Fine tunners

November 22, 2012 at 05:40 PM · My teachers keep telling me to remove the fine tuner for better sound and only use it on the E string. I am an enthusiast, not even consider myself an amateur let alone a beginner, but I like to "make noise" (as I put it) and it is very frustating for me to tune the violin without the 4 tunners. I have seen Mutter and Oistrach use on the E and A string and I am pretty sure it does not take anything away from the instrument. I also found Silvia Marcovici playing with a Wittner tailpiece in her youth (20┬Ęs) and latter with what looks like individual tunners on all 4 strings.

Does it really make a difference, I wonder?

One of my violins (a Marcello Villa from 2004) seems to sound better with the Wittner fine tune pegs although the neck feels a little heavy, yet when I tried the same pegs on my Nagyvary it just takes the sound away. The Nagyvary holds the beutiful sound with 4 individual fine tunners, but the teacher keep telling me that it is better with one. Could anyone give me and advise on this, pleae?

Replies (25)

November 22, 2012 at 06:34 PM · It does have a slightly more open/louder tone. But you can't really distinguish it that well. I recommend going with whatever you think is best. You should try tuning with just the pegs, while the fine tuners are on just to give you a feel. and remove them if you don't think they are necessary. If you can't tune your violin at all then it's better to have in tune strings rather than out of tune and a slightly better tone.

Whenever I first started was when I had gut strings, they are a lot more flexible than synthetic so yeah. Good luck.

November 23, 2012 at 01:20 AM · Rafael,

your teacher is right. If the pegs are fully functional, there is no need to have fine tuners for G,D and A strings.

One thing, usually neglected among people who setup violins, is the string after-length; the distance between the bridge and tail-piece. If setup properly, your instrument can have more resonance and a bit of more power. The sound quality may not improve, but the sonority will. If one uses fine-tuners, the after-length is always changing. In addition, all that metal stuff adds something to the sound.

November 23, 2012 at 02:19 AM · Fit Wittner geared pegs to your violin and you will not need fine tuners on any strings. You will also find it much easier to tune your violin because of the 8.5 : 1 gear ratio. Your violin will stay in tune much longer anyway.

I have been travelling around China for the last month with my violin and although the temperature fluctuates from minus 5 degrees celsius (outside) to 30 degrees celsius (in the hotel rooms)the violin stays in tune with very little adjustment required.

November 23, 2012 at 05:45 AM ·

November 23, 2012 at 03:02 PM · Depends on the strings, the violin, and what kind of fine tuners you use.

I've a wittner tailpiece on my violin b/c of shoulder issues, which make it hard to turn pegs without bringing the violin down. I've noticed very little change in the sound.

On my viola I have perfection pegs, and, while they work very well, they aren't as 'fine' tuning as fine tuners. They were necessary as, on that instrument, the fine tuners did affect the sound.

If you have a good ear, and poorly-fitting pegs, I can understand the attraction of the fine tuners. I also understand your teacher's point: violinists should be able to tune without them (unless you are using some of the metal/synthetic strings where the amount of change is so small).

Ultimately, it's what works for you.

November 23, 2012 at 03:25 PM · It takes a bit of courage to make the step from fine tuners to peg tuning - there is, frankly, a bit of snobbishness about the issue. If you play only alone or in an orchestra the subtle change in tone will not really make any detectable difference. However, if you play in a quartet you will have to endure some looks down noses if you have 4 tuners.

Three things. If they are not built into the tailpiece you don't have to give up all three fine tuners at the same time. Get rid of the one on the G string immediately - it makes little sense since the changes as tuning is almost as easy with the peg as with the fine tuner (try it). After a little time you will gain confidence in your ear and adjust then you can get rid of theone on the D string and so on.

Second, it is essential to have pegs that move smoothly. If they don't you will be endlessly stepping from too sharp to too flat. Get some peg dope (the Hill one is often recommended and put that on the removed peg. Don't use too much!!).

Third, on most violins the string catches a little at the nut (thats the peg box end). You can take advantage of this for fine tuning! Thus, if the string is slightly sharp just give it a little tug and it will go lower and if it is a little flat push down on the string between the nut and the peg (in the peg box). This depends a bit on your violin (it won't work if the nut is lubricated) but on mine it it remains true for hours.

December 21, 2012 at 11:38 PM · Just my opinion, but if you need fine tuners on the lower strings, the pegs aren't fitted/adjusted correctly.

Tuners really aren't necessary. If I could tune a violin without tuners when I was a kid, on a not-very-good violin with not-very-good pegs, then I see no reason why you couldn't also.

It takes a bit of practice but if you're not willing to practice, then how will you learn the violin? Tuning is part of the process.

December 22, 2012 at 12:47 AM · Actually, if you are any good at all you don't even need a fine tuner for the e string.

December 22, 2012 at 01:56 PM · I recently asked Sarah Chang about this.


Thanks for writing!

I use 2 tuners because I'm lousy at tuning my A string with the peg. Plus I get really impatient if my A is out of tune onstage while I'm tuning (if the A's wrong, everything else is wrong!) so the A tuner just makes it easier for me.

All the best!

S. "

Personally I take them all off except for the E. I would rather just have perfection pegs installed, and take them all off. It can make a difference, and in many cases, and big difference in the sound.

December 22, 2012 at 03:47 PM · If you must use fine tuners (for reasons of arthritis or something) it is best to use a tailpiece with integral tuners - and the lighter weight the better.

Geared pegs will solve the problem. A set of geared pegs will cost about the same as the best integral-tuners tailpiece (Bois d'Harmonie).

Some violins are more sensitive to the string afterlength than others.


December 22, 2012 at 10:01 PM · I didn't know it was considered that having 4 fine tuners reduced the sound quality... perhaps one of the Wittner tailpiece with integrated fine tuners would eliminate the problem?

December 23, 2012 at 01:59 AM · Wittner tailpieces work very well. I prefer the Wittner composite tailpiece with fine tuners over the Wittner tailpiece that is made out of some sort of aluminum alloy. The Wittner composite is both lighter and cheaper than the metal one. The weight is very similar to some of the ebony tailpieces I see that have one fine tuner. Dov-Schmidt also sells some very nice wooden tailpieces with 4 fine tuners. I would steer clear of the Pusch or Pusch style tailpieces with built in tuners. The range of tuning is very narrow and the tuning mechanism is flimsy IMHO. They can also be a real pain in the neck when it comes to changing strings. Bois D'Harmonie makes some very nice tailpieces with built in fine tuners....very high quality, tend to be quite pricey though.

David Blackmon

December 23, 2012 at 04:18 AM · I would vote for the Wittner or the Harmonie fine tuning tailpieces if you can afford. Metal fine tuners change after length. After length effects the sound of your violin.

December 23, 2012 at 02:40 PM · Cellos have a very noticeable difference. The after string length is a very big part of the sound your instrument produces. Although some are affected more than others.

January 12, 2013 at 01:45 AM · It's important to consider that a tuner reduces the length of the free part of the string by more than a quarter inch. Violins, responsive ones, are sensitive to physical changes.

I have one violin with no tuners. I don't have a problem tuning it, but it is convenient to be able to fine-tune the E and I might put a tuner on it... then again maybe not. I haven't decided yet.

I don't feel tuners should ever be used as a substitute for poor pegs. It makes more sense to replace the pegs than to add tuners to try to compensate.

January 16, 2013 at 05:59 AM · I stopped using any when I was playing Baroque violin, and never got the habit back. I get strange looks occasionally for my lack of an E tuner.

But it's your teacher. He thinks it will be good for you as a violin and violinist to have no fine tuners. Either tell him no, get rid of the fine tuners, or get a new teacher.

January 16, 2013 at 07:22 AM · It really comes down to function.

It's preferable to have a Bois d'Harmonie, Wittner, or similar tailpiece that has integrated fine tuners that do not affect the overall length of the string. If you need it so that you can get your instrument in tune more quickly and effectively, then use them.

When a job demands that I have to reproduce very exact frequencies on my instrument, having as many options (both physical and mental) available to ensure accurate tuning is not a sacrifice, it's a necessity.

January 16, 2013 at 03:06 PM · Hill style fine tuners are very light, cheap ($5) and don't affect after length to any great degree.

January 16, 2013 at 03:19 PM ·

Gotz fine tuners are a big improvement over Wittner hill-style fine tuners - the moving "arm" has been redesigned so that the string will make contact with the saddle on the tailpiece, equalizing the afterlength on all four strings. They're $5.95 from 99strings. Alternately, the Wittner hill-style tuners are even cheaper there, just $3.40 for the black ones.. I don't like how Wittner hill-style fine tuners tend to have their threads jam, though, especially the gold ones (the black ones are less prone to this). I've never had a problem with any of the Gotz tuners jamming, or breaking E strings or A strings at the loop.

I found that I was still getting different afterlengths with my Harmonie tailpiece (with A and E tuners), so on that violin I switched to a normal tailpiece with Gotz tuners on the A and E strings; on my current violin, I have a tailpiece by Gerald Crowson with a Gotz tuner just for the E string.

January 16, 2013 at 04:21 PM · There's no string afterlength issue with the Wittner tail piece. I don't know why anyone would buy or sell a student violin without a Wittner. They are cheap, they work well, and they are easy to use. Those tuners that push down against the string are pure crap. Yet you see them on kids' violins all the time.

It can be hard to tune the A string because it's hard to put pressure on the peg box from the other side. I think this is why Mutter, Chang, and others have A-string fine tuners. If a person is not terrifically skilled at tuning his violin, what should he do? Spend 15-20 minutes a day "practicing" tuning to improve the skill? Send the violin to five different luthiers until the pegs are absolutely perfect? Or consider technology that will make the job easier? Seems like kind of an easy choice to me.

I have Knilling gear pegs on one of my violins and, like Brian says, not only are they easy to adjust (no E fine tuner needed), they *stay* in tune.

There is one thing to consider with regard to any and all claims that putting tuners on your violin changes its sound: I don't think anyone has subjected this claim to rigorous, statistically validated, blind testing and it would be quite challenging actually to do so. Maybe there is something to it, but frankly I would be surprised if more than a few people with extremely well trained ears could hear the difference.

August 10, 2013 at 05:31 AM · My viola has a bois d'harmonie... But my issue with the instrument is response and lack of resonance, but such a small degree of that (it works but feels a bit muted and sluggish)

EVERY TIME I tune the response changes on the strings, I think the stop length is actually changing

August 10, 2013 at 05:32 AM · Can I use it with ought the fine tuners and screws? Will the holes make the sound worse if not filled in with a screw? I think it's too heavy for this viola...

August 10, 2013 at 01:01 PM · It will make a difference. Partially due to the weight of the fine tuners, but mainly because of the after string length. The string length after the bridge makes a surprisingly large impact on the instruments sound. I went as far as to have Perfection Pegs installed in my viola so I could remove all of the fine tuners. I would start with the G, and go from there. You don't need to do A, D and G at the same time. Sarah Chang also sometimes has her A fine tuner still on.

I've found the difference in sound is more prominent on Violas, and Cello but there definitely is a difference.

August 10, 2013 at 02:18 PM · You can use a Harmonie tailpiece with the screws and levers removed from the holes where you don't need them, which you then treat as normal tailpiece holes. I noticed that the strings do not cross over the saddle on the tailpiece when installed in their respective fine tuners, which made it impossible for them to have the correct afterlength with the amount of tuning one does from day to day, so I went back to a "regular" tailpiece with a Gotz fine tuner on just my E string in order to have the afterlength be equal along all four strings (the Gotz fine tuner allows a loop-end string to cross over the saddle on a tailpiece that isn't too thin, equalizing the afterlength of all four strings). I noticed a big difference using the Gotz tuner on my two more expensive violins, and only a minor difference in my beater (which is still better than most other peoples' violins). On my viola, I have a Wittner tailpiece.

Have you tried the fine tuner setup that Pinchas Zukerman uses on his violas? He uses a Hill-style tuner on the A string and a lever-style tuner on the C string to intentionally shorten the afterlength on that string, which he believes adds more kick to the bottom end.

EDIT: I didn't realize I had already contributed to this thread. Whoops. I should probably let everybody know that I'm not affiliated with Gotz GmbH in any way (although if they want to give me a job, I'd gladly accept it).

Ryan, who did the bridge/post/bar on your current viola? The viola used by one of my teachers (Gaspar da Salo circa 1600) is minutely sensitive to adjustment - but he found that what works best for his tailpiece setup is a properly tuned C string afterlength above all else; he also uses a shaved down pernambuco tailpiece from Eric Meyer (though he is now considering having his fittings changed for boxwood).

August 10, 2013 at 02:43 PM · It all depends, if your bridge is within the right height range and your Bois d'Harmonie tailpiece is the French style (as opposed to the Hill stye) your strings may contact the saddle with the fine tuners in place. If that is the case with your instrument, the string afterlength will not change if the fine tuners are removed.

When I replaced my simple, ebony tailpieces with Bois d'Harmonie ones, I noticed absolutely no degradation of the sound in any way on all 4 violins and one viola I did this with. It did not work, however, with the few other brands of integral-tuner tailpieces I tried previously.


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