Varnish on a bridge?

December 30, 2006 at 05:15 AM · I've never seen a varnished bridge, but I think it would look very cool, especially if it roughly matched the violin. Is there some acoustic or practical reason why bridges are left bare? Good varnish supposedly improves the sound of a violin's body, why not the bridge too?

Replies (15)

December 30, 2006 at 03:54 PM · David,

Slide on over to, and read my current thread about an experiment I did with my bridge. In my case, soaking the bridge in wood-hardener improved the sound of my fiddle, but I may have been lucky.

My take on why it isn't standard: Adding anything, even if just on the surface, will change the sound at least a little. Many (sadly, not all) good luthiers will make little modifications to a bridge to bring out the best in each violin. they may thin it, or they make remove some of the decorative bits (which is exactly what they are there for.)

After making such changes, the luthier would then have to re-varnish those areas, and that would AGAIN change the sound. He'd be chasing his tail.

However, some bridges are "treated." I am guessing, but I assume those bridges have been pre-soaked in some kind of hardener or moisture inhibitor. Since that compound is (theoretically) throughout the bridge, one can modify the outside and not worry about having to replace it.

December 30, 2006 at 09:22 AM · I think there is hardly anything that hasn't been tried in violin making! And some very few things; like an adjuster on the E-string, like synthetic strings, like the changes in bridge design over the last 200 years, and not to speak of the modern neck angle and thinner fingerboard, we decide too keep them; they stood the test of time and were really good ideas!

Then there are Thousands of things that have been tried and rejected, for good reasons. The varnished bridge is among those things! :^) There is simply no reason to do it, and I can think of only disadvantages with it! :-( Happy new year too all!

December 30, 2006 at 11:44 AM · From David Stafiey;

"Is there any reason why bridges are not varnished?"


As Magnus said, there's little that hasn't been tried.

Some luthiers routinely use some kind of clear coating. It may penetrate somewhat, or largely remain on the surface. If the coating stiffens the bridge, this helps some violins and hurts others. The greatest improvement might be expected on a bridge which was too weak to begin with. If the coating changes the mass, the same thing can be accomplished by cutting the bridge differently.

I can imagine that varnishing a bridge similar to the rest of the violin would add hours to weeks to the time it takes to get a new bridge, depending on the varnish process, not to mention the expense.

David Burgess

December 30, 2006 at 08:14 PM · Doing that to a good bridge scares me.

December 30, 2006 at 09:34 PM · yeah, it would be really scary... and that would be the last thing I would do before I die ;)

July 7, 2007 at 04:46 AM · And it would look ghastly !

July 7, 2007 at 04:55 AM · I do run across makers who seal their bridges. It kills 2 birds with one stone, because not only does it not add to the sounds, but it looks ugly as well.

July 7, 2007 at 05:27 AM · Unlike the body of a violin a bridge does not need any protective coating. In contrary any colophany dust which is accumulating like a varnish layer on its surface should be rather removed.

However in the past numerous attempts in this direction have been made mostly by amateurs. Amongst the high quality workshops Hill & Sons (and others) treated their bridges at some time with linseed oil. As a result they caught a lot of dust making them look dirty after a while.

Other workshops stain their bridges with dry pigments just to kill the whitish color of the plain maple.

From the standpoint of acoustics it is possible to alter the sound proporties with impregnations. But in the end it is the question whether those 'alterations' really improve the sound. From my experience as a luthier it is much more time efficient cutting a new bridge when the tonal result does not satisfy me than fussing around with sealing methods.

In any case the selection of the material and the cut are more important in respect to visual as well as to tonal aspects.

If a bridge is well maintained by the player (always kept in a vertical position to the top) it can last decades. In my opinion there is nothing more beautiful than a naturally aged bridge.


July 7, 2007 at 12:59 PM · I know that bridges have been treated in different ways. I've long assumed that the bridge, which must vibrate very freely, would be too dampened by varnish - but I wouldn't presume to a luthier's knowledge on this subject. But I'm personally tickled by the question, because as a little boy, long before even thinking about violin lessons, when I a first saw a violinist on tv, I wondered about the same thing, myself! It looked raw to me, compared to the creamy finish of the body of the violin.

July 8, 2007 at 12:04 AM · There was a thread on Maestronet a few months ago regarding frying the bridge to bring out the grain. Apparently it's more common than you would think. (Some used toaster ovens as well. I'd avoid the microwave, however).

July 8, 2007 at 01:58 AM · OK,I realize that varnish is unacceptable.

My question: what is the difference between a

"treated" and "untreated" bridge--

i know "treated" bridges cost much


What exactly is the difference between a treated and untreated bridge???

I've heard that a treated bridge is merely submerged in a wood preservative... Is this a truism ???


July 8, 2007 at 12:30 PM · 'Treated' and 'Untreated' bridge is a term which seems to have been created by the French manufacturer Aubert. What exactly they use is not known and companies who tried to imitate the treating process did so without success. My own thought on the subject is that they use a kind of tannic acid treatment, but that s only a speculation from my side.

For me as a professional luthier I look first on the grain and the direction of the medular rays. Only third comes the decision whether to buy a treated bridge or not. However treated bridges have a higher standard in respect of grain density and direction of the medular rays from the beginning than the untreated ones.

July 9, 2007 at 01:38 AM · To me, the issues are: is your bridge straight out of the drawer, just an un-worked blob of wood, no thinning, incorrect string height, not set to the mark of the violin, the feet are not sanded to fit the curve of the violin and a corresponding thick sound post that is too tight or too loose and not in the proper position for the best sound.

There are violins advertised every place you turn that are complete nightmares. Varnish is sometimes the last thing one needs to worry about.

July 9, 2007 at 03:53 AM · I have a violin made by William Townsend in Austin. I don't know whether he varnished the bridge, but I am very sure that he "burned" or "roasted" the outline of the bridge. This violin seems to be easier for me to play, but I don't know whether the treated bridge has any bearing on it.

July 9, 2007 at 05:12 AM · Vivian.

If you are talking about like black smudges underneath the strings on the bowing side of the bridge, then those are almost completely normal. I too have black stains on that side of the bridge near the top. I'm not sure what causes them. I also hear that the plastic heifetz mute stains bridges black.

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