Discover How a Great Violin Setup can Transform Your Instrument. Violin Maker Antoni Ruschil Shares His Approach to This Often Overlooked Craft.
When a player comes to our workshop for a new set up or violin adjustment, we approach it looking to maximise three things:
The following is an explanation of how we achieve these things, uniting the musician with the instrument that they love.
Every single instrument is unique and it is our job to understand it and it’s connection with the player as well as possible.
The first thing we do is to listen to both. Within a few minutes we are already starting to build an idea of the sound produced, the way the player produces that sound and the player’s feeling towards the instrument. Feeling will count for a lot when it comes to the finished article and using good science, geometry & maths as well as our eyes, ears and intuition is the key to getting the best results possible.
Many players who come through our doors blame themselves for their instrument’s sound, saying that that they could practice more or improve their technique.
While good practice is important, many first timers simply don’t realise their own potential and the potential of their instrument. This is an incredibly exciting process for us, there is little more satisfying than a player who comes in disheartened and who leaves confident and invigorated.
After initially listening to both the instrument and player, hearing what they want more of, or lack, we set-to measuring everything possible.
This process helps us build as accurate a picture as possible of what the violin, viola or cello is currently like. Basing these measurements on thousands of others from experience and especially relating them to each other, we create options and a way forward.
Players Should Feel like They Want to Pick up the Instrument and Play It, in Every Key, Enjoying Every Note
Comfort and ease of playing is a must. We always say to players that they should feel like they want to pick up the instrument and play it, in every key, all over the fingerboard, enjoying every note. Moving your hands up and down the neck and along the fingerboard should be a pleasure.
With the correct measurement of neck, top nut, bridge, fingerboard, string length and position of all components, this is possible. When these are all done properly, players say it just ‘feels’ right, with a smile on their face. If reaching those notes high up on the fingerboard was a challenge before, they will be a pleasure to play from now on.
The player should enjoy smoothly turning their pegs as they tune, having just the right height for their chin rest, the perfect angle for their cello spike and so on.
Realising an instrument’s potential is what it’s all about for us.
This is all about balance, using the measurements taken in the previous step.
No two stringed instruments are alike so understanding each one individually is key. Shortening, extending, moving and adjusting by a thousandth of an inch to make things click is how we achieve maximum potential. This beautiful balance of nature and geometry that we love to play was designed by very clever guys, who were very familiar with both the natural world and the scientific.
With the right position & tension sound post, the correct length of string, position, string height, angle & curve of bridge and overall proportions, the instrument frees itself. This is when sound vibrates through the timbers and you can really hear the difference. There is simply more sound, colour, overtones and character if done correctly.
It’s very sad to see beautiful instruments old and new set up badly, as they can only ever reach a fraction of their potential.
We have seen many from supposedly good workshops and makers who don’t pay attention to this part of instrument making. It’s like building the beautiful chassis of a Ferrari and putting a motorino engine inside. We believe that every instrument should reach its full potential.
After making sure that everything is balanced and functioning to its full capacity, we hand the instrument back to the player. This is where the character is finely tuned. Every set up is bespoke, unique the player’s size, style and individuality.
Making fine adjustments to the position of the sound post and balancing heights and lengths further still, we create the bond between player and instrument.
Linking the two characters is a wonderful experience. Players will ask for more of what they enjoy playing, hearing and would like to express. Like choosing something from a menu, this is all about personal taste. Listening to these requests, we can make something sound darker, warmer or brighter and as open and responsive to the player’s bow as they require.
A great set up will open all of these doors to a player, giving them the confidence and tools to go forward and express themselves, a very satisfying experience for both the player and violin restorer.
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Antoni Ruschil is a Violin Maker based in London. He's known for his setups as well as repair and restoration services.