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Seeking a more subtle tone with less piercing highs

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Dec 15, 2021 - 2:25:40 PM
42 posts since 1/21/2009

Y'all....I have a legitimate question, and I'm a bit ignorant to how these things are accomplished in the fiddle realm.
Thought I might inquire here and see what comes of it.

I grew up playing violin, but my part-time/full-time work background with music has been primarily on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and electric bass. I've played a wide variety of music, which often required different tones & sounds, depending on what I was playing. Different gigs often require different instruments, but sometimes you can modify an instrument to work for a variety of gigs, or even for one gig that calls for a variety of music. Over the years, I've learned what I can to be able to do maintenance & set ups for myself. Of course, I still seek out a luthier for jobs above my paygrade.

I like jazz & blues quite a bit, and I'm very much leaning in that direction with the violin. Here's my question...

From what I can tell by looking online, and with what little I know in reality, it seems that if I seek an acoustic tone on violin that doesn't have piercing highs............one way to go about this is with string selection. From what little I've seen in my local area, I don't know of any retail locations with a broad variety of strings. I know that some players even go as far as using different manufacturers for different strings (for example...manufacturer X for the G & D, manufacturer Y for the A, manufacturer Z for the E).
This feels like it could get expensive. Also, you find yourself waiting every time you order. I -totally- understand that it costs money to do anything, but I don't have an efficient way to approach that.

I know I can also use a torte mute to soften the tone a bit, which I currently use. At times, I even use a full mute when practicing. It's easier on my marriage that way. :)

Other than maple or spruce, has anyone successfully used a bridge material that would yield a softer acoustic tone from the violin?
Maybe a material which yields a tone that is full with lows and mids, but isn't so piercing on the high end.
I understand that each instrument is different, and you have to experiment to determine what will work for each one.
I'm okay with that, and am doing what I can to learn more about maintenance & set up to help me understand the instrument better.

I must apologize if I sound like a complete noob.
-With the electric guitar & electric bass, I've got a at least one tone control on the instrument, and I can do additional filtering with an EQ or a preamp, or even with the amplifier.
-With the acoustic electric guitar, it comes down to string choice and EQing on the preamp/D.I., at the board, or both.
-With an acoustic guitar, string choice is the first option I look to modify. Acoustic guitar strings are more plentiful, and generally more affordable. Still, it's possible to use bone or a synthetic material for a saddle. In fact, one of my electric guitars has a half-brass/half-plastic nut.

I know that if I'm playing a violin with a transducer in the bridge, I can modify that signal as I see fit.
I'm just looking for what I can do on an acoustic violin to control the piercing high frequency stuff.

Thanks for any and all help that y'all can offer.
-jimbo

Dec 15, 2021 - 3:16:21 PM
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2188 posts since 8/27/2008

Try wearing ear plugs? Your sound might not be piercing to others a few feet away. Fiddle is right in your face and what you hear isn't necessarily what others hear. On the other hand, maybe it is, in which case some kind of synthetic strings would probably work better for you. I'm not familiar enough to recommend as I play on steel strings.

Dec 15, 2021 - 4:07:26 PM

Swing

USA

2134 posts since 6/26/2007

There are several things that you could try....has your fiddle been looked at and adjusted by a luthier of knowledge... if you tell them what the problem is they just might be able to adjust the issue out of your instrument... having said that... strings, what are you using, try warmer sets like Eva Gold or Kaplan Ano , the E string can be toned down by using a Gold plated string, I like Oliv Gold Plated... lastly, rosin.... you may have to try several different types to get the tone that you want....

Play Happy

Swing

Dec 15, 2021 - 4:13:06 PM
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2043 posts since 12/11/2008

Just like it is with a guitar, if you engage/bow the string further away from the bridge, perhaps even at the beginning of the fingerboard, your tone will be much less trebly/strident. Experiment with where you want to place your bow. But remember, just like Brian says above, what you hear from a couple inches away from your ear is considerably more trebly than what people hear even a couple feet away.

Dec 15, 2021 - 5:20:42 PM

JonD

USA

91 posts since 2/12/2021

HI J Moody,
The piercing e string was my bugaboo when I started out, and the solution for me was 1) get a different, better balanced fiddle 2) fit it with an Evah gold medium e string; and 3) selectively mute with magnets on the bridge to further sweeten the high end in a practice setting (see recent thread on Other Fiddle Topics). Everyone needs to find their own path to a sound they can live with, and seeing as you're already an instrument tweaker, you'll certainly find what works. Disclaimer: I'm a rank beginning fiddler unlike many on this site, so take my advice with a grain of salt!

Dec 15, 2021 - 6:03:25 PM
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5848 posts since 9/26/2008

Might be your instrument.
That said, I've heard Jargar strings are darker sounding. Be aware that the E string is like the octave of the high E string on the guitar so you're already in piercing territory with just the pitch range of the string. What you seek is very elusive.
That said, there are wire mutes that are designed to only affect one or two of the strings. I use a tightly rolled dollar bill that is woven through the strings behind the bridge (that area is called the after length) and angle the bill to touch the bridge on the E side while angling the other side away from the bridge if I want to tone down the E string. A very cheap solution to try before spending a few more bucks on a mute or strings.
Good luck!

Dec 16, 2021 - 9:32:17 AM

1868 posts since 4/6/2014
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I've given up using expensive strings, but " Larsen Tzigane" strings are the "jazziest" sounding strings i have ever used on my fiddle. If i remember correctly they are also very "expressive"

Dec 16, 2021 - 10:40:24 AM
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742 posts since 3/1/2020

Synthetic strings will be warmer and give a wider color palette than steel strings. You could even try natural or wound gut, although they can be rather pricey.

Assuming the setup is good, you could try Dominants for more color or Obligatos if you want to go dark and don’t mind losing some projection. Use a medium gauge Goldbrokat E for a richer, sweeter sound. If you want the E darker, try the heavy Goldbrokat E or the Warchal Amber E.

Balance issues are often the result of sound post position. Harshness can be caused by a number of things, such as soundpost placement, the cut of the bridge, the neck angle, or the violin’s body itself. Before diving down the rabbit hole of string selections, have a luthier check everything out. There are a lot of small details in violin setup that have a major impact on sound.

One other thing: try with a different bow just to be sure that’s not the problem.

All kinds of materials have been tried for the violin bridge but only maple has been truly successful. Aubert made some out of sycamore for a while, but those were short-lived.

Dec 17, 2021 - 8:03:17 PM
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Apltrez

USA

168 posts since 2/1/2008

Interesting topic. For years I used Prim strings because they were the only ones that would stand up to cross tuning...as legend has it. I tried Helicore as recommended by a cousin who was a Texas style Contest player. Fast forward over several years of changing strings way too often and I decided I like Prims to loosen up the sound board on a fiddle that hasn't been played in awhile...seems like they unleash the fiddles voice because of the Prim's brash voice. I've tried Helicores and then after reading a report by RobBob I tried Chromcors. I have decided, for my ears only, no one string brand is best for all or even most fiddles. Strikes me it is a process. Currently my favored fiddle has Heicores and a Goldbrokat E and I love the sound. On my newest acquisition, a Frank Daniels fiddle, Heicores seem too brassy so I may want to try it with Chromcors soon. Daniels and his father Sam were favored by many Weiser National Contest players. Frank always strung his fiddles with Prims.

Bottom line is that it's a process that you get better at as you march further down the line.

.....just my notion and I'm done now.

Dec 22, 2021 - 6:45:39 PM

46davis

USA

48 posts since 3/16/2021

As a jazz player, you might try tuning down to G-D-G-D. It gives a darker tone as the two upper strings have less tension. Also try A-E-A-F#, also called Black Mountain tuning which has a signature "howl". Or G-D-A-F# for an experiment. Fiddle tunes in those tunings have a certain sound that can't be duplicated in orchestra tuning.

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Dec 22, 2021 - 7:46:04 PM
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5848 posts since 9/26/2008

Black mountain tuning is AEac#, FYI, also called troll tuning or calico tuning.

As a jazz player, I'd stick with standard I-talian tuning as it is the most versatile in a genre that changes keys within nearly every tune/song. If you were to change tunings to darken the tone, you'd probably be best to just lower them all to a lower standard tuning (FCgd would be a full step down and give you the key of Bb when playing out of a C fingering, handy if you're playing horn music).

Have you found anyone's suggestions useful? smiley

Dec 23, 2021 - 4:00:29 AM

kjb

USA

750 posts since 6/8/2013

interesting about the jazz tunings, is that a common thing with jazz players?

Dec 23, 2021 - 7:12:26 AM
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DougD

USA

10589 posts since 12/2/2007

Kjb - I don't play jazz, but my advice would be not to believe everything you read on the Internet.
Also, if you want to tune your E string up to F# I'd suggest you wear safety glasses.

Dec 23, 2021 - 7:28:06 AM

5848 posts since 9/26/2008

quote:
Originally posted by kjb

interesting about the jazz tunings, is that a common thing with jazz players? I'm not sure what you are referencing, but jazz players likely wouldn't retune at all because it is common for that music to change keys multiple times in a single tune and the odd tuning suggested are not jazz tunings and would restrict the player to one key (mostly). My suggestion was made only because the OP seems to be searching for something tonally that tuning down might help. 

Edited by - ChickenMan on 12/23/2021 07:30:10

Dec 23, 2021 - 7:29:43 AM
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kjb

USA

750 posts since 6/8/2013

got it thanks , I did not think they did but I do a couple of people who tune differently because its easier or for effect, sounds interesting

Dec 23, 2021 - 3:51:13 PM

18 posts since 3/8/2018

Ever consider a Viola?

Dec 23, 2021 - 4:31:20 PM
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2043 posts since 12/11/2008

I love playing jazz on my trebly fiddle. I think of it as my trumpet or cornet. As my soprano sax. And oh, yeah. Bb and F, two common jazz keys, are absolutely made for the fiddle once you learn the trick of moving your left hand back a half step toward the nut. When you do this, your Old Time-accustomed fingers automatically play in Bb & Eb. Still better, once you get used to doing scales and riffs with your hand parked a half-step back, you discover that the open strings are the Bb, Eb & F scales' Major Sevenths. Soulfully toggle between the open string and your half-step up index finger. Repeat ad infinitum/ad nauseam. Grow a goatie. Wear a beret.

Edited by - Lonesome Fiddler on 12/23/2021 16:51:55

Dec 24, 2021 - 3:10:05 AM
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kjb

USA

750 posts since 6/8/2013

ha good one ! yes I have just been working in different keys and the flats are , as you say , easily adaptable. I have been using backing tracks for guitar on you tube, great way to expand you scale knowledge

Dec 24, 2021 - 2:24:24 PM
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1868 posts since 4/6/2014
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Lonesome Fiddler

I love playing jazz on my trebly fiddle. I think of it as my trumpet or cornet. As my soprano sax. And oh, yeah. Bb and F, two common jazz keys, are absolutely made for the fiddle once you learn the trick of moving your left hand back a half step toward the nut. When you do this, your Old Time-accustomed fingers automatically play in Bb & Eb. Still better, once you get used to doing scales and riffs with your hand parked a half-step back, you discover that the open strings are the Bb, Eb & F scales' Major Sevenths. Soulfully toggle between the open string and your half-step up index finger. Repeat ad infinitum/ad nauseam. Grow a goatie. Wear a beret.


The 1st or 1/2 positions, Together with the higher positions, using open strings for pivots, position changes, chording etc. Make playing old jazz tunes (particularly vocal lines and harmonies), a joy to play on the fiddle in flat keys for me. Down to 3 flats, (haven't got around to much in Ab yet). It seems to keep stuff mostly under the fingers rather than on harsh uncontrollable open strings. And it has that "muted Jazz sound", due to the majority of notes being fingered in the middle of the fiddle's register....Think i might start training my whiskers into a Goatie and change my flat cap for a beret...Maybe :0)

Jan 4, 2022 - 1:36:20 PM
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42 posts since 1/21/2009

I just wanted to weigh in and say 'thanks' to all that offered helpful info.

It was a long & somewhat busy holiday, which ended with my wife & myself testing positive for COVID.
On top of that, I'm dealing with what is either shoulder impingement -or- a nasty, deep strain in my left shoulder (the strain rears it's head occasionaly, but it's intense)...so I'm doing a fair amount of stretching without actually stressing that shoulder to keep it limber while I try to let it heal. I've only been able to play about 10-15 minutes at a time, and I'm not trying to push it.

Between this pesky shoulder and caring for myself and the wife through this COVID illness, I have my hands full.
I'mma put a pin in this for the time being. I'm hoping to get back to it soon. Besides, the most I can do currently is work on some of the music theory and chart chord locations on paper so I can get used to what goes where. The shoulder is slowly getting better, and I'm no longer under quarantine. Things are looking up.

Once again, thanks for the insight, y'all.

Jan 4, 2022 - 2:29:12 PM

DougD

USA

10589 posts since 12/2/2007

Its nice when someone checks back in to report their progress. Hope you both get to feeling better soon.

Jan 4, 2022 - 3:54 PM

2043 posts since 12/11/2008

Wow. Terrible! My fingers are crossed. Let it all be mild!! Treat your body well...

Jan 5, 2022 - 7:32:44 AM

42 posts since 1/21/2009

Thanks.
I'm doing what I can with what limited skills I got. :)
Honestly, today is the best I've felt on both fronts. (Hope I'm not jinxing myself by saying that)
Now, I've just got to get the wife to healing. This COVID thing is hanging out longer with her. She's headed back to our doc this afternoon.

Jan 8, 2022 - 10:44:12 AM
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5704 posts since 7/1/2007

I've been up to my eyeballs in work lately, so haven't been looking in on the forum lately, but the first thing I learned when I started catering to fiddlers is that fiddlers generally don't like "brilliance" or shrill instruments, whereas with classical players you want a crystalline, bell-like sound, and brilliance helps an instrument's sound carry to the back of the auditorium. So, one of the first things I had to figure out was to set up fiddles to avoid brilliance. One thing that helps is a slightly softer bridge with a thicker top, say say a Despiau one-tree bridge 1.5 or 1.6mm top and a parchment patch under the E. I set up all my fiddles for sale with a heavy (.27mm) E string, either Jargar of Goldbrokat, for a rounder, fuller sound. Almost all my customers seem to like them. Finally sound post location and fit. I place my post to the "east", about 1 or 1.5mm inside the bridge foot, and 3-4mm back from the bridge for starters, and get the best overall contact on each end that I can by looking at the pressure/wear marks on the end of the post.

Jan 8, 2022 - 2:30:28 PM

5848 posts since 9/26/2008

@JonD
Note what Michael said there. Sounds about like where your sound post was.

Jan 9, 2022 - 5:15:43 AM

kjb

USA

750 posts since 6/8/2013

thanks for taking the time to help out michael ! always great info.

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