The Senza System

"How does a Violin attain a better sound?"

This is a question asked by generations worth of luthiers, across several centuries worth of stringed instrument making. It has inspired countless young people to decide to tinker with wood and chisel, and caused some of the finest works of art in this world to come into being. 

However the best answer to this question, which has been almost exactly the same answer every time the question is posed is remarkably simple: try something new.

Meike Aupperle is a luthier who recently moved to London from Hannover in Germany. She currently runs a violin-making and restoration workshop from her apartment in a quiet, leafy corner of Clapham North, and is the sole luthier in the UK who fits the Senza System.

Upon entering her workshop, you are certain to be greeted by a friendly smile and a cup of freshly made coffee (or two). Meike often talks enthusiastically as she works about what she is doing to an instrument, explaining the intriguing technical details behind why she's moved the soundpost, or how removing some varnish from between an instrument's ribs increases sound projection.

With every new violin I build, I strive to achieve the perfection of the old masters. Each new instrument is an expression of respect of their work. I find it astonishing, in this day and age, that no one has managed to improve on the originals.
— Meike Aupperle, http://www.meikeaupperle.com/

Something important to note here is that we certainly think that Meike Aupperle has managed to improve on the original design. 

Introducing: The Senza System.

"But what is the Senza System?"

Put simply...

 

  • A new, slightly shorter tailpiece is made for the instrument.
  • This lengthens the back string length, allowing them to be 'tuned' to B, F#, C# and G#.
  • Senza Strings have no winding, which means they are free to vibrate and resonate, which adds further colour to the sound of the Violin.

It was invented by Volker Worlitzsch, a luthier and former professional orchestral player based in Germany.

“Senza” (meaning ‘without’) relates to the section of string between the bridge and the saddle of the tailpiece. As with the pure gut strings in days gone by, the modern wound Senza string, with synthetic or metal core, runs from the nut of the fingerboard over the bridge, down to the saddle of the tailpiece without textile or synthetic windings. This has the immediate effect of creating pure fifths behind the bridge, which in turn produce additional harmonics.

The method of fastening also follows the model of the gut string, with a knot securing it inside the slot of the tailpiece. All other means of securing the string, such as a ball or loop end, incurred an unwanted extra winding. Hence the knot being the only solution for avoiding this.

Setting the distance between the bridge and the tailpiece-saddle is vital. After many experiments, I found that the ideal result is not achieved by a repeating of the tuning of the strings themselves. G - D - A - E (for violins) should sound B - F # - C # - G #. Depending on the individual instrument, similar results may also be achieved through a tuning of C # - G # - D # - A #. This results in 8 of the 12 tones of the diatonic scale being present when an open string is played.

To successfully create these harmonics, the distance from the bridge to the tailpiece-saddle must be set precisely. The company ‘Ergo Vio’ has developed a high quality tailpiece to complement the specifications of the Senza system.
— Volker Worlitzsch, http://www.senza-system.de/live/System_en.AxCMS

Promote Classical's very own Elliot Corner visited Meike a few weeks ago to get his spare Viola restored to professional playing standard after the instrument went through a long period of inactivity, after being recommended to her by a mutual contact. After a long discussion following the restoration process about the Senza System being something that may well drastically improve his instrument's sound, Elliot became intrigued by Meike's advocacy of a new setup and trialled it on his own instrument.

The results spoke for themselves, the instrument sounds like a different Viola.

In fact the results are quite something in analysis as well - tests have been done in an anechoic chamber to determine whether the increase in resonant quality is scientifically true as well as just aurally perceived.

A graph detailing frequency response of Senza Strings (red) vs. Dominant Strings (white)

A graph detailing frequency response of Senza Strings (red) vs. Dominant Strings (white)

The y-axis show the frequency and the x axis the intensity. As you can see, the senza system produces an overall louder and more defined sound.

If you look through all the results closely, you will also notice that the main difference is on the lower octaves, with the difference getting smaller the higher you go.

Another point of note is the at the highest frequency of each note, the senza graph shows a clear and defined comb as you get right through the spectrum. The dominant strings, however produce a much less defined, almost noisy graph.
— http://www.meikeaupperle.com/2015/04/09/senza-system-the-results/

Of course, simply reading about the potential benefits of making such a significant change to an integral part of playing your instrument is not going to convince anybody to actually have it installed. You ideally need to experience the Senza System for yourself.

How best to get people interested and talking about it? We figured that if you can't experience Senza first hand, the next best thing would be to watch someone else experience it for the first time...

So that's how we teamed up with ICA Films to produce a short informational video about the Senza System, featuring Meike herself introducing the system and installing it on Promote Classical client Violeta Barrena's 1735 Sanctus Seraphin Violin.

What do you think of The Senza System? Tell us in the comments below.