The scene is a common one. You go to practice your violin, viola, or cello, all the pegs have slipped and the strings are laying on the fingerboard. You try to tune it up and the bridge is leaning and all crooked, or worse, it just popped off. Now what do we do?
Not to worry, it happens more often then we would like to see. It is more common if we haven’t played our instruments in a while or if we experience a dramatic temperature and humidity change. Fortunately, most of us have a good teacher, luthier, or violin shop that will help us out. Many musicians get really nervous when it comes to bridge placement, but the truth is, with a few pointers, the player can put things back to an approximately correct location until it can be shown to a more experienced person. They may still adjust things a bit but you should be able to continue on with practice or a performance with the instrument.
It is best to do the following without taking the violin or viola out of the case, otherwise your lap or even a bed or couch will suffice. We want to prevent any movement of the sound post if possible. Most importantly, the bridge should be checked and adjusted after each step.
When adjusting the bridge, our hands can be gently placed on the tailpiece and fingerboard as a stable point of contact and our index fingers of each hand can be used to adjust the lean of the bridge.
7 Steps to get in Tune
1. Place the bridge upright, without a lean, and centered between the f-hole nicks. The back of the bridge should be perpendicular to the edge/rib line. Make this judgment while looking from the g-string side. Keep checking this.
2. Slowly start putting tension on the 2nd string (A on violin, D on viola and cello). There only needs to be enough tension on the string to hold the bridge up so it’s not necessary to get it perfectly in tune at this time.
3. Put tension on the 3rd string
4. Put tension on the 4th string
5. Put tension on the 1st string
6. Pick up the instrument and sight down the neck to see if the bridge is centered with the fingerboard, and adjust it appropriately.
7. Now all the strings can be tuned to pitch, following the same order as earlier, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 1st strings while continually checking the bridge position and lean.
How could this happen?
All four strings are connected to the same point of contact at the tailgut and button via the tailpiece. The tailgut receives the combined tension from all the strings. If one peg slips, the tension is then placed on the other three strings, and then another string slips. This means that if one peg slips the three other strings must bear the tension released from the loose string. That’s when the chain effect of the other pegs slipping can occur.
Pegs also slip if they aren’t seated well enough. The peg is friction fit, with a formed tapered into a hole with a matching taper. One end of the peg’s shank is bigger than the other end, and the holes should match because they are made to fit the peg with a tool specially designed to match the measurement of the peg. The pegs always have to be pushed in while being turned.
If a peg does not turn smoothly or if it clicks more than once. Some peg compound might need to be applied, if you are not familiar with this, your local shop should be happy to do this or advise on how it is done.
Now you can go ahead and keep practicing or get through the concert!
Jonathon Price – Violinmaker
Jonathon Price is a violinmaker from Detroit, Michigan and has many of his instruments in the hands of world renowned musicians. Check out Jonathon’s website at http://www.jonathonpriceviolins.com to learn more about him and his handmade heirloom quality instruments.