Violin setup guidance

tomasz

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Dec 18, 2007
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957
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Europe
Thanks folks, really appreciate your suggestions. I'll give the suggestions @Seasicksailor and @Bowpickins laid out a try, but will keep in mind that the general consensus is to get it into the hands of an expert

It's notable to hear such a loud and clear message to go to a luthier (or at least a university violin expert) from this very DIY oriented community.

Good advice here and I would second the opinion to reach out to a professional. Not that it is impossible to adjust a violin, it's just a universe in its own :)

Fitting a bridge to the top may not be a challenge, but carving it for weight and better resonance is, as they come oversized - assuming of course there is need for such a job.

Soundpost fit and placement is a task, where joi just may not have the right tools, or experience to do it without struggle. There is a sweetspot for the soundpost position behind the bridge, the ends need to be angled and cut cleanly.. and depending on the instrument, the soundpost may just get loose and fall if you loosen the tension of the strings or remove the bridge.

Also, you .ay not have the reamers for cleaning and pegholes or fitting the peds, if that job needs to be done..

I think those are really some of the reasons, folks recommend a luthier :)
 

jayyj

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Violin repairer here.

To get a violin to a professional level, you need a repairer with experience. But lots of us enjoy trying to figure this stuff out so, since we're talking a student grade violin anyway, let's see if we can get this playing. Worst case scenario you'll mess up the bridge and have to pay someone to replace it.

The soundpost will probably be close enough for jazz, I don't habitually move soundposts in student grade instruments unless they're significantly leaning. Have a look through the F hole, then with the strings off pop the end button out and look at it through there as well, if it's more or less upright and set 4-6mm back from the bridge you'll be fine.

The pegs should turn smoothly and stay in place. If they judder when you turn them, buy some peg paste (plasticine and chalk both work in a pinch, but a tube of peg paste is worth having. To get them 100% will require specialist tools which won't be economically worth acquiring if you only the occasional set up tweak, but as long as they weren't a complete dog's dinner to start with you can usually get them ok with paste.

Whilst you're at the peg end, check your nut slots. If you've done guitar nuts before this is easy, you just want them fractionally above the top of the fingerboard.

The bridge is the tricky part. Firstly, look at the violin side on - the back edge of the bridge should be more or less 90% to the body and the front edge leaving back slightly. If it's warped, which will be obvious from the back edge, then you need a new bridge. If not, take the strings off and stand the bridge upright on the body. It should stand up unsupported with the feet making contact at every point so if it doesn't you'll have to tweak it. As a simple fix, cut a square of 240 grit sandpaper and place it face up on the violin so that it conforms to the top of the violin. Grip the bridge firmly near to the base and drag it along the paper to transfer the shape of the top onto the feet of the bridge. Go in one direction only not back and forth and watch for the bottom of the feet getting rounded front to back because you weren't holding the bridge firmly enough - if this happens you'll have to get the knife out to correct, which is getting a bit more skilled. If it doesn't stand up on its own without string tension, it's going to be a nightmare moving about when you're trying to tune up let alone worrying about sound quality, so you need it reasonably good at this point. I rough fit bridges with sandpaper but use a knife to finish off, but you'll be able to get a reasonable result just sanding.

Then the top of the bridge. String height, just like a guitar, has an element of personal preference but if setting up for the shop I generally set it at about 2.5mm on the E and 3.25mm on the G, measuring at the neck to body join. Take the bridge off, find some scrap wood and make a template of the top of the bridge (unless you have a better bridge to work from, you're going to have to assume the current bridge top is an ok shape) and mark the string locations on it (assuming the existing string doesn't is to your liking, if not you can measure them instead). Then measure up and mark out where you're going to cut using the template to get the shape correct. Put it back on the violin and eyeball down the neck to check the measurements look more or less right. Then you can carve, file or sand the excess away.

Because the bridge is tapered, that will leave you with a bridge that's overly thick at the top and potentially thicker in some places than others. This will need to be reset by carving the bridge to thin it out and reshape the taper. Use a sharp knife for this and watch for gain direction, as it's easy to wreck the bridge at this point digging in against the grain. Take small shaves off like taking the peel off an apple. I guess you could file sand this with a hard block if you were nervous carving. The carve and thickness of the bridge at this point is also important in terms of getting the best out of a violin but as with soundposts, a small change that makes a difference on a $5k violin isn't going to be as obvious on a $500 one.

Lastly mark out the string spacing in pencil, make nicks in the top with your sharp knife then use a round needle file to make the groove. They don't need to be deep, aim to have 1/3 of the string in there.

Once you've done all that you're ready to string up. If it still has the factory strings chuck them in the bin and buy a set of decent synthetic core strings, which will almost certainly feel more comfortable to play on and sound better. Thomastik Dominants are the industry standard middle of the road synthetic strings, D'Addario Zyex and Pirastro Tonicas good alternatives that might cost a little less. Pirastro Evah Pirazzi or Obligato are premium versions of the same thing but probably not necessary in this level instrument.

Good luck with it and any questions feel free to hit me up. Like anything it's a bit fiddly at first but if you go slow and careful you should be able to get there with it.
 
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WingedWords

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First, sorry for being that straight guy, or even "that guy" but... don't you think there's a violin forum out there, where you could ask this question? Or really, if you're afraid to register yet another account there, that this question hasn't already been answered in any violin forum? Frankly, I don't think it exist. I don't know why you think a Telecaster forum would be the greatest, or best spot to sort out this for you. On the contrary, chances are very slim...

And BTW I think you will get way better answers and guidance there, than on any Tele (or electric guitar) forum. Luthiers are those who build guitars, and even if acoustics, it's way different than any violin builders.

I hear what you're saying, but I think the op made it fairly clear why he asked here and my experience of strings forums supports his feeling that they tend to be very purist.

I've found that no matter what subject one has a query about someone on TDPRI will have something helpful and realistic to contribute. I think this is confirmed by some of the posts above eg #22 from jayyj.
 

Ron C

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Sep 12, 2006
Posts
851
Location
Long Island, New York
Violin repairer here.

To get a violin to a professional level, you need a repairer with experience. But lots of us enjoy trying to figure this stuff out so, since we're talking a student grade violin anyway, let's see if we can get this playing. Worst case scenario you'll mess up the bridge and have to pay someone to replace it.

The soundpost will probably be close enough for jazz, I don't habitually move soundposts in student grade instruments unless they're significantly leaning. Have a look through the F hole, then with the strings off pop the end button out and look at it through there as well, if it's more or less upright and set 4-6mm back from the bridge you'll be fine.

The pegs should turn smoothly and stay in place. If they judder when you turn them, buy some peg paste (plasticine and chalk both work in a pinch, but a tube of peg paste is worth having. To get them 100% will require specialist tools which won't be economically worth acquiring if you only the occasional set up tweak, but as long as they weren't a complete dog's dinner to start with you can usually get them ok with paste.

Whilst you're at the peg end, check your nut slots. If you've done guitar nuts before this is easy, you just want them fractionally above the top of the fingerboard.

The bridge is the tricky part. Firstly, look at the violin side on - the back edge of the bridge should be more or less 90% to the body and the front edge leaving back slightly. If it's warped, which will be obvious from the back edge, then you need a new bridge. If not, take the strings off and stand the bridge upright on the body. It should stand up unsupported with the feet making contact at every point so if it doesn't you'll have to tweak it. As a simple fix, cut a square of 240 grit sandpaper and place it face up on the violin so that it conforms to the top of the violin. Grip the bridge firmly near to the base and drag it along the paper to transfer the shape of the top onto the feet of the bridge. Go in one direction only not back and forth and watch for the bottom of the feet getting rounded front to back because you weren't holding the bridge firmly enough - if this happens you'll have to get the knife out to correct, which is getting a bit more skilled. If it doesn't stand up on its own without string tension, it's going to be a nightmare moving about when you're trying to tune up let alone worrying about sound quality, so you need it reasonably good at this point. I rough fit bridges with sandpaper but use a knife to finish off, but you'll be able to get a reasonable result just sanding.

Then the top of the bridge. String height, just like a guitar, has an element of personal preference but if setting up for the shop I generally set it at about 2.5mm on the E and 3.25mm on the G, measuring at the neck to body join. Take the bridge off, find some scrap wood and make a template of the top of the bridge (unless you have a better bridge to work from, you're going to have to assume the current bridge top is an ok shape) and mark the string locations on it (assuming the existing string doesn't is to your liking, if not you can measure them instead). Then measure up and mark out where you're going to cut using the template to get the shape correct. Put it back on the violin and eyeball down the neck to check the measurements look more or less right. Then you can carve, file or sand the excess away.

Because the bridge is tapered, that will leave you with a bridge that's overly thick at the top and potentially thicker in some places than others. This will need to be reset by carving the bridge to thin it out and reshape the taper. Use a sharp knife for this and watch for gain direction, as it's easy to wreck the bridge at this point digging in against the grain. Take small shaves off like taking the peel off an apple. I guess you could file sand this with a hard block if you were nervous carving. The carve and thickness of the bridge at this point is also important in terms of getting the best out of a violin but as with soundposts, a small change that makes a difference on a $5k violin isn't going to be as obvious on a $500 one.

Lastly mark out the string spacing in pencil, make nicks in the top with your sharp knife then use a round needle file to make the groove. They don't need to be deep, aim to have 1/3 of the string in there.

Once you've done all that you're ready to string up. If it still has the factory strings chuck them in the bin and buy a set of decent synthetic core strings, which will almost certainly feel more comfortable to play on and sound better. Thomastik Dominants are the industry standard middle of the road synthetic strings, D'Addario Zyex and Pirastro Tonicas good alternatives that might cost a little less. Pirastro Evah Pirazzi or Obligato are premium versions of the same thing but probably not necessary in this level instrument.

Good luck with it and any questions feel free to hit me up. Like anything it's a bit fiddly at first but if you go slow and careful you should be able to get there with it.
Thanks very much for the clear instructions, the context (like where it's easy to wreck the bridge) and the offer of additional help!

I've done some work fitting archtop guitar bridges so some of the bridge work you describe is familiar, but it seems like the level of precision required on the violin is considerably higher.

I should have fresh strings within a few days but will use the existing ancient ones as a guide to begin nut and bridge work.
 

Ron C

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Sep 12, 2006
Posts
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Long Island, New York
Just to get an overview of the final assemble, fitting the bridge, installing the soundpost etc glance thru the StewMack violin kit instructions.

https://www.stewmac.com/globalasset...instructions/download-fiddle-kit-instructions
Funny, I forgot that StewMac sells violin kits. When I started poking around about this, my thought was to find StewMac-type guidance to give me a sense of whether this was like adding a new electrical outlet in my house (I can do that fine) or updating the electrical panel (call the electrician). These StewMac instructions plus the other guidance I've received here do the trick.
 

Ron C

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Sep 12, 2006
Posts
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Location
Long Island, New York
First, sorry for being that straight guy, or even "that guy" but... don't you think there's a violin forum out there, where you could ask this question?...
No problem, you're being reasonable...just not the path I'd like to start with.
I hear what you're saying, but I think the op made it fairly clear why he asked here and my experience of strings forums supports his feeling that they tend to be very purist.

I've found that no matter what subject one has a query about someone on TDPRI will have something helpful and realistic to contribute. I think this is confirmed by some of the posts above eg #22 from jayyj.
You nailed it.

BTW, the context for starting down this path is that my wife (self trained pianist, artist) asked me to make it playable for her to explore. The instrument has been wall art for 15+ years and the strings are shot but the sound post, bridge, pegs and fine tuners appear to be okay and "setup-able". Back when the violin was new my then teenage kids' orchestral string playing friends - really good players -- were happily surprised about the quality and tone of the instrument, but said that the bow was not good.

My objective is to get a playable instrument into her hands so that she can decide on next steps (luthier setup, higher quality instrument, etc.)
 

florianloncaric32

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Jun 30, 2022
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22
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Toronto
Tuning a violin is very different from how to tune a guitar. I know this because my two daughters are engaged in music, and I have to do it all the time. The youngest daughter has only recently started playing the violin, and to be honest, I could not understand much about how to set up this musical instrument properly. Even the videos on the Internet didn't help me in any way, although I tried to figure out what I should do with them. As a result, a couple of days ago, I ordered a violin for evergreenviolin.com for his youngest daughter so as not to puzzle over how to improve an old violin. So you can lose in this war, my friend
 
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