Questions about peg re-bushing

January 31, 2012 at 01:36 AM · So I have an old French violin made sometime in the 1930s. It's a great instrument of considerable value, very bright and carrying sound. I use it for both solo and ensemble playing. I've used it for the past couple of years and it's served my needs well, but all this time, I've been having major issues with the pegs.

First, the pegs are extremely large for a violin. I suspect that at one point, over the many years that the violin had been used, that the original pegs were switched out to these extremely thick viola pegs. Unfortunately, this makes my violin extremely hard to tune. I only have fine tuners on the A and E strings, so tuning those two isn't too much of a problem. However, when I need to tune the D and G strings, it's nearly impossible to turn the pegs because of how thick the pegs are. I have to put my violin down on a table and tune it that way. The A and E string pegs are equally tight, if not more than the G and D string pegs.

There is another problem with the pegs on my violin. It sounds contradictory to what I said above about the pegs being too thick, but my E string peg actually has a tendency to pop outwards, causing the string wound onto it to loosen. I suspect that it is because the peg is too thick for the hole and the pegbox wood is forcing it out. The peg doesn't loosen completely; the string usually drops from a E to a B or C#. Yet, this has happened 7-8 times in the past 6 months and once in the middle of a concert. I am certain that it is not an issue with the peg not being pushed tightly enough into the hole. I checked my E-string peg before an ensemble rehearsal one day and it was extremely tight, tighter than either the D or G string pegs. But even though the E-string peg was exceptionally tight, it "popped" outwards slightly in the middle of the rehearsal, maybe about half a centimeter or so. It caused the E string to drop to a B. It is also not a problem with humidity. It's happened in the spring, summer, fall, and winter seasons. Also, the E-string is the only string that has this problem. The peg just loosens and the string goes out of tune suddenly and unexpectedly.

I've ignored the problem over the years, but only now have I begun to consider re-bushing the pegs. I simply can't go on performing at concerts with the risk of the E-string loosening. I have two questions that I am hoping will be answered.

First, will changing the thick viola pegs to normal violin pegs affect the sound of my instrument? The pegs currently on my violin are ebony and I will have them replaced with ebony. I really like the way my violin's sound carries, but I wonder if changing the pegs from thick viola pegs down to thinner violin pegs will make a noticeable difference in terms of sound.

Second, will having the pegs re-bushed have an effect on the instrument's value? I don't know too much about violin repair, but a peg re-bushing sounds like a structural repair.

Thanks in advance for the help. I greatly appreciate it.

Replies (13)

January 31, 2012 at 07:46 PM · I had the pegs re-bushed in one of my violins, and if you can get it done well, it's a very good repair to have. My pegs have worked perfectly ever since, and it looks very nice. It didn't effect the tone or sound of the instrument at all, except that now it stays in tune and is much, much easier to tune. Does it effect the value? I really don't know.

The repair I had done took a long time, but you can barely see it. I do think that not all re-bush jobs are equal; I have realized that mine was done exceptionally well.

January 31, 2012 at 08:03 PM · I've heard stories of folks whose violins had a different sound after having work done on the pegs but I'm not sure those stories were true. I would say that you should make sure that the luthier you use for this has had specific experience in rebushing pegs though because it does not sound like a particularly easy thing to do.

January 31, 2012 at 08:40 PM · generally any collectable item has its highest value when it is in good condition, and has had no repairs or modifications. I'm guessing the value of your violin is primarily a result of the quality of construction, and audio and playing performance. Gievn that, anything you do to improve its playabity, shouldn't hurt its value, as long as the work is done well. Being a wood worker, I would thinkk the repair is not difficult. a circular piece of wood (plug) is glued in the hole and re drilled. The challenge would be to use wood with a similar grain, and then match the color. That would be a pain. as for the sound, i can't imagine how it could have any perceivable impact.

January 31, 2012 at 09:16 PM · There's absolutely no reason for it to affect the tone. Well, I suppose the different diameter of the new pegs might have an infintesimal effect on the forces the strings exert through the instrument, but there's no reason to expect anything noticeable.

Agreed with the previous comments, that if done well it's almost invisible, but that it does involve numerous skills, with the retouching of varnish being as challenging as any of the woodwork! It's easier to disguise repairs on darker and thicker varnishes than on light ones, too. On the other hand, you'll have more slender and elegant pegs to detract from any visible bushing.

January 31, 2012 at 10:02 PM · Peg bushings, like neck grafts, are fairly well acknowledged in our trade as necessary consequences of many years of high use. They aren't normally looked at as "damage", so it doesn't ordinarily enter into the resale value much.

Take some pristine and original mega-buck antique fiddle, and that's a different matter. The slightest alteration from original can affect market value, for collectors.

Musician buyers might feel quite differently, but I'm not sure how much of a voice they have in collectible antique instrument valuations any more.

Yes, changing the pegs may change the sound, by changing the mass of the scroll assembly. If it does, maybe you'll get lucky and consider the change to be an improvement. :-)

January 31, 2012 at 10:18 PM · Another option would be planetary pegs. They come in a several sizes and beyond that you can get custom made ones. I've installed them in instruments where I would have otherwise had to bush the peghole. Cheers,

January 31, 2012 at 10:34 PM · "… will having the pegs re-bushed have an effect on the instrument's value?"

I won't repeat what the luthiers -- see above -- have said about re-bushing's effect on value. But not re-bushing, besides giving you the unpleasant playing and tuning experiences you described, could negatively affect your resale potential.

On my luthier's recommendation, I recently had the A-peg hole on my 1883 German instrument re-bushed when I had new pegs, tailpiece, and end-piece button installed. He said an over-sized A-peg was one option; but that would have been a case of throwing good money after bad, because the outer edge of the enlarged peg hole had already gotten too near the edge of the peg box. With that condition, there was the added risk of cracks in the box from peg pressure.

So I told him to re-bush. I couldn't be more pleased -- this guy is a real craftsman.

FWIW, my previous pegs were ebony, as yours were. I changed to rosewood; ditto for tailpiece and chin rest. Although the instrument now has a more powerful, resonant sound, the new pegs, it seems, contributed minimally to this improvement, if at all. The enhanced sound resulted primarily from switching to a center-mounted chin rest.

Can't speak for other players or their instruments; but for me, and on my instruments, the center-mounted CR definitely opens up the sound more.

January 31, 2012 at 11:22 PM · Like Jim said, an instrument which doesn't work well can also negatively affect resale value.

Daryl's suggestion of planetary pegs could be an option too, if the peg holes aren't already too large.

If you decide to have the peg holes bushed, this probably isn't an area where the lowest price represents the best value. Find someone good.

February 1, 2012 at 02:18 AM · If you want to lower the value of a decent instrument, put in planetary pegs. Any serious professional looking to buy it later will try to negotiate down in order to put in standard pegs. For most people, rebushing simply can't be part of the value equation. It would be like saying "I don't want to devalue my Porsche, so I'll just live with the cracked windshield." If it has to be done, it has to be done. And it will not affect the sound.

February 1, 2012 at 03:50 AM · There are some very fine instruments with planetary pegs. If they can be fit into the existing holes, bushing the pegholes and installing wooden pegs would still remain an option for later. I'm not advocating for or against planetary pegs, just presenting an option. Cheers,

February 1, 2012 at 05:57 AM · Wow, thanks for all the great replies everyone! I think I will go ahead with the peg re-bushing.

I do have one more question though: About how much should I expect to pay for a decent re-bushing job?

February 1, 2012 at 04:52 PM · "About how much should I expect to pay for a decent re-bushing job?"

According to my recent Net searches, prices vary widely among luthiers and metro areas. I've seen Net-published prices from $60-150 USD per peg hole. My luthier re-bushed the above-mentioned A-peg hole for about $75 -- would need to check the invoice for itemization; there were also two bow re-hairs and new rosewood fittings on the same job order.

February 2, 2012 at 12:08 AM · A friend, who I'm sure does a good job, charges $100 a hole. I do it for less than a fourth of that and am getting fairly good, but I've developed a few little tricks that save a lot of time. I'm not looking for business.

If your old pegs are otherwise good (they are probably out-of-round, which is causing some of your troubles) they can be shaved down to fit the new holes. You don't identify whether they are violin or viola by the size of shafts, but by the head sizes. If they really are viola or if you don't like their looks then get new ones.

Many old and valuable instruments have been bushed. You can tell because they are NOT invisible. Also, the dangers of peg box cracks around the A peg are very real with oversized pegs. You may already have one, but if you don't then don't press your luck.

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