Violin Fittings - Can we talk?

November 3, 2006 at 04:36 AM · I'm looking to get a new set of fittings, and I can't believe how many choices are out there. I'm partial to boxwood with mammoth ivory accents, I think.

I've seen boxwood sets range from $70 to $700, and in the pictures they all look basically identical.

-Then there's the datewood fittings from China. These look just as good to my eyes, and a fraction of the price. Is there something wrong with these fittings, either mechanically or sonically?

I'm also interested in the Les Bois d'Harmonie sets, primarily for their tailpieces. They theoretically (may) have the best sounding fine-tuners.

d'Harmonie also offers a set in pernambuco, and they CLAIM that the pernambuco tailpiece gives the violin more resonance. It's certainly intriguing.Has anyone tried this tailpiece?

Last: I'm finding it very hard to decide on which type of wood to go with. Manufacturers never show their fittings actually INSTALLED on a violin. Very odd. They should show pics of each fitting-series installed on violins with various finishes, don't you think? Does anyone know where I might find such pictures?

Replies (44)

November 3, 2006 at 05:47 AM · To confuse you even further, Allan, stock from the same models will look different because of the differences in wood and grain.

November 4, 2006 at 01:46 AM · More opinions, PLEASE.

For reasons of my own, I absolutely require fine-tunage on all four strings, asap. (I 'aint goin' THERE again ! ) So I have three choices:

Choice #3 is pegheads and I don't want those simply because I hate the look of black fittings.

So, my choices are

1: Those tiny carbon-fiber tuners, which are light weight and maintain proper after-length

2: The Harmonie tailpiece.

I was all set to order a Harmonie tailpiece in pernambuco, until I read a very convincing article about cellos that says a lighter tailpiece gives more life. OK, cellos probably react more strongly to such changes, but still... I have experimented with my violin, adding and removing weight (and recording the results) and this is absolutely true. Additionally, a heavier tailpiece chokes-off some BODY, and my violin needs all the body it can get. (don't we all?)

What this article says is that the lightest tailpieces are actually the cheap plastic ones, followed closely by composite. It claims that the wooden ones (even the pernambuco) have more of a darkening effect. Ugggh....

I NEED ADVICE !!!!

November 3, 2006 at 05:42 PM · Hey Allan.

Just buy all of them and try them. Be patient. Give a good 2 months or more on each setup so that you can let them settle down.

Having watched this dog and pony show for a few years, what becomes very apparent is that there isn't one solution, either for all persons or even for one. Your needs, taste, skill, thirst for a particular sound, will all evolve. Allow that evolution. Try what you think is your best idea at the moment. Give it a little time, then if you don't like it, go to the next phase.

Unlike GAS, VAS has a much slower more patient aspect to it. This whole problem of setup just isn't the same as the guitar, where it seems to settle down faster.

And don't forget that the strings will make a bigger difference than the tailpiece choice. Going from plain gut to eudoxa to dominants to prelude to helicore to steel, and back, having done this to full size and half siize, with and without tuners, with a wood tailpiece and a wittner alloy, I'll tell you that what I found out is that the strings make the biggest difference, that every time youtake the bridge down to change the tailpiece, it ^ucks it up a bit and you have to adjust it and get it to settle down, and that in the end it is the strings that have the biggest influence on the character regardless of which tailpiece and whether tuners are there.

November 4, 2006 at 01:22 PM · I'm not arguing that the material of the fittings won't effect the sound of the instrument in some way... I AM arguing the degree of significance of the change. Frankly, I see more effect on the sound due to setup and strings... and setup can be compensated... no matter if your tailpiece is ebony or boxwood.

I've noted several makers hollowing out the underside of tailpieces. Granted, some tailpiece-shaped-objects probably deserve and require this treatment... but I see little difference in hollowing or not hollowing out a nicely made one. The after-length (where the tailpiece sits behind the bridge) is far more important, IMHO. On about the same subject, I really don't find that the ultra light tailpieces for violin do anything special for the sound... and in some cases the results are negative.

I like the Bois de Harmonie 'cello tailpieces quite a bit, BTW. I think they are nicely made. I assume the violin version w/ tuners is well made too, but I've never used one.

My advice would be to pick a well made set, made of good materials, that compliments your fiddle and your tastes... and work with the setup to get what you want. As far as quality/price; to a certain point you do get what you pay for... Lorenz pegs are moderately priced and of made good materials, for example. Quality of material is critical, as it effects installation as well as function. The higher priced fittings can be beautiful, but you are paying for a "hand made" item.

Oh... last thing. If you're leaning toward mammoth trimmed fittings, check out those made by "Tempel". They are pricey, but nice... and (in my experience) the trimmings don't come loose over time.

November 4, 2006 at 01:43 AM · Thanks, Jeffrey.

I assume you mean Otto Tempel. I have seen pics of his $1250 fittings. They are very nice, but I have seen pics of $50 Chinese datewood fittings (with mamoth ivory trim) that look identical to me. Maybe in person they are nicer, or maybe they last longer, or.... That is exactly what I'm asking about. Does the trim really come off of lesser fittings?

The one brand that really caught my eye, as noticeably more beautiful, is made by Gerald Crowson in England. He uses nitric acid & amonia fuming to bring out the grain in the wood. Amazing stuff, and his top of the line set is still only ~ $200.

Based on that, I'm trying hard to justify a $1200 set, but it seems like complete snootery to me. Maybe not, and I am still trying to understand. Maybe it IS a long-term stability issue. -but I'm betting on the snoot.

Does anyone know if Datewood is less stabile than boxwood / rosewood? Perhaps the pegs deform sooner?

November 4, 2006 at 01:58 AM · Alan, I'm wondering about your experiments with adding weight to the tailpiece. How much mass did you add?

Sometimes, you can add a little mass and things get worse. You add a little more mass and things are worse still. Then you add some more, and suddenly you've hit a "sweet spot", and the violin sounds and plays better than ever before.

Are you sure your're ready to conclude that lighter is better?

http://www.burgessviolins.com

November 4, 2006 at 01:19 PM · Yes. Otto Tempel. I'd say the $1,200 sets might be a little over the top for most applications... The ones I'm referring to are more like $300 to $600 a set.

Yes, there are a couple of English peg producers that make a very fine product. I like the hand made chinrests that Beare stocks (about $200 a pop). There's a bass rib mounted model I use myself... Just to throw more stuff into your already brimming pot, the chinrest and where it mounts affects sound too. :-)

I see many difficulties with the ornaments on pegs, so yes... the material and production technique can cause major headaches. Buy good pegs.

I have installed a set of the datewood pegs in an instrument and liked them (black trim, not mammoth). No troubles with the ornaments (yet). They seem well made. The chinrests available are limited, and don't work for all players. I did spring for the "choice" quality (available for around $80 - $110 for the set including chinrest). I know a maker or two who use them regularly.

November 4, 2006 at 04:21 AM · Thanks, Jeff.

David, My God, YES! I just discovered this today, as a matter of fact. I was trying various mics & positions, and decided to re-do my weight tests. Exactly as you say, at some point, adding weight suddenly made the violin sound better. the sound became more solid, though perhaps a tiny bit less alive. It must have something to do with tuning the resonance of the tailpiece "to" the resonance of the bridge, or maybe to the strings themselves. It's really making me nuts now, because the changes are NOT subtle.

Another thing causing me to want to start strangling cats is the afterlength issue. Why doesn't someone make a thick end-button with two holes in it, so you can run the tail-cord through it and thus adjust afterlength while the instrument is strung up?

Better yet, why aren't tailpieces made with individual afterlength adjustment for each string? Maybe I should design something....

-And if afterlength is so critical, then we'd better all switch to pegheads, because when you tune a string using a fine-tuner you are also changing the afterlength. Uggghhh.

November 4, 2006 at 04:44 AM · [quote]

-And if afterlength is so critical, then we'd better all switch to pegheads, because when you tune a string using a fine-tuner you are also changing the afterlength.

[/quote]

I noticed that my higher end violins came with Hill ??? fine tuners, where the strings extended to the tailpiece instead of being positioned in between the bridge and the tailpiece.

Will such Hill ??? fine tuners be good enough or the pegheads still rule if we worry about afterlength?

November 4, 2006 at 04:47 AM · Vivan,

I'm only semi-serious, since most folks have no desire (I won't say need) for 4 fine tuners. However, even with the E-string it is theoretically a problem, IF (and only if) afterlength tuning is as critical as some say.

The Hill-type tuner (there is a superior version available in Europe, made out of carbon fiber) certainly allows for proper afterlength to be set, compared to a larger tuner. However, it cannot be set exactly. first: the contct point is not exactly inline with the saddle. Secondly, (as I wrote above) as you adjust the fine tuner to tune the string, you also change the afterlength.

The only solution would be to have a finetuner that still allows the string to break over the saddle. It looks like the Harmonie tailpiece does this, which may be it's #1 attribute.

November 4, 2006 at 05:14 AM · Jeffrey,

The handmade Beare chinrest does look sweet, but I see them selling for $268! Ouch.

November 4, 2006 at 07:28 AM · Allan, your association with four tuners to beginners comes from two things I think. But if you aren't using steel strings, a lot of the motion from tuning is going into stretcing the string, relatively little into tightening it. Once you have some experience it's easy to tune with your left hand while bowing. There's no sense of not being able to tune finely enough that way. If you did have a fine tuner you'd be turning it many times for a little bit of change and going through a lot of unnecessary hassle (there may be no way to convince you it's unnecessary). Steel strings on the other hand don't stretch as much. For every steel string, there will be a fine tuner. You will always find four fine tuners on violins that are using four steel strings. Always, unless you have something other than traditional pegs. It's the same reason classical guitars have those big rollers for tuners and steel string ones are small. The biggest perfectionists who ever lived are using a setup you say they're using because they don't want to look like beginners. It's your association not theirs. And you have to realize they'd do whatever they had to do to be able to tune. That should be a clue. Your concern about the "afterlength" is the same thing. The minor change from tuning just doesn't matter. It is completely swamped by any other change you can think of and some you can't. Anything broken in violinland was fixed a century before you were born.

November 4, 2006 at 06:58 AM · I like the Bogaro-Clemente Guarneri chinrest. It has a cup that dips down and is very comfortable. Can someone tell me if there is a distributor in the USA that I can order one from?

November 4, 2006 at 09:27 AM · From Allan Speers;

"David, My God, YES! I just discovered this today, as a matter of fact. It's really making me nuts now, because the changes are NOT subtle."

I know what you mean. I've been messing with stuff like this for 35 years. That's my excuse for being nuts! :-)

From Allan Speers;

"-And if afterlength is so critical, then we'd better all switch to pegheads, because when you tune a string using a fine-tuner you are also changing the afterlength. Uggghhh."

It sounds like you have no trouble hearing subtle changes, so here's one more thing regarding afterlenth to help drive you nuts.

If you're using a Hill style fine tuner on the E, move the tuner gradually through the range of it's travel, playing the E after each small change. Don't worry about the pitch unless it gets too high (which will break the string). At some point, the string will really come alive.

When you find that spot, retune the string at the peg end, leaving the fine tuner alone.

You'll probably still be able to use the fine tuner for small adjustments, maybe within a half step range while still staying "in the zone".

There are many, many small things like this on a violin which will make a difference, often cumulatively. I'm discovering more all the time.

http://www.burgessviolins.com

November 4, 2006 at 10:12 AM · I'd bet an extra cup of coffee would do the same thing.

November 4, 2006 at 10:33 AM · From Jim W. Miller;

"I'd bet an extra cup of coffee would do the same thing."

Would it change the sound of the fiddle, make us nuts, make us just not care any more, or all three? :-)

November 4, 2006 at 01:23 PM · David wrote: "There are many, many small things like this on a violin which will make a difference, often cumulatively. I'm discovering more all the time."

I'd say that you could say "almost alway cumulatively", when it comes to setup issues and not get an arguement from me :-). Change one thing, effect another... which was why I mentioned compensation in my ealier post.

November 4, 2006 at 06:34 PM · Look at these beauties:

http://www.vanzandtviolins.com/FineTuning.htm

November 4, 2006 at 07:27 PM · I was getting around to mentioning Eric. Nice fellow and fine craftsman.

November 4, 2006 at 09:50 PM · Yes, I just had a long talk with Eric. GREAT guy. He is also quite knowledgeable & opinionated on the differences in tone various woods can make, and also on the afterlength issue.

I will be having him make me a set, though I haven't yet decided on the wood type.

Of note: When using mammoth ivory peg accents, he glues it on BEFORE turning them. This would certainly create a more robust connection, an important consideration which Jeffery mentions above.

-----------------

An interesting thing he told me was that both the Wittner mini fine-tuners, and the Clemente carbon-fiber tuners (sold by Luscombe) maintain afterlength when adjusted. He said that they work by moving vertically, not horizontally. I'm not sure he's right about the Hill, but the Clemente for sure as the top contact-point is curved.

The Clemente are also lighter, so they would seem to be the obvious choice.

This is very exciting news for me, since I no longer "have" to purchase a Harmonie tailpiece. It also means that any of you currently using a standard e fine-tuner might want to consider one of these mini models. (even Gennady & Jim!)

Sadly, when using the Clemente tuner, it doesn't look like you can do that trick David Burgess mentions, above. Nor can you do it with the Harmonie tailpiece, so all 4 strings must have the same afterlength adjustment.

The Hill mini-tuner would seem to win on that point. Hmmm....

Maybe Mr Natural was right, and it all don't mean sheet after all, but I remain optomistic.

November 4, 2006 at 10:54 PM · Allan;

Yes, Eric's a great guy, and passionate about what he does.

I don't know about the Clemente, but afterlength will change with the position of the fine tuner on the Wittner. The curved portion of the tuner isn't a radius from the pivot point.

If it was, sound MIGHT suffer from not having the strong termination point which you would have with the "string rider" on a conventional tailpiece.

November 5, 2006 at 12:26 AM · Turn the L upside down so the claw is underneath. Attach the string there and run the string up through the slot in front of the hole and up to the peg. Should just have to tap out a roll pin to do it.

November 5, 2006 at 01:22 AM · I think those are beatiful. I'd love to have a set made with some exotic wood like bubinga or cocobolo.

November 7, 2006 at 06:22 AM · I have to ask this question: Does getting pernambuco fittings help improve the sound in general? Or again it depends on the "sweetspot" for your violin? In addition, there's even a titanium made fine tuner in the market now

November 7, 2006 at 06:37 AM · Alan,

Do you have an url for that titanium fine-tuner? I'd like to see it.

-thanks

November 8, 2006 at 06:04 PM · Bump.

I've been searching hard for info on that titanium fine-tuner, and can't find it. Anyone?

ALSO: I see now that Mark O'Connor uses four fine-tuners on his Vuillaume. It kinda' looks like he has a Harmonie tailpiece, but I can't quite make it out. Does anyone know?

-------------

BTW- yesterday I decided to adjust the after-length on my violin. I had been set-up rather short, with the after-note about 1 full step too high.

I got lucky and nailed it on the first try. GOOD GOLLY MISS MOLLY! I can't believe the difference. I recorded the violin before & after, and it's astonishing how much more open it sounds now. I'm a believer now.

I expected that maybe this would improve the sound of the open strings, due to sympathetic vibrations, but that's not it. Every note sounds better. There is no chance that I am imagining this. It may have something to due with how the vibration hits the bridge. I dunno, it's past my understanding.

-So now I am very interested in finding a way to fine-tune the afterlength without constantly removing the strings. I'm also more puzzled than ever why we don't have individually-adjustable hooks for each string.

November 9, 2006 at 06:02 PM · Bump again.

Alan V, PLEASE tell me where I can find info on that titanium fine-tuner. The Clemente carbon-fiber ones suddenly seem not available.

November 9, 2006 at 06:55 PM · The material of the string adjusters is unimportant. Only the weight has an effect, but you can always reduce the weight of the tailpiece and so it is really gilding the lilly.

November 9, 2006 at 10:02 PM · Oh heck, Bilbo, I dont' REALLY want to argue with you, but you make it so easy:

Of course the material matters, for two reasons:

1: Weight. As David Burgess explained recently, there is a critical weight for every violin/ tailpiece combo. Generally speaking, though, tailpieces seem to have been designed to work well with one standard fine-tuner. Maybe that's luck, maybe that's by design. Either way, to get the same mass with four tuners will require something really light. Carbon fiber and titanium would seem the obvious choices.

2: Resonant frequency / formant structure. In order to best simulate the effect of NO tuner, we need a tuner that imprints the smallest signature possible. I assume that carbon fiber would be far superior to titanium in this regard. Of course, one may find that titanium sounds better on a given instrument, but the initial goal is to make as little change as possible.

November 9, 2006 at 10:13 PM · Weight is a non-issue becasue you can change the tailpice to suit.

Please explain how something 4 mm long and 2 mm wide affects the formant structure in the audible range.

Please explain FORMANTS to the rest of the crowd.

November 9, 2006 at 10:46 PM · A very fine violist in a fulltime symphony who does outside gigs with me got a Les Bois d'Harmonie tailpiece with the 4 tuners several months ago and absolutely loves it. It seems odd to hear him wax so enthusiastic over a tailpiece but there it is.

My wife just turned up her nose at trying one even though her viola's pegs are a royal pain. I wish she'd reconsider and have been thinking about trying one the next time I have an adjustment on my fiddle (probably in the next month or so)

November 9, 2006 at 11:27 PM · And there you go.

Ray, do you know which wood he chose, and why?

-------------------

FWIW- here are those Clemente tuners: http://www.violins.on.ca/tailpieces_carbon_tuner.html

I sure would like to buy a set, but both Luscombe (the only dealer I can find) and Bogaro & Clemente refuse to answer my emails.

How do they stay in business?

Note how the upper contact-point is curved, thus (theoretically) keeping a constant afterlength when adjusted. If I get these, I'm going to try to have a custom tailpiece made, with no saddle and the holes further forward. This should keep the tailpiece in the (aesthetically) proper location, and will also keep the string-balls higher off the table.

November 10, 2006 at 10:15 PM · More updates:

Luscombe finally emailed me back. They are at the VAC, with no-one minding the store. They confirmed that with a Harmonie tailpiece, the strings do make contact with the saddle, thus maintaining afterlength when adjusted. They also can order a 108 length, which was recommended to me (by a good luthier) for my 355 mm body.

Sadly, they no longer sell the Clemente tuners as separate items, because they don't fit in many tailpieces. They can be purchased along with the excellent B&C fittings, however, or purchased as replacements for the same.

Clare Chu, you can get the B&C chinrest, separately, from Luscombe, Canada. Their website is a mess, not everything is listed properly, but you can start here: http://www.violins.on.ca/fittings.html

----------------------------------

FWIW: Roberta Rast, 2005 blue medal winner, also uses a Harmonie tailpiece. It looks like these are becoming very popular, at least outside of the classical world.

November 13, 2006 at 12:42 AM · Allan

Sorry I took so long as I was away. I saw the titanium fine tuners at my local music shop and not on the internet. I went back over a weekend to check it out gain as I could not remember the name. Its called Titanovision. Its the same length as a normal tuner except that its much much lighter.

October 24, 2007 at 10:14 PM · Just a note; I noticed I was mentioned here, the Bogaro & Clemente carbon fine tuners can be found on our new web site:

http://www.violins.ca/fittings/tailpieces/tailpieces_carbon_tuner.html

October 25, 2007 at 04:52 PM · Definitely buy good pegs. My wife's fiddle has lost just about all of the peg collars and little ball-tips. Before they completly fall out, you have a nerve-racking buzz that is very difficult to locate without knowing where to look.

October 25, 2007 at 10:27 PM · Vittorio of B+C has sent me cello tuners in the past. Are these cello tuners or can you get them now for violin/viola? The web page doesn't specify.

I generally stay away from discussions that revolve around fittings unless I can be of some use with information as opposed to self- promotion. I will say however that you geneally get what you pay for, which is no surprise to most.

Jujube (zizyphus)is actually what the early Cremonese used. It was brought back to Venice by Marco Polo and has a berry that was made into candy. I don't know how the Chinese wood works as a peg material, I'd have to turn some to get a feel for it. Someone will send me some eventually. Eric Blot says it works well, but he may be talking about the wod growing in Italy. I guarantee it can't be any better for the purpose than Cecocarpus (mountain mahogany)which I think is even better than the good boxwood one used to be able to get. I think the Cremonese would use boxwood when they could get it.

Also, since loose collars came up: most commercial pegs are made with plastic collars that are molded seperately and glued on as an ornament. Even in a standardized mass production, turning pieces of wood to a constant and even diameter is difficult(think 2 times pi times the movement of the cutter). The fact that plastic doesn't expand or contract, at least at the same rate as wood makes these glueing surfaces come apart. It will do the same with ivory or bone if not carefully fit. The Hills actually made a recessed channel under the neck of the pegs and broke the collars to fit them into this slot. It stopped them from coming off and gave more gluing surface but if the glue joint wasn't tight you could still get a buzz, and not the kind you get at the pub. Cheers.

October 26, 2007 at 12:11 AM · I've got a brand new violin here by Kelvin Scott with Otto Tempel pegs, tailpiece, chin rest etc... it's gorgeous and I must say, superior to some of the other things I've seen.

October 26, 2007 at 09:55 PM · Alan,the titanium fine tuner could be found at Howard core.please also take a look of the titanium tailgut there.I have the Bogaro & Clemente fitting with these "tailgut".and it's look and sound great.

October 27, 2007 at 03:23 AM · I'm also thinking of springing for a new full Les Bois d'Harmonie set, in ebony, soon. I think their tailpieces are the most handsome, and reasonably priced.

Since you don't like black fittings, from a purely aesthetic standpoint ----- I'd say go with the type of wood that most closely matches your violin varnish finish in warmth. I think that warm orangey violins with ashy fittings look hideous, and vice versa. A weird pet peeve I have.

Enjoy your new set! Let us know what you get.

October 27, 2007 at 03:59 AM · Maybe I'm missing something but is there a real reason these things are so expensive? Of course it's important to make sure the pegs fit well and the tailpiece works acoustically but isn't this more of a set-up issue? It seems like the subtle variations in the sound post, bridge, and bass bar positions would be much more significant (assuming nothing else major was changed such as back-string length)?

October 27, 2007 at 05:57 AM · Daniel, I don't think you need super expensive fittings, but they really look nice.

October 27, 2007 at 12:37 PM · Just read a Strings article where author Cave said the wood of different fittings can effect tone on some violins. Be afraid!! Be very afraid!!! ;) Sue

October 28, 2007 at 08:29 AM · Having spoken with Kelvin, I think I understand why he puts really good fittings on.

The instrument may or may not need them.

But that instrument is Kelvin's calling card. It's an embodiment of Kelvin's work, his craft, his passion, skill, and taste.

He wants fittings of a quality that he feels matches his instruments.

I own one his violins and yes, the fittings (and the violin itself) are gorgeous.

- Ray

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