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Tonal-quality Matrix

We use a custom rating matrix to identify different strengths and provide a quality comparison between our instruments and other brands.  The Violin Gallery’s Tonal-quality Matrix identifies the unique voice of each instrument. A quality instrument will score between a 5 and 10—popular online brands generally score much lower in the 2.5 to 5 point average range.

Each of the twelve tonal elements is rated separately and an average score is given to each instrument. The rating system judges power, clarity, balance, evenness, warmth, richness, depth, smoothness, brilliance, responsiveness, edginess, and resonance. And yes, they are all different and help identify whether a violin, viola, or cello has a good tone.

When practicing an instrument with a focus on mastering a particular piece of music, technique, or simply a desire to produce a pleasing tone,  a quality instrument makes all the difference.  Purchasing an instrument needs to be a thoughtful process. Investing in a violin, viola, or cello needs to have more important deciding factors than the cheapest online deal or the cuteness of the pink or blue-glitter finish. After all, you are buying an instrument for a musician, not a bowling ball or a bass boat.

 

Violin Gallery Tonal-quality Matrix

The power of our instruments are measured with a decibel meter and rated for power.  So much of judging the tone of a violin is relative but decibel readings are factual. They are an actual measurement of the carrying power of the tone. This is an important factor when considering an instrument.  You will never hear a stringed musician say, “I wish my violin was quiet and weak.” This is especially true when playing as a soloist or with an orchestra or symphony.  Violins specifically outnumber all other instruments just to be heard. One flute player can match up to ten violinists in power so it is natural to want more power out of a violin.

Our stringed players can relax because they are confident that their instruments will be heard.  Extra energy is required to produce a similar tone in a lesser instrument, which you would have to muscle out by applying more pressure and dropping closer to the bridge, which brings tension to major muscle groups in the neck, shoulders, and arms.  Tension in a violin player translates into a rigid bowing technique, compromised tone, and fatigue.

When practice quite literally makes perfect, to master a stringed instrument, a quality instrument makes all the difference.  Purchasing an instrument needs to be a thoughtful process. Choosing one needs to have more important factors than the cheapest online deal, inexperienced reviews, and appearance. Just because it’s shaped like a violin, doesn’t mean it is one. A quality instrument is necessary for players to be confident and the power of our instruments allows measurable expression.

If the sound produced is fuzzy and unclear, the other tonal qualities will not carry.  The frustration of a dull, stunted sound causes the musician to bow harder than is necessary, causing fatigue and dissatisfaction with the instrument. The wooly tone makes bowing more difficult as they have to focus more on articulation, bow direction changes, and smooth transitions from one note to another. This difficulty has negative consequences in other areas that one may have mastered, distracting the player and diminishing the quality of their overall performance. While playing softly, or aggressively, a clear tone requires less work from the musician so they can focus on the music rather than their instrument.

The balance of an instrument is judged by determining if the volume produced by each string is the same. It is not uncommon to find inexpensive instruments with an imbalance as you move from one string to the other.  Even one weak string can severely alter the way you play. This imbalance limits the power of the other strings as most musicians attempt to play softer on the other strings to compensate.  Again, we run into the ridiculous idea that any musician would not want a powerful sound or to not be heard. You should practice eliminating imperfections, not hiding them by playing softly.

Even the best stringed instruments tend to suffer from what is called Wolf tones, or an overtone that amplifies the note being played in response to the natural resonant frequency of the body of the instrument.  It is the same principle that makes a crystal wine glass break. Everything has a natural resonant frequency that, when matched, either amplifies or—in the case of our wine glass—breaks. Instruments won’t shatter but they will produce a wolf tone at certain frequencies. Examples: The C natural above A440 becomes weaker when the violin is not even. Notes that are higher in pitch on the G string or third and fourth finger in the third position on the D string. The E string has a few problems with F sharp and F natural as well.

Warmth is the darkness of a note when played and is preferred by most players and listeners. Contrast the warmth of an instrument to its opposite—brightness, which is usually louder and more penetrating. Every stringed instrument has a unique voice. This voice can be altered in many ways, for example, by changing steel strings for gut or nylon strings.  A shrill, tinny sound is not desirable.  Warmth projects a more wooden tone versus the brighter, metallic effects. Again, this is based on the preference of the player and listener, but warmth is more desirable for both with its husky richness.

Richness is a combination of strong overtones and fullness of voice.  It is similar to the language we use when describing a full-bodied wine with its more complex flavors and richer mouthfeel. Similarly, the richness of an instrument will be synonymous with a fulness of timbre—the sound quality. Ornaments, such as vibrato can enhance the richness and emotion of a tone, but vibrato does not generate richness. The quality of materials used, the strings, and the age of the wood all contribute to the richness, but no single factor guarantees that the voice of the instrument will be rich. That is why we set our instruments up to maximize the richness of each instrument.

Many of the words used to describe the tone of an instrument are difficult to define.  The fundamental ingredients that make a violin, viola, or cello sound good versus bad, are the same ingredients that determine whether it possesses good overtones or not.  An example of depth is the difference between a viola and a cello when played in the lower registers.  A viola can play the same notes, one octave higher, but a viola produces a dark sound. The same notes played on the cello would be considered deeper or having depth.  Playing the G string on a violin can sound metallic or tinny if it lacks depth.  Though the violin plays in much higher registers, it still needs to sound rich and deep to have that desirable tonal quality.

The smoothness of an instrument is based on the perception of the audience at a distance. Generally, if the instrument sounds rough to the player, it will sound smooth to the audience that is seated a dozen or more meters away.  A smooth note in your ear generally doesn’t carry well to the audience. Roughness in the ear of the player is due to the overtones that give the instrument its rich quality.  In other words, edgy and rough up-close equals rich and smooth from far away.

Brilliance in a stringed instrument is determined by how bright the tone is while maintaining its deep and rich qualities. This quality is displayed in virtuoso music.  The higher you play on the G or E strings, the tighter the vibrations. This makes the sound more brilliant.

It is true, some instruments are easier to play and require less effort to extract the quality tone that you are looking for. If your stringed instrument is responsive, you spend less time worrying about your instrument and more on your intonation, technique, and all the fun, challenging, and creative parts of playing a piece of music.  With larger instruments like the cello and the bass, responsiveness is one of the more sought-after qualities.

An instrument with an edginess typically has a lot of noise on the surface.  This is particularly advantageous to the player who has an instrument with strong overtones. The edginess will only carry that quality sound better. Your third finger on the E string in the third position, or your high C, is the center of where the human ear will hear the best.  That is why violins are usually written as the melody for a classical piece.  A warm, edgy, tone will sound clear at a distance.

When the bow changes direction, there is a natural reduction in the frequency that a string vibrates at.  The length of time that the string vibrates and produces sound is the resonance. If the instrument lacks resonance, notes that are played with a short bow such as staccato will die out quickly.  Having too much resonance is also undesirable. If the note hangs on too long, it will blend with the other notes, like a piano with a permanently depressed sustainer pedal. Again, a balance between too little and too much is what you are aiming for when choosing an instrument.

The Violin Gallery works with luthiers who are required to create instruments that provide quality and will score high on the Tonal-quality Matrix. We have tested hundreds of instruments, over a period of ten-years or more, in order to find the finest instruments and offer them to aspiring musicians, student violin, viola, and cello players, intermediate and even the most advanced students. Investing in an instrument with the Violin Gallery ensures that you will be educated on the tonal qualities of the instrument you are buying and be at peace with your decision. You know you will be getting the best price and the best quality with the Violin Gallery.  It really is that simple.

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