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New Mendini MV300 violin - critical exam
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DanielB
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Sorry this thread and my posts are running on the long side.  But I am hoping to provide enough detail that someone running into similar problems could figure out how to do it themselves. 

People are asking all the time about inexpensive violins.  These problems are very possible on any inexpensive violin/fiddle, and definitely affect how playable the instrument is, as well as how good it can sound.  For some it could mean getting discouraged and giving up.  For others it could mean paying a shop or luthier possibly as much or more than the instrument cost in the first place to have it fixed.  Or it means asking some questions and getting going with some ingenuity and elbow grease and learning how to do it yourself.

But at the least, anyone thinking about the more inexpensive violins who looks through this thread will have a better idea what they may be letting themselves in for.  I happen to enjoy such work.  But I think that most folks would probably rather spend a bit more and maybe not run into such problems. 

On the bright side though, as cdennyb said it would, just fixing the bridge positioning and doing a better job than the factory did of trimming and notching the bridge has made quite an improvement.  This violin is at least 100% more comfortable to play than it was when it first came out of the box.

 

FM: Thanks.  I had seen a diagram of how to make a bridge jack on the net somewhere in the past couple of months.  Of course I couldn't find it again when I decided to make my own, but it was simple enough to figure out.

I haven't ever seen even a close-up pic of a bridge that was really well done by a pro.  I'm kind of figuring it out as I go along by what I can find on the topic here and there.  And especially by cdennyb's thread on how to make a back-up bridge, obviously. 

I would agree that the wood might not stand too much thinning.  I would assume that good luthiers use a very specific cut of maple and choose their blanks carefully.  This was a freebie that was most likely just a bit of unsorted scrap in the factory in China.  It is about 4mm thick at the base, and then I tapered the side towards the fingerboard starting at the top of the kidneys to as close as I could get to 1.3 mm at the top. 

Not perfect I am sure, but better than what it came with, and I'll call it good for my second ever go at trimming a bridge for a violin.  LOL

 

Mad_Wed: I will definitely be putting up more recordings.  But when I trimmed the bridge for my electric, it sounded ok right after it was done, but definitely even better after it had sat overnight.  from that one experience, I am guessing bridges like to settle a bit after they are trimmed.

 

springer:For both you and Mad_Wed (and anyone else who might think of making such a tool) here is another pic of the bridge jack taken into it's 2 main pieces so it is easy to see how it was put together.  I made it from just a little scrap wood I whittled with a paring knife and smoothed a little with sandpaper and a couple nails and a screw and a scrap of leather.  You could do it.  It isn't hard at all.

bridge-jack-detail.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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springer

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Almost finished with mine. I decided to use walnut (plenty laying around). The hard part is working with such small pieces.red_cursingred_cursingred_cursingbegbegcow-fingerscrossed

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DanielB
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WTG springer!   These little things make getting the bridge in and out a lot easier.  When you go to use it, sort of lie it down with the top toward the fingerboard and slide it under the strings and stand it up.  If you are going to want to put the bridge back in the same exact spot, slide it right up against the bridge and then tighten the screw until the strings lift enough that you can slide the bridge's feet back towards the tailpiece and get it out.

When you are done working on the bridge, slide it back up against the jack and let the jack down so the strings are back on the bridge and you can put the jack all the way down and slide it out.  It makes it much easier than trying to do it without the jack. 

Walnut should work great.. I used pieces cut from "Square Hardwood Dowels" that I bought a bag of at a craft store a while ago.   What kind of hardwood?  Well, it don't say.  dunno

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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cdennyb
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I thought I would pop in and make mention that the trace I posted of your initial recording showed a wild 'peak & valley' or PV wave form. In my testing and moving of things I found that the tailpiece can be too close to the fingerboard and cause exactly that kind of PV trace. In your trial & error adjustments you'll find a spot that makes them all go away...almost a smooth non-bumpy trace, where just a few minutes beofre it looked like a saw blade!

The precise location is very sensitive to adjustment and you'll find a 1/32" movement in length of your tailpiece gut attachment thread will make a noticeable change in sound (and waveform). Now you see how I managed to do 23 consective tests on the last day alone, moving the bridge and tailpiece to achieve my smooth trace huh?

90-yr-old-violin-before-and-after.jpgImage Enlarger

"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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Test recording of the MV300 after this initial trim and adjustment of the bridge.  Tuning pegs still slipping a bit, especially the D.  I strongly suspect the "ebony" paint over the rosewood pegs for the slippage.

"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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What about those tubes on the A and E strings can they be screwing anything up. They are larger than any I have ever seen.

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DanielB
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I figure they have to be damping the sound at least somewhat, springer.   I'm not sure why6 there is one on the A, actually.  It is even w wound string, and so far as I know they don't usually cut as bad as the plain E.  But it is how they came.

"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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Oh! Buy the way I found what I think is a great E string. Helicore Al Wound string. Expensive but nice.clapclapclap

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cdennyb
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OK, just got in for the night, and ran the new recording for Daniel. Although the waveform is still full of P & V's, the overall projection factor has increased significantly.

Now to work on smoothing it out.

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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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DanielB
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springer:  Congrats on the new E string find!  What do you like better about it?  Is it louder, more "sweet'?  I haven't ever tried the strings with aluminum on any instrument, but I've heard some folks on violin say good things about them.

 

cdennyb:  Very interesting, and as you predicted, trimming/adjusting the bridge and getting it placed better definitely makes a difference. 

I'm posting a pic of the sort of freq analysis chart I use, for comparison.  It is always interesting hearing you explain the charts you use and the information you draw from them.  Since our background in acoustics and freq charts is different, we look for different 'tell tales", but overall, I would agree with your analysis here.

The top chart in the attached pic is the first recording, the lower is the second.

Notice how the freqs below about 196 hz.  196 would be about the frequency for the lowest note on a violin, the G string open.  The frequencies below that are going to be mostly handling noise and the non-musical portion of the bow sound.  See how almost all of that range has gone up a bit?  That won't be so likely the bridge since it is below the musical range of the violin.  When I see that much of an increase in that frequency range in just 24 hours or so, I usually interpret it as the instrument is absorbing moisture from the air.  Meaning this instrument has not yet adjusted to the local climate and was stored for some time someplace drier.

Now, if we saw a tall well-defined spike down in that range, that would be bad.  If something is making a definite pitch that is below the musical range of an instrument, it is usually because something is loose or touching another piece and causing vibration to generate a tone.  A "buzz".  A loose bass bar, brace or lining would usually show up as a spike down in that range.  Fortunately, we aren't seeing that, and as the wood of the instrument adjusts to local humidity and changes, the overall tone will also usually get a bit smoother. 

Other than that, I am seeing peaks and valley, same as cdennyb.  The newer (bottom) chart is showing more complexity in the notes and their harmonics, so the overall tone has become a bit more "open" from this initial bridge fix.  Also a step in the right direction and a good improvement for an evening's work.. But it has quite a ways to go before it will sound actually "good".   As the tone becomes more complex or "open", the spaces between the peaks caused by fundamental tones and their harmonics will fill in a bit and the chart will become "smoother".   That would be typical of a nice instrument with a "good open tone" as most players would say/hear it.

On the downside, looking at both charts, I see that the peaks for fundamental frequencies of notes I know I played are often not right.  This means the instrument is not yet staying in tune well, as I'm sure most players could tell without even looking at charts. 

With this instrument, my next priority is to work on the nut to bring the action down before it harms the neck.  High action, especially on an instrument with as thin a neck as a violin, can do very bad things to an instrument if it is not corrected.  A violin with the action left high is more prone to the neck warping.  And as long as I will have the strings off to work on the nut, I will probably also do some work on the pegs to get the instrument to stay in tune better.  MV300-top-trace-is-before-bridge-adjust.pngImage Enlarger

"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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Much louder, and sweeter, it makes music not noise. dancingdancingdancingdancingdancingred_cursingred_cursing

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Mad_Wed
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I think it went smoother =) thumbs-up

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DanielB
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It is getting better.  That blonde wood on the fingerboard when I stripped it was a surprise.  But not necessarily a bad one.  It is some sort of very hard wood, and it looks kinda cool.  I can work with it.  And it will still almost certainly sound better with that crappy paint gone.

On the other hand, the nut appears to actually be ebony, which is a nice surprise!

"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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Sofia Leo
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DanielB said

I haven't ever seen even a close-up pic of a bridge that was really well done by a pro. 

Violin Bridges is a site to peruse - "The largest online photographic archive of violin, viola and cello bridges. We now have 1025 bridges with their measurements uploaded from some of the finest makers, restorers and dealers of our time, spanning 27 countries."

You could spend hours just looking - it's fascinating!

Mary in Springfield, Oregon http://www.thefiddleandbanjopr.....dpress.com

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SaraO
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Hey, that is a really great site!

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DanielB
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Brilliant, CatMcCall!  That is a fabulous site for study.

"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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Ok, and the work I originally set out to do today before getting distracted by the fingerboard and neck..LOL

The nut has been cleaned up and trimmed down.  If you look back to the first pics, you can see how much it has been carved down and shaped. Tonight I will probably cut the slots and then take it down the last little bit it needs to go and then this part will be done. 

If I get that done, I will perhaps tung oil the fingerboard and neck.  Two coats should be enough, since I want to keep it close to the "bare wood" feel. 

So maybe sometime tomorrow night it will be ready to be restrung and etc, and crossedfingersit should play well.  I may need to trim the bridge a tiny bit lower as well, but I won't know that for sure until she's been strung and tuned for a few days. 

Once the action and tuning are good, then I can work more on fine points as cdennyb has suggested to get the sound a bit better at a time.  But the instrument has to have good action and stay in tune first.

It is going good.  Some interesting surprises along the way, but she should turn out pretty cool.  She should be back up and playing, at least by some time this weekend.

100_0134.JPGImage Enlarger100_0132.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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springer

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Question! How high should the nut be?

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DanielB
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Sources vary on that a bit, springer.

The source I am mostly following is the manual the Stew-Mac company puts out for their violin-in-the-white.  It says the bottom of each string slot should be 1/64th of an inch (approx .03mm) above the fingerboard, and that the slots themselves should be about 1/3 of the diameter of the string for depth. It describes the height of the bottom of the string from the fingerboard as being about the thickness of a business card.

As someone more used to carving guitar nuts, that sounds certifiably insane to me.  But a guitar string has to clear the frets, and a guitar is played percussively in that the strings are routinely struck with a pick (not always gently).  So I am shooting for it ending up somewhere close to that 0.3 mm between the bottom of the string and the fingerboard.  Well, probably a teeny bit higher than that, more like 0.5 mm maybe.  I don't trust my craftsmanship to get it down to 0.3 without messing it up and my measuring instrument for this project is just a ruler.

My electric has a very comfortable play feel for me.  The bottom of the strings are about 1 mm up off the fingerboard.  I wanted this fiddle to end up playing about that easy or better if I can manage it.  So I'm trying taking it closer to "by the book" than my electric goes.  Kind of an experiment, since the electric has a very easy play feel to it, enough so that it almost feels like "cheating" compared to playing a guitar.

On the other hand, when I first got this acoustic violin and tuned it up, the original action was abut 3 mm on the outside strings and maybe 2 mm on the inside ones.  And it felt a bit like trying to play a cheese slicer.  The work done on the bridge helped, but it still felt a bit stiff near the nut.  Also the nut as it came stock just felt too square and blocky for my liking.

That's how this great adventure began.  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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Ok, progress for today, final sanding, steel wool, burnishing.  I did also polish right after the burnishing with a piece of silk because.. Uh.. well, I figured it can't hurt and it would definitely get any last stray dust.

And the first coat of tung oil went on.

100_0135.JPGImage Enlarger

I tried taking it outdoors to see if a natural light pic would show the actual color better. 

I don't feel it did, but I can definitely say that I am please with the slight darkening from the tung oil.  This first coat is the one that will seal, so it gets 24 hrs in a warm sunny window with plenty of air flow to let it dry properly before the second coat.

I also noticed that where the tung oil got onto the remaining factory finish when I did the back of the neck, it actually looks quite nice.  I am being real tempted to scuff the rest of the instrument with 600 or finer grit and use tung oil over the whole thing.  That's the next "devil made me do it" temptation at the moment.  LOL

The factory finish is very thin, not a thick "dipped" finish like I expected.  It almost looks like they just did color coats and maybe one very fine spray coat to get the "satin".  Yeah, I know, putting a fast-drying oil finish over an unknown factory finish is risking at the very least crazing in a couple of years.  But at the worst, that would mean scraping it down and doing a better job of finishing it down the road.

At present I am still just toying with that idea.  But I am going to check tomorrow for bubbling or other signs of incompatibility where the oil went on over the factory finish at the ends of the neck.  If it doesn't seem to be reacting badly I'll try scraping a small spot and see how well it bonded onto the sanded factory finish.  If that looks good though, I may get crazy and go ahead and do the body and scroll as well. 

That would be a total crapshoot so far as actually coming out looking good.  But it is a tempting thought.  A couple coats of tung oil wouldn't add a lot of thickness, but it is hard enough to protect the wood and color.  If anything, it is a little too hard, maybe. 

Like I said, I'll wait and see how it reacts and how well it holds and think on it some more tomorrow.

I took a couple hours to radius the edges of the neck to where they feel nice to my hand and getting a very slight concavity worked into the G string side as Fiddlestix suggested.

The neck and fingerboard feel very comfortable now, and I am pleased with how it is looking.  I'm getting to really like this little fiddle.

It is a good thing I have my electric to play on in the meantime, though, or the waiting to be able to play the acoustic while fixing and prettying her up would be driving me nuts by now. LOL

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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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