensur)
Or
(130/2)x3 = 195

Some people, including a couple string manufacturers, have arrived at 325 as the vibrating string length by erroneously adding the neck length to the mensur (130+195). The problem with this is that total vibrating string length is greater because the string is not sitting directly on the top. It is raised up by the bridge, so the measurement is different—elevation of the string lengthens the line to the mensur point. This is how you arrive at 328-330 for the standard length and not 325.

Not all violins follow these measurements, and it’s necessary to adjust things from time to time to take unusual cases into account. But the standards do exist and inform professional setup. New instruments are held to these standards much more closely, as makers are expected to follow them.

Aug 5, 2020 - 4:37:43 AM

89 posts since 6/8/2020

Excellent information. I sure would like to send one or two of my fiddles to either one of you guys for a thorough going over/proper set-up. Not only do you seem to know what you’re doing, but perhaps most importantly, you seem to really care about it.

I've edited to add that in the case of my instruments, they may be set-up to be as good as they're going to be.  The trouble is that I don't know and I always wonder. I feel they're close but could perhaps be a bit better. 

Edited by - Johnbow on 08/05/2020 04:44:17

Aug 5, 2020 - 10:43:40 AM
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194 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Johnbow

Excellent information. I sure would like to send one or two of my fiddles to either one of you guys for a thorough going over/proper set-up. Not only do you seem to know what you’re doing, but perhaps most importantly, you seem to really care about it.

I've edited to add that in the case of my instruments, they may be set-up to be as good as they're going to be.  The trouble is that I don't know and I always wonder. I feel they're close but could perhaps be a bit better. 


Thank you for your kind words! Send me a PM if you'd like to have a new setup and I'll be happy to help you. 

Aug 5, 2020 - 11:42:12 AM
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89 posts since 6/8/2020

You’re welcome of course. Honestly, I’m just impressed that a pro is willing to share so much excellent information on a public forum. Then again, I’m fairly new to public forums.

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