Frustrated with tuning

March 9, 2010 at 03:13 PM ·

I have a violin thats sounds ok and I like. I know it is not the best, but it is mine. Before Christmas I took out the fine tuners from the G, D and A strings to learn to use the pegs to tune. The problem is that I spend like 15-30 mins trying t tune with the pegs. The strings are always to high or to low, or they slip totally. Grrrrr.....

My time for practice is limited and this cuts into it. I going to put the fine tuners back in. Sound quality may suffer a little, but I would rather spend the time practicing.

What do you all think?

Replies (38)

March 9, 2010 at 04:49 PM ·

Well, I'll go first.

Eric, if you hadn't already, you might want to take your violin into the shop for a check-up. Your peg set-up might need some work or they may be able to give you some advice.

Otherwise, I suppose you just have to decide what makes playing more enjoyable for you. If you notice that with fine tuners, the sound suffers and is unacceptable, spending extra time tuning may be a small sacrifice to make.

Question: do you guys notice any significant improvement in your sound if you don't use fine tuners? I've used fine tuners for such a long time that I don't remember what my violin sounds like without them.

Cheers,

Vivian

March 9, 2010 at 05:24 PM ·

A tailpiece with built-in (or "integral") fine tuners can be purchased and it may be as light as a bare wooden one, in which case it's acoustic properties will be much like those of a bare tailpiece.

One of the things about either a bare tailpiece or one with built-in fine tuners is that the string afterlengths can be tuned to help iimprove the tone quaity of some instruments. This cannot be done with added-on fine tuners, because the available string afterlength is too short.

Also, if you want to take the "plunge" a set of Knilling Planetary Pegs or "Pegheds" will alow fine tuning with easy turning with the internally geared pegs that have a 4-to-1 gear ratio. The "Pegheds" are more expensive but have a wooden peg handle instead of plastic on the same mechanism. I think the newer Wittner geared pegs are even less expensive.

Price-wise, the best pegs cost about as much as the best integral-tuner tailpiece, Bois d'Harmonie.

It's too late now, but when purchasing a violin it pays to check the diameter of the peg shafts because the thinner the shafts (within practical limits), the less torque is required to turn them. In addition, the thinner the shafts, the less contact area with the pegbox holes, and thus also less friction. So, these two factors can combine to cut in half the torque required to turn the pegs. Another factor, that others have mentioned is being sure both the pegs and peg holes are perfectly round and fit to each other. But even with some problems in that area, peg dope can help improve the situation.  Some people use dry LAVA soap (which is gritty) to work like peg dope, and it does -but BEWARE, because the grit in the soap will continue to carve away the pegbox - SO if you do use this, be advised to remove all the soap and grit after a short time.

Andy

March 10, 2010 at 01:15 AM ·

I have had some struggles with the pegs too, and I find that if the pegs and the peg holes are not well fitted, it can be near impossible to find a note. IF they are well fitted, then the peg does not need as much force, and you can make very small adjustments without the peg 'jumping' past where you intend.
Another thing that makes a big difference is the strings. Some strings are more stable than others, and some need more tension. If you are using a heavy string, it requires more tension, but a small turn nakes less of a change in pitch.

March 10, 2010 at 01:51 AM ·

I had some too.... much trouble. Although I'm not perfect (take 30 sec to 2 min at max), what help was to switch to gut strings who moove at every few minutes... At first, I though this would bring me to the asilum but I'm still here to write so I guess it didn't ; )  I got better in tuning in a week.

Althout the other posts have excellent advice!  Mine is maybe just a coincidence.

Anne-Marie  

March 10, 2010 at 08:42 AM ·

So, here is some things not to do the night before a lesson.

  1. Don't come home at 3 am and start putting the fine tuners back in the violin, breaking your E string. (I work nights... wasn't drunk.)
  2. Do go get a new string first thing in the morning.
  3. Don't go get a new E string an hour before the lesson, deciding to buy a new tailpiece with integrated fine tuners while you are there.
  4. Don't make major changes to your instrument with out checking the tuning and work done. Especially if you are on the way to before mentioned lesson.
  5. Don't make major changes to your instrument with out checking with your teacher. Especially if she just came from a rough lesson of her own. Double especially if she is hung over also.

I think I am going to start playing the triangle!

March 10, 2010 at 09:41 AM ·

I understand that you are choosing to use fine tuners but for information's sake, the way you wrap the colored string endings on the peg when you change strings has a lot to do with how easy it is to use the pegs to tune your violin.  You must push enough of the string through the hole (in the peg) that when you turn the peg the string can wind over the loose end twice.  It must wind toward the side the pegbox in the direction of the knob of its own peg.  If you do it correctly the colored part of the string should be coiled tightly against the inside of the pegbox.  This provides counter-pressure and greatly decreases slippage.  If the problem is that the pegs don't slip enough and seem stuck you may need to treat the peg with a small amount of peg dope.

March 10, 2010 at 01:40 PM ·

Yup to what everybody already said. You shouldn't have to spend all your practice time tuning. Triangle, at least Cajun-style, isn't all that easy, but it doesn't take any time to tune. Christine Balfa, of the legendary Balfa family of musicians, made a solo triangle CD;  worth a listen.

March 10, 2010 at 01:50 PM ·

Properly adjusted tuning pegs should work easily-the problem is that a good job of adjusting the pegs requires skill and patience by a well trained luthier.  Planetary pegs are more expensive than a tailpiece with built in fine tuners like the Wittner tailpiece, but work very easily and some players prefer to avoid the 'look' of a student violin that a raft of fine tuners presents.

March 10, 2010 at 01:58 PM ·

Like Anne-Marie, I switched from high-tension strings (Evah Pirazzi) to low-tension strings (gut strings Passionne) and 2 great things happened: 1) the sound of my violin significantly improved and 2) it is now so much easier to tune.

What are the strings you have on your violin?

March 10, 2010 at 05:09 PM ·

 Eric - like the list of "what not to do."  LOL : )

I myself am quite happy that I chose to set up my current violin with fine tuners. Lets me focus my limited practice time on practicing and not tuning.

March 10, 2010 at 06:21 PM ·

I switched to geared pegs a year or so ago and I will never switch back. Lots of people have reasons for not using the new geared pegs but I have never heard from anybody who has used them that they would consider switching back.

March 16, 2011 at 07:10 PM ·

Michael, I second that. I am a beginner viola player and even though the traditional pegs that were previously installed were very well fitted, the geared tuners (Knilling Perfection pegs) are so much better, and easier to tune. I got rid of all fine-tuners including A string. I will never look back. I tune my viola in seconds now... Hope it helped.

March 16, 2011 at 07:40 PM ·

I also had Pegheds installed.  He sent my old pegs back and it is possible I could have made an improvement just by getting new (regular) pegs, because the ones I had were a disaster and I didn't really get hold of it until i saw all of them lying there.  But I do love the Pegheds, where all my energy can be put into listening and not into fighting with the pegs.

March 16, 2011 at 11:59 PM ·

Here's another vote for the Knilling geared pegs. I installed a set in my viola, and I love them.

March 17, 2011 at 12:36 AM ·

It is funny how some people's experience with pegs is so negative, and others wonder with some bemusement, "why is this so difficult?"

March 17, 2011 at 09:05 PM ·

Fine tuners are much easier.  But I wanted to be able to tune without them...so my good violin and my viola don't have them - while my inexpensive back-up violin does.  Takes a wee bit longer to tune with just the pegs, but not enough that I'm sorry I took them out.  It also makes me feel good that I can at least tune my violin. :D

For some reason I've developed a bias against geared pegs.  I'm sure they're fine...but I see them and think *ew*.  I have NO basis for that response whatsoever - outside of reading that 'real' violinists shouldn't use them.

March 17, 2011 at 09:51 PM ·

 I sit her reading this in amazement.  I am fairly new to violins (bit decades with guitars and pianos).  I struggled for a week or two with wooden friction pegs in my violin.  Then they bedded in and have been fine ever since.  I do have a fine tuner on the high E (though not always - I have a current set of strings without the loop on high E) and tuning is no problem.  I suspect that a few factors help:

1  Make sure the pegs fit properly.  Pegs are tapered and so is the peg hole.  If it is not perfect, get a luthier to fix it.  

2  Learn good technique.  Tune from flat upwards.  Not down.  Push the peg in as you do.  Listen - and don't over twist. 

3  Keep the violin in a stable environment as much as possible.  The more temperature and humidity change you subject it to, the more it will lose tuning.  

4  Use good strings.  

It takes less than a minute to tune a violin if it just needs touching up.  But you need to practice it.  Spend some time learning it.  It will pay dividends.  I may not be able to play the darned thing but I can at least tune it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

March 17, 2011 at 10:15 PM ·

Thanks for bringing this up Eric.  I just ordered a Wittner tail piece with built in fine tuners.  If that doesn't help, then I'll join you in playing triangle, but I get the first triangle part; I like having the melody :-)

 

March 17, 2011 at 11:23 PM ·

 Do have someone look at your instrument to see if the pegs and strings fit properly, and if they are properly lubricated.  You don't want to waste so much time right at the beginning getting frustrated in this way.

I didn't learn to tune using pegs until I had played at least two years; it definitely takes practice and patience!

March 18, 2011 at 07:57 AM ·

 Get the geared pegs! Get the geared pegs!

Its amazing that there is a perception that a 'real' violinist wouldn't use them - its not like they tune the violin for you, they just allow the peg to turn without creating torsion through the peg, without putting strain via friction agains the peg box, and without making you adopt an awkward position in order to activate a strong enough lever to turn.

One thing i would like to know, is the experience of using the wittner vs the planetary.  I am having the wittners put on my 'good' violin (that is, the one I paid $3,500 for) becasue my luthier said he prefers the longitudonal grabby bits at the peg box interface, over the latitudinal rings on the planetary pegs i had installed on my cheapie (the $85.00 wonder from Yita).  He feels that the latitudinal rings are more likely to damage the peg box: has anyone had this experience?

March 19, 2011 at 04:48 PM ·

I doubt you could point at much damage from the threads on Perfection/Pegheads.  They're awful shallow.

What I've heard of the Wittners hasn't inspired me to look more closely.  They have a higher gear reduction (more head turn for the same body turn), but most reviews I've seen say that they're a lot "clicky"-er tuning; more steppy than continuous, so it can actually be harder to dial it right in.  I believe th turning shaft is also grooved rather than flat, which seems like it could wear on the strings.

Whichever way, I second (or third) the "get the geared pegs", whichever way you go.  Sure, with good fitting and adjustment, friction pegs can be a lot smoother than the common experience, but they're still never going to be as smooth or hold as well as a geared peg.  And you're still wearing away the pegbox every time you turn it.

March 20, 2011 at 09:47 AM ·

Sharelle, I agree with Matthew. There is no way the fine threads on Pegheads will damage the pegbox. One should be careful when installing them, though. The threads are counter-clockwise on two of them , and clockwise on the other (They are inverted, much like bycicle pedals). The treble ones should be installed counter-clockwise (i.e. against the tension of the strings) and the bass ones clockwise (also against the tension of the strings) so there is always tension on them on the direction that would keep them "screwed in".

I also find it weird that some people are resistant to this fine improvement on the instrument. I replaced my fine traditional pegs on my viola (even though I could tune in a minute or two) for the Pegheds and I am not looking back (now I tune in 10, 15 seconds, just like on my guitar). Also, the biggest advantage I see on geared pegs is not just how easier it is to tune, but mainly because it WILL NOT slip. Imagine how embarassing if it happens during a performance?

March 20, 2011 at 10:19 AM ·

I had fine tuners on my old violin, and even though I still had them, I chose to learn to tune with the pegs purely for the experience. It was a crap violin honestly, so I tuned with the pegs for about a month or less before I decided to stop because of the frustration I had with the poorly fitted pegs. When I got my new violin, I chose to get it without G, D, A fine tuners because it had good pegs on it, and although there was a learning curve, I got the hang of it.

My advice to you is to start off by getting your pegs checked out by a luthier. If your pegs are checked out and fine-tuned(excuse the pun), and you still have major issues, try keeping your violin in a more humidity-stable environment. You could easily achieve this by getting a little humidifier for your violin case or making one on your own. If that still doesn't help, then try the fine tuners(I recommend one with built-in ones from Bois D'Harmonie or Wittner), but if you find that you violin's tone gets killed, geared pegs would probably be your best bet.

 

March 20, 2011 at 06:31 PM ·

 Learning to tune's one instrument with pegs is simply a fact of life. You might as well say "I'm tired of vibrating" or "I really hate 2nd position" or even "I'm sick of brushing my teeth."

I do have reasons to avoid geared pegs like the plague. I've seen them on many student instruments, both my own students and teaching in middle schools. When they work, they work. But when they don't, they just quit and there's not a thing you can do about it except have someone put in a new one. That often doesn't happen because it involves a parental trip to the luthier, and time without an instrument. And frankly, if you are a parent, you'll realize it's just one more thing you don't have time to do.

Properly-fitted pegs should enable one to learn to tune fairly fast, and can be easily maintained at home or quickly at a lesson by a teacher. I see far too many ill-fitting pegs, and far too many violins sold with totally shot pegs.

March 21, 2011 at 10:43 PM ·

 John,

I've seen and had bad experiences with different geared pegs, and the latest one just this week with a young student. The problem is that when the pegs start slipping or not working, you can do NOTHING about it. At least with traditional pegs I can remove them and clean/lube.

Geared pegs will never appear on a fine instrument, and it's doubtful any reputable Luthier will install them on anything but a student instrument as they will lower the value.

Generally, I consider either geared/planetary pegs or tailpieces with 4 fine tuners a crutch that is only suitable for very young students. Any serious student learns to tune with standard pegs and just an E tuner. It's just not that big a deal.

March 21, 2011 at 10:56 PM ·

"I've seen and had bad experiences with different geared pegs, and the latest one just this week with a young student. The problem is that when the pegs start slipping or not working, you can do NOTHING about it."

Your students must be somewhat rowdy, if we're talking about Perfections. You do seem a little vague about that. If Perfections slip, you simply push in while turning, like wooden pegs, until they stop slipping (as described in the instructions). I've never seen one stop working otherwise, and I know several orchestra members who use them. I guess they are all playing junk instruments.

March 22, 2011 at 06:52 AM ·

"Generally, I consider either geared/planetary pegs or tailpieces with 4 fine tuners a crutch that is only suitable for very young students. Any serious student learns to tune with standard pegs and just an E tuner. "

I don't see the logic in this thinking.

March 22, 2011 at 07:31 PM ·

Scott, a luthier might refuse installing / trying geared pegs made of plastic and I can understand that. But, in my opinion, if one thinks the plastic pegs on the regular Knilling Perfection pegs are not noble material to go with a fine violin / viola / cello, they could buy then another brand of geared pegs that are built by their inventor ( http://www.pegheds.com/ ) which comes with wooden pegs instead of plastic, but has the internal gear. It is twice as expensive, though. I also don't see the logic of saying that only novices would use the geared peg. What it does is save time for orchestras, because people can tune a lot faster and actually play instead of tune. It even enhances the tone, because you can get rid of the A (viola) or E string (violin) fine-tuner so the string is in direct contact with the tailpiece. It is a win-win improvement.

March 22, 2011 at 08:22 PM ·

 Sharelle,

The logic is as old as the 500-year+ history of the violin itself: the Simple, Elegant Solution. Otherwise known as the SES. What's logical is a clean-fitting peg, one that will last for 25 years with little maintenance. What's illogical is a plastic thingy with a bunch of parts made in some factory in the east. What's logical is encouraging a student to develop the muscles and coordination to turn a peg. What's illogical is a tailpiece with a bunch of moving parts that either frequently rattle or scrape the top of the fiddle.

It's really no different than the use of tapes on the fingerboard: Fine for beginners, but ultimately a crutch and not the SES.

March 22, 2011 at 08:29 PM ·

Rodrigo,

It's not really the material but the performance of Knilling pegs: if they stop gripping, then you can crank them down with a screwdriver with little effect. That happened to one student of mine last week. I'm sure if one invests enough, you can find a system that breaks down less. The problem with student instruments is that they use the cheapest possible geared tuners, and these are very unreliable. And the student waits longer to struggle with real pegs.

Geared pegs are complex solution looking for a problem that shouldn't exist with a properly-fitted peg. All of my students learn to use their pegs simply because I insist on it.

Scott

March 25, 2011 at 06:34 PM ·

FWIW,

I installed a Wittner tail piece a few days ago and my violin actually sounds better.  I don't know how much of it has to do with the tail piece, or the fact that I re-set my sound post (it fell while installing the tailpiece).  At any rate, tuning is a lot easier now so I am going to hold off on the triangle lessons.

 

March 26, 2011 at 01:33 AM ·

A violist in my orchestra just had a set of those planetary pegs installed recently and she loves them.  I took a close look and they are made of plastic, but could not discern whether the peg-holes were larger or not.  She is a PE (Professional Engineer) and has the highest confidence in their ability to stand up to regular use.  For me, (not a PE, but an engineer all the same), I'm personally reluctant to put such pegs on my instrument.  IMO, a tail piece is easily swapped out, the geared pegs not as much. 

My personal preference is to stay with traditional pegs and use a tailpiece with built-in tuners - a godsend when the weather changes rapidly and often. I use the tuners when pegs tend to slip or stick due to weather, a quick fine-tune during a longer-ish rest., or when only a small adjustment is needed. I' use a Whittner tailpiece.  Sometimes I get some buzzing when I replace strings.  After they settle in and some small adjustments to the ball-end, the buzzing goes away.

March 27, 2011 at 03:15 PM ·

Get some peg dope at your local violin shop and smear it on the pegs.  It will be easier to move them by small amounts and they will hold better when you press/rotate them in.  Switch strings to Zyex.  They have a 'secret'  synthetic core. After the first 3 days, they stop stretching and you'll only need to adjust them occasionally.  When you do tune, it should not take you 30 minutes.  After you've done the above, if you still have trouble, get some in-person help from someone.

March 27, 2011 at 03:37 PM ·

If someone is nervous about the SP going down when the tailpiece is being replaced (as they have every right to be!) would a useful solution be to wrap a cloth round the waist of the violin and apply enough tension to match the downward pressure of the bridge?

March 28, 2011 at 03:00 PM ·

"The top makers on this forum use the squeeze method on the sides to ease the soundpost with some light string tension still in place."

 

Hmmmmm.....

March 28, 2011 at 07:58 PM ·

Thanks for that advice. That's one less fine mess I'm likely to get myself into! However, in the past I have changed tailpieces on a number of occasions without anything going wrong, but I've always been careful to keep the violin absolutely still and horizontal when doing it, and to do every action gently, including letting down the strings and taking the bridge off.

For anyone who may be interested, US patent document US2009114075A1, downloadable in pdf format from the USPTO, gives a detailed description and drawings of the Wittner fine-tuner peg system.

March 28, 2011 at 10:14 PM ·

Actually, I was planning to tweek the sound post anyway; I haven't been happy with the sound of my fiddle since I had the bridge lowered.  So to answer your question John, it didn't bother me at all when the sound post fell over.  Under different circumstances however, the sound of a falling sound post could send shivers up my spine.

March 29, 2011 at 01:40 AM ·

It's a little awkward, but one way to prevent a falling post in doubtful situations is to rest the fiddle on it's treble side while doing the work. A loose post will tend to "fall tighter," although not guaranteed to end up in optimum adjustment. But better than rattling.

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