Well, another experiment.
I was at the local music shop and thought to ask about violin bridges. The owner said they hadn't had anyone ever ask for just a bridge to try and trim/fit themselves. But they have a guy who comes in and does the set-up for the rental violins, so the owner gave me one of the ones out of his bin of bridges. Apparently he rejects over half of the bridges out of a bag of 250 of them when they order them, and the ones he keeps he "pre-trims" so it will take him less time when he has to set-up an instrument if someone is waiting for it.
On the bright side, I didn't mess this one up myself. On the not so bright side, the pre-trimming may not actually fit my violin if their student models are much different at all in shape/curve, etc. But hey, I wasn't charged for it anyway, so no room to gripe. It is worth a try, and I figure I'll do as little as possible to it when installing it, in hopes that he knows much more about bridges than I do (which is pretty much guaranteed, since I know very little).
It definitely looks a bit different than the two I kludged up myself.
I noticed in the lower picture the BIG difference in 'heel' thickness, as in double the height from one to the other. I also noticed that both are totally straight across between the feet in the 'crotch' area.
I have included a couple of jpg's to allow us to discuss them and their various areas.
Most if not all I've seen are arched under the crotch to match more closely the arch of the violin body, the feet are uniform in thickness and the rounded corners are something I've not seen much.
Notice how the heart wing and kidney wing area has the sharp tips trimmed…
I'm very interested in the sound achieved from them since a microscopic change makes a BIG difference in the acoustic sound produced.
What were the thickness dims for the two? I've went as thin as 3.75mm but nothing less, they tend to bend and then break easily. Most are in the range of 4.0mm to 4.5mm measured at the foot and tapered up to the 1.25mm to 1.5mm width at the shoulder for the strings to lay on.
Both of the pics I posted are of the same bridge, one of each side.
Thickness at the bottom looks to be about 4.5 mm, and maybe a hair under 1.5 mm at the top.
Considering it is "pre-trimmed" and not an actual finished job, I'm not sure what parts he might trim or sand a bit before it is actually considered done. The shop owner didn't know what all he does except that he puts it on and takes it off two or three times to play some scales and then make adjustments.
I did get to see one finished job briefly, but I hadn't looked close at the bridge I got, so I probably missed a lot. I did notice two things that struck me as unusual, though. On that one, only the treble side kidney wing had the tip trimmed. The bass side was untrimmed. And I noted that the toes were slightly rounded on the edges, which I haven't seen or heard of before. I didn't notice where it seemed to be thinned, rounded or shaped much differently from the pre-trim one. I did notice that the notches for the strings seemed shallow compared to what I've seen and definitely shallower than the ones I have done. But I probably cut them too deep anyway.
I also noted it had neither parchment tabs nor plastic tubes, since we've been talking about those here lately. The strings appeared to be just sitting in what looked like little dents in the shoulder.
The violin I saw where he had finished the set-up and it was waiting to be picked up was strung with heavier strings than I use, and I only played a few notes on it. So I wouldn't want to judge the action, but the sound seemed nice enough to my violin noob ears. I am guessing heavier strings mean less replacement on student rentals.
Also there is no way of telling how good a job he'd rank the bridge I got, since it was only partially done. We don't know if it was one he would have picked to do the best possible setup or "Meh, good enough for a student rental.." I don't know if he is actually considered good at such things or not, either. From what I gather he's just somebody who teaches lessons and was willing to do setups of the rental violins.
My current planned experiment will be to get a recent sound sample of the acoustic violin and then get out the bridge jack and swap this one in and see how it sounds different. If possible, I'm not going to trim it at all until after we hear it. Unless the string height or the fit of the feet on the arch are really bad, I want to hear and see what it is like before doing anything to it. The feet worry me a little, since there isn't a lot there to sand on the treble side especially. I think it looks like it might be nicer wood than the bridge I have on the acoustic at present, anyway.
Maybe it will be an improvement, maybe not. But it is interesting to look at and wonder at the logic he's following, anyway. LOL
Incidentally ……… I have only so much patience for detail but maybe, someday, in your spare time you could add this test to your list:
There are legions of people who condemn the whole thing but I never found a response from anyone who actually tried it in place of just pontificating.
I've wondered a bit about that too, Oliver.
On the one hand, it seems like it would be a bit too good to be true. Something that simple causing an alleged great improvement in sound? But bass bars and soundposts had to be new ideas once, and they are essentially just a slat of wood and a little dowel. But they are now considered critical elements in the sound.
There's probably some particulars to actually getting the holes to work (assuming they can), like a certain diameter and depth will remedy or improve some characteristic of the sound. It might not work with just any old bridge or violin.
I've also wondered if holes like that but filled with something strong and light like carbon fiber might allow mass of the bridge to be reduced a bit without making it too fragile to hold up.
But I'm very new at this stuff, and not even sure I actually know for certain what a good sound is for violin. I also don't have the spare bridges to mess with concepts like this. Who knows, though? In 50 or 100 years, maybe almost every violin will have bridges with holes drilled up the legs and it will be a part of what most luthiers usually do to make and fit them. Right now I think the idea is just so new it is at the "Naw, something that simple couldn't possibly help!" stage.
I would venture to guess that "something" significant will happen with the holes. I can not do the test because I'm in no way tooled for it.
As I reported, I've found many comments regarding how the idea is no good from people who have not tried it (and the lack of objectivity is of no consequence).
So, this almost guarantees that the idea will work. (Whatever "work" might mean.)
You can get bridges for under $5. (Aubert student ??).
Daniel, When you get to the point of playing with the bridge, send a sound sample before during and after your mods so we can get at least some minimal info from the process.
I've drilled a bridge as shown in the vid and the results were pretty insignificant, meaning I found more to be had as far as tuning and developing the sound by thinning, foot matching the body curve, and not getting the grooves too deep for the strings than a simple hole in each foot…which by the way will weaken the upper structure if the dia is made too large.
Also note, the bridge in the vid above has not been thinned, nor shaped, nor any curves cut in the crotch area to match the body of the instrument as yet, so perhaps the incredible results were simply covering up the lack of proper trimming and modifiying that hadn't yet been done. Also, I find it highly unlikely a crude set up such as that shown would produce a result that was repeatable.
@springer: Yeah, I think eventually it boils down to being like any other instrument. Finding what you like. Trying to actually find a "best" is madness. You find something you like and you work with it. I know FM has bridges, but I was hoping that my local bricks and mortar music store had them so I could see a number of them and start trying to figure out how to pick a good one. All online shopping has that limitation. Besides, if you don't give at least *some* support to local shops where you've gone for years, eventually you have no local shops.
@Oliver: The holes up the feet is an area that I feel probably does have some promise. It isn't even the wildest concept I've seen. In my travels across the net I remember seeing someone working on using different sizes of drilled holes in the face of the bridge instead of the usual "heart and kidneys" to come up with an adjustment method that was maybe a bit physically stronger and more repeatable than the current conventional way. Or "for something completely different", look at one of the bridges Paganini owned/used..
No "heart" at all, the groin isn't arched, and there are a lot of other differences between it and any modern bridge I have seen. The question I would wonder would be "Have we evolved to something better since then, or lost something?"
The "perfect sound" quest can be a sort of trap. One can spend so much time fussing and adjusting that one doesn't play enough. Then what was the point of it all?
I do agree, however, that far too many people tend to chime in with opinions as to why something "couldn't work" when they have made no attempt to try it. (Unlike Denny, who mentions he did at least try the holes in the feet concept) It reminds me of an old favorite poem by Edgar Guest called "It Couldn't Be Done". And at least according to popular legends, Edison had to make more than a few tries to get that whole "light bulb" concept to actually work.
But time is always a limited resource, and available discretionary funding is not 100% dedicated to violins in my house. LOL Besides, I am not sure that I am actually any judge of what a "better" sound is yet.
@cdennyb: Will do, so far as recordings. It has been sort of hectic at my house for the past couple weeks, so not as much time (or quiet) to tinker with fun things. It should at least be interesting to see what that new bridge does. Considering I personally think that the "pre-trimming" sounds somewhat dubious as a method, especially when taken to this degree (I personally would have probably thought it better to leave a bit more wood on the feet, for example), and that a bridge that was in the process of being made for what was likely a very different line of violins than mine, I'm not expecting any miracles out of it. But what the heck, nothing to lose and I can revert it back to the current bridge anyway if the new one doesn't sound more promising.
I think the guy drilling the hole's had some sort of hair brained idea while laying in bed one night. I'm not saying the concept isn't there, but I am saying his technique is kind of primitive. Holding the bridge with his hands, then drilling the hole's freehand, not aligned with his marking's, drilling the hole's up through the crotch, having no idea if the hole's a even straight and not more to one side than the other. As Daniel pointed out, it's got to weaken the bridge. How can you get precision accuracy without clamping the bridge and using a drill press. I trust he later vacuum's his shaving's off the sofa / couch.
I have to think that bridge maker's have taken all this into concideration and have experimented on all different style's of bridge's. Maybe the next approach is to drill 2/8" hole in the top and bottom of the violin to let more air in and sound out. Good grief!!
@Fiddlestix: You may well be right, but I am not sure as I share the belief that everything has already been tried. The kind of experimentation I think it would take to actually explore and exhaust all possibilities would have to be extensive and I don't think I have ever seen much sign of such organized research having occurred. But I could be wrong on that. I just don't have as much faith in convention, perhaps.
Anyway, so on to the main event. I put in the new bridge. It seems a surprisingly good fit, all things considered. The treble foot looks to me like it might not be quite "light tight" in how it fits, but it is close enough that the bridge easily "stood on it's own two feet", so I left it alone, along with everything else. I didn't notch string grooves or anything.
Action is a tiny bit higher than I am used to. Slightly over 4 mm on the E side and about 6 mm on the G side. But assuming the person who made it would usually have sanded the feet slightly to get a perfect fit to the top and made taken a tiny bit off the shoulders or put in grooves for the strings, it is actually kind of amazingly close to what it should be, from what I understand.
While I had both bridges out, I noticed the new one is definitely heavier. Almost doesn't feel like the same type of wood, it seemed considerable more dense. I don't have any sort of scales around that would be good for weights in the range of just a few grams, so the exact difference is unknown.
Of course it sounds a bit different. Timbre and volume balance between strings is one of the things I expect to change when a bridge is changed. The curve/plane the strings are in is also different, but not enough to make it hard to play, it would just take a bit of getting used to.
But as a drop in replacement with no adjustment done, I would have to say the new bridge seems a pretty good job. I am pretty sure I couldn't have gotten it that close. There's the difference between somebody who has done maybe hundreds of bridges and someone who has done 2. Experience can make a world of difference.
Anyway, I'm not doing anything else to it until cdennyb has had a chance to check the test recordings.
And once more, 3 cheers for bridge jacks! The violin only needed a minor touch-up on the tuning to get it back in tune after the change, nothing beyond the adjustment of the fine tuners.
For the record …. I really doubt that out there somewhere is the "super" bridge which can miraculously transform mediocre violins into great instruments.
I have pursued many such follies and now, after many years, I realize that the problem all along has been me. I need no more gizmos, toys, strings, rosin, tailpiece, ad infinitum.
This is a frightening conclusion but that's what it is.
Meanwhile, I enjoy monitoring the growing collection of "fixes" in the Shar catalog.
(Maybe having a bridge mute that looks like a cute mouse (i.e. rodent) would help my frame of mind ?)
(Maybe having a bridge mute that looks like a cute mouse (i.e. rodent) would help my frame of mind ?)
And what about those "Bow Hold Buddies", have you seen those? The Cellophant is seriously awesome, almost tempts me to learn cello just so I could use one.. LOL
But in all seriousness, I agree, there is no miracle gadget that is going to make a mediocre instrument sound great.
Making sure all the parts and the set-up are reasonably right, can help any instrument sound as good as it possibly can, though. It could make the difference between "dreadful" and "mediocre" in some cases. It is also just possible that an otherwise somewhat better instrument might seem mediocre or poor if it is set up badly or has some key part that was badly made like a very poor bridge.
I think that in cases of actual "miracle fixes", they probably fall under those sorts of things.
Or maybe the "miracle" is being judged mostly on only one characteristic like brightness or volume. I mean if any musical instrument sounds like crap and somebody can make it sound 4 times louder, that isn't necessarily an improvement.
That is fascinating! Definitely shows the "fingerprint" of the instrument you have mentioned.
It also confirms what I had thought of this instrument getting louder as it has been kept in tune and played regularly. Timbre has also changed, and it is a bit brighter and with more rasp and growl to it. A lot of "personality" starting to show, not always as sweet as I might be trying for though. LOL
Any acoustic instrument takes some time to settle and for it's sound to mature though. Like with an acoustic guitar, when you first get it from the factory, that will be about the worst it will ever sound. Keep it in tune and play it regularly and "settling" happens over the first months and continues as time goes on. But mostly after a few months you have a pretty good idea what it will sound like, the "personality" shows, the sound that makes an instrument recognizable from other instruments of the same type. Even with cookie-cutter made instruments like this one, they are always unique individuals.
I don't really play it as much as I *should*, because I can't really play it at night anymore at all. Even if my playing is ok, the sound of it wakes people in the household up, even on another floor and several rooms away. Outdoors it also carries quite a bit. When weather is good, I usually take it into the backyard about sunset and play 2 or 3 songs. A couple of neighbors hear it when I start playing even from in their houses with AC or TV on and usually come out onto the porch to listen. None of them are musicians, but they claim to like the sound, and we have a bit of a running joke about the "Sunset Concerts". (Hey, as long as they aren't calling the cops, it's good. LOL)
But they're listening to it from maybe 30-40 ft away, and distance, wind, and background sounds like traffic and leaves on trees mellow the sound. At "ground zero" where I am playing it, it seems very loud and more than a bit harsher/brighter than I personally like for listening. Vibration of the sound through the instrument also seems quite strong, I can feel it in the bones of the hand, arm, shoulder and etc when playing, especially when playing some strong notes. Notes also ring/sustain longer than they did when it was newer.
Guessing from what I have seen with new cheap acoustic guitars, I think it will be probably close to the holidays before the instrument has mostly finished settling and then I'll have a pretty good idea of the sound of it (and hopefully will be able to play it better). I may need to consider a mute, though, since it won't be summer weather where I can take it outdoors to play forever. Winter is coming.
But it is learning to be loud, and the notes have lost some of the muffled/stuffy sound it had at first. It has always tuned up pretty well and held tune ever since I scraped the paint off the pegs. The pegs were a little "sticky" at first, but they have smoothed out some over time. Action isn't bad, though not quite as comfy as my electric. It is definitely a playable little instrument, and it can get some good sounds. Better than I expected from a 60-70$ acoustic. From the sound changes, it looks like it may even be promising. More time and playing to let it settle, and some fine adjustments to the bridge and soundpost as it settles out and it may grow up to be at least a bit of something.
Anyway, thank you for the analysis, Denny. i can definitely see that "fingerprint" an instrument has that you have spoken of, even with a bridge change, which was quite a a surprise.
With the new bridge, I think the shoulder may be shaped better than I did on the one I trimmed. Doublestops and drones are easier to get (though I still suck at using them effectively). All in all, I'd say the experiment is going at least ok.
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