Soundposts in student instruments fall all too often. In resetting the soundpost to temporarily get the instrument up and working again, we are embarking on a complicated procedure. This article will explain what is involved in performing a sound post reset. You will learn about the tools and methods for:
- Restoring ready use of an instrument temporarily out of commission
- Protecting that instrument from further mishap
- Protecting a teacher from the responsibility of unintended misfortune while choosing and performing the appropriate action to take when a sound post falls.
When a soundpost has fallen:
- Assess the situation.
- Gather the appropriate tools.
- Remove the fallen soundpost.
- Reinstall the soundpost.
We are assuming that the strings and bridge are still in proper position and the instrument is basically in tune. If the instrument is in tune, immediately detune it to a 3rd below pitch, for example tune the D down 2 notes to B. This operation is a rescue technique that should be considered a temporary fix and that should be followed-up with an inspection by a professional repairman of bowed instruments.
This is not a permanent repair!
Do not attempt a repairman’s procedure, which would involve refitting, or replacing a poorly fitted or damaged sound post. We are not performing a tonal adjustment. We are neither performing a professional nor a permanent repair.
- An apprentice violin technician will perform this task in excess of 30 times before being considered capable of properly inspecting and installing a soundpost. Selecting tone wood, fitting, and shaping a new soundpost is an altogether more complicated task requiring the skills of a seasoned professional. Therefore do not perform this task on a quality instrument or on one owned by someone else. This will protect you from the responsibility of damaging an instrument that may be of considerable if not sentimental value to the owner.
- These techniques are designed to guide a teacher in a pinch, and to minimize lost teaching time and damage to a student’s instrument.
- Be aware that damage may occur at the f hole, and a crack may occur at the top or back if a soundpost is installed improperly. Sometimes a “ninja” soundpost crack may occur, even months later when low humidity changes occur, for example during dry winter weather conditions.
Inspect Before Proceeding
A thorough inspection will protect the instrument and will prevent embarrassing problems.
Careful inspection and handling of an instrument will prevent:
- Damage to the inside of the top and back
- Damage to f-hole edges
- Cracks in the top or back
- Ninja cracks that may occur at some time in the future
- Increased damage already incurred by the instrument
Determine the Cause
There is always an explanation for a fallen sound post. Knowing the cause will inform our decisions & actions. Knowing “why” will tell you “what” to do and “how” to handle the soundpost dilemma. You can minimize or prevent damage by inspecting the instrument for the following possibilities:
- Check the sound post for an improperly fitted post or a post that is too short
- Check for signs of damage inside the top or back.
- The instrument has been hit or dropped and an impact has occurred
- Check for cracks or openings in the top or back, or anywhere a fallen instrument may have landed.
- Strings have come loose due to humidity, broken or fallen bridge, peg, tailpiece or tailchord malfunction
- Check for loose seams or signs of a sharp increase or decrease in humidity
Note: Usually, a combination of the above problems occurs, necessitating replacing the fallen post with a new, professionally fitted soundpost. If any of the above problems exist, it is wise to refer the repair work to a qualified and reputable repair shop (see picture 1).
Based upon the inspection of the instrument, we should have a fairly good idea whether or not to move forward with re-installing the sound post or recommending professional repair.
If the instrument looks sound then proceed.
Gather Appropriate Tools
Gathering all the necessary tools ensures that:
- They are at hand when needed
- You will be able to stay focused while working.
Here is what you will need (see picture 2):
- Sound post Setter
- Business Card from Jim Clinton Violins to make position marker
- Clean white cotton cloth or paper towels
- White “grease marker” or “china marker”
- Ruler that reads millimeters
Seek Advice & Opinions
If we have any reservations about doing a sound post reset, it is always smart to ask questions. Feel free to contact Jim Clinton Violins or another reputable repair shop that could be of help. Please refer to this article when contacting Jim Clinton Violins so that we will provide special consideration.
Proceed with Caution
You have determined that you are installing a fallen sound post, and that you are not doing any further adjustments or repairs. You have become realistic that this is a complicated procedure requiring a great deal of experience for the safety of the instrument and of the teacher. We have taken sufficient time to inspect the instrument and assess it for further repair needs. We have gathered the appropriate tools and have sought advice as needed. All that is left is removing the post, inspecting it, and reinstalling it.
Prepare your instrument & tools
- Wrap black electricians tape around middle area of sound post setter. This will help protect f-hole edges from being damaged. This is not a cure-all so be careful anyway (see picture 3).
- Prepare a business card from Jim Clinton Violins per pictures and video.
- Cut middle of card 1″ lengthwise (see picture 4).
- Shorten one side by 2 millimeters (see pictures 5-6).
- Fold a paper towel 3-4 times and insert below tailpiece to protect the varnish from scratching should the bridge fall. Tuck it below the tailpiece so that it will not slip out while doing other work.
- Note the bridge position and mark it with a white grease pencil in case the bridge falls.
- Loosen the strings to approximately a third below standard pitch (for example tuning D down to B).
Remove the sound post
Remove the loose/fallen post by rolling it toward the C-bout and stabbing it with the sharpened end of the post setter. If possible stab it at the post’s pierce mark from a previous post setting. To locate the pierce mark, use the sharpened end of post setter to spin it. When stabbing the post, be careful not to force and split it. Lift the stabbed post out through the f-hole (see pictures 7-8, video 1).
Inspect & prepare to install the sound post
- Inspect the removed post for splits or poorly shaped ends. Post ends should be slightly angled and the angles should be opposite each other. If the shape doesn’t appear to conform to the body where it will be positioned have a repairman inspect it for you (pictures 8-9).
- Plan post placement relative to bridge position. We are assuming the bridge is lined up approximately with the inner f notches and otherwise centered between the f holes.
- Look through the treble (E side) f hole. The front of the post starting position should be approximately 3 mm behind (toward the tailpiece) the bridge. See picture of post position demonstrated as from outside relative to bridge (picture 10).
- The post should have a starting point approximately 2 mm inside the outer foot edge on the treble string side. See following for using JCViolins business card to measure this.
- Hold post with short side toward setter
- Stick post 1/3 down from top of post at shortest side (picture 11).
- Using post setter, insert post into treble side f-hole with post toward the tailpiece.
- Keeping post at a slight angle move toward center (widest area) of body, then begin standing post upright. At all times maintain awareness of post setter and edges of f-hole to avoid damaging its edges (picture 12).
- Align post to approximate the desired position relative to the bridge (3mm behind)
- Keep post straight upright from side view as well as if viewing it from the end.
- Pull the upright post toward the treble c-bout until it stops from top/back contact.
- If post is standing straight upright and comes past the outside of the bridge, it is too short and the instrument must be refitted with a new soundpost by a professional.
- Pull setter out of the post and out of the f-hole, being careful not to damage f-hole edge. Flip setter to the other end, insert into f-hole and push, pull, or lightly tap post to obtain the desired position. Do not force the post into position. Doing so will crack the top or the back. If the post is too tight, remove it and have a professional refit it or fabricate a new one for you (video 2).
- Use the JCViolins business card measuring device that you made to check the position of the post relative to the outside bridge foot edge. [VIDEO #3] Verify that post is still standing upright and in the desired position. Make adjustments to get a good fit with the soundpost upright in the proper location (video 3).
Reward a Well Done Task
Now it’s time for a doughnut and a cup of coffee as reward for a job well done.