The fiddler who fiddles with this blog

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Selinsgrove, PA, United States
Beverley Conrad is a writer, musician, and artist who lives in central Pennsylvania. She's played the fiddle most of her life and has published books and once went on a book tour with her dog. She's currently working on a series of one hundred works of art of a dead fly to see where it goes, how it progresses.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Perfect Placement - Soundpost adjustment

     The soundpost of a fiddle is that little stick of wood inside the instrument that transfers the vibration of the strings through the bridge and throughout the body of the fiddle. You can see a soundpost by looking into the f-hole on the E string side of the fiddle. Is a soundpost necessary? Yes. Is it necessary to have the soundpost set in just the right spot inside the fiddle? Yes. It is if you want to sound good.

     Soundposts are not glued into place. They are set into place by means of a special tool either homemade or store-bought. It is the pressure of the top of the fiddle and the bottom that mostly hold it in place. String pressure also works some to hold it in place. Upon occasion a person might take all the strings off their fiddle at the same time. Sometimes the soundpost will stay put. Sometimes it will fall over. Many of us fiddlers have had the experience of picking up an instrument and hearing a rattle within only to find that the post has fallen over.

     Cold temperatures can also cause a soundpost to fall. The cold shrinks the wood on the fiddle and the pressure is lost. The soundpost falls over. Or the cold may cause the wood of the pegbox to shrink. The pegs become loose, the strings become loose – and the soundpost falls over.

     You should not try to play a fiddle without a soundpost. Some people believe that the soundpost is like a stud in a load bearing wall in a house. It helps hold the ceiling up. I say “some people” because I talked to one luthier once who said this was not true. Most of the others said it was true. Common sense tells me that it makes sense considering the amount of pressure that four strings tuned to concert pitch make. To be on the safe side should your soundpost ever fall over, loosen the strings somewhat and get the soundpost reset before you tune up.

     Can you set it yourself? You can try. It takes the patience of a saint to do so for the inexperienced person, but it can be done. In this article, I won’t go into how to do this. From the been there – done that department I can tell you that although you could try to do this yourself you will greatly appreciate the talent and knowledge of a professional violin repair person who really knows their stuff when it comes to soundposts.

     Over the summer one of my good fiddles took on an awful raspy sound. It sounded like it had a cold or had been at some close football game and spent three hours shouting. The strings were fairly new and broken in but the bridge had warped. I knew this wasn’t good so I took it to The Shop to see what could be done. The man at The Shop suggested I put on an adjustable bridge. I had one, handed it over and he set it right for me. He tried the fiddle, looked inside and asked if I would want him to reset the soundpost. I had got the fiddle at a flea market and since it wasn’t rattling inside, I tuned it up. It sounded ok.

     Many years ago I had opportunity to watch a show on TV about soundposts. A demonstration of just how important the soundpost is to the overall sound of a violin was given. (The show dealt with concert violinists and their instruments.) When the post was moved a little one way – the violin sounded bright. Moved a little the other way and the deeper tones came out. Eventually just where the post was set – as long as it was about where it should be – became a matter of personal preference. The man at The Shop tweaked the soundpost placement ever so slightly this way and that, each time playing it for me as I stood a room away, eyes closed so that I could hear the differences. When I finally said, “Yes! That’s it!” he handed it back to me. I played it and I’ll tell you – the effect was remarkable. That old fiddle has never sounded so good.

     It costs anywhere from zero to about $26 to have a soundpost set. The $26 price might seem a little steep but as one anonymous luthier said when asked what he charges:

     Setting soundpost: FREE
     Knowing how to set soundpost and adjust: $26.00

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