04 February 2013

Violin & viola EQ and frequencies part l

When playing in an amplified setting it is good to know some of the key frequencies in the tonal spectrum of the violin.

This will make it a lot easier to target the right frequencies when eq'ing and to communicate with the sound engineer in a language he understands.

Knowing the frequency for each string is only a small part of understanding what is going on.
The harmonics of each note are a big part of the perceived tone and timbre of a bowed instrument.

Lets begin by looking at the spectrum for bowed instruments:

As you can see from the piano keys on the chart the lowest G is 196Hz on the violin and the high E string is 659Hz.

What you do not see are the harmonics: For instance if you listen to an A at 440Hz you will also hear its 2nd harmonic at 880Hz, 3rd at 1760Hz and 4th at 3520Hz.

To add to the complexity, bowed instruments also have resonances coming from the body and bridge. These also translate into peaks in the frequency spectrum:

In this graph you can see the recorded frequency spectrum of my german violin and the SD-systems microphone. I am playing a scale from G (196Hz) - B (988Hz).

As you can see there are strong peaks at about 520Hz, 650Hz and 1100Hz and again at 2000Hz. These peaks are 2nd and 3rd harmonic of a note. For instance 1100Hz = 2nd harmonic D and 2000Hz = 2nd harmonic B.

Another thing that becomes evident when looking at the frequency graph is that there are audible  harmonics way past 3520Hz range, which was the highest note in the piano-key table.

In this case I would make sure to cut of everything below 100Hz and try and control some of the violent peaks. Cutting the lows often helps preventing feedback.

Be sure to listen while you are eq'ing and not just cut and boost from a graph. And try to resort to using the eq only for cutting problems out and not boosting. Boosting often adds unnecessary noise and makes feedback occur. Sometimes a 3-4db boost in 12-16Khz range can add some airiness to the instrument though.

go to part II


  1. Hey Henrik and thanks for the post.
    I just bought a 5 string violin.
    Do you tune the lowest C string relative to the adjacent G string by 2:3?
    Because then when you play E on it, then you play the open E string it's sounds sharp.
    Please see my post here: http://bit.ly/violin-tuning

  2. Hi Shimmy. I hope i understand your questions right? I ofte use a digital tuner on both my 5 string and my octave violin. I find it hard to tune the low strings currectly otherwise..

    1. I hate tuning my violin with a tuner, I'm used to tune it by perfect fifths, starting from A=440Hz.
      Even if you do use a tuner, make sure you select 'Pythagorean' tuning. I promise you that you'll start enjoying your violins sound million times more, because a violin that is perfectly tuned rings sympathetically, and you're playing will become more tuned as well because you will have more reference notes. Unless you already use that option...
      Anyway for the C string I'm kinda having trouble.
      I bought an AES London5, still playing around with the instrument, it requires some getting used to.

  3. Only problem is that if you do not use a tuner it gets a little Haarder to keep in tune with guitars and pianos. Another Solutions is to use the tuner for the A string and then tune the whole instruments by Ear - then check the c-string again. Btw. I allways use a tuner that provides settings for violin..

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  5. Hi. Isnt the third harmonic of A 440 on the fifth "E"in between 880 and 1770 somewhere?

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