Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

This is a serious situation and I hope I can count on your help. The cat needs your help and I need your help too. Below is a brief description of the problem. (Sorry, I do not have an audioclip of same, but if I had I would be loath to inflict it on you.)

Problem: Some days, thankfully only some, when I draw the bow across the strings of my fiddle, the heartrending scream/squeal? of a young cat in dire pain can be heard. I cannot take much of this and usually retire the fiddle to its case without undue delay. The result is a badly-needed practice abandoned, graph of my progress flattens, possibly takes a downturn.

What is Happening: This is my understanding and perhaps you can enlighten me here if I am in error. Sometimes, the bow/hairs-string contact causes an unusual vibration and produces a sound inaudible to the human ear. But not to the cat’s. The cat within the fiddle hears this disagreeable sound and squeals in agony. The player, myself in this case, in sympathy with the cat usually desists. After all, we are not monsters, and we would like to be able to say, "No cats have been injured in the playing of this tune." (There is also the meaner motive of protecting our own ears.)

WHY: But the big question is, of course, why is this happening. Is it technique. Probably not. Since my technique is impeccable and unvarying, I’m dismissing this possibility. That leaves equipment, fiddle, strings, bow, hair, rosin, locale. Okay, fiddle, strings, bow, and rosin are constants (well, small changes over long periods); locale is a true constant (only play within the safe confines of my own home, especially given the cat’s condition). That leads me to the conclusion that this is a hair problem.

Is my analysis correct? If not, what is the explanation.

Most important, whatever the cause, what is the solution. To use a dental analogy, how can we get Mairtin to brush longer and end up with fewer cavities, or what is the fiddling equivalent of a better-tasting toothpaste? (It has occurred to me to smash the fiddle and let the cat out, but the fiddle cost me a lot of money and another fiddle if/when I could afford it might have a similar cat problem).

Go raibh maith agaibh. I await your wisdom.

Mairtin

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Hmmm, the squealing cat sound is usually caused by one of the following:

1) bad bow - make sure the hair on your bow isn’t too old and that it’s got a good coat of rosin. If your bow isn’t too expensive you can try washing the hair (actual shampoo works well though I’d avoid any with a built-in conditioner) and then applying new rosin. Rehairing should only be about $25-$50 (US).

2) bad strings - old strings sometimes shriek abominably, especially e-strings. Replace them if they’ve got any sign of wear. Some strings shriek on a particular fiddle and others don’t … try changing brands; I’ve had a lot of good use (and lonnnng wear) out of Prims and D’addario Helicores. I found out early on that my fiddle doesn’t like Dominants….

3) bad technique - Since you point out that your technique is impeccable, this probably isn’t the answer but included for completeness: make sure you are bowing with the hair (pretty much) flat on the string about half-way between bridge and the fingerboard, and bowing as perpendicular to the string as possible … vertical movement (up and down along the string) while bowing causes all sorts of ugly noises.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Try playing outside.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

How do you know that the cat hates it??—Is she running off to another room squealing? We had a dog growing up who used to squeal as well whenever my brother took out his accordion (we all did actually but that’s besides the point) We sent said brother off to another room to practice and the dog would always follow—turned out he loved to sing along!!—it was hysterical to watch!!—The dog would climb up on the closed case and howl his head off.
Why don’t you experiment a bit and see what the cat’s reaction is—we all thought the dog hated the music too—You never know!!-Good Luck

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

This is very odd, frozen. I just put a new set of Dominants on my fiddle. Usually this is good for a few days of pleasure as I play on new strings, but not this time. I’m not encouraging my fiddle’s inner cat, but there is a definite nasty overtone with these strings. What are you using?

Or, turn the fiddle upside down and shake vigorously. Should dislodge any alien beings. 😀

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

It’s probably the cat, not the fiddle. I’ve lived with cats all my life and I’ve seen a wide variety of responses to music and sounds. Some cats have a strong reaction to a whistle (instrument or lips). They might get in your face and become very affectionate, or they might just be very curious, or they might flatten their ears and leave the room grumbling under their breath. Or they might completely ignore it. I’ve known one cat who would talk back to whistle music. I wasn’t sure if he was saying, “Hey, I like that” or “SHUT UP!”

My current cat loves whistling, but doesn’t care for the fiddle.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Bob, your cat can whistle?

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Yeah, but she can’t carry a tune. It’s very annoying.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Go raibh mile maith agaibh. A little more info. The fiddle is old but fairly new to me and appears to be in nice shape which is why I bought it. The strings are, O Woman of Bats, Dominant and almost new I would say. However, the fiddle, the Dominants, and the bow must have sounded cat-friendly when I tested it. So, we are looking for something for something which raised its ugly head very recently. Could it be something like some errant hairs cross each other rather than run parallel to each other? My sight is less than 20/20. If this is a problem, how does it happen?
You do realize, fiddlefamily, that the cat is internal/hidden/occult? (My sister’s dog is in fine voice when I play the whistle, but it’s hard to say if he is enjoying it or just agitated. But, I digress.)
Question: I hear that the most popular strings by a long way are Dominant, so why is the score -2 on this thread?
Okay, rzaik, I may have overstated my case with respect to technique. I do sometimes bow less than perpindicularly and occasionally make contact with the fiddle body. However, this is not the source of my present problem.

Mairtin

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Well, Mairtin, I will go home tonight and see if my odd overtone is still lurking after the new strings have had a chance to settle in. If I’m okay, I will assume that your fiddle has become possessed and is channelling one of your former cats.

My thought, though, when I put on the new strings, was that I had gotten hold of a bad batch. Or our unusually high humidity this week (60%!!!) is causing consternation for my instruments. Anything, of course, except my less than stellar technique…..

As for the Dominants, I began using them when I got my present fiddle. They have always sounded good with this instrument, so I stick with them (and buy an extra A string with the package). I like the warm sound. Or former warm sound…

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

ah the tortured cat syndrome….check your rosin, some are just plain nasty and bring out the worst.

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Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

another thing, if you are using a cheap chinese fiddle, changing the strings and tailpiece can make a huge difference.

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Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

I have the best rosin I could find locally, very dark by Super Sensitive. Also, the fiddle is old and French with as I said earlier new Dominants. So, I don’t think your suggestions will work, Joze. As a matter of interest, B’lady, why the second A string? Also, is there any unanimity or clear favourite among ITM fiddlers on which strings are best (either type or make/model)? I’ve seen so many recommendations that I doubt it.
Maybe I should quit and let the cat play.

Mairtin

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

I don’t think you’ll find much unaninimity about fiddle strings here! but recent string discussions seem to indicate a growing non-preference for steel strings. I have three not-too-bad but also not-too-valuable fiddles cluttering up the place, and one has Obligatos, one Infield Reds and one Dominants. I would have said I liked the Obs best, but I’ve recently moved the soundpost slightly on the one with dominants (it was set too far back and was sounding very muddy) - it now sounds brilliant and is my current favourite, whereas I was thinking it might be the strings at fault - it wasn’t. I think if your fiddle is fairly good, Dominants are just fine - why pay more? If it needs a bit of help, then invest in Obligatos or Evahs. My cat is fat and lazy and lies on her back, feet in air, watching me play. She does have a look of disapproval on her face, but is to idle to go away.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

The cats probably trying to alert you to eloping cutlery and crockery and bovine moon leaping happening outside your window!

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Try setting the tailpiece as close to the end button has you can, without actually touching the body of the instrument. It helps a lot.
Regarding steel strings, there is something to be said for a steel-cored A (to give a good tonal transition to the steel E), but matched with good quality synthetic-cored G and D. Those two synthetic core lower strings, especially the G, will resonate better than steel and so will improve the overall resonance of the instrument.
This was a tip I picked up from a concert cellist (except that he preferred his lower strings to be gut-cored), and I have been using a steel-synthetic mixture of strings on my cello for some time now. It works just as well on the fiddle.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Mairtin, I’ve noticed a tendency for the A string to come unwound when I use Dominants. So I just buy an extra and replace it before it blows out.

My outer cats give my playing mixed reviews. Opus loves me and my tunes; she opens the door to my practice room and looks at me lovingly as I play. Bean is a wretched philistine who only loves me because I feed her and rescued her from the pound.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

I’ve explained to the cat that so-called catgut strings are actually made from sheep’s intestines, so she’s mightily relieved about that, and as you can see from this pic, has no fiddle phobias:
http://www.geocities.com/pifflegiffle/milly.jpg

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Go raibh maith agat Risteaird B for the info on the strings and the pic. I feel I need to restate here that I am an unsophisticated beginner and talk of moving the soundpost fills me with shocking awe (uafas). I only recently learned what that little piece of wood is called. I have another fiddle, my Dad’s old Strad, and in looking at the two, the soundpost on the French fiddle is much farther back from the bridge. As regards the cat, I note her look of content in close proximity to the fiddle; however, I also note the absence of the fiddler which may affect the situation.
Inspired, I could be wrong in this, but I believe my INNER cat has no interest in fembovs whether in space, with guns, or in stable (except as providers of milk, of course). Also, a count of the dirty dishes and spoons in my sink indicated no diminution in their number.
Thanks lazy. Tailpiece (or piece of——-, No, scratch that). See my comments to RB. Wouldn’t know how to do that. Looking at both fiddles, they look the same to my unpracticed eye, button to tailpiece??? Thanks for the string advice. Incidentally, my father played the fiddle 20-25 hours/week until he was 92 and, as far as I can recall, the only string he ever changed was the E when it broke. No money to spare for that sort of thing in Mayo 1900 to 1960s (food in the belly and clothes on the back had higher priority).
Comment noted, Bat. What did you think of RB’s steel A choice?

I must get back to the game (oh and lunch. I knew there was something else.)
Mairtin

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Mairtin, shifting the soundpost is not a job for the amateur - that most definitely needs the professional touch. If there appears to be too much distance between the soundpost and the bridge what an amateur can do as an INTERIM measure (and I emphasise "interim") until the luthier does the job properly, is to move the bridge slightly (by no more than its thickness at the base) towards the tailpiece. This will in effect reduce the distance between the bridge and the soundpost and will have an effect on the tone. When you’ve done this make sure the bridge is perfectly upright (the tailpiece side should be exactly at a right angle to the belly), and square across the width of the belly.
Before you move the bridge don’t forget to reduce the string tension slightly - half a tone down on each string should be sufficient.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Good advice Trevor. After all, it may be that the bridge is out of position, not the sound post. Or both.

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Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Right, Trevor. Soundposting would be a bridge too far for me. I did move the bridge a little as you suggested, but I’m not sure that the sound has changed much. I believe the bridge is now fairly correctly positioned between the notches on the f-scrolls (???). However, the soundpost is well back towards the tailpiece (too far, assuming that the bridge-soundpost positions are correct in my other fiddle).
Shinawillguhfoeillahawirgeah,
Mairtin

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Well I’m brave, and there’s a violin workshop just down the road to help if I get into trouble - so I bought a soundpost setting tool (£5) and some best sound post (£4.75 a length) and a soundpost depth gauge (£12.50 - that was dear!). I was going to take out the soundpost and replace it, because it was obviously too far back when compared to other fiddles, but I found the setting tool was perfect, having slackened off the strings, for just gently tapping and tugging the existing post forward carefully. The tone of the fiddle was, as I said, really muddy and dull, but moving the post has improved it amazingly so I don’t have to fit a new post. I have got a cheap old Chinese fiddle though with no soundpost so I’m going to practice putting a new post in that. You have to shape the ends of the sound post slightly to follow the curvature of the inside of the fiddle, and the grain of the post should be cross-wise. Apparently a thinner-topped fiddle needs the post nearer to the bridge. But if I was fortunate enought to have a really valuable fiddle I think I’d take it to an expert (but probably not because I just like having a go myself…)

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Oh and see Crusty’s valuable comment in an earlier posting about bridge position (thanks Crusty): "the string afterlength, or the string length between bridge and tail piece should be exactly 1/6 the distance from nut to bridge. I think the tailpiece "wire" should be adjusted to make this ratio come true, provided the bridge is properly aligned". Proper luthiers probably set these proportions up carefully and then make careful adjustments to the soundpost position.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

"the string afterlength, or the string length between bridge and tail piece should be exactly 1/6 the distance from nut to bridge.”

I did not know that. You learn something every day. If you’re not careful. Now I’ll have to spend the rest of the day trying to imagine the physics behind that requirement.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Bob, I believe the theory with that setup is that the bridge-tailpiece length should be an exact harmonic of the main length of the string and in turn will be an exact harmonic of the next string up if that string is tuned exactly a fifth higher than the lower. The details of the calculation I leave to you students (‘cos I’m off to an orchestral gig in 10 minutes); I expect worked examples on my desk first thing in the morning.
The idea presumably is that it makes the instrument resonate better. Whether it works well in practice is a different matter, given the minute differences that can easily mess it up - like mixing different makes of strings (which many players do), the linen winding on the end of the string, and slight distortions in the bridge itself. I’m inclined to think you’d only notice this effect with a crack professional string quartet playing top grade instruments perfectly set up - and in a recording studio. This counsel of perfection wouldn’t affect the vast majority of players in the slightest.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Ah, that does make sense. Theoretically, anyway. Practically, it seems like a quixotic quest. I don’t mean that it couldn’t be achieved, just that so many things conspire against keeping the geometry that accurate and constant.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Oh man, this is complex! Wow! bridge tailpiece harmonic fifth higher . line. wndign disstorxzuns chbxxxx ;’./, , , , m t l k hhh eeeee lllllllll—————————————-

Hi I’m new to this site/thread. I just popped out of an old French fiddle. The guy I presume was my master/torturer I found slumped over the keyboard of the computer. It appears he went comatose reading that hightech discussion. Not too bright, I think, and too old to learn new tricks (like old dogs. Actually, I’ve always thought dogs’ ability to learn tricks was overrated. Most of their tricks show no intelligence, no subtlety, no self-respect, and absolute fawning). Anyway, he’s history (there is a weak pulse, but I’m not motivated enough to pick up the phone and dial 911. That’s the kind of thing a silly dog would do.)

So here’s my contribution which I know is very important, if only you people are not too stupid to realize it. I really wish you people would play less, and what you do play try playing it more quietly. I abhor those fast tunes and would be happy if I never heard another one. Also, there are lots of instruments I hate. The harp I don’t mind, but it’s about the only semi-agreeable music. The rest is NOISE, not music. It’s time for a snack now. I may come back, and then again I may not. You see, what you have to say doesn’t really interest me and I’m not going to PRETEND it does (like a silly, stupid, tail-wagging dog would do). So there.

Pangur Ban, formerly known as The Cat in the Fiddle

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Grrrrr! Woof-woof! What’s that you’re saying about my tricks showing no intelligence? I’d chase you up a tree, but I can’t be bothered.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Memo to Self: Petition OED to substitute canine for asinine.
PB/TCitF

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

if we’re not all being terribly wound up here…

your cat isn’t bothered. cats are darned smart, and i think you should learn to read your animal. if this is how you feel about your cat, then i’m surprised he hasn’t already backed up a van while you were at work and fenced all your stuff. i doubt you would like sleeping next to a smoke alarm..

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Are there cat hairs in your bow? I get a dreadful screech when one of Figment’s hairs end up on my bow.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Hmmm. Try playing with a St. Bermard howling (singing?) at your feet. He settles down beside me with a contented sigh when I play the piano, though.

Funny how much discussion this topic has generated.

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

Mairtin here, back again. Messages from here sent by unknown and unauthorized personnel (Pangur Ban, prob an alias). Disregard. Apologies. I distance myself from those remarks.

Meri-p, could be cat hairs. I remember one time noticing my bowhairs were becoming scant and there beside me was a sleeping cat and I thought …Wait, Wait. No that’s not right, just my imagination, . . or maybe hallucinating after the blackout (yes, I did black out reading some very high teck stuff, my Achilles heel, like hitting Superman with a big mass of kryponite). No, I ‘d never do that, thought I might be tempted. I’d put it out of my head and spend the 40 or 50 bucks on real horsehair. So, I think we have to exclude that one, but thanks for the suggestion.

Hi Hog, I don’t HAVE a St. Bernard, but I did teach in one. So, if you want me to test that, you’ll need to send me yours. I will feed him and pay his busfare back, . . but no 200 a day and expenses. You know, when I was young and used "funny" as you did in your last sentence, my Uncle Thomas would correct me, "Not funny, … strange." Uncle Thomas was a very funny/strange man. He didn’t care much for dogs and cats, but he was enthralled (and impoverished) by horses, the ones that run at racetracks (slowly in the case of UT’s picks).
Funny (or strange), I was thinking how much the topic had DEgenerated.

Born Again Mairtin

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

"thought" should read "though"
BAM

Re: Help, cat (and fiddler) at risk

an old fiy fisherman and tyers joke. "A hairless cat named dub"

dubbing being the technique to spinning fur onto cotton for tying flies, and fly tyers discount no material, roadkill is not overlooked as a source of materials.

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