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New Mendini MV300 violin - critical exam
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DanielB
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June 12, 2012 - 6:23 am
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You should never look a gift horse in the mouth.. When whoever gave it to you is around, anyway.  That is the time to be gracious, enthusiastic and appreciative. 

But "smart money" will sneak out to the barn a bit later and have a little visit with the horse and check it over to see what may need a little bit of attention and definitely to check the teeth.  LOL

I apologize in advance if multiple posting is considered rude here, but for some things it just makes sense.  This is a step by step sort of process, so I think it best to post it in sections as I go along.  This is a typical low priced violin/fiddle, and some of the things I look for and/or the steps I go through to correct or improve certain points later may be of use to someone else who is starting with something inexpensive, but hopes to maybe be able to get it to play nice.  Also, there are people more experienced in setup and repair here or more familiar with violins from experience who may choose to favor me with advice or observations that will be helpful. 

First and most obvious test is "what does the instrument sound like".  I also want an early recording of the sound to compare to later to be able to better tell if I have managed to improve it at certain stages.

To me, right now it sounds a bit like the box it came out of.  That is no surprise, and I have seen it with many instruments over the years where they are straight from the factory as opposed to ones that were adjusted and tuned and spent some time sitting in a music store before they were bought.  I have known more than a few instruments over the years that sounded a bit rough at first, but after some adjustment and settling time and playing got pretty sweet.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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DanielB
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Now, from playing it a bit, I have noticed some things.

Firstly, the strings that came on it from the factory were pretty bad, and more than a bit dead.  Interestingly, the strings I took off and the "extra set" that came with the violin do not feel exactly alike.  Running a thumbnail along the factory G, and the Cecilio "extra set" G, they feel a little different.  The factory set seems to have a somewhat flatter wind.  This may indicate that they use a different set for stringing the instrument for shipping than when they package strings for sale or that their quality is a bit inconsistent.  Either way, I happened to have a better set of new strings I had ordered to try on my electric.  Rotosound "professional", which are a burnished chrome wrap.  I put those on and they are what has been settling in since I got the violin.

Factory strings are usually bad enough that almost any kind of string is an upgrade.  The factory strings are mostly just intended to keep a bit of tension on the instrument and I suspect also so that a noob doesn't try to return the instrument for bing "incomplete" for the lack of strings.  They are better than nothing, but I usually replace them immediately.

The next thing I notice is that the action and string spacing are not really comfortable.  As the pics show, the bridge is not really notched in the right places for the strings, and it is also a little off center.  The nut is also a bit high, about 2 mm, when it should be more like 1mm.    Fortunately, the action is one of the easiest things to change on a stringed instrument, and even if one makes a boo-boo on the bridge or nut, they are not expensive to replace.

Any luthier or shop could do a little work on the nut with a file and a little more with a knife on the bridge and with a new set of strings, they could have this instrument comfortably playable with no major repair work. mv300_bridge1.JPGImage Enlargermv300_nut1.JPGImage Enlarger

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"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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cdennyb
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WOW, what a bunch of misaligned items all glued together. Did you also notice that the fingerboard is not in line with the bridge? If the bridge were cut and strings spaced properly at 34.5mm overall and 11.18mm between them all centered on the bridge top then move the bridge to the E string side a touch, it might make a world of difference in the sound, in addition to the string change!

Notice the bridge is slightly off centered as well in relationship to the ff holes?

Very poor setup in my opinion, at any price. Someone at the factory would hear from me on this.b-slap

"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein

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DanielB
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Time do do some basic quality observations.

When I changed strings, I checked the neck.  It is within a couple mm of being straight along the centerline of the instrument, which is very workable.  It appears to be attached at an appropriate angle, and there are no signs or if being badly attached.  With strings at tension most of yesterday and all night, the neck has stayed at about 1mm of bow.  That may sound scary, but there does need to be a very slight bow to a violin neck or the fingered notes may buzz or just sound dead.  From what I have been told, up to 2mm is ok, but beyond that would be a problem. 

I am not going to attempt to do anything to help the action or string spacing until I have checked the neck every day for at least a few days to make sure it is staying stable at this string tension.  If I rush into it too much, I could end up making myself problems rather than fixing them with adjusting the bridge and nut.  A few days to let the instrument get used to the tension of being in tune and checking the neck will help with getting it right.

Looking at the action and string spacing issues, I would have to say that I couldn't recommend this instrument to a beginner who wanted to just open the box when it came in the mail and tune it up (bridge was already on and strings had just enough tension to hold it in place, so that would have been possible) because it would be rather hard to play and the sound was rather dead due to the factory strings that had been on it for an unknown number of months or even years in a warehouse somewhere. 

The issues are nothing that can't be fixed with a little work.  But a beginner wouldn't likely even know what was wrong, and could be discouraged.  If they had to take it to the music shop or a luthier, the cost would make it much less of a bargain instrument.  But for someone used to doing their own repair and modifications, it is all fairly minor imperfections that are easy enough to remedy.

So we'll take a look at the general appearance and some craftsmanship points. 

I have to say I have never seen any sort of a finish quite like this.  I have a couple other instruments around the house with satin finishes and they don't even remotely act the same when light hits them.  This violin's finish acts almost like the decorative fruit you can get that is covered with tiny glass beads.  What parts of the wood glow and shade and even the color change quite a lot with different light.  As you can see from the first couple pics, in fluorescent light (or cloudy daylight) the instrument looks almost a light brown.  But in sunlight or incandescent or a camera flash, it looks almost orange-red.  I couldn't find a way to get it to photograph, but by candlelight it gets a deep red glow almost like a burning coal or ember on the high spots and some other places.  Very unexpected!  Almost a chameleon effect.

I'm not sure how they did it, or if it was by design or accident.  But I like it!  It does not seem to be fragile, judging on the testing I did.  Usually on inexpensive instruments, the finish is quite thick and dead sounding.  This is definitely thinner than I have seen on most instruments, and the sound of the wood is there when it is tapped or a note played. I'm going to call all that good points, for the moment.

Two piece back as well as the top deck.  Probably quarter-sawn.  But the grain looks nice.  There is a small knot in the grain on the lower back.  Some people might return it for that, but it isn't likely to hurt the sound, so I'll just call it a "beauty mark".  Having looked closely at the purfling under some magnification, the grain between the two dark lines does not match the lines of the grain of the top.  Holy cow, it actually is inlaid instead of just being painted on.  That is a rather minor point really, but I am still impressed. 

Even if it hadn't been a gift from family and even if it wasn't "the new toy", I would like the look and overall feel and balance. 

Downsides.. As you can see from the pic of the nut I posted earlier, and the blob of paint one can def see under where the G string goes onto the nut, the nut and fingerboard are painted.  I'll be scraping down the nut anyway to trim and reshape it and since getting rid of that blob of paint will probably bare a bit of the fingerboard, I am thinking I may just scrape it down to the natural rosewood.  The finish is a little undersprayed in some spots as you can see from the side view of the scroll.  But that gives a sort of glow effect that I think I like the looks of.  100_0115.JPGImage Enlarger100_0116.JPGImage Enlarger100_0117.JPGImage Enlarger100_0120.JPGImage Enlarger100_0119.JPGImage Enlarger100_0121.JPGImage Enlarger100_0118.JPGImage Enlarger

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"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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cdennyb
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here's the sound analysis trace Daniel. The black trace is yours.  The Yellow trace is my test instrument, the 90 yr old German production instrument I restored. The other is a student grade chinese violin I bought 10+ yrs ago.

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"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein

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springer
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That really is a strange color shift, good thing you kind of like it. Some violins come under no tension at all. The bridge is stuck somewhere safe. Looks pretty darn good for 75 Bucks.violin-student

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DanielB
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Cdennyb: Thanks!  I appreciate the trace.  It will be interesting to see how a bit of work and upgrades will affect it.

 

springer:  Yeah, that color shift is wild.  In different light, it would be very easy to think it is a completely different violin.  I like it, though.  "Interesting" can be better than "perfect" in the trad sense.  Definitely distinctive.  And I agree, for the price it is quite nice.  Mine also may have been just somebody's "Monday morning work" on the bridge and the action.  But strictly based on what I see with this one, I couldn't recommend it to a complete beginner who would want a violin that played great straight out of the box.

For someone like me though, who isn't afraid of taking out the files and sandpaper and putting in a few hours of work, I think it will be a very nice little instrument.  I am quite pleased with it so far.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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EJ-Kisz
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Just curious, what's the price range of this violin?  I have a factory new Palatino VN-450 but didn't have those set-up problems.  Apparently, the shop owner where I purchased it had set did a reset.  All I had to do later was adjust the bridge and change the strings.   

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ~Benjamin Franklin

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DanielB
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Currently running at 60$ to a little over 70$ (USD) on ebay and amazon.  I would guess that it is about as low as you can go on cost and still get a violin made of actual wood, as opposed to "engineered wood" or "composite wood".  Which would be what normal humans would usually call particle board (MFD) or plywood.

Bought from a shop, the work would already have been done or any that actually needed any work would have been returned for merch credit and in either case it would have been reflected in the markup.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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EJ-Kisz
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Thanks!  I was wondering what $100 difference would make in low-end violins were.  My Palatino was roughly a $200 model with very minimal work required.  I still have some kinks to work out, but it's a good learning process.  

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ~Benjamin Franklin

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DanielB
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My personal cutoff line regarding "violin vs VSO" was it it is made of the actual woods normally used for a violin (and that those woods were not ground up and stuck together with resin or made into plywood).  My household knew I had been watching assorted auction sites to try and find a basket case violin I could attempt to fix and if necessary scrape down and refinish to eventually have an acoustic violin/fiddle.  They also knew that I had been outbid on my attempts so far, and that what money I had saved towards that project had been used towards vet bills for one of our cats that was found to have health problems recently.

But in any case, this violin/fiddle has less problems than some used ones I had bid on, and the finish is unusual, but interesting and nice enough looking that I probably won't refinish it.  That "ebony"-painted rosewood is another matter.  I think honest rosewood is better than paint.  But one thing at a time. LOL

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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DanielB
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cdennyb said
WOW, what a bunch of misaligned items all glued together. Did you also notice that the fingerboard is not in line with the bridge? If the bridge were cut and strings spaced properly at 34.5mm overall and 11.18mm between them all centered on the bridge top then move the bridge to the E string side a touch, it might make a world of difference in the sound, in addition to the string change!

Notice the bridge is slightly off centered as well in relationship to the ff holes?

Very poor setup in my opinion, at any price. Someone at the factory would hear from me on this.b-slap

Definitely, cdennyb.  The bridge looks to be what I would call someone's "Monday Morning work".  Meaning done after a hard weekend's partying by someone rushing things to "make rate" while they are still hung over.  

I consider the bridge needing some work and more precise placement to be very minor.  The bridge I got with my electric was just a blank with no work on it done at all, and so I had to figure out how to trim it and etc.  The nut is no big thing either, I've certainly fixed and carved enough from scratch for myself and other people over the years for guitars, bases, mandolins and etc.  Learning how an instrument is put together and how to work on it has always been part of the fun for me, though.  I have never owned any instrument where I didn't do a bit of work or modification on it.  I am weird that way.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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springer
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How do the pegs fit? I often wonder how many diff. people work on one Fiddle. I can just see an assembly line of workers doing only one thing all day long.confused

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DanielB
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Still getting some slip.  When I have the strings off to work on the nut, I may scrape the shafts of the pegs clean of paint and roughen the wood a little with some 200 sandpaper so it has a bit of "tooth" to bite with.  I don't trust paint very much for staying stable, bare wood is better.  But to be fair I have to say they aren't slipping worse than the ebony pegs on my oud or the plastic pegs on my electric did for the first couple days. 

Since this is "critical exam", I'd say one peg is a little too deep, one is a little shallow, the other two are fitted ok.  I have seen worse.  I don't have a peg reamer or shaver, and since it is within a few millimeters of good, I probably won't mess with the pegs.  At least not until other issues have been dealt with.  Down the road, though, well one can get a set of actual ebony pegs cheap enough.  Even less for rosewood, if I decide to stick with that. 

Overall, it seems to be getting over being restrung and brought up to tune pretty fast.  Better than I expected, actually.  I'm trying to avoid rushing into the necessary fixes, but of course I am a bit impatient to have the instrument playing better. LOL

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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DanielB
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Spent a little time tonight making a tool/jig for the bridge adjustments. 

It's just a simple bridge jack, cobbled together from some small hardwood scraps, a couple nails, a screw and a scrap of leather.  You can buy nice pre-made plastic ones for about 40$, but it was simple enough to make.

It would be quite possible to do the bridge adjustments without one.  But then you have to loosen all the strings each time you take the bridge out to work on it.  That makes for a lot of loosening and retuning if one needs to fuss over the adjustments a bit.  Other than being a bother and taking time, the repeated tension changes from that really aren't the best for the instrument.

What this little jig does is you loosen the screw to take the height all the way down, then slide it in under the strings right in front of the bridge and stand the jack up.  Then carefully tighten the screw with a screwdriver and it will slowly lift the strings up enough to get the bridge out and then put it back in after trimming it or shaping it.  Strings will still need re-tuned, but much less than if they were loosened to take the bridge out.

It will just save some time and some wear and tear on the instrument and strings.

bridge-jack.JPGImage Enlarger

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"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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DanielB
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That little tool is actually very handy.

I decided to trim the "extra" bridge that came with the violin.  I figured I couldn't do much worse on the string spacing than #126 had.

So I used the jack to take out the original bridge, and took the strings high enough to fit the "extra" bridge in and let the strings down on it to mark it for trimming.  Took out the "extra" bridge (for the sake of brevity, I'll just call it B-2 from now on), and trimmed the curve, a little on the "cautious" side (leaving about an extra half mm), and measured, marked and notched the string grooves (using an old guitar string as a very small round file).  Then the tricky part.  I slid a stack of popsickle sticks between the stings and the neck to lift the nut end of the strings a bit.  I put B-2 back in and moved the jack back towards the tail almost an inch, and raised the strings again, just high enough to be able to slide B-2 up and down the body with some 200 sandpaper under it to sand the feet to fit the arch of the body.  That took a while with such a short stroke, probably 20-25 min.

I decided on a new spot for B-2.  Figuring that if they couldn't get it right from side to side, they probably also were off on the placement along the scroll to tail axis.  But *maybe* they follow some rule of thumb for placing the soundpost at the factory that was hopefully a little better (or done by someone other than #126, who seems to have done at least the final setup at the factory judging from his/her # being on both the bridges and the fingerboard).   The Stew-Mac instructions for building their violin-in-the-white said that the soundpost should be about 3 mm behind the treble foot of the bridge.  Placing it there put it right between the inner notches of the F hole (when it had arrived, it had been 4-5 mm closer to the fingerboard than that).

Let the strings down and checked for buzzing.  So far so good.  So I jacked up the strings again and took out the bridge and bevelled the sides and kidneys and heart and removed some wood from the area between the feet to take off some more weight.

I put B-2 back in place and let the strings down on it again, and checked for buzzing and then checked tuning.  With all that messing around, the strings were all about 1/2 step flat.  Tuned up and checked it with a bow.  All the strings are easy to bow without nicking others now (not the case when I first got it), and the action was much nicer.  I've got about 4mm at the E and just over 5 mm at the G at the bottom of the fingerboard.  Getting close to the action on my electric.  Now it feels more like playing a violin/fiddle and less like trying to play a cheese slicer.  LOL

Anyway, the pic is a little cockeyed because I had to move the camera around to get the dumb autofocus to zero in on the bridge instead of the fingerboard, but it actually is centered right between the F holes and everything looks straight in person though the pic doesn't. I think i got the string spacing pretty good, and the spread is about 33.5 mm.new-bridge.JPGImage Enlarger

Sound has definitely changed, but I am going to let the bridge settle for a day under the pressure of the tuned strings before saying much other than "sounding less like the box it came in". LOL

I think we're starting to get somewhere.

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"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Fiddlerman
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June 13, 2012 - 9:43 am
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Very innovative of you to make your own tool like that Daniel.

The spacing looks good now. The bridge still looks super thick but you would almost need to see a picture of a good bridge shaved down by a luthier to understand. I'm sure you can do it but the question is if that wood is hard enough. You don't want to thin out a soft bridge too much cause it might just snap eventually.

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Mad_Wed
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WoHoW! I like the TOOL! drooling

It's nice idea! Especially for those who work with it often and luthiers!

Will we hear this violin again, after the adjustments? Actually i don't think this violin sounded bad even without them...But.. curious =)

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springer
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I like your bridge removal tool I should go make one for me.facepalm

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cdennyb
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when I get the new sound recording, I'll be posting a jpg trace to show the changes have made a difference. Then you guys can "see" what you hear.cheers

"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein

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