To lower the bridge or leave it alone...

June 5, 2013 at 06:36 PM ·

Replies (25)

June 5, 2013 at 07:40 PM · Eugenia,

Lowering the bridge may affect the sound, because there would be less vertical force on the violin top. You could try to compensate for this by using different sting gauge, but that may not work.

In order to clarify what do you mean by "the arch is steep", measuring the following is necessary:

1. String clearance

2. Neck angle ( fingerboard to bridge projection)

3. Bridge height

If the fingerboard-to-bridge projection (affected by neck angle) is too high, or string clearance is already ok, it may not be possible to lower the bridge.

Let your luthier can measure the above. Once you have the facts, one of our experts will be able to give you a sound advice.

June 5, 2013 at 09:58 PM ·

June 5, 2013 at 10:22 PM · Perhaps a luthier can chime in here - but if Eugenia did decide to have another bridge fitted by someone she trusted, and then decided that it didn't improve things for her, would a return to her old bridge automatically mean a return to her old sound? Or would something have adjusted itself in the refit.

June 5, 2013 at 10:35 PM · You really do need to have someone knowledgeable look at it. Many of those "old German" instruments have very steep top arching so that if you lower the bridge the tailpiece touches the top. In many cases the best solution is called a "neck pullup," to raise the end of the fingerboard to make it consistent with the bridge (assuming the bridge is not really too high and that the pullup is feasible). If it is simply a too-high bridge, lowering it is an easy job and should not impact the sound too much.

June 5, 2013 at 11:10 PM · "A lot of players and luthiers like to set the action high for better tone"

It's not a tone thing--having a higher string height allows you to dig in.

So lowering the string height is unlikely to affect the tone. And you don't need a new bridge fitted--you just need yours lowered if you find it hard to play.

Of course, your violin might be difficult to play because of other factors, just like your friend's violin may be easier to play for matters completely unrelated to the action height. It could be a factor of how the violin is constructed, or the strings you use.

I like an action on the low side, but there are two things to watch for:

-buzzing G when digging in

-difficulty in playing pizzicato if strings are too low (I need a new bridge now for that reason).

June 6, 2013 at 12:34 AM · In trying various bridges heights on various violins, I've not seen a noticeable change in the core tone. Loudness or projection doesn't imply a change in tone per se.

June 6, 2013 at 01:10 AM · If a good luthier hasn't set up your violin, I'd also check the nut height and scoop. Excessive amounts of either can affect playability more than a high bridge.

Lowering a bridge usually involves trimming some off the top, and then thinning it out again so it isn't too thick where the string goes across. This obviously reduces weight at a critical area, and I think it makes for a brighter and more responsive tone (slightly the opposite of a mute). In general that's desirable, but you can have too much of a good thing.

June 6, 2013 at 01:14 AM ·

June 6, 2013 at 01:14 AM ·

June 6, 2013 at 01:31 AM · Eugenia,

High arching? German violin? Could be a (copy of?) Stainer or Klotz.

Assuming that is the case, as Lyle pointed out, the overhead (new neck, or grafted neck) had to be added during conversion from Baroque to Romantic violin to clear the arching in order to have a proper neck angle, higher bridge and proper string clearance.

Still, until you provide the results of the 3 measurements I listed before, all we can do is to speculate. We love to do it here and "beat the dead horse" arguing, but that will not help you to solve the problem. In fact, it may as well be that your friend has got a problem with her fiddle and that your violin is "by the book".

By the way, Lyndon has kindly provided the limits for proper string clearance, so you can at least check if that is ok.

Here is how to measure fingerboard to bridge projection:

-----------------------------------------------

1. place a short ruler on the top of the fingerboard, half way between D and A strings, parallel to both.

2. slide the ruler toward the bridge, keeping it on the fingerboard

3. using a soft pencil, mark the spot where the ruler meets the bridge

4. measure the distance between the marked spot and violins's top (the line should be perpendicular to violin's top)

(Alternatively, you can use 2 small rulers to measure the projection without leaving a mark on your bridge)

June 6, 2013 at 02:24 AM ·

June 6, 2013 at 03:33 AM · I played on a violin with rather high bridge setting - 4mm on E and 6mm or G, maybe a tiny bit lower than that. I find that higher string height allow one to do left hand pizzicato much easier, and allow one to control left hand finger pressure more precisely. Playing on a low string height sounds rather "boring" and without precise control on the left hand fingers, there seems to be some missing link to certain tone color.

By the way, my bridge came with off the chart string height, and had it lowered - the sound became too thin and bright, and it needed a soundpost adjustment. When you lower the bridge, you're taking off some wood from the bridge and the whole structure change thus the sound will change, you might need to readjust the soundpost too which will open a can of worms. I don't think the string tension due to lower bridge affect much, perhaps not more than the structural change on the bridge by removing woods. But I'm no luthier so what do I know...

June 6, 2013 at 12:20 PM · Why not have somebody cut and fit another lower bridge to find out ? It is the only way to know. If you do not like it then just refit the old bridge.

I find all the violins I buy from China have been fitted with very high bridges. I usually lower them myself without noticing any change in the sound but I must admit that these are not high end instruments.

I once owned a German violin with very pronounced arching of the bridge and fingerboard . I found it difficult to play and I got rid of it after 6 months....expensive rubbish !

June 6, 2013 at 01:33 PM · I recommend to lower the bridge. It is so important to have a violin with good playability and this makes a lot of difference. Even Ruggiero Ricci points out, that many violins are in that regard not fittet quite well. So I guess he should know about it, his sound was awesome.

June 6, 2013 at 01:40 PM · Hi Eugenia, I was interested to read your violin is a Maggini copy. I managed to come by one just recently and I really love its sound. It hasn't had a proper setup done in years, the bridge has been hand filed and is very low at the moment, it likely needs a new tailpiece, peg work and perhaps a check on the old sound post. There is even old glue under the bridge where someone uninitiated tried to glue it down! Even with all of these problems together it still sounds fantastic, quite loud and a beaut ring to it. Yes it has high arching, and although I have no idea of its provenance, it's likely to be from Germany.

I am going to have the required work done on it soon, hopefully I can tell you what was done bridge-wise and whether the sound alters at all.

Can I ask what kind of strings you have on it at the moment? Those were my next dilemma.....

June 6, 2013 at 03:24 PM ·

June 8, 2013 at 02:03 AM · If, as you say, the string heights are within the normal range, I would look back at the fingerboard scoop and nut height, as Don said. Many of the complaints I get about high action have nothing to do with the bridge. If you look down the joint between neck face and fingerboard back, it should be straight but often is not. I just had a bass in with both neck and FB warped and see it a lot on older violins. If that is not the problem, check the length of the FB between all three pairs of strings with a straight edge. You should see a little light under it but not very much. If you don't find anything wrong, you could probably lower the bridge a mm or so and MIGHT feel definite improvement. Good luck.

June 8, 2013 at 08:30 AM · I have only skimmed through these posts, but in my experience as a cautious but well-informed fiddle-fiddler (i.e. to try to get the best out of poor instruments) lowering the bridge can have unexpected effects on the tone: it's like removing a mute. It might be necessary to find a new bridge where the cutouts are set lower, so that the lesser height leaves enough wood at the top. In any case, lowering the existing bridge makes a point-of-no-return!

I keep one or two De Jacques bridges (with swivelling feet) in reserve for emergencies: by comparing two of these with different heights, I have some idea of the effect of altering my "real" bridge.

June 8, 2013 at 02:15 PM · The easiest way to check for scoop is to press down a string near the end of the fingerboard until it just barely touches the ebony. If the string shows more than a string diameter gap in the middle, that's getting into the hard-to-play zone. Similarly, you can easily check nut height with a business card slid under the string. Much more than that, and it gets harder to play without any benefits.

All of these settings are very player-dependent. Personally, I like almost no scoop and almost no extra height at the nut... but I'm a fiddler with wrist problems.

June 9, 2013 at 01:29 PM · Despite what everyone thinks about soundpost, the bridge affects sound quality the most. From personal experience for same situation, altering the bridge will definitely alter the sound. Firstly, a lower bridge will decrease the volume and projection, but your string tension will be much easier on the fingers. Secondly, it may affect the timbre. A lower bridge is usually a flatter bridge, too, so this requires player adjustment. A lower bridge will require the shape of the holes to be altered, which can compensate for what may become a duller sound. Usually the holes need to be enlarged. Also, the bridge thickness may need to be slimmer: a thick bridge can suck up sound. but too thin and it will warp. You might need a bridge of harder or softer wood. After the bridge has been setup, you will need to adjust the soundpost to ensure the sound is optimum. And after all this, your violin may not be appreciably easier to play! Playability is more than setup: it is how the violin responds to the bow. My advice is to have an honest expert try the violin: I say honest, because I have encountered way too many so-called experts who see setup as a way to sucker you out of say $200. An honest one will tell you up front if adjustments can help, and why, and how. If your violin is of high value, you should pay the price for an expert evaluation and setup. If not, you may wish to defer expensive changes until your bridge really does wear out. Or you can tinker with this by yourself: the learning process will amaze you!

June 10, 2013 at 09:15 AM · Ron, in my experience, lowering the same bridge can give a harsher sound: less powerful, since the strings press less hard on the violin, but richer in harmonics due to the "unmuting" effect I mentioned above.

June 10, 2013 at 01:43 PM · I had my bridge lowered and I was ever so glad I did it. I was having a problem with string marks and sore fingers when trying to practice in the upper positions. I took mine to the local violin shop and they lowered it for me at a very reasonable price; I didn't take it to the luthier as those around me do not do much with violins, etc. Afterward, the upper positions were much clearer (not so fuzzy) and *much* easier to play. The lowering did change the sound of the lower positions a little - they weren't quite so crisp and clear; more of a fuller tone was the result. I don't think I will ever regret it, though! You can see if there is a violin shop near you and ask if they think your bridge needs lowering; if so, see if they can do it for you. Just make sure the answer is not like: "Well, I think we have someone who might be able to do it for you."... they probably won't know what they are doing.

June 19, 2013 at 12:05 PM · HI

I think it depends on what violin you use.

I had a modern instrument so it was quite shrilly and loud. Having a high bridge (distance from G string and D) gave me problems in string crossing- it should be easy but it made the notes sound detached. Playing in tune in high positions was difficult because I had to press harder. Double strings was also difficult because they were too high to control.

I had it filed and the sound did change, but it became slightly softer but it was definitely more playable and didn't crack when I added a bit of pressure.

Good luck

January 17, 2014 at 11:26 AM · looks like Eugenia is erasing her Web presence?! hope all is well with you Eugenia!

January 17, 2014 at 03:43 PM · That would be pity. Her post about Scale practice was outstanding and very inspirational. If accompanied by a video it would be an excellent teaching resource.

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