Four five tuners v. one on the E

February 27, 2010 at 07:26 AM · Why do some violins, particularly smaller, fractional instruments, have four fine tuners, when the adult and higher priced instruments only have a fine tuner on the E string?

Replies (26)

February 27, 2010 at 08:01 AM ·

steel strings vs gut or other

February 27, 2010 at 08:21 AM ·

 Yes, Sam is right.


February 27, 2010 at 08:26 AM ·

 Now, seriously. 

Fractional violins are not the best quality violins, as we all know. Pegs are not allways well fitted and so hard to move. Most times I solve this with Hill paste, but other times the problem is that pegholes are not well reamed. Fixing that costs more than the violin most times.

Also string lenght is shorter, and that makes also difficult to tune with the pegs, specially in the smaller instruments.

Just my 2 cents.

February 27, 2010 at 10:04 AM ·

smaller strings smaller tuners.

February 27, 2010 at 12:40 PM ·

I agree with Emily:  "smaller strings smaller tuners."   On bavs, which is a Yahoogroup for beginning adult violin students, people were writing that the reason for the fine tuners is merely cosmetic or a matter of personal taste.  I disagree.

The reason fractional instruments have the fine tuners on all the strings has to do with the smallness of the instrument. The adjustments on the smaller instruments are proportionately smaller, in other words. The built-in tuners found in Wittner tailpieces and other, similar, brands are an improvement on the old "Suzuki" fine tuners and older designs that have the post that is apt to grind into the top plate of the instrument.

However, lower priced full size instruments also have fine tuners on all the strings. This may be in part because of the notable difference in skill levels between beginning students and more advanced students; beginners aren't at least initially able to tune using the open strings and by wrapping the left hand around the scroll. Beginners are frequently not yet able to tune by playing double stops, listening to the open fifths of the strings. It's easier for beginning students to tune with the fine tuners.

More experienced players also make fine adjustments on the three lower strings by pressing the string within the peg box, just after the string crosses the nut into the peg box--which stretches the string and brings up the pitch slightly. Alternatively, you can lower the pitch of a string by grasping the string on the fingerboard and pulling slightly. Neither of these methods really work on the E string.

Additionally, all that hardware on the taillpiece may dampen the sound on a better instrument. Non-wooden tailpieces also fail to transfer vibration as well as the wooden tailpieces.

But I could be less than accurate or complete.  I don't know and won't know unless I ask.

February 27, 2010 at 01:09 PM ·

As far as I know it has to do with the quality of the pegs.

If the pegs are well adjusted and one can tune the violin without much difficulty than fine tuners are not needed. However, if the pegs are not so good (which is the case w/ cheaper instruments) than having fine tuners in all strings is the most efficient option.

One's got to have common sense though. I've seen people in college who would not take their instrument to the shop to have the luthier do a proper adjustment to the pegs NOR would they put fine tuners on strings other than E, even though it would take them 15 minutes or more to tune their violin, which is pretty silly IMO.

The whole idea of "less metal, better sound" only applies to those who have really really good instruments. For most of us regular players putting more than one fine tuner in your fiddle won't hurt, it might actually help you save time when tuning your violin.

Personally, I like those tailpieces with built-in fine tuners (best option for those who use fine tuners on all strings since it doesn't mess w/ string length & tension) there are some really good expensive ones out there. Also, there's perfection pegs which I'd be interested in trying out at some point.

February 27, 2010 at 01:25 PM ·

I had a student come to me with a violin with those perfection pegs, on an instrument in the 5K range;  I had never seen them before.  The violin tuned extremely easily but it felt weird.  I'm hesitant to recommend something which is not consistent with normal or usual practice in the context of orchestral or chamber music practice.  But it may just be that I'm hopelessly old fashioned.

I try to eventually teach students to get the A and then tune by listening to the open fifths.  This fine tunes the ear and sounds much better and works better under performance conditions, IMHO.

February 27, 2010 at 02:26 PM ·

A nice thing about Planetary pegs is they don't require a larger drill hole in the pegbox,  as did earlier examples, so a violin can be returned to conventional pegs if someone desires. Adult players with hand or wrist problems sometimes benefit from 2 or 3 fine tuners, even with pegs that fit well. Children don't always have the hand strength or coordination to deal with pegs even if. Many fiddlers like more than 1 tuner since the energetic & repetitive bowings of some styles seem to stretch strings out of tune quickly. Sue

February 27, 2010 at 03:04 PM ·

 >It is quite interesting what can be found out about folks through Google...'nuff said


February 27, 2010 at 11:12 PM ·

I got a link to another thread in this forum, on this topic:

I'm not clear about the business of string length: "Use of the fine tuners cause all the strings to have the same length" -- accurate?

February 28, 2010 at 04:08 AM ·

 The string length refered to is the vibrating length.  By adding a fine tuner you effectivly shorten the string because there is now 4 or 5 mm of tuner between the tail piece and the end of the string.  It has greater effect on good/responsive instruments.  The tailpieces with built in fine tuners is the way to go.  I have seen too many student violins with holes almost half way through the top because they always tighten them and never loosen them.  Sad to say my son did this to his and was very surprised at how good his violin sounded when I loosened the tuner and got it off the top plate and in tune with the peg.

I love the pegheds mechanical pegs.  I have used them on the last 4 violins I have made.  Much easier to deal with than the wood pegs and I will never have to put a bushing in the pegbox because the hole got worn out.

February 28, 2010 at 03:48 PM ·

 I know one luthier, a pretty good violin maker, who swears that there's no sonic difference, regardless of string type (steel, gut, perlon), between four fine tuners or the single fine tuner.

There are a lot of people who feel that what happens between the nut and bridge is pretty much all that matters.  There are also many who feel otherwise.  Apparently this is true of all stringed instruments and their players because I've seen arguments on mandolin and guitar forums about this. 

February 28, 2010 at 07:28 PM ·

An Interesting topic. I'm not sure that we have enough information though to be speaking about such things as string after length. I'd love to hear from a mechanical engineer about the effects of after length in terms of mechanical filters and resonant frequencies. Ideally, all vibrations terminate at the nut (or finger) and bridge. I don't believe however that this is an ideal situation. All filters react differently to different frequencies. At some point the vibrations which are passed become moot but I don't know what that might be in terms of violins.

Regarding pressing on the string either above the nut or below the bridge, ideally, the tension along the string should be consistent from tailpiece to peg. if not, it leads to the tension evening out during play, which of course, means the instrument goes out of tune! The friction of the nut and bridge is the problem here. At the nut, it is exacerbated by any string which does not travel in a straight line to the peg; that, is angles off to the peg. Why these issues aren't addressed in modern instruments I haven't a clue.


February 28, 2010 at 09:32 PM ·

I definitely noticed a difference in sound when I removed the fine tuners from the lower three strings.

Not only do fine tuners shorten the string, but what I think is more significant is the huge amount of mass, relative to that of he tailpiece, they add.

March 1, 2010 at 02:03 AM ·

Mine also made a huge difference in sound when I removed the fine tuners from the lower strings.

March 1, 2010 at 02:40 AM ·

Typically, fine tuners are need for strings that are steel (like all four on most student instruments and just the e string when the others are gut or synthetic).  That's why violists and cellists with good instruments and wire core strings, have four fine tuners. 

The after length and the presence or absence of fine tuners do have an affect on the instrument's sound, which is more noticeable on good, full sized instruments than on smaller fractional instruments, which tend to sound pretty bad in most cases regardless. 

There's no reason a fractional violin needs four fine tuners if it has synthetic core strings (except for the steel e) as long as the tuning pegs are adjusted appropriately.


March 1, 2010 at 04:46 AM ·

Connie, I don't think you've gotten a good answer yet, and I'm surprised that as a teacher you don't know. There's a very simple reason why kids' violins come with more tuners, and that's because kids can't tune. They can't natively turn the pegs, they can't push them in hard enough to make them stick, they can't make the fine adjustments necessary, and teachers, for the most part, don't help them develop these skills, either, so it isn't until they move up to full size that they start feeling confident and adult, and take it on themselves to handle the problem the way adults do. Since only a small adjustment is usually needed, fine tuners do the job pretty well most of the time up to then.

As for why adult violins don't have them--that's purely a matter of tonal quality: professional violinists want every last bit they can squeeze out of their violins, and tuners dampen the sound. If you don't believe there's a change, have someone grab onto your tailpiece while playing; that's what the extra weight of tuners does to the sound. It might improve a crummy violin by making it less, in all respects, but it doesn't help a good one. The alternative, and it's not a bad one, is tailpieces with built in tuners. They're designed to act, weight, and balance similarly to tailpieces without tuners, and they do a pretty decent job.

March 1, 2010 at 05:04 AM ·

Having the significant misfortune to have a budget below a professional grade instrument, I can clearly identify at least one reason.

Some violins are very touchy to adjust, and some have a poor fit for the peg (either the peg itself or the hole is the issue). Although the second may be correctable, the it still does not solve all issues.
I have one violin with a single fine tuner, and I have no problems adjusting the strings (steel or perlon, I have tried both on that violin).
My other violin can use the same strings, and even after a trip to the luthier, it is very volatile and sensitive to minor adjustments. I took off all the fine tuners aside from the E string, and I find it very painful to adjust the G. For some reason, possibly an out-of-round issue with the peg, a very small adjustment can either result in no change, or in a big change (not quite a semitone, but still unacceptable). I can tune it, but not nearly as quickly or easily as my other one.

So, I could easily see where the fine tuners make up for lack of attention to other parts of the violin.

March 1, 2010 at 03:22 PM ·

The rentals we have from our shop are set up and adjusted to professional standards. No adult would have a problem tuning them--the pegs turn like silk, and stick as they should. We use Dominant strings, right down to 1/8 size, not steel strings. But the teachers still require that we provide fine tuners.

When I started playing cello, in the mid 50s, my teacher taught me how to tune and how to use the pegs from the very first day, and also how to play in tune by using my ear, not how to play out of tune with tape. I think the problem may be that too many modern teachers got their teaching techniques first from the movie "The Music Man" and then from Suzuki. As always, playing the curmudgeon here, I'll also suggest that this problem of thinking that you don't have to teach for children to learn isn't just limited to music, its a basic problem in education, and we're seeing the effects everywhere, as American education become an international joke.

March 2, 2010 at 01:22 PM ·

 Seeing as I use Helicores (steel core which take less turn on the peg) I use adjusters but got my tailpiece changed to one of the lightweight Witners with built in tuners. i don't know if they dampen the tone but if they do it's fairly negligible. 

However, the main reason I use them is that I often have to tune on the fly. I play with a guitarist who has nylon strings, susceptible  to temperature changes and tuning can change quickly if he has just come out of the cold. I can't imagine tuning while I'm playing with pegs, maybe planetary pegs but not wooden ones. Also, living in New England the humidity changes so much that pegs can be a real nuisance. 

I think for some people the considerations are more aesthetic though and I'd even say that some people feel less of a professional with fine tuners (there was also that video posted on here where the guy giving a masterclass told his student that fine tuners were for babies!). Personally I think you have to use common sense and evaluate your situation. 

March 3, 2010 at 03:02 AM ·


Your comment about the weather affecting the functionality of tuning pegs is true, but if you're subjecting your instrument to wide swings in humidity (the main culprit) then it's at risk for more than just slipping pegs!  If you're playing on a traditional wooden instrument it's well worth the effort to maintain a stable environment for it (within reason).

I think fine tuners or planetary pegs are fine for anyone who wants them, but I'll stick to my previous comment that they aren't needed except for steel strings (with all due respect to the curmudgeonly Mr. Darnton)!


March 4, 2010 at 01:00 PM ·


 With all due respect, you are like a lot of makers who don't really appreciate the real life situations that working musicians have to deal with. Some of the extremes of weather that I've had to subject various instruments to would shock you! It's not all stable concert hall humidity for every musician all the time. 

March 4, 2010 at 02:25 PM ·


I'm not denying the challenge that changes in humidity present.  My point is that if your pegs are suddenly not working properly a player should recognize the event as a red flag indicating environmental stress on the instrument as a whole and not just cram the pegs in tight and rely on fine tuners.  Efforts to regulate the instrument's humidity environment are repaid in terms of the violin's long term health and short term performance.  I believe David Burgess' web site has extensive advice on this issue.


March 4, 2010 at 07:41 PM ·

 I don't have a choice sometimes. For instance if I'm playing outside for a wedding and it starts raining I can't just stop playing, it's bad enough for the bride that her big day is ruined without the violinist walking off! I've even played in the pouring rain but my solution is to take a cheaper instrument.

The point here though is that when you play in weird conditions, especially quick changes of temperature (my worst case scenario was having to play outside in winter and walk indoors playing where the building was very well heated), fine tuners have the edge for tuning while playing. I can't imagine the same sort of rapid tuning adjustments with conventional pegs. 

March 4, 2010 at 08:26 PM ·


yes there is a choice. Written right into agreement if outside = some sort of shelter. I will not play in direct summer sun or rain... if no shelter; Sammy goes home and the bride and groom still must pay. Never has been a problem, though. I'm not going to risk an instrument's well-being to Mother Nature, regardless of its quality or value EVER!!!

March 4, 2010 at 08:38 PM ·

 A designated violin for playing outside is a good thing to have though. Carbon fiber would be even better.

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