Tail Piece Prefrences

April 27, 2009 at 12:50 AM ·

Tail pieces on violins seem to be as varied as violins!

* Four fine tuners or just one for the 'E' string?

* Wood or Carbon fiber?

* Wood; Ebony or Bass wood...... Snake wood?

What would you or have you prefered when it comes to Tail Pieces?

Replies (40)

April 27, 2009 at 01:46 AM ·

For my daughter, when we bought a good full size instrument she went to a single fine tuner. We kept the fittings that were put on the fiddle by the maker and assume that they are pretty good.

It's taken her a little while to get used to tuning with pegs instead of fine tuners.

Many traditional fiddlers that I know use 4 fine tuners, especially if they use steel strings.

April 27, 2009 at 02:17 AM ·

One thing is sure, the less metal on a violin the better for the sound. (Many great makers say this it's not my invention ; )  If you can have a wood one, go for it!!!  This is also the reason why they generally put two or less finetuners on violin.  In soloists you often see one and sometimes two. 

Good luck!

Anne-Marie

April 27, 2009 at 02:18 AM ·

Great question, Maestro Faina.

If you are a more experienced player with a more than decent fiddle, one fine tuner is best.  It is harder to tune with pegs, but you get used to it.  I vouch for that because fine tuners are made of metal or platic, and an unorganic material on your instrument, nomatter the location or size, will hamper the sound quality, no matter how little.

As for the material, I would go with organic wood, such as unpainted ebony, rosewood, or boxwood, to name a few.  Painted ebony or plastic tailpieces actually do affect the sound, and all fiddle players like to have their instruments sounding optimal!

So I would always vouch for organic materials.  And if you can tune with pegs well (practice a bit before you change) then I would suggest taking off the fine tuners.

 

Hope this helps,

Brian

April 27, 2009 at 03:16 AM ·

I use one fine tuner when I bought my first violin. Before I was borrowing a violin with the composite tailpiece and 4 fine tuners. I never like tuning with those little screws but prefer pegs. I prefer that single gold plated loop fine tuner on the E and the rest of the tailpiece empty.

As for wood I had ebony set orginal. It was nice but when I replace the set to pernambuco it matched my violin varnish perfectly unlike boxwood set, and rosewood. Also it's really light and my violin has more projection then before.

April 27, 2009 at 07:35 AM ·

On thhe viola I've always preferred using the lightweight alloy tailpieces with four integrated fine tuners.

My students see that and ask me sometimes "how come you don't have a professional tailpiece on your viola?"

My response is: "If having four fine tuners means that I can more easily accomplish one of the primary goals (playing in tune), then I believe that is as professional as one can get." Although I enjoy having wonderfully fit pegs, good fine tuners, like any other tool, are greatly appreciated.

April 27, 2009 at 10:05 AM ·

I like to use 4 fine tuners even though I use synthetic (Pirazzi) strings. I find the Whittner brand makes a composite tailpiece with 4 tuners, works very well and is not a tone killer. I need 4 tuners becuase I play in a lot of situations with stage lights and other factors that might require fine adjustment. It can really ruin the flow of the set to have to fight retuning with pegs. I play mainly folk,

old time, BGrass, and irish tune. Other players needs can be different than mine. This is what works for me.

 

David Blackmon

April 27, 2009 at 10:40 AM ·

While I was using synthetic strings, and often on a stage with very hot lighting (my strings would shift according to what the lighting guy was doing) I used an old Dr Thomastik integral four adjuster tailpiece.

But now I use gut strings, and the tuners don't make a geat deal of difference - you have to turn them for ages to really hear the note change because the gut seems to need a bigger change in tension to get the same change in pitch. So I have wooden tailpieces with one fine tuner now. (one ebony, and the other I don't know - it isn't boxwood, but it is pale and a bit speckled.)

gc

April 27, 2009 at 11:25 AM ·

I had 4 fine tuner on my student violin, but when I purchased my 4/4 over ebay (as seen in my September 2007 blog) it came with only 1 fine tuner. And then I absentmindedly ordered strings with loop end e, and it didn't look like it'd last in the fine tuner teeth (not a hill style) so it came off as well and I just threaded the e around & through its own loop.  I thought it might break quickly, but actually have just replaced the set last night (put them on in December) becasue the A began to deteriorate around the 'd' position.  The e string has not been any problem at all to tune.  The tailpiece itself is the original one on the instrument, and if the quality of the chinrest is anything to go by, is nothing more than a bit of painted wood.  I'll get it properly set up --- one day.

April 27, 2009 at 01:55 PM ·

Fiddlers tend to use four fine tuners whether they use steel strings or not. I think this is an accommodation to the style, where the persistent heavy, short & fast bowing of many tunes can pull strings flat within a couple of pieces or one square or round dance.  I prefer built-ins to four tuners that hook through a tailpiece. A doable compromise is a regular E tuner, and the little Suzuki tuners that sit on top of the string. They only allow up to about a whole-step correction, but that is better than retuning w/pegs between every number.  It's also an OK compromise for classically-oriented kids and school orchestras, where there isn't time for the teacher to tune each kid, and where the kids may be using instruments w/o great pegs, or just learning to use same, and therefore are slow at it. The Suzuki tuners can be removed one by one as suits. They don't make a big tonal change that often, and if one does, just take that one away first. Sue

April 27, 2009 at 02:42 PM ·

Brian- Thanks as always, for your post! :)

My violin has a Whitner (sp?) and feels like it may be metal... Aluminum? I don't know. But so far all of you have great posts!  I'l wait for more posts and decide what I want to do.  I can always have the Whitner put back on.

royce

April 27, 2009 at 04:38 PM ·

  • all have boxwood tailpieces (both Hill & French)
  • violins havce gold durhill "E" loop-end tuners
  • viola has no fine tuner at all (use gut strings so not necessary)
nopity.gif No Pity image by TGrosjean

April 27, 2009 at 06:05 PM ·

This thread actually brings up a lot of issues.

1. Wooden pegs, if perfectly fit (and unchanging) would be the ideal way to tune all but the steel E string. The process of tuning a string up to a perfect fifth with its neighbor can only be sensed dynamically during such a change (except for the fine tuner on the E-string).

2. If the pegs bind or the player has some hand-health issues (such as  mild arthritis) fine tuners on the tailpiece can be used.  I had to start using them a few years ago and I installed wooded Bois d'Harmonie tailpieces on all my instruments (vln, vla, vlc). This particular brand is often seen on professional cellos.

3. A big improvement in peg design can be had by making violins (from the get-go) with narrower pegs. Under any given conditions, these will be easier to turn, less likely to slip and will keep the peg holes viable for decades longer (avoiding rebushing for at least twice as long as fatter pegs).

4. Another alternative, that works very well in tuning up to the note (even for peopl with some arthritis) is to install Pegheds or Knilling Perfection Planetary Pegs. Both of these are of the same design and use pegs that look like ordinary wooden pegs but have an internal gearing system that increase the turn ration 4:1 over the direct 1:1 tiurning ratio of wooden pegs. The differences is far less force needed to turn pegs and more accurate and easy peg tuning - obviating the need for fine tuners on the tailpiece. These two products have identical mechanical designs because of a licensing agreement between the inventor (who sells the Pegheds) and Knilling, which has a more mass-production operation.

I understand that more recently, Wittner has come out with a geared peg of a somewhat different internal design. But I've never tried them.

I've observed Yuri Bashmet using a metal Thomastik tailpiece on a viola. The tuning mechanisms are good on Bois d'Harmonie, Akustikus, Thomastik, Wittner, and JDF tailpieces. Some other brands (and no-names) have poorer to down-right bad tuning mechanisms, so I don't think they are worth the money you might save trying them.

I use the Bois d'Harmonie tailpieces because the provide for better sound than any of the others I've tried, but they are also more expensive by at 3 - 5 times. If I had switched to geared pegs before getting the fancy tailpieces, I would never have needed the tailpieces.

The fine tuners do have an advantage that you can turn one a specific amount during a performance to correct tuning on an instrument and know exactly how much you have changed it; neither wooded nor geared pegs can be done that precisely without hearing the effect.

Andy

April 27, 2009 at 07:24 PM ·

Andrew- But what about Peg Dope ?

April 27, 2009 at 11:52 PM ·

I have found peg dope (either the liquid drops or the "lipstick-cased" solid paste types to be temporary fixes at best.  Even with pegs on new instruments, that were perfect fits at the beginning, they get worse (for me) over time and exposure to climate fluctuations. The peg dope may overcome the worst of a problem, but it will not lead to a perfect fit, not the amazing kind the Pegheds give you. I could be wrong - but I've been turning pegs for 70 years and that's my experience.

I got a real kick out of it when I tuned my cello (with its Pegheds) last year, in front of our quartet's coach (a cellist) and just zeroed the fifths on those strings right in with my left hand on the pegs with utter perfection and saw his eyes light up. This is not something that often happens with those big cello pegs - you often see even professionals having to put their bows down and work the pegs with their right hands while plucking the strings.

Andy

April 28, 2009 at 12:32 AM ·

Turning pegs for 70 years....... I rise before the beauty of grey headedness!  you win my friend!

April 28, 2009 at 09:18 AM ·

And what about the wood? Do you really think it affects the sound? I read that pernambuco talipieces improve sound. I gave it a try and bought a pernambuco tailpiece. I am not sure if it has improved my violin's sound more than fitting the string afterlenght to a 1/6 of the playing lenght. This is another point to care: with a finetuner (except hills) it is imposible to get a proper lenght of the string between the bridge and the tailpiece.

The pernambuco tailpiece is set in my old G.B. Rogeri, it has also a hill finetuner on the E string. The other one (a Hellier copy) has a nice carved boxwood tailpiece. this has a "standard" finetuner on the E string that I will be changing to a hill loop E string finetuner one of these days.

 PS: Sorry for my english.

April 28, 2009 at 10:03 AM ·

I think that the wood, if soft, will absorb vibration were as a rigid wood, like ebony or pernambuco, will not absorb so much.  This will definitely affect projection and could exacerbate wolf tones.  Polycarbonate or carbon fiber tail peices.... I can not say? But as Brian Hong points out, definitely wood of some sort.

Now if we can get a LUTHIER into this discussion?

April 28, 2009 at 12:26 PM ·

I think pernambucco improves projection more then the ebony tailpiece I had on before. It was also much lighter when I took both tailpieces in hand and lifted them. I thought less dense wood like boxwood would open up the instrument compare to harder ebony?

April 28, 2009 at 01:11 PM ·

Vincent- Why do you think a less dence wood would open up an instrument?  Just curious?

royce

April 28, 2009 at 02:18 PM ·

Good point to start an investigation. We should know how vibrations pass from the bridge to the portion of strings between it and the tailpiece and the sound it produces. I believe it is a question of harmonics (double the wavelenght I remeber I read somewhere). But how does these frecuencies pass through the tailpiece? And how and how much pass thru the tailpiece to the main body of the instrument through the tailpiece holder (remember it is a piece of nylon)?

Wow! I need a siesta!!

April 28, 2009 at 02:27 PM ·

I have tried all the wooden tailpieces made by Bois d'Harmonie and I found the pernambuco one was harder to match to one of my violins than any of the others (ebony, rosewood, boxwood). The best I could do was find that one violin on which the pernambuco tailpiece did not sound any worse than the others. (Yes it was a busy day!)

That pernambuco tailpiece was slightly heavier than the other woods. I attributed the sonic differences to that, but that is just guessing. A tailpiece is so stiff compared to the strings and the tail-gut that I would think a mechanical engineer's first modeling approach would be to treat it as a "point mass."

But the thing about tiny physical differences in bowed instruments and bows, is that even a little change to a small part of the overtone spectrum can be the difference between "ho-hum" and falling in love with the sound.

Andy

April 28, 2009 at 02:38 PM ·

Nicolas & Andrew= Good Points!  So far there are some that say they have noticed a difference.

April 28, 2009 at 07:43 PM ·

Royce- With what I'm thinking right now a dencer tailpiece would have particals closer to each other. While a less dence would have particals futher. So Vibrations on a dencer would take more time and energy to travel threw the tailpiece and verse versa. I'm not an expert on it and the logic was probably off since my physics mark wasn't as great as my other sciences.

Maybe when I change the boxwood fittings on my other violin pernambucco I'll check for any differences in about a couple of days.

April 28, 2009 at 09:29 PM ·

Royce Faina wrote:

"Now if we can get a LUTHIER into this discussion?"

It's more than I want to tackle here. The problem is that different materials and weights give different results on different instruments.

Right now, I use ebony on everything. It's a wonderfully durable wood for pegs, and it's strong enough that one can reduce the weight by hollowing out the bottom of the tailpiece, if needed.

Mountain mahogoany and perrnubuco are also durable and dense woods, if one is looking for a different color scheme.

Eric Meyer, a custom accessory maker, has stated here before that some of the makers he deals with believe that some woods have acoustical properties beyond what can be accounted for by density, weight,  weight distribution, and location of attachment points alone. That doesn't happen to be my view. It's extrememly diffucult to do controlled, repeatable experiments, and eliminate most other variables, and a lot of experiments aimed at discovering the differences in sound due to different materials are fraught with obvious shortcomings.

April 28, 2009 at 11:39 PM ·

David

I really don't want to put my foot in it either because as you said the variables are so hard to isolate. I have some experience but it mostly depends on reports from customers and you know how empirical that can be. I understand why you would want to ascribe tailpieces' acoustical  variations to known measurements like mass and dimensions but I'm not so willing to throw out differences due to the basic nature of the wood's fibers.  i just received a report from one of my recent customers on a set of pernambuco viola fittings. He stated that the output increased dramatically. Now you've got to put this type of feedback in perspective (wishful thinking et.) but it's come back to me that way too many times to not think there is something to it. I've made quite a few heavy yet short tailpieces for fiddles with Wolf notes, usually using very dense blackwood . I mean, I make what I am asked to make but the folks that receive the pieces are pretty well respected listeners and are paying for custom work, At least they've come back for more when the need arose.

One thing that doesn't get noted enough in these discussions about materials is the differences within the species themselves. Pernambuco hovers on either side of the point where wood floats. There is a lot of wood that gets rejected for violin bows because of this variation and others. Some of the stuff that they are calling boxwood these days...shame, shame.  Rosewood is considered by many to be a dense, heavy choice but it's all over the place in both species variations and hardness and it's one of the lighter woods that I use. Many opinions about the qualities of types of woods has much to do with the quality of the piece of wood you have in your hand whatever it is called. People are selling "ebony pegs" for a price that is less than the cost of a so so ebony peg blank. They must have bought thier stash when dinoaurs roamed the Earth.

This is all a big subject. To big for a posting and my two fingered typing . I was approached by an editor to write something up about choosing wood types and the different qualities that are ascribed to them. I think I may have missed the window of opportunity on that one, but it's a good subject for a treatment. Opinions are like noses -- everybody's got one and they are all slightly different. If you put a piece of ebony on the lathe with the end grain facing you it will powder when turned, but pernambuco fuzzes out like a pissed off porcupine. I can't help believing that such very different orientation of fibers doesn't account for something. Oh, and it sounds very different when you drop a piece: very loud and with a distinct ping. Whether these differences translate to what you desire in a fiddle or whether they donate much to sound ;"aye there's the rub"

April 29, 2009 at 12:16 AM ·

I'll get into it a little more with Eric, but not too much, because he's a buddy, and also someone I consider to be an expert. So just consider it food for thought.

The different materials definitely sound different when they are tapped. If there was something when playing the violin which tapped on the tailpiece and made it emit some sound, I think this would be a significant factor. As it is though, the tailpiece itself radiates almost no sound. What little sound it contributes comes mostly from it acting like a weight, feeding sound back through the bridge somewhere around and the pitch of the open G, and also an octave below middle C (depending on the material). Even this loudest input from the tailpiece is so low in volume as be undetectable during playing.

Rather than being a part which conveys vibrational energy to the violin, I think of the tailpiece more as a point of sound reflection, reflecting string vibration back to the bridge from the point where the strings attach. The bridge is the point where the most sound energy goes into the violin.

April 29, 2009 at 12:55 AM ·

The bridge is the point where the most sound energy goes into the violin....AMEN

April 29, 2009 at 12:59 AM ·

Yes David, I know that you think that.  No argument there :+)

April 29, 2009 at 01:06 AM ·

Thanks for calling me an expert. I sure don't feel like one.  I just know the questions, not the answers.

April 29, 2009 at 07:06 AM ·

Thank you all for this great amount of information. I am finding that I am becoing more and more interested in the instrument itself than in playing!

Maybe by engineering blood.

April 29, 2009 at 10:09 AM ·

Something that David said about tapping the wood (ebony, rose wood,etc.,) what if you made a tail piece out of a Maremba tile, key?  What a percusionist strikes when playing a maremba? If I spelled it correctly?  Or if the tile is too narrow perhaps make on and set it up so that it'll give tone?

April 29, 2009 at 10:19 AM ·

Where is Rod Serling?

April 29, 2009 at 11:10 AM ·

merimba Keys! That's it, keys, like a piano!

Sam- You need your Lithium adjusted.  Rod Serling is playing a violin with a tail piece that was once a Merimba key! Geez! A monkey could have figured that one out!

April 29, 2009 at 12:42 PM ·

I think you will find with your marimba key how geometry (length, width, weight and balance, and placement) can be much more important than wood. And that what's best for you depends on your own instrument and how it behaves, not picking the tailpiece that everyone else likes.

April 29, 2009 at 02:36 PM ·

There is no question (in my mind) that the string afterlengths (bridge to tailpiece length) can be tuned to affect the sound of an instrument. I know this is so (for at least some instruments) from my own experience.

I suspect this has to do with the tuning of certain afterlengths (which do vibrate audibly) to important string overtones. The afterlegths also are linked physically and acoustically to the bridge and the tailpiece at which points the string vibrations will interact with the wooden parts and be subject to certain frequency-specific dynamic resistances discribed by "acoustic impedance."

The way acoustic impedance affects the reflection of vibration in the string afterlengths (or cancellation of some vibration components in the strings) in the string afterlengths is bound to affect this acoustic effct of the string afterlengths on overall instrument sound. If this is so, the construction material of the tailpiece will affect the acoustic coupling through "matching" of the acoustic impedances of the various parts.

I have little doubt that this same acoustic impedance (coupling) effect between bow hair and bow stick (material, etc,) have a similar effect in causing some bows to create such better sound on some instruments. In this case, it would be important that the stick cancel vibration in the bow hair that might otherwise feed back to the string and interfere with its vibrations.

Just my thoughts on it. I've never done the math (too much math for me any more). But at least I think it makes sense and agrees with all observations.

Andy

April 29, 2009 at 02:42 PM ·

I agree that it'll more than likely come down to trying them out. Hypotheticaly speaking, would something that resonates like a merimba key have any effect or not?  The only way to realy know is to try it.  If anything it's a gimik to sell tail pieces. However, after reading what Andrew wrote, it intriques me further!

royce

April 29, 2009 at 11:47 PM ·

Quick clarifying question for our luthier professionals - so if you are setting up a violin - either one you've made yourself or one that you are restoring to sell etc, will you usually try out a selection of "different" tailpieces to choose the one which in your opinion has the best effect on that particular violin?  

I'm thinking that to me it is a bit like having a car and wanting the best performance but not knowing what goes on under the bonnet - that's what I'd pay the qualified mechanic guy at the garage to sort out.  So, if I buy a well set-up violin from a good luthier I'm expecting that he/she has used their experience/skills and dealt with that kind of issue (best choice of tailpiece) amongst other things, for me already, and that's just one other reason why you pay a premium to them compared to buying at auction.

Do I make sense?!

 

April 30, 2009 at 12:37 AM ·

It all depends on if and who set it up for auction. Are you talking about ebay or a reputable auction house? If the former, you probably will have to visit one of the professionals anyway, and you might get some bad news about how much money you actually saved.  I am sure all who have put in their two cents know that set up of the post the bridge, et.  is the meat of the matter in effect on sound.  I was just trying to share some feedback that I have had about wood choices.  I don't claim to know what type of tailpiece is the correct answer for a players needs or for that matter the fiddles needs either. David and Michael don't put much stock in wood selection other than for color, and aesthetics  but both have ideas about length, hole spacing and weight, I'm sure. As you know there are mechanics and there are Mechanics. Some will fix your car and make it run right and some will sell you parts you don't need. Someone who primarily creates violins will have preferences based on his familiarity with his own work. A luthier who has many different types of instruments to make decisions about is in a whole other ball game IMHO. You would be amazed at the gamut of opinions and preferences on the subject of both tailpieces and pegs by very respected and competent luthiers. I will say one thing, although it may sound a bit self-serving : well made fittings from quality wood will give you so much less trouble and more pleasure, but only when they are fit and installed by a good and knowledgeable luthier .

April 30, 2009 at 01:10 AM ·

What Eric said, mostly. I buy fittings that meet my standards for geometry, as much as possible. I don't have to worry about using four tuners (for violins or violas), because none of my customers would do that. My experiments and the results with pernambuco rule that wood out for most normal violins, and most other woods act similarly enough that I can easily deal with the differences in other adjustments, of which there are many.  I suspect that many of the less-experienced people who make claims for various woods aren't even aware of the other things they were probably changing when they switched tailpieces.

April 30, 2009 at 01:14 AM ·

Eric Meyer wrote:

"Thanks for calling me an expert. I sure don't feel like one.  I just know the questions, not the answers".

Yeah, I know what you mean. When I knew less, I thought I knew a lot more than I do now. :-)

Eric's stuff is top notch. If you think a tailpiece is worth about eleven bucks, or a fine glass of wine can  be had for three, he's not your man.

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