Fine Tuners

March 3, 2008 at 02:59 AM · Many master violins have only 1 fine tuner on the E, while student violins with whitnner tailpieces have 4 fine tuners. What are the reasons for that? What advantages are there (if any) to have only 1 fine tuner on the E?

Replies (30)

March 3, 2008 at 04:20 AM · Most serious players and professionals use synthetic or gut strings, which are too elastic to respond to fine tuners. Only the E is steel, and will respond to small changes in tension produced with a fine tuner. However, younger students tend to use all-steel due to cost and durability. Because steel strings are very sensitive to changes in tension, fine tuners are necessary.

March 3, 2008 at 01:23 PM · I don't quite agree with Scott's comments. My violin has 4 fine tuners, and I have sucessfully used synthetics (Evah's, Larsens, Obligato and others), and a gut string (Passione), with these fine tuners and they did have an effect.

There are many and varied reasons why certain violins don't have fine tuners. Some players feel that it's adding a mechanical aspect to the violin and can increase rattles. Others feel that when you press on one fine tuner, it adjusts the others, so you can never get a settled pitch.

In the end, it's what works for you and for your instrument. On my instrument, my pegs are probably in need of re-setting, so the fine tuners work fine for me. However, were I to buy a violin where there wasn't fine tuners, I would more than likely just get used to using the pegs.

March 3, 2008 at 02:02 PM · ben, do you use a gut E with a fine tuner? i think that is a point addressed by scott. to me, sound quality aside, the position of the E peg is simply awkward to turn. time for michael darnton to make a violin with all 4 pegs on the bass side:)

i have seen fine tuners (wish i know the name of the type) that stay around the endpiece hole, instead of sticking out toward the bridge, so that the afterlength won't change. i am surprised i don't see more of that.

and i also marvel at the number of violins whose varnish is scratched by the underarm of the tuners :(

March 3, 2008 at 02:24 PM · At my school, we asked kids to use fine-tuners on all four strings, whatever kind of strings. With soft-core strings, such as the popular Dominants, you only get a whole-step or so of adjustment, but it is worth it in time saved with 50 or 150 kids to get tuned, not all of whom have great ears or whose violins have great pegs. Surely saves on teacher carpal-tunnel, bursitis, arthritis, etc.,etc. I think using tailpieces with built-in tuners is probably better than individual tuners. Or use the little Suzuki tuners that sit on top of the string. They compromise string lengths less, and can be removed easily as individual players develop the ear & coordination to tune themselves accurately and quickly with the pegs. Sue

March 3, 2008 at 02:46 PM · "will respond to small changes in tension"

Ahh, I see some imprecise language here.

In fact, all strings regardless of material are equally sensitive to tension. They all follow the same rule: The pitch (frequency) is a function of the square root of the tension. If you double the tension, your pitch goes up about one tritone :)

The difference in sensitivity is to *Elongation*: For a given change in tension, you have to stretch a steel string far less distance than a gut, or plastic etc string. The fine tuners can move smaller *distances* not smaller changes in tension.

March 3, 2008 at 03:24 PM · Oh Blah... nobody misunderstood that, despite imprecise language.

March 3, 2008 at 03:35 PM · hAHA!

bLEH. :-p

March 3, 2008 at 03:53 PM · For students, a violin with 4 tuners makes a lot of sense (for all of the reasons Sue listed). If a student is going to restring their own instrument, a tailpiece with built in tuners is the best option for damage control. I've repaired so many student violins with fine tuner scratches and ball end scrapes across the top. A tailpiece with built in tuners offers a level of protection that classic tailpieces do not (less metal bits potentially falling onto the top when and if the bridge falls for whatever reason).

For adults, I greatly dislike tailpieces with built in tuners, and metal tuners (they impact sound quality - shrill ringing - more so with built in tuners).

As for 'master' violins: Even with perfectly fitted pegs, sometimes it's hard to delicately slide and lock into an E strings sweet spot. The G,D, and A pegs are usually more forgiving (larger peg rotation) than E (which requires very small tweaks). I have enough patience to deal with standard pegs, but others like the ease of turning a fine tuner and calling it quits.

It's important to always use pegs for gross adjustments, and not be too dependent on fine tuners.

March 3, 2008 at 06:32 PM · When I purchased my violin, it had PegHeds/Precision Pegs (it's a Knilling) on them and I like them very much. My teacher requested that I use a fine tuner on my E string, as she feels it is good to become used to using one. I don't disagree, as I respect her and she seems to know what she's talking about.

All that being said, do professional level artists use these planetary pegs? I had not heard of any real feedback through my research on these. I've been using them since I purchased this instrument, about a year. For me they have performed very well.

Just curious.

March 3, 2008 at 07:29 PM · Ben,

Certainly many people use fine tuners with synthetic strings. I have many students who haven't had the time to switch the tailpieces and continue on with them. But if a student is ready to use better strings, I also teach them to use their pegs. It's a skill they just have to master.

There are two other reasons to abandon fine tuners as soon as possible: one is the possibility of vibrating parts, and the other is that the string length is shortened compared to that of a regular tailpiece. This may affect the sound and prevent some resonance--there should be a 1-to-6 ratio of string length to distance behind the bridge. Adding a fine tuner changes this. That's also why I have my students get Hill-style tuners, where the string connects behind the tailpiece fret instead of in front.

Using a well-adjusted peg is not that hard and really should be mastered. Professionals don't go for planetary gears or other silly contraptions. Sara Chang is the only soloist I've seen with a fine tuner on her A string.

March 3, 2008 at 08:59 PM · Fine tuners sure work fine for Strad cellos :)

More seriously, I suppose the main reason fine tuners aren't use on violins is most at this point consider it a way of categorizing skill. "Oh, that guy has 4 fine tuners...must just be a beginner on a student violin..."

Where as, "Oh, my, he only has an E fine tuner. What a stud. I want to make sweet violin love to him..." *

*: Based upon clinical trials and sound scientific evidence that may have been conducted on air violins with air people, due to forgetting to take my medication.

March 3, 2008 at 09:15 PM · "Oh, that guy has 4 fine tuners...must just be a beginner on a student violin..."

That's actually a snobbish misconception. While it is true that among classical players it is rare to see more than the e, it is common among top fiddle players in other genres.

March 3, 2008 at 09:40 PM · then there are those of us who apparently use "silly contraptions", and here I thought I was doing alright, sigh. ;)

March 3, 2008 at 11:23 PM · Bilbo,

those violinists in "other genres" often use fine tuners because they're using steel strings.

But yes, I suppose most professional classical violinists wouldn't be caught dead with fine tuners (cellos are different). It's like using fingerboard tapes past a certain playing level.

March 4, 2008 at 01:03 AM · Well, I've when I used a tungenstun C string. I used a Wittner tailpeice for a while, and I found that it was way to metalic. After about a week or so I go tired of the metalic-ness of it, so I changed is to a Thomastik composite tailpeice. This tailpeice was much-less metalic and alot warmer . . . sorta like the way boxwood sounds except with a bit of metal to it. This is just a little opinion of mine. However, I recently changed to boxwood taipeice with a Hill tuner on the A.

I've seen a few professional that use a steel A&E combo with double-prong tuner on both. If you choose to use a A&E string combo with fine tuners don't, PLEASE don't, use a hill-tuner and a double-prong tuner on the A. I beg you it looks really tack, and very misplaced. Ofcourse that's also the reason I won't reason why I won't use a Berber chinrest all especcial considering the mad raves I've heard about the product. (ewww I used alot of run-ons)


March 4, 2008 at 01:39 AM · Greetings,

basically I agree with Scott. However, on eplayer who did use a tune ron the `a` wa sOistrakh. This wa sposisble because he used a `Prim` steel a string.

Some veyr good player shere in Japan ave copied this using synthetic strings such as obligato and say that it make sno difference to the sound as is very conveninet if an a stirng need sretunung very quickly during a cocnert.

this does not make snese to me since I cannot reclal ever happy a problem with stirngs neeidng a rapid retune that I could not deal with via pegs. It did occur to me that I might find this easier than someone with smaller an dmore delicate hand ssinc eI have the mits of a prize fighter.



March 4, 2008 at 01:44 AM · I remeber reading/hearing some were that the only reason why Oistrakh used a "Prim" A was because he liked the stabilty of it because they sound pretty bad. . .


March 4, 2008 at 01:55 AM · Just to clarify something I said earlier: fine-tuner don't always change the string length--depends on the design.

March 4, 2008 at 05:37 AM · When I asked a luthier why some had 4 tuners and others had 1 he told me that violins from Europe or modeled after famous Italian and/or (Eastern European) makers usually have 1. This is an attempt at authenticity in the copy. The factory copies then get swapped out sometimes to 4 tuners later for student ease in tuning. If you look at a catalog of copies, most of the German copies for example come with 1 and the new makers from China or Japan for example use 4. I noticed from looking up older fine instruments, they seem to usually have 1 tuner unless the tailpiece was changed later.

March 4, 2008 at 07:16 AM · I know of some professional orchestral players that use the tail pieces with fine tuners built in (not the Whittner types though). These are also the same people that also have private studios and play in many other chamber groups.

They tend to use steel strings. I guess it comes with the territory of playing almost constantly for more than 40+ hours a week. :)

March 4, 2008 at 01:55 PM · John,

Looks so far like it's only you and me willing to admit having Knilling tuning pegs on our violins. I've had no problems with mine, and I take it you're happy with yours. As for them being 'silly contraptions,' where's it written that there's one and only one right way of doing things, whether it's making violins or anything else. Yes, there are centuries of violin-making experience that builders rely on, but does that mean all questions of design, materials, etcetera, have been answered? Of course not. Have you heard of the balsa wood violins made by (can't remember while I'm typing but someone out there will pop up with the name)? They aren't anything to look at, but the sound is amazing. What about the L&C carbon fiber instruments? Both show there is more than one way to skin a cat (apologies to all felines, and we have four).

I have built several harpsichords and guitars, and have repaired many guitars, mandolins, and banjos. Glue is common to all, and in researching and general reading on the subject of hide glue, I came across the statement that hide glue was used because it was the best available (maybe the only). The author stated that we now have glues that far surpass the performance of hide glue, and he asked, if the old makers had had access to, say, Gorilla glue, which do you think they'd have used - hide glue or Gorilla? His answer was the best available. My answer - maybe, maybe not. Tradition can have tremendous weight, not just in instrument making, but in all fields of endeavor. My point is, if violin makers and players a hundred years ago had had access to the geared pegs available today, would they have used them? I think some would have adopted them immediately, and some would have stuck with tradition, pretty much as it is today. Those of use who use the geared pegs are convinced they are superior to the fiddly bits on the tail piece, and those who don't think they are above using such things.

March 4, 2008 at 02:18 PM · I could use a larger window to type in - hard to proofread before submitting. I meant to say hide glue used to be the best available.

March 4, 2008 at 03:34 PM · "Hide Glue"

Actually in the old days there were quite a few other glues:

casein (milk),

rabbit skin,



and a number of others I've forgotten.

I agree that hide must have been the best available at the time,but what made it best?

In modern times, there remain three or four features of hide glue that keep it in "best" category for a number of applications:

1. It is very creep-resistant. So is epoxy, but modern "wood glues" are not. Under long-term loading, hide glue stays put. It doesn't run away from the load.

2. Hide glue gels (tacks) fast and does not require extreme clamping pressure, though it does require close fits. It is not gap-filling, but the fast setting allows for simple clamping devices--in some cases just your hands! (Gorilla Glue foams up and requires clamping pressure: not as much as resorcinol, but more than epoxy, or even hide glue).

3. Hide glue is invisible to varnish and does not stain wood. It can be applied over or under varnish without reactions. This makes regluing a seam almost trivial.

4. Hide glue is water-sensitive. This last point is really key in making musical instruments. You can repair an instrument without having to destroy it! Try that with Gorilla Glue, epoxy, Titebond II or III, etc.

In any one category, hide glue may be inferior to some other, newer adhesive. But taking all the requirements of wooden musical instrument construction, hide glue is still best. (Repairability, creep resistance, finish compatibility, ease of assembly).

March 4, 2008 at 03:40 PM · Actually, you can repair an instrument that has had at least one of the modern glues used on it. I had to undo a 'repair' of a guitar where Elmer's glue had been used and the attempt botched. it took a little longer to undo than hide glue would have taken, but it was done without destroying anything. Don't know if it could have been done if Gorilla glue had been used. the real disaster is having to recover from a'super glue'

March 4, 2008 at 03:45 PM · d... Hit the enter button too soon. Meant to say that trying to undo a super glue 'repair' is miserable.

March 4, 2008 at 04:08 PM · After looking up "Gorilla glue" I am relieved to learn its polyurethane based, not made from actual gorilla parts.

March 4, 2008 at 04:44 PM · I have no experience with Gorilla glue beyond reading the occasion advert. Glad to learn no gorillas are injured in its making.

March 4, 2008 at 07:02 PM · GG reminds me or epoxy except it's less messy, cures overnight, and foams up like Bilbo said. Its impression dry is like epoxy, but foamed up.

March 4, 2008 at 07:25 PM · Gary, you can edit your posts after you have submitted them. Just look at the thread and you'll see an "edit" link.

Elmer's Glue isn't bad for repairability (moisture sensitive). Where it falls down is creep.

Epoxy, Gorilla Glue, any non-reversible adhesive is unrepairable. In fact superglue can at least be dissolved with acetone (along with the finish).

March 4, 2008 at 08:22 PM · Bilbo,

Acetone is in fact what I used to remove the superglue from the broken guitar neck that I was asked to repair. The superglue hadn't quite done the trick, so there were also three four-inch nails to remove. And of course the finish was toast.

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