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Apr 13, 2021 - 10:05:58 AM

Snafu

USA

93 posts since 2/2/2014

So I had been playing my fiddle for about an hour on my front porch and had a visitor stop by. This was a new acquaintance but I knew that he was quite musical and plays guitar and mandolin and other instruments in various folk bands. I had no knowledge if he played violin. So we were chatting and he asked me to show him my fiddle.

The first thing he did after inspecting it front and back was to pluck the strings and then went right to the tuning pegs and began turning them, completely changing the tuning. Then he took the bow and bowed the fiddle for maybe 10 seconds and handed it back to me and asked me to play something. I declined in a friendly way but was slightly miffed and maybe offended.

I had tuned the fiddle to perfect 5ths against a violin tuner just before I began playing and was quite happy with the sound. I was a bit taken back because he hadn’t done anything more than plucking the strings. Is this something experienced musicians do? Assume any instrument handed them needs to be tuned?

Apr 13, 2021 - 10:33:50 AM
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5117 posts since 9/26/2008

When he "played" on it, did it look like he knew what he was doing?

That might be something an arrogant musician might do, but to do it then not even show that he could play tells me he's not worth the time. I probably would have made a point of retuning when he handed it back, and then played something like "Three Blind Mice"/"Hot Cross Buns." But I can be a real smart ass sometimes.

Apr 13, 2021 - 10:55:13 AM
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389 posts since 3/1/2020

If the player was a serious player, it would be standard practice for the player to tune the instrument. If you had it tuned in an alternate tuning, it would be polite to ask before switching to standard pitch. No one should be expected to play an instrument out of tune if they feel that’s the case.

If the strings were exactly tuned to a tuner, a player would need to adjust to make the fifths truly in tune. Tuning should only take a matter of seconds anyway, so it’s not a big deal.

When I get violins ready for customers after repairs or adjustments or before a sales appointment, I always tune them so they’re ready to play without any adjustments necessary. Nonetheless, almost everyone picks them up and immediately retunes them. Sometimes they spend a couple minutes struggling to get them in tune and end up handing them to me to (re)tune again. It happens multiple times a day, but I don’t mind. I never assume a violin is in tune either.

Apr 13, 2021 - 11:07:56 AM
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doryman

USA

153 posts since 2/10/2020

quote:
Originally posted by The Violin Beautiful

If the player was a serious player, it would be standard practice for the player to tune the instrument. If you had it tuned in an alternate tuning, it would be polite to ask before switching to standard pitch. No one should be expected to play an instrument out of tune if they feel that’s the case.
 


This.  Did he, in fact, tune it to an alternate tuning?  That would be presumptuous, in my opinion. 

Apr 13, 2021 - 11:22:04 AM
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138 posts since 4/2/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Snafu

So I had been playing my fiddle for about an hour on my front porch and had a visitor stop by. This was a new acquaintance but I knew that he was quite musical and plays guitar and mandolin and other instruments in various folk bands. I had no knowledge if he played violin. So we were chatting and he asked me to show him my fiddle.

The first thing he did after inspecting it front and back was to pluck the strings and then went right to the tuning pegs and began turning them, completely changing the tuning. Then he took the bow and bowed the fiddle for maybe 10 seconds and handed it back to me and asked me to play something. I declined in a friendly way but was slightly miffed and maybe offended.

I had tuned the fiddle to perfect 5ths against a violin tuner just before I began playing and was quite happy with the sound. I was a bit taken back because he hadn’t done anything more than plucking the strings. Is this something experienced musicians do? Assume any instrument handed them needs to be tuned?


Wow! I would say his tuning your violin was totally rude, insulting and unacceptable! I just can't imagine doing that to another person's instrument. (Unless it was a teacher/student relationship, or if they asked for help tuning.) If he were very knowledgeable about violins, then he would know there are some tuning preferences, and his preference might not be your preference.

Edited by - DougBrock on 04/13/2021 11:26:03

Apr 13, 2021 - 11:44:34 AM

Snafu

USA

93 posts since 2/2/2014

To clarify my post, the fiddle was tuned in standard GDAE mode and had been tuned to a tuner designed to perfect fifths. Moreover, I had been playing it for a while and it was ringing true sympathetic vibrations. It was in tune.

He did say later that he was a mandolin player so I thought maybe that was it. Mandolins maybe are not tuned in perfect fifths? Not sure. But why change it, not play anything and then hand it back asking me to play it?

As an aside, it has Wittner geared pegs on it and he was really freaked out by the smooth action. I was freaked out by his aggressive turning of the pegs. I was glad for the 9:1 reduction gear action since he gave one peg a good quarter turn before he checked the tone. It could have snapped a string. Later, he said he played violin as a kid for a few years and owns one but never plays it.

Apr 13, 2021 - 11:55:50 AM

138 posts since 4/2/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Snafu

To clarify my post, the fiddle was tuned in standard GDAE mode and had been tuned to a tuner designed to perfect fifths. Moreover, I had been playing it for a while and it was ringing true sympathetic vibrations. It was in tune.

He did say later that he was a mandolin player so I thought maybe that was it. Mandolins maybe are not tuned in perfect fifths? Not sure. But why change it, not play anything and then hand it back asking me to play it?

As an aside, it has Wittner geared pegs on it and he was really freaked out by the smooth action. I was freaked out by his aggressive turning of the pegs. I was glad for the 9:1 reduction gear action since he gave one peg a good quarter turn before he checked the tone. It could have snapped a string. Later, he said he played violin as a kid for a few years and owns one but never plays it.


Mandolins are tuned GDAE, just like violins.

The rest of your story make his actions seem even more rude!

Apr 13, 2021 - 12:21:40 PM

389 posts since 3/1/2020

It does sound like he didn’t really play the instrument much, but tuning it was a completely reasonable thing.

Any time you hand your instrument over, you take on a certain amount of risk, and that risk is exponentially greater if you’re handing it to someone you don’t believe to know how to play. You can always show a violin without letting go of it.

I’m glad no damage was done, and it seems that at least the person in question knew enough not to do something dangerous.

Napoleon Bonaparte demanded to play the Duport Strad cello after listening to it in concert, even though he didn’t know how to play. He fumbled around with it for a while and then handed it back. To this day, the cello bears scars made by his boots. That player didn’t have a choice, but he paid the price. Thankfully, you can typically avoid this kind of situation.

Edited by - The Violin Beautiful on 04/13/2021 12:27:41

Apr 13, 2021 - 1:39 PM

1790 posts since 12/11/2008

It happened to me more often in my old rock-and-roll days. It didn't help that, more often than not I found the compulsive re-tuners to have both terrible touch and tin ears. On the other hand, I, too, have been guilty of tweaking tuning a few times when handed an instrument, but I always ask permission first.

Apr 13, 2021 - 1:52:28 PM
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doryman

USA

153 posts since 2/10/2020

I have an upright bass at home. Once, someone asked if they could sit in at bass during one of our living room jams. I had no problem with that at all since we often take turns at bass anyway during a jam. Anyway, this fellow then proceeds to change the action on the bass (which one can do if you have that kind of bridge). I thought that was kind of rude. Messing around with a man's pegs is one thing, but messing around with his bridge is quite another.

Apr 13, 2021 - 1:52:29 PM
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74 posts since 1/21/2017

Yeah, I wouldn't have been into that. My pulse rate goes up if anyone asks to see my fiddle, and I don't take my eyes off em'. Thankfully it rarely happens.
On the other end of the spectrum, I once asked Vassar Clements about all of the mysterious writing on his fiddle, and he just nodded towards his case and said "you're welcome to check it out". I was shocked. I did pick it up and look at it but you better believe that's all I did.

Edited by - coryobert on 04/13/2021 13:56:01

Apr 13, 2021 - 3:59:26 PM
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5117 posts since 9/26/2008

Mandos ARE tuned to the same notes as a fiddle but not usually perfect fifths which has some slight differences. He was out of line, but that moment has passed. Best say "I'd rather not" if he asks again. Suggest he go get a guitar instead.

As a very seasoned guitar player with a better than average ear, I will admit that I've been known to tune a guitar when it's been handed to me (I never ask, not my nature). Truth is, in my experience, most often it is ever so slightly out of tune because most folks these days rely on the tuner and not their ears. 

Edited by - ChickenMan on 04/13/2021 16:00:05

Apr 13, 2021 - 4:06:31 PM

11 posts since 3/8/2018

Many, many years ago, I lived in Raleigh, NC. There was a music "festival" at the Mordecai House, one of the oldest structures in town. Joe and Odell Thompson were playing there. Later in the day, I was allowed to join a jam with Laughlin Shaw and Joe. Joe asked for my fiddle, plucked the strings, retuned it to a cross tuning that he was in (don't recall which at the moment), then gave it back to me and said, "There son, now you can play with us!"

I wasn't upset. I was pleased. Someone walking up to my porch and doing that, probably not so pleased. Ask first.

Apr 13, 2021 - 5:09:15 PM
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2266 posts since 8/23/2008

I handed my fiddle to some one who asked to try it, and I paid the price. He pressed so hard that his finger nail broke the G string winding. Since then, when any one asks I just change the subject.

Apr 13, 2021 - 6:16:14 PM
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11899 posts since 9/23/2009

If somebody did that to my fiddle...they would never touch my instrument, that one or any of mine, ever, ever again.

Apr 13, 2021 - 7:52:56 PM
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2265 posts since 10/22/2007

Naw. My buddies that play, no problem. If I haven't seen you play, you can maybe hold it. Grab a peg and you'll get the woah. You gotta live and learn, I guess.

Apr 13, 2021 - 7:55:07 PM
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389 posts since 3/1/2020

This is reminding me of the old viola joke:

Violist: Mr. Conductor, I can’t play my viola!

Conductor: Why is that?

Violist: One of the horn players reached around and twisted one of my pegs and now I’m out of tune.

Conductor: Why can’t you retune it?

Violist: Because I can’t figure out which one he twisted!

Apr 13, 2021 - 8:22:48 PM

367 posts since 6/11/2019

quote:
Originally posted by The Violin Beautiful

This is reminding me of the old viola joke:

Violist: Mr. Conductor, I can’t play my viola!

Conductor: Why is that?

Violist: One of the horn players reached around and twisted one of my pegs and now I’m out of tune.

Conductor: Why can’t you retune it?

Violist: Because I can’t figure out which one he twisted!


Rich, you ought to clarify, just for posterity, the gist of viola jokes--I know there's a bunch of them...they are kinda on the same level as banjo jokes, from what I understand.  As you're a luthier with viola clients, I trust you won't incriminate yourself.

Apr 13, 2021 - 8:38:31 PM
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367 posts since 6/11/2019

I'm not steeped much in customs between musicians and so forth. Most folks I play with don't ask to hold my instruments, and I don't ask them to. I just ask questions about them. Similarly, I would never ask to hold a newborn unless the proud parent held the baby out to me, and even then I would be nervous.

The only thing I can think of when it comes to unspoken customs is when someone presents a firearm for you to look at. Without prompting, you are expected to manipulate the action to ensure it's cleared and safe, even if the presenter just cleared it in your view. After that, you are expected to ask if you can dry-fire it or anything else that involves the action. Failing to ask is not necessarily unsafe, but considered rude and nonchalant about potential damage.

Edited by - Flat_the_3rd_n7th on 04/13/2021 20:46:47

Apr 14, 2021 - 12:06:39 AM

2679 posts since 9/13/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Snafu

So I had been playing my fiddle for about an hour on my front porch and had a visitor stop by. This was a new acquaintance but I knew that he was quite musical and plays guitar and mandolin and other instruments in various folk bands. I had no knowledge if he played violin. So we were chatting and he asked me to show him my fiddle.

The first thing he did after inspecting it front and back was to pluck the strings and then went right to the tuning pegs and began turning them, completely changing the tuning. Then he took the bow and bowed the fiddle for maybe 10 seconds and handed it back to me and asked me to play something. I declined in a friendly way but was slightly miffed and maybe offended.

I had tuned the fiddle to perfect 5ths against a violin tuner just before I began playing and was quite happy with the sound. I was a bit taken back because he hadn’t done anything more than plucking the strings. Is this something experienced musicians do? Assume any instrument handed them needs to be tuned?


None of what that described seems unusual; nor unexpected... certainly with experienced musicians, when handed any string instrument they are going to play, fine tuning adjustment is normal part of process. Nor is fine tuning a big deal, what tuners are for. Doesn't cause harm, damage, significant change to an instrument, and can be easily readjusted back.

You might have misinterpreted some things.

Assume any instrument handed them needs to be tuned?

Common there is neither assumption instrument is either in tune or needs tuned. It is not unusual, unexpected to start with listening; some tuning check. Of course, hearing another playing, might notice it didn't sound in tune.

The first thing he did after inspecting it front and back was to pluck the strings and then went right to the tuning pegs and began turning them,

Plucking strings first is thus not assuming, but way to listen.  Fairly normal process. Pluck, listen, if it sounds out of tune, then next would be go right to the tuning pegs to adjust fine tuning. 

As an aside, it has Wittner geared pegs on it and he was really freaked out by the smooth action.

Not sure what really freaked out means... but doesn't seem odd that if expecting friction pegs, they would take notice or be surprised.

he gave one peg a good quarter turn before he checked the tone

A fairly common way folks tune string instruments is to first significantly lower the pitch; then gradually bring it up to pitch.

----

I had tuned the fiddle to perfect 5ths against a violin tuner just before I began playing and was quite happy with the sound

That is essentially irrelevant. (although might indicate another issue). Here are some aspects to consider.

1. After a period of playing... not unusual the instrument tuning changed.

2. Electronic tuners (esp inexpensive clip-ons); readout (and user interpretation) are not necessarily very precise (as say strobe tuner would be). Some peoples ears are better for fine tuning.

3. Tuning scheme. It is not unusual for folks to have different opinions of what sounds better. Common for violin... perfect fifths vs equal tempered fifths. Default for tuners is ET. Regardless, of how you tuned it, others might have different preference or opinion of what sounds better.

4. Some people are more sensitive to fine tuning.

Not necessarily that their fine tuning is better... but again, causes no harm and easy enough to change back.

Fine tuning is normal, expected part of playing a string instrument. So IMO, if okay with handing someone an instrument to play... then not sure why wouldn't be okay with them tuning it.

Edited by - alaskafiddler on 04/14/2021 00:24:36

Apr 14, 2021 - 4:49:24 AM
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11899 posts since 9/23/2009

To me it seems very rude to fiddle with someone's tuning. The only exception, ever, would be if the person had handed you their instrument and asked for your help with their tuning. Other than that...it's their instrument, they tuned it or can tune it if it's slipped out...ain't your business to fiddle with their tuners. You're way outta line if you do that.

Apr 14, 2021 - 6:11:36 AM
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9054 posts since 3/19/2009

When I was a beginner and often played out of tune... this one very experienced fiddler asked if he could try my fiddle.. He play a few notes and then started getting it correctly in tune.. He glanced over to me, Winked, smiled and said, "Don't you just hate it when people do this!?"... He was actually doing me a favor and the fiddle DID sound really better when he handed it back......In that case, I wasn't offended.. He made a point and it was memorable.

Apr 14, 2021 - 6:14:19 AM
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Earworm

USA

192 posts since 1/30/2018

At the very least he should have asked you first.

Apr 14, 2021 - 6:57:03 AM
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2340 posts since 10/1/2008

Well .... I don't hand my instruments to but a very few, as in count on one hand, people. if anyone picks up an instrument of mine I ask them to put it back in the case. If they say I'm just going to tune it I ask then to put it back in the case. If they continue to handle my instrument I TELL them to put MY instrument back in it's case. That if I wanted their help I would have asked for it.
Musicians , as a whole, generally "fiddle " with the tuning of an instrument when they pick it up. It's a "thing " they do. Is it ear , ego or just .. IDK It is one of the many reasons I keep my case closed and latched / zipped if it is out of arms reach.
Yes I have trust issues. But I view my instruments as my dear friends. Passing them around ..... no.

Apr 14, 2021 - 7:17:21 AM
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Snafu

USA

93 posts since 2/2/2014

Thanks for all the responses. I guess the thing that irks me was that I was happily sight read playing (Rieding op 35 concerto in B minor, first movement if it matters. I will play anything that sounds nice) when he walked by, said it sounds good and came up for a visit and a beer. I told him my story about how I got into violin/fiddling because I’m drawn to playing melody and bought my fiddle almost on a whim one snowy afternoon. That fiddle is my avatar. He asked to see it then changed my tuning and gave it back saying nice fiddle or something like that. It was in his hands maybe 60 seconds total.

It wasn’t a jam situation where we needed to align our tuning to one standard. It was just me and my fiddle at my house, he didn’t have an instrument with him. I kind of took it as a passive-aggressive way to diss my playing ability. But I said nothing.

Maybe it was the beer acting up, it was my first one but maybe not his first one...

Apr 14, 2021 - 7:54:50 AM
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DougD

USA

10063 posts since 12/2/2007

It really depends on the situation and the people involved. If you give your instrument to someone, expecting them to play it, then you also expect them to tune it. What is odd about this situation is that he didn't play anything, and probably couldn't. Sounds like he's just a "clueless pilgrim," to put it charitably, and you should learn your lesson and move on. After years of interacting with the general public if someone I don't know asks to see my instrument, I just hold it up and let them have a look. On the other hand, I've loaned and borrowed instruments to and from people I hardly know, but the situation was right. I've also shared instruments in theater productions when needed, and I'm talking Collings mandolins and original herringbone Martins.
I'm glad Lee retold his story so I didn't have to! That's a special situation, and here's a version from my experience: I was sitting next to Don Reno in a festival workshop and someone asked him to play a tune on the guitar, so I handed him my D-28, since he had only his banjo. He checked the tuning and proceeded to tune the first string and said "Sounds like that string's been a-drinkin'. It's a little high!"
I've had some other funny experiences with tuning, but I don't want to hijack your thread. One started out badly, but resulted in a little session of some of the most amazing music I've ever heard, played on two borrowed instruments by complete strangers. So you never know!

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