Cox Violins Blog

Playing In New Instruments

Bob Hancock

Bob Hancock, Windham Orchestra’s
concertmaster, and Dean of the Players-In.

When a new violin or viola, cello or other instrument is first set up, we photograph it, audio-test it, measure it and describe it. When these things are done we put a chin rest on it and play it a bit to see how it sounds and feels. Then we put it on one of two ‘buzzers’ – we have a ToneRite®  device and a Bridge-Vibrator amplification unit. After a day or two or three, assuming all is well – almost always the case – the new violin or viola is ready to go out to be “played in” by a live human being. Most luthiers agree that a play-in period is part of the settling-in of the instrument. The two devices that we have are very different – the ToneRite® supplies a constant vibration to the bridge of the instrument, while the Bridge-Vibrator sends a sound – music from an mp3 files, or any other source – through the bridge, making the instrument itself a loudspeaker. These non-human devices have some advantages: they work 24/7, they never complain and they don’t care where they are. But they do not fully duplicate live human player, and the player can give us valuable reactions to the qualities of the instruments. Our Play-In team consists of people who care if the instrument is in tune, while the devices don’t know the difference.


Brian Cohen, Viola Player-In.
No viola too small or too big.

Of course there is the danger that the Player-In will become spoiled by having such a fine instruments to play on. It can occasionally be difficult to get them to give the instruments back when they have had one they really love. Another potential drawback is that they may find themselves with an instrument that doesn’t suit for some reason.

For violas, we have to find people who are comfortable with a small size instrument as well as a large one. The same can be true for smaller violins in the 7/8 or 3/4 sizes. Someone used to a full-size violin is probably not going enjoy playing on something so much smaller.

Here are some things our Players-In say: “I am the worst critic of Doug’s violins. They are all wonderful to me. The violin I played in most recently was, as they usually are, beautiful sounding, easy to play, delightful to hear. His instruments are the best I have ever played.”
Bob Hancock, Concertmaster, Windham Orchestra about violin #786 “Dancla” Guarneri del Gesù

“I really liked playing #790, and was feeling sad about having to give it back,  but  now I love the new one.  I’m like the girl who can’t say NO, and loves best the one she’s with.  Both fiddles have wonderful lower registers.  You should have heard the Pea Pickers rendition of Love Letters in the Sand,  key of C, last Tuesday.  It was great!”
Jill Newton, about violin #790 “Fontaine” Strad

“What I liked about that fiddle is that it had a big, earthy sound. Seemed to fit Aidan’s musical personality well.” Becky Tracy, Aiden Murphy’s mom about the 7/8 size fiddle he most recently had. “Resonant, rich tone.” Brian Cohen, about viola #799, 16-5/8″ Gaspar da Salò