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Bridge height

Instruments: E string too low?

From pold poldi
Posted October 31, 2009 at 06:29 AM

I read often that the G string should be aproximately 5.5 mm above the end of the fretboard and the E string 3.5 mm. Do you think this is a useless rule? In my violin I find the E string is too low (3.5 mm) compared to the other strings, and I am planning on buying a blank bridge and fit it myself in a way that the distance between each string and the fingerboard is going to be exactly the same. What do you guys think?

From Russ McKenna
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 09:16 AM

I don't know about this rule but I'd be interested to hear how you plan on adjusting/cutting a bridge yourself.  My bridge seems to get flatter with time (it's now about 2-3 years old) and I want to have it rounded off as it's too flat for me now - i.e. keep catching adjacent strings.  I didn't think this was something I could do myself, but what you say has me thinking that I might be able to...

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 12:31 PM

It's very difficult to make a good bridge. Even some otherwise excellent luthiers don't do this very well. It's kind of like the stacatto of violin making! (Another analogy: many doctors  -with ER doctors an obvious exception - wouldn't do as well with CPR as non-MD EMT ambulance drivers. A general practitioner doesn't need to do this often whereas an EMT worker does this all the time.) On the other hand, some people who were mediocre makers came to specialize in set-up, restoration, etc. and do really well. Find a luthier or shop that's known for good adjustments and have them do it. Almost inevitably, with a new bridge you'll need a sound post adjustment as well, if not a new post.

BTW, for a standard steel E string, it's more like 2.5 cent. or about 1/8 of an inch. If yours is higher than that but still feels low, have the fingerboard checked out. Maybe there's no scoop.

From Michael Darnton
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 01:01 PM

Am I missing something here? You say normal is 3.5 and that yours is 3.5 and that it is low. It sounds right on to me.

From Ron Gorthuis
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 01:15 PM

Amen to Raphael.  A good bridge is indeed a difficult thing to master.  I know, because I have tried by myself!  Get the best wood you can find (eg Despiau).  The first obstacle is a perfect fit to the violin top - this requires a tool (that each luthier makes himself), and mature skill.  If the fit is lousy, your sound will suffer greatly.  Next is the curvature - not overly difficult, as you can get templates from books (eg Spohr).  So, let's assume you get a perfect fit and curvature. 

Next is "tuning" the bridge.  Tuning separates the great luthiers from the average.  Tuning involves altering the shape of the bridge holes, spaces, arches, etc to optimize the violin tone, volume, and projection.  Very few luthiers have learned this skill: or if they have, will not give you the time to do the work.  The work is tedious and finicky: mostly trial and error.  And to compound this, the soundpost will need to be repositioned, and perhaps a new one installed.  

For me, I know what works on my violin, because I have experimented with many bridges, to discover where to trim, alter, etc the bridge.  But I shall not extend my dubious methods to other violins.

As for height, extremes do affect sound: ie too low or too high.  But I have found a few millimeters do not affect sound to my ear, if within the "norms".  Height and curvature are more a matter of playing ease to each individual.  I think I prefer a lower bridge for higher tension strings (eg synthetics), and higher for lower tension strings (eg gut).

FWIW.

 

From Robert Spear
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 02:17 PM

For my average client or student player, I set the string height at the G at 4mm and at the E at 2.5, measured to the bottom of the string. These are the measurements given in the Roy book. Variations arise because some luthiers measure to the middle of the string, so the numbers for them are more like 4.5 and 3. You might think that professional players would want the action as low as possible to facilitate rapid passage work, but the majority actually prefer a higher setting, say 5 and 3.5. This allows them to play with more energy without bottoming the string.

In your case, I'm going to guess that the fingerboard scooping is excessive, which might make the strings too high in the middle positions and too low in the higher positions. The scooping should be very slight and only enough so that you can play hard on the open strings without causing them to buzz. The arc of the fingerboard becomes important at the end as well, because it will determine the arc of the bridge. It all has to fit together for a good player.

From pold poldi
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 03:00 PM

I checked properly, it was lower than 3.5 mm, something like 2.7 mm. It's definetely a bad fitting, there is nothing wrong with the scoop on the fingerboard, it's just the bridge. I saw on the web they sell already fitted Aubert bridges, also semi-fitted, what's the difference? Is treated better than untreated?

From Andrew Victor
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 06:01 PM

I'd say, listen to Ron and Raphael!

Fitting a bridge properly is a special skill. I learned this about 10 yeas ago when I went to my luthier for setups on all the instruments I owned at the time. Several were within 40 years old and had the original bridges installed by the makers. My current luthier did a better job making compatible bridges. What surprised me was that one of my 30 year old instruments, with the original makers bridge was perfect in my luthiers mid, and that was not changed.

I concluded that a working luthier, who repairs instruments and probably adjusts dozens of bridges every month is likely to do a better job than a maker who may not do 10 a year.

This was later confirmed in an article by Joseph Curtin or Greg Alf, who had recently learned the importance of optimal bridge fitting, in spite of the fact that he had been a renowned violin maker for many years.

Personally, I have a number of instruments and I save the discarded bridges. I have significantly improved the sound and playing characteristics of some instruments by replacing their bridges from my box of discards.

Andy

From Michael Darnton
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 06:22 PM

Chicago standard is 3.5/5.5, measured to the center of the string, but I'll do whatever a customer wants, of course. In general, the pros appreciate resistance, and prefer a high nut and lots of scoop, too--they claim it makes their playing snappier and more decisive. I rarely get complaints of too high strings, but often that they're too low (when they're higher than 3.5/5.5 I'll suggest lowering them and most, not all, allow that.

From David Burgess
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 06:56 PM

"I am planning on buying a blank bridge and fit it myself in a way that the distance between each string and the fingerboard is going to be exactly the same. What do you guys think?"

____________________________________

If you have a conventional playing style and play normal repertoire, I don't think you'll like having all the strings the same height above the fingerboard.

If you only "tickle" the violin and never play it hard, you can probably get away with having all the strings at the E height. If you only play in first position, it might work OK to have them all at the G height. Basically though, I see only disadvantages, and no advantages.

From Barry Nelson
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 08:29 PM

Nothing wrong with cutting your own bridge. Its a great way to set up your violin like you want.

I cut my own bridges.....BUT, you wont cut a good  one first time and its highly unlikely your tenth will be great.

 Read up on the subject, its not just curvature and height. mass is a big factor also.

If your persistant in cutting your own, by a bag of cheapies and get to cuttin'. I wouldnt by a $12 bridge with no cutting experience because ,trust me, you will screw up the first one. ;)

From Ron Gorthuis
Posted on November 1, 2009 at 03:42 AM

Agree with Barry's point: re mass.   Tuning the bridge alters the mass, but in a way that enhances the paths of string vibrations to the violin top.  Mass can be altered simply by thinning the bridge, which must be done to the blank, but thinning alone does not enhance sound.  

As Barry suggested, I experimented with many cheap bridges, and learned mucho.  The most difficult part is fitting the feet perfectly: I have no tool, so I will pay for this.  

For my violin, a bridge from very hard wood sounds best, thinned, and carved with large C holes and heart.  This tuning and hard wood worked extremely well for my dtr's 3/4 Chinese violin also: changing it from a muted one to one that has resonance and projection. Besides the sound improvements, the violins are easier to play, and now very sensitive to differences: bowing, strings, humidity, whatever.

To be sure, when one tries these things for oneself, one gains an immense appreciation for those others who have the skills to create works of sound and art.

FWIW

 

From pold poldi
Posted on November 1, 2009 at 04:07 AM

Thanks, I have found this inspiring article:

http://fourstrings.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/violin-fitting-a-new-bridge/

It gave me reassurance when I read it. It looks like all I need is patience and sandpaper. I am willing to try it rather than spending $200 from a luthier...

From Malcolm Turner
Posted on November 1, 2009 at 12:22 PM

Well, I've done something like that for student violins where the original bridge looks like a normal blank just put in place - flat thick feet that only touch in two places. And yes I produced a huge improvement. BUT - I wouldn't dream of doing it on any of my own  instruments. With the technique shown - using sandpaper on the feet - yes, it works to shape the feet to the belly of the violin, but because you can't hold it absolutely rigid, you'll get some rounding front to back and need to carefully flatten this with a sharp craft knife. At best, you're getting something approximate. And in the pictures shown, tapering just the top bit of the bridge to thin it - no thank you!

From David Burgess
Posted on November 1, 2009 at 02:07 PM

Like many articles pertaining to making and repair, the one above is apparently written by someone with no training. In scope and accuracy, it's a little like saying that to use a bow, you grab it in your fist and move it back and forth. :-)

I'm all for people having fun or saving money, but if one is going to work on anything other than the cheapest student violin, please get at least a little proper training. I could write a page just on the things which can go wrong when trying to make a bridge, some of which can damage the instrument.

 

From pold poldi
Posted on November 1, 2009 at 06:38 PM

I am not going to make a new bridge from scratch, I would never attempt that. Just buying a few blank ones and shaping them, it's not rocket science, you can end up with something bad or something good.

From David Burgess
Posted on November 1, 2009 at 11:13 PM

"it's not rocket science..."

__________________________

Juggling chain saws isn't either. Or maybe it is, depending on how you look at it. The rocket scientist might be the one who can describe in precise technical terms what the juggler is doing, involving mass, gravity and acceleration.... the motion of objects through space.

For what it's worth, there are rocket scientists and aircraft engineers who are very interested in how violins work, and find understanding this to be extremely challenging. There are some brilliant scientists involved in trying to unravel the mysteries and complexities.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 1, 2009 at 11:28 PM

Greetings,

for what it`s worth,  I have been to some very highly rated luithiers /repair men in Japan.  Only one knew about the -art- of a good bridge.   I think that`s why Menuhin said there are only a few people in the world capable of setting up a Strad.

Rocket science is no challenge. Especially if you eat a lot of prunes,

Cheers,

Buri

From Nicolas Temino
Posted on November 2, 2009 at 07:56 AM

 Not a rocket science, true. But once you get your bunch of blanks you will know how easy is to screw it up and how different can a violin sound with every bridge you put on it.

Once you get the proper skill with the knife  and make your first 30 or 40 bridges you will start to know the misteries of bridge cutting.

Have fun, that is the most important thing.

From David Burgess
Posted on November 2, 2009 at 10:26 AM

Stephen and Raphael are right. Setup skill varies widely amongst those who work on violins for a living.

From Anton Mirano
Posted on November 8, 2011 at 11:49 AM
I'd never heard of this rule. I carved my own bridge just using a cutter and a sandpaper. My bridge height in G is 2.7 cm and E is 2 cm. My bridge made my violin sound really good. Maybe you could find measurements that are suitable for your taste and repertoire.
From John Pierce
Posted on November 8, 2011 at 05:19 PM
Quoth David B: For what it's worth, there are rocket scientists and aircraft engineers who are very interested in how violins work, and find understanding this to be extremely challenging.

As someone who used to design missile tracking systems for living, I agree. Once you understand the important stuff to include in your system model, and can properly characterize the noise model for your instrumentation, whipping out a Kalman filter is pretty straightforward. The real trick is making sure it works in real life.

Same with bridges -- theory is fine, but it needs to actually work. I thoroughly researched the subject on Maestronet and several good websites and then pored over the Johnson & Courtnall book, before I cut my first bridge. I consider myself lucky that I got a good one on the first shot -- as opposed to thinking that it was good, because I knew what I was doing.

BTW, the Chief Scientist at White Sands Missile Range, part of the time I was there, was an amateur luthier...

From Ulf Kloo
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 11:36 PM
Be sure to make your first few dozen bridges on really cheap instruments, especially if you don't have a master luthier by you side. The sandpaper method to fit the feet is is not nearly accurate enough. You'll risk scratching the varnish while working, and since you'll never get the feet to fit perfectly the bridge will make indentations in the varnish. The proper method is with chalk or extremely thin carbon paper, and a very sharp knife. Once the feet fit pefectly you can experiment with the rest of the bridge.
The string heights you mention (3,5 for E and 5,5 for G) are correct for synthetic strings and classical music. For steel strings and/or folk music you can usually go a bit lower, maybe 3 and 4,5 mm.

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