Urgent help needed: bridge collapsed

March 16, 2012 at 03:42 PM · Apologies if this topic has been asked before, but I'm freaking out a bit right now. I've just changed my violin's strings, and was attempting to correct the bridge back to its 90 degrees position when I must have used too much force, causing the bridge to fall. Luckily, the sound post is still in place and there are no signs of damage as far as I can see. I managed to get it back up but I'm not sure if it's in the right position.

I don't know any luthiers in my area, but I will be going to one in Singapore to get it looked at in 4 days.

In the mean time, I'm afraid to practice should the bridge fall again - cause when I tune it the strings pull the bridge so that the "feet" of it come off the violin a bit.

Can anyone please help to advise? Should I leave it be for 4 days? Will practicing on an unstable bridge be dangerous to my violin? Thanks in advance. :)

Replies (30)

March 16, 2012 at 03:54 PM · If it leans toward the pegs when it's tuned, you'll need to gently straighten it. If you are unsure, can you just wait the 4 days?

March 16, 2012 at 04:02 PM · It should be fine, though by all means take it to a professional if you feel the need. If you look at the belly of the violin, you should see indentations from where your bridge is/was. If your bridge moved as you reset it, you may want to lessen the tension and move it to the indentations (or alternatively, so that the bridge is lined up with the crossbars of you "f" holes). Good luck.

March 16, 2012 at 04:18 PM · Thanks Erica and Tim, I tried lining up the bridge to the crossbars, but haven't the courage to tune the strings all the way up for fear of the immense pressure it will exert on the bridge. :( Looks like I may just have to wait the 4 days...

So I have another question, is there a possibility that if I were to tune (and the bridge was not staying in its place) could the bridge fall forward and collapse? Thanks. :)

March 16, 2012 at 04:32 PM · With all the new violins I've bought, this has happened a few times with no ill effects to the instruments. I just set it back up and tuned it to pitch. Granted, I had no emotional attachment to the instruments, but I don't think it will do any harm to tune it back up.

March 16, 2012 at 04:58 PM · Although I don't recall having a bridge fall, I go through some mental agony every time I change strings, which is quite often, since it involves three instruments. The f-hole crossbars, mentioned above, are a good point of reference -- in absence of a luthier's on-site recommendation. I saw my luthier use a special measuring ruler a few months ago. Some instruments will call for small variations here.

One thing that I find helpful during string changes is to keep the left-side/right side tension as even as possible. I don't remember seeing anything on v.com regarding prescribed sequence of string-changing -- although there undoubtedly is something after all these years; but the order I follow is E-G-D-A. This way, the outer strings go first; the inner ones follow. Luthiers here -- what say you?

Seeing the bridge lean toward the pegs during re-stringing makes me uneasy, but I just remember that the bridge has come through many previous sessions without harm. Again, regarding left-side/right-side tension, I try to keep it even -- and with the strings tuned as near to perfect fifths as I can. Halfway through the process, they may be, let's say, at B-E-A-D instead of E-A-D-G.

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EDIT: Re-straightening the bridge to vertical -- mindful of bridge feet position -- is something I do frequently throughout the re-stringing session till the strings are up to concert pitch. When I detect a slight forward tilt in the bridge, I stop, re-straighten it, and resume tightening the strings. I do this in increments. So far, it's worked fine.

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Hope this helps.

March 16, 2012 at 05:26 PM · If the bridge is straight (vertical) you should be able to tune your fiddle. Start with the A and the D, then check the bridge. If it's leaning toward the pegs, gently straighten it. You might want to google and make sure you are holding it right. Then tune your G. Then your E. Check it again. Repeat. Just take it in baby steps. As long as your bridge is not leaning, you can tune up to pitch.

March 16, 2012 at 10:59 PM · I don't think it is quite enough to check by eye that the back side (the tailpiece side) of the bridge is at a right angle to the top plate. It takes an experienced eye to spot a slight variation from the vertical. I was told by a luthier to also look carefully at both sides of the bridge to see how it sits on the plate. If there is the slightest lean (which may not otherwise by noticeable by eye) you'll see a very fine dark gap between the feet and the plate on one side. If you see no gap either side of the bridge then the bridge is not leaning and the feet are in perfect contact with the plate, as they should be.

March 17, 2012 at 12:35 AM · Huh. I always change A-D-G-E.... ???

March 17, 2012 at 12:36 AM · Wait, what's all this about taking all the strings off at once? No!!! One at a time please!

March 17, 2012 at 02:57 AM · Trevor, oh, so even if the tailpiece side of the bridge is leaning slightly forward, as long as the two feet have contact with the violin it's okay? :?

Thanks so much for all of your tips, everyone! I have been changing strings one by one in the order G, D, A, E, is that okay? But I haven't been dropping the overall tension first which I'll defnitely do next time to avoid something like this happening again. :D

As much as I miss playing, I don't think I feel confident enough yet to try to tune it all the way up, but thanks Erica. :)

March 17, 2012 at 03:38 PM · Andrea, my previous post presupposed that the bridge had been professionally carved to fit, and that in the course of years it hadn't acquired a bend (I've never had that happen to a bridge of mine, but I've seen it occasionally on other violins/cellos).

March 17, 2012 at 04:34 PM · Oh gosh, I prpbably should have mentioned this before but - my bridge is new and I've just had the whole violin adjusted (fingerboard was brought up, soundpost repositioned to the right place and the new bridge was placed in the right positon as oppsed to before), could that have been the reason for the bridge falling? I'm not sure if the bridge was carved for my violin but it looks like a standard one to me...

March 17, 2012 at 05:25 PM · Andrea, If you have a 3x3 inch post a note pad, take a sheet of it, fold it in half perfectly so all corners are in line.

Lay it at the foot of the bridge toward the tail from FF to FF. This will tell you when you're aligned transversly.

Now take the same folded post a note and set it on end in back of your bridge. Your bridge will be in its correct position to accept all the downward pressure when the back of your bridge is perpendicular (90 degress) to the bottom plane of your belly plate.

March 17, 2012 at 09:26 PM · My stand partner in orchestra showed me her violin one night - at the beginning of the year she had changed strings, and bought a bridge off an ALDI violin (!) and put it directly onto her mid 1900's good german instrument (she is German). The bridge was angled about 1cm bass to treble, it leaned forward about 5 degrees so was balanced only on the edge of the feet, and it was so far forward of the tailpiece that the treble side foot was 1cm in front of the f hole. how on earth she didn't crack the timber I don't know. Anyhoo, she'd been playing with it like that for the best part of 5 months.

Didn't sound so good, but all resolvable once she got some money for a set up.

March 18, 2012 at 03:22 AM · Andrea, if you live in Kuala Lumpur or within Selangor state, you can make a MUCH shorter travel by traveling to KL city than Singapore, unless you live nearer to Singapore than KL like Johor state.

If you plan to travel to KL area, send me an email and I can provide you a few places where you can get your violin inspected and fixed. They're might not be as good as the best luthier in Singapore, but they're more than capable to setup bridge and do general setup.

March 18, 2012 at 12:54 PM · Thanks so much Marc! That's really helpful, I'll be sure to try that out. :D

Sharelle, oh my!! Okay my bridge isn't to bad comparatively then haha. :)

Casey, thanks, that would be great! I live in KL actually - it just so happens that we're going down to Singapore anyway, but it would be great to have a contact in KL. I will private message you. :D

March 18, 2012 at 04:28 PM · Sharelle, we need a photo of your stand partner's bridge in situ as an Awful Warning :)

March 18, 2012 at 05:31 PM · In my opinion is more common sense when placing the bridge than math haha! My bridge has already fallen two times (same case of yours) and I simply relocated it till I felt comfortable.

March 18, 2012 at 10:52 PM · Hee Hee.

the lead up to this was that she had given it her violin to our concert master before rehearsal because she was having trouble getting it to tune up (this was before the bridge episode). So there's the CM diligently trying to make something happen to get the E to tune over the din of the huffers and puffers over the back (brass), when most unexpectedly the A string broke. According to the german lass, that was how they string them in Germany. It was this event that led to her changing off all the strings the following week and dropping and breaking the original bridge in the process.

March 20, 2012 at 11:22 PM · Dear Andrea: You brought up a very important subject for all string players. I agree with some of the suggestions you received, but hope I may impress readers with the importance of keeping the bridge in its correct location at all times. Changing one string at a time and carefully noting whether the bridge feet show any gaps is the way to go, if the bridge has not collapsed or moved. This could be a disaster for a player just before a concert or audition. In your case I agree that you should wait 4 days before you see your luther in Singapore, since you were apparently satisfied with the work he did involving soundpost, bridge and fingerboard, and I must assume the playability and tone of the violin. I have recommended ellsewhere (on v.com re: the subject of thinness) a few things of importance to a string player who has initially evaluated properly the tone. All players are aware of the importance of the soundpost regarding tone. But how many players have been taught that the bridge sits in an ideal position over the bass bar and sound post? If the bridge is moved or put in the wrong place, there can be significant changes in the tone of the instrument. A steel rule with mm (inches are ok for length of instruments, but not for detailed measurements of violins) can be purchases at most hardware or auto supply shops. I think that players take the time to learn how to measure the position of the bridge on an instrument - mm from base and treble bridge feet to ff holes, and from each side how the diapson notch lines up with the bridge feet (normally in th center of the bridge feet). I would be interested to know whether any players have been taught how to make these measurements?

March 23, 2012 at 02:39 PM · Edit - The bridge should be 1-1.5 mm outside the bass bar and soundpost, but the post should be 2.5 mm lower than the bridge foot. (Cauer, Weisshaar) I was trying to emphasize in my post how important the bridge postition is for tone. A follow up would be nice. Charles

March 23, 2012 at 03:15 PM · The measurements offered by Mr. Harman might be considered crude rules of thumb, or a decent starting position (a soundpost needs to start out somewhere, before final adjustment), not something that is etched in stone.

March 23, 2012 at 05:48 PM · David- I would not consider the recommendatons of Robert Cauer or Weisshaar regarding the position of the bridge and soundpost "crude". How long does it take you to find out where the "correct" postion of the soundpost etc. should be. How do you go about arriving at the "correct" positions. Do you keep a record of where the bridge ends up on you own violins? Do you think players who live far from you should keep a record such as I suggested? Charles

March 23, 2012 at 08:42 PM · Hi Charles. I see from your bio that you have read the Weisshaar book. If he provides measurements for soundpost location in the book, I know that it's only intended as an estimate or starting point, because I worked with him for five years, and did many of the sound adjustments in that shop. There's only so much information which will fit into one book, so some things are necessarily abbreviated or left out.

Robert Cauer is a friend, and I frequently discuss setup and adjustment with friends in the trade.

Yes, I think it's nice if musicians have some way of reproducing the proper bridge location on their instrument.

Andrea, sorry for not responding sooner. I'm afraid I didn't have enough information to offer specific advice without seeing the violin, and the status of the bridge. Hopefully, the luthier has taken care of it by now, and also given you some tips on avoiding the problem in the future.

March 25, 2012 at 04:14 AM · Perhaps v.com is not the right forum to discuss adjustment of violins. But the subject of what a player should do if the bridge on his violin collapsed did eventually lead to a discussion of adjustment. I suggested a method whereby players could measure the postition of the bridge. I pointed out that players should know that placement of the bridge is related to placement of the bass bar and soundpost. I think both David and I agree that players should know where the bridge should be placed if a player is faced with bridge collapse. There are of course a number of conditions other than changing several strings at the same time that can lead to collapse of a bridge. Sudden decrease in humidity, leaving a violin unattended for long periods, imperfectly fitted or loose pegs, and inexpert attempts to make a bridge perpendicular or make the bridge feet perfectly flat to the belly, are some that come to mind. Not infrequently the sound post may come loose or dislodge with bridge collaps. In this case the player will need to take the violin to a competent luthier, especially the one who made or sold the violin or one that he/she has confidence in. This will lead to a necessary "adjustment" There are of course different views on this subject, which is more important for luthiers whose income and living depend in part to adjustment, including those who make $50,000 violins; as well as players and teachers who do adjustments for their students and associates. I think players or teachers may not be competent to adjust violins. David and I do not necessarily agree on this subject, but I do not have details as to how he goes about this, especially violins which are not made by him. I make adjustments on my own violins using very simple procedures for adjustment. This can be found on harmanviolins.com. I hope we can get a follow up on what happened to Andrea's violin and I hope this discussion may have helped.

March 27, 2012 at 03:09 PM · David - Before the important bridge collapse and postition discussion dies, I wonder if you could follow up with a few questions? In your violins, is the bridge centered? Where do you place the bass bar? Charles

March 27, 2012 at 03:19 PM · Charles, I put my bridges on the centerline, which happens to be at the center-joint on my instruments. This isn't the case with all instruments though, and some are quite asymmetrical, so there are various strategies for determining the center, such as measuring the widest point at the upper and lower bouts, taking the mid-point of each, and then making a straight line between them through the bridge location.

On a violin, for use with a standard width bridge, I usually make the inside of the bar about 13mm from the centerline at the bridge location, using a bar which is 5.5mm wide.

March 27, 2012 at 06:02 PM · Good! Too bad all violins were not made this way. I think that the problem Andrea raised and the discussion which followed are important for all players. Charles

March 30, 2012 at 04:06 PM · Thanks so much for all of your help! Sorry for the late reply, my luthier did indeed take a look at my violin and put my mind at ease, thus I'm afraid I haven't checked this thread for a while. :) it turns out that my violin is a special case, as it is not exactly proportionate, so the f-holes are not centred. Thus, my luthier told me that's it's pretty much a "feel" of where the bridge should go. Anyhow, no damage was done and I learnt an important thing about my violin. Though I'm still too scared to move the bridge, haha! In time, in time...

Greatly appreciate all of your comments. :)

March 30, 2012 at 04:13 PM · They also gave me a tip for changing strings: slowly lower the tension string by string, eg. G goes down a tone, then D, then A, then E and repeat, and raise the tension the same way, checking the bridge at every step, so as not to have any mishaps with the bridge. :)

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