Parchment or rubber/plastic sleeve?

May 20, 2009 at 09:18 PM ·

Is it better to have a piece of parchment on the bridge for the E string or to have the plastic/rubber sleeve (which most E strings come with) on the E string. Or is it best to have both parchment and sleeve? Does the A string need parchment or sleeve, or both?

Replies (20)

May 20, 2009 at 10:11 PM ·

The purpose of the parchment is to keep the string from sawing down into the bridge. That's why you see them almost exclusively on the E string, and sometimes the A if it is a solid wire. Parchments can loosen and fall off. I regard them as almost more trouble than they're worth.

The tube also keeps the string from cutting into the bridge, but you can also use it to gently mute the string if it is too bright. Tubes can produce buzzes, however, and I have seen far too many cases where the string has cut through the tube!

What I do now on the E and A strings is to put on a drop of cyano-acrylate glue (Super Glue) in the string groove and let it dry. It gets very hard and will last a long time. If the string finally wears through the glue, just put on another drop, Any excess can be filed away and smoothed off. The string groove can be lubricated with a pencil point to help the string slide across when it is being tuned.

May 21, 2009 at 02:06 AM ·

 I agree on the superglue method -- no tube, no paper!  Or, you can plan on replacing your bridge almost annualy depending on how often you ride the E string!  :)

May 21, 2009 at 03:58 AM ·

I have never, ever seen the parchment on my bridges come unglued. In my opinion, it's by far the best alternative. Those little plastic tubes are retarded. Sorry, non-politically-correct answer. I meant "stoopid." 

May 21, 2009 at 06:52 AM ·

Both my violins have the little squares of parchment under the E string on the bridge and both have expensive, very well made and fitted bridges.  I'm yet to have any problems with either of them after years.  Additionally when I started with one particular teacher during university - I was still using the little tubes on the E string and he told me straight away to go get my bridge sorted out properly as he was no fan of these tubes at all, saying that they affected the sound and also intonation - if intruding over between the bridge and fingerboard.

I'm surprised by the superglue suggestion and would be interested to know whether this is a solution endorsed by our resident luthiers?

May 21, 2009 at 07:30 AM ·

I have tried the superglue solution on my doughter's violin. It seems to work with no sound problems. Maybe I will try on one of my violins, as the tube is getting sawed.

And what about those bridges with ebony inserts. Do they work? Have any of you tried them?

May 21, 2009 at 09:16 AM ·

"...would be interested to know whether this is a solution endorsed by our resident luthiers?"

I use the "parchment", which is actally thin animal skin that was used on drum heads at one time. It's common to see this last 20+ years without any attention. I haven't had any come loose when properly prepared and glued. They can adhere so well that there is no way to remove them intact (they must be cut off). I haven't found the superglue to hold up nearly as well, but maybe that's not an issue, as it's so simple to re-do.

Nicolas, I'm not aware of a downside or advantage to the ebony inserts, except for cost, so I haven't used them unless the customer insisted. The best bridge blanks don't come with the insert, so doing a first-class job of putting one in could involve something like $50 of additional labor.

There can be very subtle sound differences with the different methods (except for the plastic sleeves, which can do all kinds of strange sound, buzz, and intonation things). We rarely see the sleeves used by any high-level players, other than as some kind of temporary emergency fix.

May 21, 2009 at 10:31 AM ·


I always insist on parchment and have never had one come lose.   I always keep a razor blade handy to slice off the plasticx tubes which are a liability and don`t seem to offer any protection anyway.  Very often I think they just push into an unprotected bridge under the pressure of the string.  The super glue I wouldn`t use for the main notch on a good bridge although I don`t think it does any harm.  I do keep some around for studnet violins because they soemtimes tune the e up an octave too high while the string is half a cm to the right with the new groove adding a whole new dimension to bowing tehcnique.  The super glue is a very simple way of getting rid of extra grooves or a main groove that has been widened by perpetual misuse.  It has also worked on my face to some extent.



May 21, 2009 at 12:02 PM ·

Perhaps the years I spent in repair work brought many more loose parchments before my bleary eyes than most of you will ever see on your individual bridges. David and others are right when they say a well-made parchment applied by an experienced luthier should last for years. On the other hand, I've taken off an E string prior to starting work on an instrument and had the parchment simply fall off when I removed the bridge!

One of my objections to parchments is that it lifts the E string above the bridge arc and alters the relationship of that string to the others. We fiddle workers take pains to ensure that the arc of the bridge is constant so that the player will not have to adjust the relative bow position during string crossings. Many of you are probably making that compensation now and consider it one of the things a violinist does when learning how to play. Of course, you can alter the bridge arc to compensate for the parchment, but to me this is like having the tail wag the dog.

May 21, 2009 at 12:22 PM ·

I'm not recommending superglue repair/reinforcement of string grooves as something you want to "try at home" (except for Buri :-)  but since it's been written about here, someone without experience will probably try it. There are some major hazards. A precaution:

Don't try to apply superglue directly from the container! Superglue can do some strange spurty things, and there's not much that will ruin your day more than getting spatter (or worse) on your violin. I never dispense the glue anywhere near a violin.

Instead, put a little glue on a piece of aluminum foil; dip a pin or toothpick in the glue to get a slight coating (not a big drop) and touch this to the bridge groove.  Protecting the top of the violin wouldn't be a bad idea either. Practice on something else first.




May 21, 2009 at 12:26 PM ·

Thank you Burgess, I was about to take my E string off and take the superglue and put some on. Now I know to use a toothpick for application. Can I remove the parchement with a knife because I can't take it off with my fingernail.

May 22, 2009 at 01:27 AM ·

Super glue, parchment glued with yellow glue, or with super glue, and the tubes all have their own tonal effects. If you use the tube (which I hate, myself) make sure that almost all of the tube is behind the bridge, and none sticks out above (that is, the very front edge of the tube rests on the bridge).

In my own experience, skin glued with super glue, if done right, is more reliable than with older glues, but there are some tricks to getting it to work well.

It's probably better to leave this all to a shop. If you fill your own grooves you'll find that most of the super glue won't end up where you want it, around the groove, not in it, that it will build very slowly, and that you'll probably end up with a strange ball of it on the top front and back of the bridge that needs to be filed away. When I fill, I go for a total fill, file off the extra back to the original level of the wood, and then refile the groove. If you don't do it well, with the right file, it will tear the winding on wound strings. On lower strings, the tonal change can be very strong, which can be good or bad, depending.

Even if I repair the E groove with super glue, I put a skin back over the repair. Any shop that's paying attention will make sure the transition angles between the various strings is right before they give your violin back: since different strings mess with the angles in different ways (for instance, Dominant silver Ds are much smaller than the aluminum wound ones, and need to be higher out/up on the bridge), having this right is not the result of simply matching a template, but of a bit of fussing afterward, with the strings the player will actually be using.

Some shops inlay an ivory insert under the E. This pumps up the stridency of the E, which may or may not be good, but the insert is certainly a permanent solution. Again, skinning over the insert can affect the results.

I don't know of anyone using ebony instead of ivory, and the bridge blanks that come with ebony inserts are usually garbage, aside from the ebony issue.

May 21, 2009 at 04:15 PM ·

My violin has a semi circular ivory insert in the e string spot.  14 years with no problems.

May 21, 2009 at 04:47 PM ·

I also hate those little tubes and have been lately using a very small piece of thin leather, about the size of this, " o "  I hold it in place with tweezers and allow the increased tuning pressure to hold it into place.  It seems to also slightly warm the  E  string, which is fine for my violin.  When you change the string, it just falls off and you can reuse it, or if it is lost, snip out another.  I'm sure not everyone would like this method, but it works for me.



May 22, 2009 at 01:33 AM ·

Parchment requires skilled fitting. It has a a grain just like wood and for long term stability this needs to be angled right. I pre cut and then soak the parchment after evaluatng grain direction. The CA glue is more instant on wet material and it all seems to bind and dry nice and tight.

String tubes must go straight to bin.





May 22, 2009 at 10:15 AM ·

Someone mentioned a Leather Ring?  I remember those when I was a kid. When the 'E' string would go tight it looked like a miniature taco.  I had completely forgotten about those until now!

August 2, 2009 at 10:42 AM ·

On the subject of rubber rings, can anyone tell me how they are used? I've a Hill E string waiting to be used - it came with a tiny black rubber ring and I've no idea how one is supposed to use it...

August 2, 2009 at 05:06 PM ·

Lay the rubber ring on top of the bridge, balanced, and put the string on so that half of the ring is on one side of the bridge, half on the other. The idea is that the ring slightly dampens the metallic sound of the string. This was popular in the 60s when metal strings were really nasty, but I haven't seen an instrument with these on in decades. Supersensitive Red Label strings needed them, especially on larger instruments, and they were called "tone filters" at the time.

Read about them at the bottom of page 15, here:

August 3, 2009 at 08:15 AM ·

Thanks for that Michael. I first thought it was designed to protect the bridge at the point of contact with the string but now see it's designed to dampen the resonance slightly. If I end up using the string I'll have to hope the ancient bit of parchment/hide that someone stuck there 10 years ago holds up!

August 4, 2009 at 12:30 PM ·

I thought that the thin mm tubes generally lay over the bridge (to prevent cutting in and help the string slide), but the larger rubber ‘doughnuts’ go behind the tailpiece (at the ball end of the string)? The rubber rings supposedly make the string less tinny... softer rounder sound, like natural gut-like?

Parchment and ebony are both valid ways of preventing strings from cutting into the bridge. Parchment is very good at resisting cutting, and easy to apply. Ebony isn’t all that hard to insert, but as David mentioned, it might be an unnecessary/added expense for most.

A and E strings could both need patches... depending on the string.





August 4, 2009 at 01:56 PM ·

I think people have ended up putting the rings on the balls simply because they didn't know what else to do with them. It's obvious from the brochure what the manufacturer intended, though. This is one of those things that 45 years ago everyone knew that just got forgotten.

It applies so often I may have to add a signature that says "Those who are unaware of history are doomed to misinterpret it."  :-)

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