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Some violin setup basics

Dr. Czes Kul, violin maker

(this article was published in 2004 October "Soundpost", NZ issue)

(viola, cello), being (or, strictly speaking, looking) quite simple, is very delicate as well as complex instrument and therefore require a lot of steady care. Teacher, as a rule, firstly teaches pupils to handle violin and case properly. Later, along with playing the basics pupils are taught to take care on violin more widely and deeply.

Being a violin maker and repairer, I faced young and not so young players and their parents quite often. Unfortunately, I also noticed that not every teacher teaches his or her pupils to take violin care properly. Although only luthier can do some essential adjustments and repairs, there are some simple basic things that player (even young), parents or teacher can perform easily.

But probably the best way to explain wideness of problems occurring and infinity of solutions that are performed by inexperienced parents and/or students themselves is description of some of them. During years I has been involved in violin repair, I saw and had to 'treat' some badly repaired violins. The main typical among them (repairer usually undergo quite a wide variety of repairs):

  • During violin tuning strings pull bridge top towards fingerboard, so bridge position must be corrected often. Not doing so causes bridge to bent. Although putting the bridge into order is quite simple, usually violin problem has been just bent bridge
  • Plates (most often top plate) or fingerboard glued with white glue
  • Rosin (colophony) used to fix not properly fitted pegs. Fat (oil) is sometimes used when pegs are hardly possible to turn
  • Paper (cardboard, leather etc.) inserted between the string and bridge to increase distance between string and fingerboard

These are the my most memorable events as a violin repairer:

  • As it is well known to every player, among the most irritating occurrences in violins are buzzes of different kinds. Sometimes even experts have to spend hours before buzz source is identified. Once a viola player, who was unhappy with a buzz from his old viola, visited me. Musicians are often confident that source of inner buzz - unglued bassbar. The player, being a handyman and thinking that just unglued bassbar is the problem, created a sophisticated technique to pour hot glue to the bass bar via f hole, but buzz remained. I managed to eliminate the buzz easily after I opened the viola. I had more trouble removing lots of glue, I must to admit … Undoubtedly, bassbar was, as usually, glued properly
  • It is a story of one folk fiddler from a small town, who visited me: "I always tried to repair my violin myself. Certainly, it always was a challenge, but I was lucky enough. Once, as my violin pegs worn out, I purchased new pegs at a music shop. These were too thick, so I carefully shaved them off using my knife and a file. When pegs were of nearly good thickness, I tried to fix strings. Regretfully, it was impossible mainly because of two reasons. Firstly, I could not fix pegs, so I used rosin powder. Additionally, it was mainly impossible to fix a string on a peg..."

It is quite long story, but it can help you imagine paths of some handy, but inexperienced musicians or parents as well as consequences of such a work. As it is easy to see, timely visit to a repairer shop can save lots of money, time and worries.

Although most badly repaired violins are quite easy to put into order, some require quite a bit of time and effort. As I can see, all these 'dilettante' repairs can easily be avoided by proper easy to perform education of teachers and pupils.

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At last I have my ideal violin. I turned down 14 instruments which came from all around the country, including an original cremonese violin, which I just couldn't convince myself to like. However I had no second thoughts about my new violin, made by Czes and Birute Kul, and instantly knew this was the one. The violin has very clean articulation and a sweet tone, also
projecting well. I have had many compliments about it. A lot of careful workmanship has obviously gone into the violin, which is very elegant and distinctive in looks. Before you look anywhere else, I strongly recomend Czes and Birute. It could save a lot of trouble, time and money.

Sarah K., Wellington

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