How important is ridge height for sound production?

November 22, 2014 at 06:34 AM · For the luthiers on this site, I have a question concerning bridge height. I just took a very nice old violin to have some work done. The neck angle is right, but the neck doesn't have enough wood, so the fingerboard sits too low. The string heights are almost 6mm g string to end of fingerboard and almost 5 for the e.

I am having my luthier add a splice under the fingerboard to raise the height to the correct string heights.

The fingerboard is nice dimensions, but my question is this: The current bridge is only 31mm tall. I know the standard should be more around 33. It's a very nice bridge, and I'd like to save it, but I want to know if it will make a significant tonal difference to make a new bridge at the 33 bridge height. I imagine it would make it easier to play for sure, but I suppose my main concern is whether it will make a significant difference in tone production.

I know there are many variables and that it can maybe differ instrument to instrument, but I'd at least like to know if it would be your recommendation to have the taller bridge.

Thanks much,

Jesse

Replies (32)

November 22, 2014 at 02:40 PM · A higher bridge will have two effects on tone:

- The string tension won't change if the playing string length stays constant, but the part of the tension bearing down on the bridge will increase; this may give more power, or it may stifle the instrument; tone may be a little duller.

- If the bridge thicknesses and cutouts remain unchanged, there will be more wood at the top of the bridge, with an increased "muting" effect.

I should try this first without changing neck or fingerboard angles, (one can usually play without pressing right down to the fingerboard); if you are pleased with your tone now, you may well not prefer the changes.

So, more power, but less "timbre", sometimes increased wolf-tones.

November 22, 2014 at 05:24 PM · 6 mm on the G and 5mm on the E sound pretty standard to me.

November 22, 2014 at 06:46 PM · Adrian, thanks for the advice. Currently the instrument sounds quite good. Maybe only the e string lacks a bit of power. A possibility I considered is that, since the bridge rocks side to side, that a slightly higher bridge would actually stimulate the rocking more, assuming it is not TOO much wood.

But I thought perhaps the e string didn't sound quite as powerful due to having to press it down too far, thus hindering the vibrating string.

I also didn't think before of the string angle at the bridge. I guess this would be one more good reason to try the bridge before.

Scott, I believe the standard is 4.75mm G to end of fingerboard, 3.75mm e side. And when you get way up there, the extra effort required is noticeable.

November 22, 2014 at 06:49 PM · Try the higher bridge and see how it sounds. That's about the only real way to know.

November 22, 2014 at 07:09 PM · You have already got a few excellent answers to your question.

What may happen, although highly unlikely, that the sound will change slightly with a thicker neck. I red at least one story about a great violin with similar intervention and the impact on sound. The choice of wood is important.

I would not lose my sleep over this - the intervention is reversible and does not affect the sound box. It will cost money, but if you keep the original bridge, and do not reset the neck, you can always undo the neck thickens thing.

It all depends what will you use this violin for.... if it was made during Baroque era, and you need such an instrument (or intend to sell it), keeping it "as is" or converting back to Baroque may be the best and the most ethical thing to do.

Your violin - your choice!

November 22, 2014 at 09:06 PM · "... I believe the standard is 4.75mm G to end of fingerboard, 3.75mm e side..."

The effect on bridge loading for changing the bridge height +/- a few millimeters is negligible. It is an easy calculation to do which has been verified by experiment.

The main effects are changes in bowing response. More mass at the top means slower string response and a more muted tone. But these can be corrected by thinning the higher bridge.

String clearance at the board affects player fingering comfort. There is no "standard" for string clearance. Only an "average" starting point which then should be adjusted according to player comfort and fingering preference.

You don't need to push the strings right to the board. But if you prefer playing that way and you think an extra 0.5mm is going to stop you from doing that, then by all means use a lower string clearance.

November 22, 2014 at 10:41 PM · As you so rightly suggest, Carmen,the extra wood at the top will have more effect than the extra load (which I am too sleepy to calculate just now!)

So, I first of all experiment with different loads by re-tuning the violin higher or lower, but comparing the same notes. Similar (but not identical..)to trying different grades of the same string.

November 22, 2014 at 10:46 PM · '6 mm on the G and 5mm on the E sound pretty standard to me. '

I thought you were a violin teacher..??

Egads....5mm on the E,EEEEEEEEEEEEE..!!

November 22, 2014 at 11:20 PM · "As you so rightly suggest, Carmen,the extra wood at the top will have more effect than the extra load (which I am too sleepy to calculate just now!)

So, I first of all experiment with different loads by re-tuning the violin higher or lower, but comparing the same notes. Similar (but not identical..)to trying different grades of the same string."

___________________________

There's a lot more going on with tuning the violin higher or lower, and higher and lower tension strings, than vertical pressure on the top. These factors will also change the "rocking motion" excursion of the bridge, which I think is vastly more important.

November 23, 2014 at 01:32 AM · What David is saying is my main concern (the title gives it away..).

Rocky, there will be no resetting of the neck, the angle is good. Just the addition of a splice between the neck and the fingerboard.

Carmen, it wouldn't be .5mm difference. 6 to 4.75 and 5 to 3.75 is a 1.25mm change.. Regardless of whether there is an exact standard, the point is they are simply too far from the fingerboard right now, as Henry so eloquently noted. I found an old topic discussion on v.com about this, and almost everyone said that it would take, oh, roughly 0-60 seconds of playing to see how much more comfortable accurate string heights are to the player..

Furthermore, if the main changes are in bow response, then that is indeed of equivalent importance to me as the change in tone and all the more reason to be posting this thread.

Well, as it turns out, I am having my luthier make the higher bridge first to see how it sounds. I can't resist knowing what kind of a difference it will make on such a nice instrument. I also imagine the higher bridge will make it easier in the higher positions regardless of other factors since the wrist/fingers will have to flex less.

Thanks for all the posts. I'll post my findings.

November 23, 2014 at 01:32 AM · Sorry, yes

5mm would be too high for me.I prefer about 3 mm on the E and maybe 5.5 on the G.

I think when I read the post I originally thought he was complaining that the strings were too low.

Anyway, I think it can be difficult to judge what a new bridge will sound or play like. In comparing two different bridges, the luthier would have to make one with exactly the same wood and shape as the original. Even a slightly different blank can sound better or worse regardless of height. The maker of my instrument has made different bridges, all with different sounds at the same height.

November 23, 2014 at 02:06 AM · That's true, Scott. One of the confounding things about experimenting with violins is that it's almost impossible to confine an experiment to a single variable.

November 23, 2014 at 02:57 AM · ".. 6 to 4.75 and 5 to 3.75 is a 1.25mm ..."

Well, where did you read that 4.75/3.75 is THE standard?

5.5mm is more commonly listed for the G string, and I have seen references for the E string as low as 3.175mm (1/8 inch).

Some famous makers of the 19th and 20th century setup their violins with the same clearance for all strings: 3/16th inch (4.763mm). Some contemporary and past soloists had high clearances and nearly "flat" arches.

The deciding factor should be comfort in playing for an extended time and ability to execute techniques like glissando and vibrato. Things like string tension and the strength of the hand will affect the clearances that feel playable.

November 23, 2014 at 03:37 AM · "Well, where did you read that 4.75/3.75 is THE standard?"

In The Art of Violin Making by Chris Johnson and Roy Courtnall of the Newark School of Violin Making, probably the most comprehensive and foremost book on violin making available today. Though Mr. Darnton is working on something very interesting...

They did say they were the 'recommended clearances'. I am curious if this also leaves some room for the instrument breaking in at all since the book is talking about heights for a brand new instrument. Don't really have any experience with that.

ah, just checked Mr. Darnton's. He states the 'appropriate' string heights are 5.5 and 3.5.

November 23, 2014 at 10:49 AM · "There's a lot more going on with tuning the violin higher or lower......" etc.

I stand corrected.

My remarks are only come from (cautious) trials with my own instruments, or desperate students' VSOs.

I try to change one variable at a time; e.g. thicknesses or cut-outs for the same total weight and height. The various interactions with the violin are fascinating, and tend to distract me from practicing...

November 23, 2014 at 02:13 PM · It has become fashionable to set the strings higher above the fingerboard by some restorers, I've heard as high as 6.5mm G 4.5mm e, I tend to go for 5.5mm G and 4mm e and then lower it if the customer asks me to. It can certainly be as low as 4.7mm G and 3mm e.(measured from the bottom of the strings to the fingerboard, not the middle of the strings)

November 23, 2014 at 04:57 PM · "The deciding factor should be comfort in playing for an extended time and ability to execute techniques like glissando and vibrato"

I'd also add lack of buzzing and ability to play pizzicato. If the strings are too low, you can't get your left fingers around the strings to pizz.

November 23, 2014 at 10:11 PM · "there will be no resetting of the neck, the angle is good. Just the addition of a splice between the neck and the fingerboard."

Umm, if the neck angle is good there is no need to raise the fingerboard. Just lower the bridge. If that makes the bridge too low then the neck angle is NOT good. The existing neck angle plus a wedge may be good enough for you but some players would object.

November 24, 2014 at 01:49 AM · Lyle, you're assuming the neck has perfect dimensions. Just because the angle is good doesn't mean there is enough wood on the top side of the neck to lift the fingerboard to where it should intercept the bridge. That is the issue with this violin.

November 24, 2014 at 01:34 PM · "...there is enough wood on the top side of the neck to lift the fingerboard to where it should intercept the bridge..."

You have to be careful about where the fingerboard intercepts the bridge. This can vary depending on the height of the belly arch upon which the bridge sits.

A little geometry might help here.

For playability, you want the string length from nut to bridge to be about 326mm to 330mm. This forms the hypotenuse of a right triangle.

The neck + stop length forms the horizontal leg of the right triangle, from the nut to where the bridge would intercept the belly if the belly was absolutely flat. This is obviously a given for a violin, but typical modern values are 130mm for the neck and 195mm for the stop.

The bridge + arch height form the second leg of the right triangle. If you use Pythagoras's formula you can find the total bridge + arch height needed to set the playable length of the strings to 326mm to 330mm. For the typical numbers I listed here, that would be about 42mm.

If the arch is rather high, then the bridge must be on the short side. Since the clearance between the strings and the fingerboard are, more or less, "set" according to player preference, then where the fingerboard projects onto the bridge, as measured from the bottom of the bridge, is going to vary.

If you arbitrarily add a shim under the fingerboard to meet some preconceived notion of where the fingerboard should intercept the bridge, then you will need to raise the bridge to get the string clearances you like.

Raising the bridge extends one leg of the right triangle which in effect extends the playing length of the strings. This might make the strings too long to be comfortable to play.

People already covered the other side effects of raising a bridge. There are many that might have to be adjusted.

There is modern construction practice which more or less "sets" certain critical dimensions: neck length, stop length, body length, string length from nut to bridge. These are the dimension that make the violin playable by the typical adult.

One then factors in the arch height of the belly from the particular style of violin being made, and then DERIVES all the other dimensions.

These derived dimensions only apply to your violin if all the other "set" dimensions are identical.

November 24, 2014 at 09:57 PM · No, I'm not assuming the neck has perfect dimensions. I'm assuming it is of reasonable profile and thickness, in which case the right angle will point the fingerboard where it should go. If the overstand is lower than you would like, a shim will raise that but may make the neck uncomfortably thick. If, indeed, the neck is too thin this approach may be appropriate. A wedge will raise the projection (and the overstand slightly) but will underscore the point that the neck angle is not "right." And Carmen makes very good points, especially that 31 mm MAY be the proper height for your bridge.

November 29, 2014 at 04:02 AM · Carmen, this is the kind of stuff I want to know. I was already familiar with neck/body stop and typical string lengths. But 326-330mm is a huge range, and the bridge can vary by several mm and stay within this range.

So... I'm kind of back to square one with just seeing how the taller bridge sounds and responds. I go tomorrow to try it out at 33mm. I'll probably have him trim it down a bit after that and try around 32 as well.

Lyle, yes the neck is on the small/thin side. And the neck angle is good.

December 8, 2014 at 02:56 AM · Well, I had all the work done.

Ended with a bridge just over 33mm. And we took over an hour adjusting the thickness at top and feet a bit at a time. Ended around 4.2/3 for the feet and 1.1/2 at the top, which I especially noted to help the speed and edge of the response. Very satisfactory. I didn't have time to try 32 height, but i also gave my luthier another instrument to fix up, decent old American violin that should sound good. And I'll experiment with that one, too. All-in-all a great learning experience for me with the different bridge thicknesses especially. It seems to me the height isn't quite as touchy as the thicknesses, but then again everything changes the sound/response on a violin. Thanks for all your input.

Oh, and he got the string heights right at 4.75 g, 3.75 e. And with the neck step at 6mm from adding the splice of wood under the fingerboard, and it is very comfortable to play now. Doesn't feel too low or too high, and I don't have to supinate my wrist nearly as much. So happy I got the work done!

December 8, 2014 at 01:33 PM · Glad to hear that!

Can I relate 2 experiments? (I'm quite good at bridge fitting, although it take me ten times longer than chez le luthier..)

1) Good French trade fiddle. Two attempts on good blanks. One had its heart set low: very muted. The other had a higher heart: bright & clear.

Same height and weight.

2) Good French trade viola, 15-3/4 inches, narrow-bodied, a bit nasal but well balanced.

- Bridge from my Paris luthier: very cut-away (French style), easy emission esp. of low notes, slightkly snarling tone, few high overtones and poor 4th octave :)

- My bridge: thicker "beam" across the feet (more overtones and 4th octave) heart and kidneys less cut away (ditto?), and thicker wood at the top (less nasal, but less "projection")

Now, if I draw a straight line across the upper corners of both bridges, the line cuts through the top of the heart. So I shall now try a higher version of "my" bridge, the gradually thin it and increase the cut-outs until, it ressembles the Paris one. If the tone become more sonorous and less nasal, I can ask for a low wedge under the existing fingerboard.

In other words, a heart near the top (nasal) can be partially compensated by a thicker top edge, but the tone is duller rather than darker.

December 12, 2014 at 04:41 PM · Interesting Adrian, thanks for sharing!

Yes, I agree totally on the top thickness. Thinner is definitely better for projection. A thicker top adds a strong biting grab for the bow, but if the set up is done well (and given it is a good instrument) a thin top will not have any issues with bow grab. He started with the top at almost 2mm, and i only liked the 'edge' more and more when he thinned it. The upper registers really open up closer to one mm, the resonance is greater, and I could play closer to the bridge.

I happen to have been able to measure a very fine bridge on a contemporary instrument that I have access to.. and was very surprised to fine that the top was right at 1mm! Most sources say that that is too thin. But there was nothing thin about the sound and response in any position, and I could saw right up against the bridge.

Earlier I made a comment about a low heart, but there was some confusion and my luthier ended up using a Teller 'master' grade blank with a normal heart.

December 12, 2014 at 04:46 PM · Oh also, he does moderate cutouts of all the cuts, but likes to leave the mid-section of the bridge thicker and make a sharper gradient toward the top.

December 15, 2014 at 12:54 AM · Some things concerning the playability, wich got twisted in some posts, if I understood it right:

If you want good playability you will need a bridge that is as low as possible. That means it is just high enough so that the strings dont rattle on the fingerboard when playing a fortissimo pizzicato or any other technique, wich sets the string in heavy motion.

The importance of the bridge to be as low as possible is stressed by ruggiero ricci in his book about the glissando technique. It prevents your left hand fingers from getting hard and stiff and makes position changes comfortable.

Higher strings above the fingerboard can certainly alter the sound of the violin, but definetely not improve the lefthand playability. In my eyes its a compromise and a bridge must be suited your needs. There is no fixed rule other than personal taste. But its important to not get the strings to high above the fingerboard. It can long term harm your technique, because you need too much power to get the notes clear. Too low strings though can rattle on the fingerboard and may hinder some kinds of vibrato too.

A goot bridge is very important and can make a huge difference, but if the violin sounds great now, its also a gamble if you adgust the angle of the fingerboard aswell.

December 18, 2014 at 05:03 PM · Further experiment!

Using a purpose made jack (a sort of plastic bridge with a centre screw) behind the real bridge to lift the strings I replaced the usual bridge with one 4mm higher (to test the tone result). The extra total string length (due to stretching over the higher bridge) was enough to raise the pitch by a semitone, which means a 9% increase in string tension (Pickering).

According to Carmen, the reduced angle over the bridge will make a negligeable increase in downward pressure, but I would have thought that the extra 9% in string tension will have some effect.

Tone-wise, the extra wood above the "heart" deapens the tone, rather than muting it (as a lower but thicker top section seems to do).

December 18, 2014 at 06:27 PM · Some fraction of the string tension makes it way through the bridge and onto the belly plate. For a typical 4/4 violin setup, it is about 1/3rd.

So increasing the string tension by a pound adds an extra 1/3rd of a pound to the plate.

If I read your description correctly, you have a plate on the bridge which you can shift upwards to lift the strings. This means the overall mass of the bridge is unchanged, but the distribution of the mass is shifted upwards.

One of the fundamental ways in which the bridge transmits energy to the violin body is by a rotational motions centered about the treble foot and another point somewhere around a midpoint between the two kidney cutouts.

Although the overall mass of the bridge may not change, shifting the weight away from the centers of rotation increases the "rotating mass", sometimes referred to as rotational inertia.

The stiffness of the bridge is left unchanged, so the stiffness divided by the inertia decreases. This does two things: if shifts the frequencies of free vibration downward, i.e., "darker", and it also reduces the gain of these modes, i.e., "muted".

As long as the gain reduction is not too severe, one can easily compensate by unconsciously bowing a little harder.

Sometimes the gain reduction can be so severe that the fundamental shape of the vibration is changed. No amount of bowing harder can compensate for that and you end up with an unfocused tone.

Chromatic tuners may have trouble latching onto the frequency, and your ears may complain mightily about the noise.

December 18, 2014 at 09:16 PM · The "jack" is placed just behind the real bridge to lift the strings a little. This allows one to remove and/or replace the bridge without loosening the strings. By jacking up a little higher, I could insert a higher bridge (with previously adjusted feet), and then lower and remove the jack. A useful toy!

And yes, the resulting changes are complex, with many parameters.. Apart from the various rotating masses you so clearly describe, there are the various tortuous paths for the string vibrations to arrive at the violin body.

March 28, 2015 at 07:44 PM · Well, my previous comment about bridge height seemingly not being as important as thickness was one of the sillier things I've ever said.. I did some reading about bridge frequencies and tuning. Adjusting the height by taking off of the top drastically changes bridge frequency. I also had a chance to measure a few very fine violins, and found that all the best ones were right around 32mm tall.

I also measured random other violins and found that violins with bridges higher than 33 had a similar muted and confined tone, regardless of thickness. You could get more out of the instrument but had to work the dickins out of it.

I noticed my one luthier makes a lot of my bridges right at 31. The resonance seems greater the lower you take the bridge, but tone is not as focussed as at the 32mm mark. All-in-all a great learning experience for me, and a big eye-opener. It doesn't necessarily mean 32 is ideal for every instrument, but I'm able to recognize more about possible issues just from playability and tone now.

I played a violin with my teacher the other day, and just from playing it I said, "I think the bridge is too high". It was 34mm.

The scary part is all the variables I DON'T know how to recognize yet..

March 29, 2015 at 12:10 AM · I have found that the position of the cut-outs (for the same height), also has a big influence, due to the different distribution of mass.

Edit, sorry I said that some time back!

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