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Digital Subscriptions > The Strad > October 2019 > ALL SET UP AND READY TO GO


In the first of two articles looking at instrument set-up, Joseph Curtin examines the acoustic roles played by the tailpiece and fingerboard in affecting vibration, frequency and resonance

The evolution of the violin is often told in heroic terms: a sudden emergence in the early 1500s, an ascent to perfection at the hands of Stradivari and Guarneri ‘del Gesu’, then a rapid decline followed by centuries spent trying to recapture what was lost. A more reasoned view is that the structural and acoustical development of the violin continued and even accelerated throughout the 19th century, with radical changes to the neck, fingerboard, tailpiece, bass-bar and bridge. Granted, these were changes to the set-up rather than the violin proper, but it was just these changes (along with equally radical ones to the bow) that enabled the spectacular flowering of violin music that now forms the bulk of the standard repertoire. This article focuses on the tailpiece and fingerboard. While these are arguably of secondary importance to the sound of the violin, such is the nature of the instrument that studying even its most straightforward components can feel like taking the back off a watch to ponder the jewelled complexities within.

FIGURE 1 Sound radiation measurements for a violin with a lOg lump of modelling clay atop its bridge (blue line), then moved back 2.5mm (red), 5mm (green), and 10mm (purple). Subsequent positions of 20, 30, 40, 50mm, and atop the tailpiece saddle itself, are all in black. Measurements were taken by tapping the bass corner of the bridge horizontally with an impulse hammer, and recording the response from seven different microphone positions. Each curve represents the real average of all seven positions. For clarity, the curves have been smoothed with a quartertone running average. The horizontal lines represent averages over four frequency bands.
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About The Strad

We mark 100 years of Elgar’s Cello Concerto and examine Sgarabotto’s violins. Plus interviews Boris Kuschnir, Daniel Müller-Schott and Richard Tognetti, and our annual Cremona supplement.