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The Weekend Vote

Weekend vote: How do your pegs affect your ability to tune your fiddle?

June 17, 2012 at 2:17 AM

When it comes to sticky, no-good, slipping, impossible-to-tune pegs, I've done my time.

My German violin -- companion through high school, college and beyond -- had such pegs. A few years after college, I had the peg box re-bushed, fixed so that we could cut new holes and install new pegs. Check out the pegs removed from the old fiddle:

Yes, I do believe those are four completely different kinds of pegs!

Not only did my early violin have problem pegs, but I also have taught scores of school children who were playing very cheap fiddles. And what makes a cheap fiddle cheap? One key ingredient is ill-fitting pegs.

Pegs can cause problems in a variety of ways. Traditional pegs mostly cause problems if they don't fit the holes drilled for them in the peg box. Perhaps the holes are just old and weirdly worn. I believe that was the case with my German fiddle. Perhaps they never fit, because no one ever tried for that level of precision. Such is the case with cheap fiddles. But another reason they can "not fit" has to do with changing temperatures and humidity levels, which can throw the different woods of the pegs and peg box out of whack by making one expand or contract more than the other. Thus a change in the weather or climate can cause pegs to go wacky and either slip easily or get sticky and difficult to turn.

Why am I thinking about pegs? I'm still getting over this new revelation that Elizabeth Pitcairn has installed Wittner Fine-Tune pegs in her Strad, something I learned Tuesday at a violin-testing event in Southern California. Strads are notoriously prone to climate-related malaise, and she said that this simple move to planetary pegs has alleviated considerably the tuning problems caused by the frequent climate change she faces when constantly traveling to play in different cities around the world. ("Planetary" refers to the peg's internal gear system, in which little gears orbit like planets around the drive shaft "sun" gear. Traditional pegs work by using friction -- in other words, they are just jammed into that hole, and if they slip, you just jam them further in.)

There are several kinds of planetary pegs; she uses Wittner, but there are also Perfection Pegs by Knilling (which do require that they be glued in; Wittners do not). If you have serious problems with pegs, some kind of modern planetary pegs could be a pretty nice solution.

At any rate, I am now curious about people's peg travails. I now have nice, workable pegs that are the traditional kind. But my struggles with bad pegs were a serious pain. And for a student, just learning to tune, it can be a major barrier. Where do you stand right now in relation to the pegs on the fiddle you most use?

From Man Wong
Posted on June 17, 2012 at 3:49 AM
Hi, Laurie.

I find having fine tuners for all 4 strings will help w/ this to some extent -- that is, if the pegs are simply not staying put well enough for accurate tuning, but well enough to get you close so the fine tuners can take over.

In such problem cases, I just swap for tail pieces w/ built-in fine tuners for all strings instead -- it's probably a good idea even if you have perfectly good, working pegs anyway. Wittner makes some very affordable (and light, composite-type) ones for this, if one doesn't mind their aesthetics. OR there are nicer looking, but more expensive, ones out there too.

Of course, this only works if your pegs are not so bad that they can't easily get you close to where they need to be. And yeah, it's still going to be best to simply have ideally fitted, properly working pegs -- will probably need to bring it to a luthier for a day or two, if you want to go the traditional route...



From Patrick Tinney
Posted on June 17, 2012 at 4:48 AM
The only reason I could vote easy to tune was I had new traditional pegs installed last month.

The originals were terrible. And yes this is an inexpensive German violin, but only about 25 year old.

Pat T

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 17, 2012 at 5:40 AM
I agree that using fine tuners on all strings is extremely helpful.

I've never had bad experiences with pegs on my violins, but I used to have a terrible time trying to tune my viola. My luthier told me that this is common among violinists learning to play the viola. My luthier put in the latest model of Planetry pegs, and now tuning is a breeze. In fact, I felt like calling my luthier and saying, "I have a problem with my viola. It never goes out of tune."

Laurie, the photo of your troublesome pegs is like a horror show for violinists.

From Lily Morris
Posted on June 17, 2012 at 5:47 AM
Tuning isn't easy, any a couple of my pegs re prone to slippage, but I quite enjoy the tuning. It makes me feel more 'in tune' (see what I did there?) with my instrument.
From Joyce Lin
Posted on June 17, 2012 at 5:51 AM
I use Wittner tailpiece with built-in fine tuners, and am very happy with it. I have no plan to ever "grow up" and tune with pegs and an E fine tuner only, even though my pegs are just fine.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on June 17, 2012 at 6:28 AM
My viola is a bit finicky: the G string likes to slip and I can never seem to get my D peg in the right position to turn easily.

I also use a tail piece with built in tuners. I can tweak them during rests if needed, which is useful for the C string.

From marjory lange
Posted on June 17, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Because of shoulder problems that make the angle/pressure of tuning viola really tricky, I have Wittner tailpieces with tuners on both violin and viola.

However, I'm in discussion with my luthier about switching that system for perfections. I want the tuning back at the "proper" end of the instrument for one thing, and I want to see if/how the sound changes for another.

If I don't like the planetary pegs, I can always go back to the tailpiece tuners; the only thing they limit me in is my choice of strings (another reason for trying the planetary route).

I didn't vote because, with the tuners, I can tune fine. And my problem isn't the pegs anyway; it's me.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 18, 2012 at 1:23 AM
Marjory, I think that you should consider using both fine tuners and Perfection pegs. I use them both on my violins and just the Planetary pegs on my viola.

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on June 18, 2012 at 1:30 AM
Interesting to learn that a violin at Stradivarius level has been fitted with planetary peg tuning!
From marjory lange
Posted on June 18, 2012 at 1:53 AM
@ Pauline, I'm curious! What would be the advantage of both? Seems a bit like belt and braces.
From Marsha Weaver
Posted on June 18, 2012 at 1:53 AM
Laurie -- your violin beat my old German conservatory violin (which is now somewhat retired) by one style -- the original pegs in my violin covered three different styles instead of four. When I had them replaced I found nifty uses for the old pegs -- one on my key chain, one dangling from a bookmark, and two as pendants.

My two current violins have very decent pegs -- I should probably find some wood to knock on, but I'm going out on a limb (which I guess would take care of the wood quest) and say that they neither stick nor slip. I have fine-tuners on all four strings, so I use those to tune for a few days, and then set them back to neutral and tune with the pegs. This is working really well so far -- no matter what the surrounding humidity is.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 18, 2012 at 6:20 AM
It's funny, the pegs look like extracted teeth or something!
From Peter Charles
Posted on June 18, 2012 at 8:35 AM
You mean you tune your violins etc., every time you play?! I thought that you were meant to send the fiddle back every year to get it re-tuned... So that's where I've been going wrong ...
From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on June 18, 2012 at 12:43 PM
I have Peg-Heads. They couldn't be easier to tune.

--Ann Marie

From Peter Charles
Posted on June 19, 2012 at 2:58 PM
I've got normal pegs and I call them Pig-heads ...
From Carlo Ballara
Posted on June 19, 2012 at 4:13 PM
Traditional pegs are easy to use if they are well fitted. Worn pegs and peg holes just don't work.

Cheers Carlo

From John Pierce
Posted on June 20, 2012 at 2:02 PM

Great comments. However, those of us with multiple instruments might find it hard to give a straight answer.

My main instrument, an 1800s German model, has Caspari pegs. The Caspari pegs aren't available any more: they required reaming out the peg holes to make them fit. Lots of folks report problems with Casparis, but mine have been bulletproof. Tuning is completely effortless, and they do not slip. Any pitch variation is due to the strings themselves.

My secondary instrument is a modern Romanian one. It has standard pegs which slipped all the time, when new. I'd put it away in the case, then open it the next day -- and two or three pegs had completely let go. A little peg fitting put things right, so it's OK now.

My budget Chinese cello came with pegs that were never fitted, just run into the holes. Some pegs don't even go in all the way. Now talk about hard to tune and hold the right pitch!

From Paul Deck
Posted on June 23, 2012 at 11:30 AM
@John, yes hard to answer when one has more than one violin. I have two violins and one has Knilling Perfection Pegs. That violin is very easy to tune (with zero fine-tuners). My other (better) violin is usually quite easy to tune with regular pegs (it's only six years old so the parts are still like-new), but in some kinds of weather (dry winter weather, even with "humidity control in my case") I find when I open my case a couple of pegs have slipped and then I have to re-tune a lot for that practice session. So this violin also will get Knilling pegs.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 23, 2012 at 4:22 PM
I had Caspari pegs on a violin which I no longer own and I'm afraid they were a nightmare! I'm sure they have improved since the 70s -- at least I hope. At a certain point, it just became impossible to tune the instrument because they stopped working and there was no recourse! This made me VERY wary of mechanical pegs, but it sounds like the Wittner, the Perfection and maybe even the Casparis, are a big improvement over the ones from years past.

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