TIps for Spotting Problems in Student Rentals

September 27, 2016 at 11:13 PM · I'm a relatively new teacher, who had taught under five students for about 8 years, and now has steadily moved up to a studio of around 20. In my area, there are 6 strong in-school orchestras within a 15-mile radius. Orchestra teachers support private lessons (either they don't offer lessons at all, or encourage motivated players to go beyond the 10 minute school lesson).

It's a marvelous teaching environment, but the majority of these students are playing on rentals from several sources (some, of course, better than others). In particular, last year, one of those sources clearly bought a stash of cheap violins, unlabeled, and they seem to be poorly set up. They reek of varnish, the finish is sloppy.

My biggest beef is string clearance. The bridge heights on several of my student's violins looks VERY high. I would say the bridge was not fitted at all, just stuck in. Perhaps the nut is also too high. They look higher than my own instrument (but does that mean anything??).

My wordy question: What tools do I need to basically measure string clearance? I feel uncomfortable putting the burden on a student or their parent to complain about this, so I would appreciate have some concrete information to provide the instrument owners directly.

Also, are there other warning signs I should be ready to spot? These are a strong step above the VSO from eBay, but I again don't trust the consistency between them. Any basic tools or tips for helping me access and diagnose?

Replies (14)

September 27, 2016 at 11:21 PM · I'd strongly recommend that you buy the book "Useful Measurements For Violin Makers" by Henry Strobel. It's only $12.50 from Amazon, and will tell you everything you need to know. I could also suggest that you buy an accurate 6" machinist's ruler that measures both inches and millimeters, but buy the book first. Then decide what tools you'll need.

You not only need to know the string clearance over the fingerboard. Another very important measurement is the "fingerboard projection," which is measured by laying a straightedge along the crest of the fingerboard and sliding it up to touch against the bridge. That height at the bridge, measured from the instrument top, is the fingerboard projection. Often with low cost instruments the neck sags, allowing the fingerboard to drop, resulting in excessive string clearance. Low fingerboard projection will reveal that problem.

Get the book. I honestly believe that every string player or teacher should have a copy.

September 27, 2016 at 11:36 PM ·

September 27, 2016 at 11:52 PM · Yes, that's the book. I haven't figured out how to post links or photos on v.com yet. Is it that I'm doing everything from my iPhone? Thanks for the help, Fox.

September 28, 2016 at 01:03 AM · I am interested in the book on measurements. Look also for the book by Dalton Potter called Kitchen Table Violin Repairs.

September 29, 2016 at 03:00 AM · Kirbee, I understand that you want to be as well-informed and accurate as possible, but it strikes me that you already have the information you need -- if a store is unloading a lot of cheap violins which are poorly made and set up, then what reason is there to continue doing business with them? Anyone can get such violins, and even far better ones, easily off eBay. The point of dealing with local stores is to get the benefit of their direct attention, knowledge and accessibility, not to get cheap imported instruments with a markup and no support.

If you find that the instrument's strings are hard to press down, you don't need a machinist's ruler and a book to tell you that it's incorrectly set up. And any store which is inflicting such violins without care on students should be avoided. Instead, the store should be telling its clients to avoid eBay violins because they don't do as thorough of a job in setup and service as they ensure their clients, both before and after purchase.

September 29, 2016 at 04:22 AM · You don't need to worry about fingerboard projection on cheap student rentals, for one because its no overwhelmingly important on a beginner violin, but most importantly because there is nothing you can do about it, at least without luthier support and permission from the owners(and it has little to do with the playability of the violin, just the sound quality). String height above the bridge is important and can be probably adjusted without t'ing off the rental company. But you still should inform them. Otherwise they could make you buy it for altering it, basically these things require luthier skill and should not be attempted by an amateur unless they are working on violins they own themselves.

September 29, 2016 at 05:14 AM · The answer to your original question as to what you need to measure string height, I can't believe I have to answer this; a RULER that measures in mm and starts at O, not having 0 part way up the ruler.

Acceptable string height (for a 4/4 violin) measured from the bottom of the string to the top of the fingerboard; e string 3=4mm G string 4.7-6mm

For the nut, a business card should be close to a snug fit between bottom of the string and the fingerboard.

September 29, 2016 at 06:07 AM · I think it's a good thing you're doing. Hopefully you can say "I measured these 4 instruments and the bridges are all 2mm too high. If the students bring them in can you bring them down a little?" It seems like it's probably the most common complaint with new violins. I can't imagine it takes so long to get the bridges lower--I wonder why companies err so often on leaving them high.

September 29, 2016 at 06:42 AM · Yeah but its not easy to do without extensive experience, that's why I recommend getting a luthier to do it. Measuring it is a good first step though, the hard part is getting the curve of the bridge perfect not the height, but if you screw up and set it too low you have to fit a new bridge, which is much harder.

September 29, 2016 at 03:46 PM · Why even bother trying to fix them? They are rentals, and that should be the shop's responsibility. Have the students take them back to the shop to have them either fix it or replace it with a properly set up instrument.

September 29, 2016 at 03:59 PM · List of violin measurements:

http://www.lashofviolins.com/measurements.html

September 29, 2016 at 04:11 PM · There's another point here -- which is that students (except for maybe the tiniest little kids) can and should learn for themselves what correct set-up is on a violin. So if you can slide a crisp dollar bill between the belly of the violin and the bridge feet, then it's poorly fitted. Even a small child can learn this. The student can then take the violin -- and the dollar bill -- back to the shop. It's one thing for you to embarrass the shop owner, but when a 7-year-old is showing them that their violins are not set up properly, that's another ball game entirely. Same with the bridge height (show how to measure it, using small ruler). While they're at it they can measure lots of other things, like the length of the violin that determines the violin's size, the string after-length, etc. Kids love rulers.

September 29, 2016 at 11:47 PM · While I love Paul's idea of having kids measure and challenge the store themselves, string clearance, which is measured in mm's where 0.5 mm may be significant, is something quite easy to get wrong, and probably hard for many kids to get right.


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