Do you have impossible pegs? Does your student have impossible pegs?
Don't let that situation stand. It's important to have very high standards when you tune your violin, every single time you play. There's really no "almost" when it comes to tuning your violin. There is "in tune" and "out-of-tune." If you play on an out-of-tune violin, nothing else will be in tune. It's as simple as that!
When pegs stick or slip, then tuning the violin becomes a constant struggle. I know, from personal experience; as a high school and college student, I had terrible, ill-fitting pegs. I fought the battle every time, but not everyone is willing to do so. I finally had my peg-box rebusched, a labor-intensive operation for the luthier and an expensive solution all-around. (It turned out that I had four completely different pegs, all somehow jammed in there over the century-long life of my little German fiddle.) With four new pegs lodged in holes that fit them, it solved my problems with that fiddle.
But there are other solutions you can try for impossible pegs, and not all of them are expensive (though some are!)
First, see if you've installed your strings correctly. Traditional pegs stay in place simply by being wedged into the holes made for them. If they aren't wedged in enough, they can slip. When you tune, you can push the peg in as you turn it, to make sure the peg is staying wedged in. (It doesn't work to push in the peg after you've turned it, you have to push it in as you are turning it.) Also, when you install your strings, wind them up against the peg box, and this also has the effect of wedging the peg inward. Of course, if you push too hard or wedge the peg in too tight, then the pegs get difficult to turn. In that case, unwind the string and re-roll it, making it a little less tight against the peg box. (See the pink-threaded "D" string, right)
Secondly: see if your pegs are lubricated well enough. If they are sticking and clicking, they may need lubricant. Peg compound (or "peg dope," as many refer to it) is widely available and not too expensive. It looks like a tube of brown lipstick, and one tube lasts forever (as far as I know). To use it, take the string off and take the peg out. Draw a little "lipstick" onto the two places where the peg rubs up against the holes in the peg box. Put the peg back in and turn a few time to spread it around, then put the string back on.
For a more homespun solution: instead of "peg dope," use dry soap for lubricant and baby powder for friction. Don't get fancy with the soap; use something simple and fairly unscented like Ivory. Again, remove the string and take the peg out. Rub the dry (I repeat DRY!) soap onto the areas where the peg rubs against the holes. Then put the peg back in and turn it a few times to spread it around. Then take the peg back out and apply a thin coat of baby powder over the areas you've "soaped," re-insert the peg, and re-install the string. I like this solution a lot and find it to sometimes work better than the peg dope. My luthier in Denver used to do this, and very often I'd see that little dusting of baby powder when I got my fiddle back from him! (By the way, when you have a string off, this is a good time to clean the fingerboard. You can clean the fingerboard with alcohol, but don't get alcohol on any other part of the fiddle. I use pre-packaged alcohol mini-swabs, the kind you would find in a first-aid kit, because they are less likely to drip than something like a cotton ball. I rub the fingerboard clean then immediately wipe the alcohol dry with a tissue)
Pegs still impossible?
Put fine-tuners on all your strings. This solution requires getting over age-old directive that if you have a full-sized violin, you should have only one fine-tuner on the "E" string, and all other strings should be solely peg-tuned. This is fine, if you have well-fitted pegs and can tune your string to the finest fraction of a cent with the peg. But what if that is very difficult? This can be a bad situation for an adult beginner or a young student who has just graduated to a full-sized violin and is still getting the hang of tuning. They can get it close with the peg, but when it's just a little tiny, tiny bit sharp, and that peg doesn't want to settle in between, then the student gets very tempted to just leave it. The whole struggle takes up valuable practice time and has the student heaving in frustration before even playing a note. It can be very frustrating to the student in situations that require fast tuning: at orchestra, before an audition, etc. So invest $15 in a set of four fine tuners. You can easily install them yourself, Shar tells you how, even. I'm sure other stores have such helpful videos as well. I just helped a student install her own fine-tuners and I'm looking forward to the added control she will now have over her violin. This doesn't preclude peg-tuning at all; it just gives you the extra ability to get the pitch within a finer gradation.
And finally: planetary pegs! Made by Wittner, Knilling, they can expensive to install, but they transform the pegs into something a bit more like a guitar peg, and way easier to use. I welcome feedback on these. A few of my students have them, and though they have made it far easier for them to tune, the main problem seems to be that they are geared, and sometimes it's hard to stop the pegs between gears and thus get the precision. I don't know if this is a problem with the brand or with the installation, because it's not always the case. Some planetary pegs are completely smooth and do not seem to have this problem at all. And it's not just students that benefit from these; Elizabeth Pitcairn installed Wittner planetary pegs in her "Red" Strad!
So I hope that these ideas help you find a solution to difficult pegs, and please share any ideas or suggestions you have on the matter. Whatever your thoughts about any of these ideas, don't tolerate impossible pegs! Do what you can to ease this situation for yourself or for your students.
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