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Experimental Magnetic Glass Mute
Yet another crazy experiment from Mad Bad DanielB
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DanielB
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May 7, 2013 - 5:39 am
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Long project post courtesy alert... Get your favourite beverage and maybe a snack and settle down for a bit of a read.  Or just skip it.

 

Ok, for the benefit of the attention-span challenged, I'll post a final pic first..

100_0475.JPGImage Enlarger

 

Now on to what this is all about. 

I keep seeing using an acoustic violin with a mute touted as being preferable, in the opinion of some folks, to using a "silent" electric for things like late night practice.

I will concede that it has one obvious advantage.  If you prefer acoustic violins, it is a lot cheaper to buy a mute than to buy even the least expensive electric violin.  If the only reason one wanted an electric was to be able to practice without disturbing others that is reasonable.

Myself, I like having both, and it doesn't bother me much to have to stick to playing the electric when other folks are sleeping or trying to watch a movie or something.  I try to be considerate.

So if I don't need a mute, why would I start a project to invent a new kind of mute?  Well, first off, I'm just that way.  But also it would be nice sometimes to practice on acoustic late at night, since acoustic and electric violins are not identical in how they play and etc.  Besides, I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing out on something cool.  LOL

So, mutes don't cost that much.  Why didn't I just buy one?   They never have had them at the local music shops, and I have a sort of an aversion to laying out money for something where I don't know if I'll like it or not.

Also, I had heard that if your aren't *careful*, some mutes can damage the wood of the bridge, they fall off, and let's face it, they aren't exactly cool looking.

I had seen an interview somewhere over the months where a guy in England uses some English coin wedged under the strings behind the bridge as a mute.  But no common American coin seemed the right size.  But I did have a couple neodymium magnets that were about the size of American nickels, so I tried putting those on the bridge, one on the front and one on the back.  Being magnets they held in place, of course.

That gave a somewhat muffled sound, but not much actual reduction in volume.  So I glued a couple of glass "drops" to the magnets to increase the mass. 

 

100_0476.JPGImage Enlarger

 

They pretty much actually did the trick.  My acoustic violin was suddenly not only muffled sounding, but much quieter.  But I wondered if I was getting the full effect.  So I looked up some sites selling "heavy metal mutes" and found that they apparently weight about 2.5 ounces.  I rummaged through my collection of curious goods and found that some of the rounded glass cubes I have would just barely fit and would weigh just a little over 2.5 oz.  Which brings us back to the first image in this little write up.

The difference in weight did not make a huge difference in volume.  In the attached recording the first sample is the violin being played with no mute.  The second is with the mute made from the round glass drops.  The third is the bigger red glass cubes.

I would say that this approach may have some advantages over just buying a mute.  First off, it can be cheaper, depending on what you use.  Neodymium disk magnets can be bought in craft stores these days for a couple of bucks, and you can get a bag of glass "drops" (in assorted colours, even) at dollar stores (for 1$, obviously).  The glass cubes would take a bit more looking and cost a bit more, but not a lot. 

But if someone wanted something really classy and custom, maybe for performance.. Some cabochon cut (dome shaped) gemstones don't cost that much either, if you look around ebay or wherever. 

Another advantage is it won't just fall off.  You pretty much have to slide one magnet to the right and one to the left and ease them off.  Yet another advantage is that since this style of mute fits under the strings, you can safely close the case with the mute still on.  I'm not sure if that is a problem with normal mutes, but from just looking at pics, it seems like it might be with some. 

Here is the sound samples, even though they probably autoplayed as soon as the page opened..

I have to say, I don't think I like the sound of playing with a mute.  Sure, it is quieter, but in some ways it sounds even less like playing an acoustic violin to me than an electric does.

But oh well.  It was a project, and it might be something someone wants to try. 

"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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Fiddlestix
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May 7, 2013 - 6:09 am
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Ok, the first sound sample was the acoustic unmuted, the second sample is the acoustic muted and the third sample was the electric ?

Am I clear on that Dan, you didn't list them.

I must say, you should have lived 150 yrs. ago, there may have been a different inventor of the telephone and other ways to communicate.

Good experiment, Danny.

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DanielB
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May 7, 2013 - 7:01 am
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First sample is no mute.  Second sample is the magnetic mute with the smaller glass "drops" weighing about an ounce.  Third is the magnetic mute with the bigger glass cubes weighing about 2.5 ounces (about as much as a heavy metal mute).

 

Glad you liked this little experiment/project.  

 

"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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June 11, 2013 - 2:18 pm
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More tinkering around. 

I felt the mute, even the smaller one, was damping the sound more than I liked.  But the sound with the mute doesn't make my digital camera's autolevel go as crazy when trying to record.    So I made a smaller one.  Both smaller neodymium magnets and smaller glass drops.  Much lighter, only about 15 grams.

But what is interesting is that since it is smaller, it can be moved around to different spots on the bridge a bit, and that changes how much it damps and what frequencies it damps most.  So it acts kinda like a weird mechanical volume/tone control.  It still does reduce volume a fair bit, even being much smaller than the huge cubes of glass I tried at first.

I'm not going to do a bunch of sample recordings, since this is something where anyone interested could just get a couple inexpensive magnets and try it for themselves.  But basically, the closer the mute is to the strings, the more it damps.  How the the tone is changed is more complex, but basically if the mute is put under the E string it damps the bass strings less and under the G string it damps the treble strings less.  It is not as simple as the tone control on a stereo, more like if someone was playing around with an equalizer and changing a lot of different settings. 

It may be of limited interest to most folks here, but for people who like to tinker with the sound a bit, this is an inexpensive trick and one not likely to damage the instrument or do anything permanent or difficult to reverse.  Any small strong magnets should work, and if they were thick enough, one might not need to glue any glass to them.  Might not even need to make a trip to the local craft store, if you have a few spare magnets stuck on your fridge door or something.

Pics of the newest experimental mute.  For anyone interested, they show This time I actually bothered to pick a color of glass that I liked and felt went with the violin. LOL

100_0495.JPGImage Enlarger100_0497.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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OldCrow
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June 11, 2013 - 6:59 pm
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Very clever Daniel,   I had thought about doing something like this after a barefoot practice session when my Artino mute fell off and landed on my foot (it didn't feel good).

 

Your glass mutes remind me of the piece of hard rock candy from my favorite movie "The Outlaw Jose Wales"

 

Josey Wales: You have any food here?

Lone Watie: All I have is a piece of hard rock candy. But it's not for eatin'. It's just for lookin' through.

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Fiddlerman
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June 15, 2013 - 7:04 am
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Cool Daniel. I seem to remember something like this from way back. It makes sense that the two magnets pressing from both sides will dampen vibrations. It's also cool that nothing will get in your way from above. However, would not suit the orchestra player that needs to remove the mute quickly. ;-)

Their exists a "Bech magnetic mute" which keeps the mute from rattling when not in use. <--- I know this has nothing to do with your design. LOL

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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DanielB
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June 15, 2013 - 8:16 am
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@fiddlerguy: Taking it off quick is easy enough, you can just slide it off the side of the bridge.  But putting it on quickly would be a problem.  That pretty much takes both hands and at least a few seconds.  It is also kinda small and smooth, which would make it real easy to fumble and drop, if someone only had maybe a couple measures to put it on.  So yeah, I don't see it as being the next big thing for orchestral playing.  LOL

For things like recording though, being able to change the sound by sliding it to different places on the bridge (with the smaller one in the most recent pics) is pretty neat.  On electric in particular, you can get some pretty unusual timbres to play with.  Electric violin pretty much never sounds exactly like an acoustic violin anyway, but I've manged to get it to sound more like a muted horn or some sort of an odd woodwind and some other sounds that I'm not sure quite what they are like.  Which is pretty cool from a simple little mechanical gadget like this, at least for folks that like to experiment with their sound a bit.

Sure, one could get a similar effect with an equalizer.  But why carry another pedal or rack effect and the assorted cables if something mechanical about the size of a marble can do the job?  Unlike some electric guitarists I've known, I've never been a big fan of having dozens of pedals on the floor or having more pounds of gear to drag to gigs than I absolutely need. LOL  Besides, magnets don't break down or need batteries.

 

@OldCrow: So.. you should make yourself one to play around with!  Couple magnets, couple pieces of pretty glass or stone or whatever, bit of glue.  A couple of neat looking pebbles out of a creek would do just as well, if one maybe preferred that look or didn't want to run out and buy some little bits of shiny glass.  This is probably one of the easiest and cheapest DIYs for violin one can make.  If you make it small enough that it can be tried at different spots on the bridge, it not only mutes but can change the tone of the instrument in some pretty interesting ways.  Unlike other things that can change the tone of a violin like trimming the bridge or moving the soundpost, you can just take this gadget off the instrument and the sound goes right back to what it was before you started. 

Even the smaller one lops a good bit of volume off, so it def does work as a mute in the usual sense.  I have not yet managed to get one of these to fall off through hard playing, and I have def tried.  So it might be a little safer on those bare toes!  LOL  Give it a shot, it's easy to make.

 

"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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Fiddlestix
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June 15, 2013 - 8:45 am
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Kinda cool, Dan....Question,  would /does the magnetic field (from the magnet's) have any affect on built in pick-up's on an electric violin ?

 

           dunno 

Ken.

 

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DanielB
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June 15, 2013 - 8:55 am
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Most modern violin pickups are piezo, which wouldn't be affected by even strong magnets.  Neither would the little condenser mics that some players prefer to a pickup. 

A magnetic coil type pickup *could* be affected, but most of those I've seen are usually attached right near the end of the fingerboard with is far enough away from the bridge that I doubt it would make any difference big enough to hear.

Good question, though, Ken. 

"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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pky
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June 15, 2013 - 12:43 pm
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That is a cool, aesthetic and artistic design! Before I bought any mutes I tried to design my own, but nothing like yours!

I used to have a heavy duty brass mute, but I gave it to my niece, it dampens the sound evenly and over 80% (it sound like my daughter's 1/4 size violin). I have a Tourte mute but it does not quiet the violin enough for me to practice at work or at night. I had a three-prong one, too, but gave that one away as well.

I now use a rubber one. This rubber one dampens the sound on E and A strings more than on G and D; that made me think if I could have two small mutes, one between A and E and one between G and D, then the sound would be even. So, your design will work for that.

Also, your design should work for fractional size violins. I know they make mutes for 1/2 through 4/4, but nothing for 1/4 or smaller, probably because they have tiny voices. However, when we are in a hotel room that is not sound proof, a 1/4 violin could still sound pretty loud. So, may be I will make one for my daughter's 1/4 violin; although she almost outgrows it, it still worth a try.

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