HELP - The bridge is glued to my violin

December 2, 2014 at 10:13 PM · I loaned my fiddle to an old man. He had it for almost two years and he just passed away and I got my violin back but noticed that the bridge is glued to the body (a messy job too). It is an old fiddle and I don't want to throw it away. Is there any way I can fix it myself? I took it to the luthier but he wanted close to $500 as he says the instrument top may need to be re-varnished. I don't think the violin is even worth that much as it is a student fiddle. Any ideas?

Replies (56)

December 2, 2014 at 10:51 PM · What about using it the way it is?

If you wanted to get adventurous though and try doing it on your own, you could take a tiny saw (like an Exacto saw), and saw the bridge off at the ankles. Then you would carefully carve away the remaining wood and glue, trying to stop exactly at the varnish surface.

Perhaps your luthier was talking about retouching varnish damage around the bridge, rather than re-varnishing the entire top.

If your luthier truly wanted to revarnish the top (as opposed to retouching damaged areas), I'd look around for a different luthier.

December 2, 2014 at 10:56 PM · And there speaks Mr Sawzall himself; you can't get better than that ;)

December 2, 2014 at 11:03 PM · Or you could bang the bridge with the end of a Sawzall blade to knock it loose. LOL

December 2, 2014 at 11:07 PM · To me it doesn't sound like this fiddle is worth saving. If you're really attached to it for sentimental reasons, I would suggest just paying to have the work done, since most attempts at home repairs end up back in the shop eventually. But what I personally would do instead is use the money for a new violin that doesn't have its bridge glued on.

December 2, 2014 at 11:09 PM · You wouldn't have to throw it away, by the way. You could use it for home decoration.

December 2, 2014 at 11:36 PM · I'm not a luthier, but the first question I have is:

What kind of glue is it? Elmers? Titebond? Epoxy? Superglue? Hide?

ps this is what you call a "posthumess"

December 2, 2014 at 11:47 PM · Yep, if it's fish glue, you might get the bridge off with a hairdryer - Mind you, you might also distort the violin!

December 3, 2014 at 01:40 AM · Why not loosen up the strings and lightly wiggle the bridge? It may not have adhered well to the varnish at all and may come off pretty easy.

Or not...

December 3, 2014 at 11:44 AM · Ted, if you decide to remove the bridge yourself, perhaps using the procedure that David suggested, one woe you certainly don't want is for the sound post to fall over. For most people, unless they're very experienced, that usually means a trip to the luthier.

What I do if I have to take all the strings off and the bridge down, typically when replacing the tailpiece or adjusting the tail gut, is to first wrap a cloth round the violin's waist between the bridge and the fingerboard, and then secure it firmly with an adjustable belt - but not so tight that creaking can be heard. This should maintain sufficient pressure on the violin's top plate to keep the sound post in place.

It's important to cover the f-holes to stop wood fragments from getting into the violin while the bridge is being demolished.

When removing a glued-on bridge using the procedure David described it is important to stabilize the violin. Unless you have a work bench with clamps I'd keep the instrument in its case during the procedure, packing it firmly in place with cloth if necessary.

December 3, 2014 at 12:43 PM · If you opt not to remove and replace the bridge but to keep the fiddle as wall decoration, as someone suggested, it could still be put to good use as a rig for pre-stretching new strings before they are put on your working violin. Or just keep it "as is" as a practice instrument.

December 3, 2014 at 02:39 PM · I shouldn't laugh...

...but I can't help it.

I am sorry about your violin though...

December 3, 2014 at 02:51 PM · i wonder if he glued the soundpost as well?

my vote is for the shaving down of the bridge, too. but I'd wait until it was necessary- unless you can't play it as is. plus, is that small amount of varnish really going to hurt if it's not there?

December 3, 2014 at 03:37 PM · I doubt it, Kit. In my experience, most people who glue the bridge on are not aware of the existence of the sound post.

December 3, 2014 at 03:59 PM · If they are, sometimes they'll drive a small nail through from the outside to hold the soundpost in place. I presume that's because a soundpost is harder to glue than a bridge. ;-)

December 3, 2014 at 04:31 PM · Thank all you wonderful people for your responses. I took the advise of Mr. David B. and took the bridge finally off. I was left with a big mess of 2mm very hard glue build up on top of the violin. I don't know what kind of glue but I know that it was really hard to remove it without damaging the top wood. This violin was given to me by my uncle who was a fiddler, 35 years ago and hate to just chuck it out. It sounds great for Irish music. I tried sanding the glue down but I ruined the varnish all around the bridge to almost the bare wood. What kind of varnish should I use to retouch? Or should I just leave it the way it is and get the luthier to put a new bridge in. An new bridge he said would cost me $100, which is reasonable.

December 3, 2014 at 04:48 PM · It sounds like you are committed to doing this yourself, which I can understand. The problem with sanding down something like that is that the abrasive will selectively take the softer surrounding material, as you experienced, and there's hardly anything softer than the spruce top of a violin. That's why dowel plugs are trimmed with a flush-cutting saw instead of sanding them off. But if the remaining glue is too hard to shave off with a knife as David has recommended then you could try grinding it away with a Dremel tool. That's the way the old Cremonese masters got rid of stray bits of Gorilla Glue. You just have to go very slowly.

December 4, 2014 at 11:19 AM · As Paul mentioned, it's very difficult to do precise work with sandpaper. That's why I mentioned using carving tools. I would use gouges and scrapers, but I realize that most people don't have these laying around. And if they did, sharpening them adequately for such a task is a whole 'nother skill set.

The Dremel tool suggestion might be best for those without professional training.

What to do now? If there is a level platform for the bridge, I'd probably just leave it. Or you might see what kind of quick and inexpensive retouching the luthier can offer. Retouching well is another skill which benefits from training, and hundreds of hours of practice. Otherwise, it's easy to end up with something worse than you started with.

December 4, 2014 at 02:54 PM · Ted, I've noticed your reference to Irish music. I play Irish and English folk whenever I get the chance (not so often now, unfortunately), and sometimes in sessions I see a fiddle that visually looks a right old wreck, but sounds great for the music when played by a good fiddler. So there's a hint ;)

December 4, 2014 at 04:56 PM · Thank you all especially Mr. David Burgess for your wonderful suggestions. My clean up work is now finished using Dremel tool. Now my fiddle is in the luthier shop for a new bridge. For retouching the varnish he said it will cost me another $175.00 which I decided to just leave it as is.

December 4, 2014 at 05:11 PM · Trevor:

This fiddle sounds really good playing Irish music. I remember my uncle stunned the audience with it, even playing solo with no accompaniment.

That's another reason I am saving this fiddle and making it sing again.

December 4, 2014 at 05:12 PM · Obviously you all forgot to tell this poor guy not to attempt to fix it himself and have it seen to by a professional, just because one guy charges $500 I'm sure you could find some one reasonable much cheaper, given what you say about the value of the instrument, now you've just made it worse and it will need revarnishing touch up, DON'T TRY TO DO THIS YOUR SELF!!

December 4, 2014 at 06:01 PM · I can't imagine a luthier taking a violin that's had its bridge glued down and fixing that properly for less than $500 if he's paying himself a living wage.

December 4, 2014 at 06:35 PM · Lyndon, I'm always torn about giving people "do it yourself" violin repair advice, and I've often spoken out against it. I got a little mushy this time around.

I'll try to get back to a hard stance of not recommending it. :-)

Still, a lot of our people are trying to figure out how to do the best they can do, on limited budgets, so I try to contribute a little something there, in the hope that it's not too destructive.

December 4, 2014 at 06:42 PM · So...since we are at the 'DIY retouch or not stage' would darkening the area with strong tea or coffee potentially ruin it more?

If the area is now lighter under the feet of the bridge, that might answer to just darken it enough that it's not as eye-catching...

December 4, 2014 at 08:15 PM · Well, I only married a luthier, and I know David is one, so I decided to defer to him on the matter. But if I'm asked, my standard answer is "don't try it at home." I don't know why people feel the need to get all DIY about violin repair, but the truth is, it virtually never goes well, because there's a reason you go to school to learn to do it. I don't think I've ever heard my husband say "wow, I saw a really great amateur repair job today on someone's instrument! That guy sure knows what he's doing." But I've heard MANY of the opposite stories...

December 4, 2014 at 08:34 PM · Sarah, haven't you gone slightly to the dark side yourself on DIY?

Sure, you have coaching from a real violin maker, but perhaps you can understand the sentiment from "cubical cowboys", who have a hankerin' to do something that seems more real, maybe like doing a complete job from start to finish?

Look at the popularity of TV shows like fishing on the Bering Straights, and gold mining. Most people will never have the opportunity or the recklessness to go after pursuits like these, but fiddle-dinking can offer a minor window into that world.

December 4, 2014 at 08:38 PM · I have less motivation to do it than ever, David! We have a deal: I don't do some hack job that he'd have to go in and fix anyway and he doesn't attempt to teach people to play the damn thing. ;)

December 4, 2014 at 08:43 PM · Actually, he doesn't attempt to play it much at all, which is okay with most people. LOL

December 4, 2014 at 08:58 PM · That's fine, and makers have varying playing capabilities all over the map. Even when they don't sound too good, many makers, restorers and adjusters can figure out what they need to know from making various torturous sounds on instruments.

December 4, 2014 at 09:14 PM · Which is more than some bona fide violin players manage at the best of times, and some of them even teach! Which is much worse than DIY violin repairers.

December 4, 2014 at 10:30 PM · An interesting thought to me is, how much does a violinist need to be able to do himself or herself on the instrument? Definitely change strings, and I show students how to do that. Also, we installed some fine-tuners on our own. Then there's moving the bridge, which most people do at least a little bit, if nothing more than to straighten it so it isn't leaning. And then after this, seems like we get into more difficult territory...

December 4, 2014 at 10:33 PM · I was just kidding around about his playing. He likes to joke about it too. He can play perfectly well to suit his needs. And he's quite the guitarist too!

December 4, 2014 at 10:34 PM · Laurie, I'd say tune, change strings, maybe fix loose or slipping pegs. Beyond that and I like to leave it to the pros!

December 4, 2014 at 11:01 PM · I think changing a tailpiece is a reasonable task for an amateur provided precautions are taken to prevent the sound post from falling over or shifting when the strings are let down and the bridge removed, as I have described previously.

Perhaps the repair/adjustment situation boils down to this: if it is internal, including sound post fitting/adjustment, and cracks or other damage to the structure, including the varnish, then it is a job for the luthier.

If it is external and it is something that is movable, then the amateur should be able to cope with it (with initial supervision and advice), with a couple of provisos: it's ok to clean pegs and apply peg dope, but not ok to fit new pegs - that's a job for the luthier; and, fitting a new bridge is also a job for the luthier.

December 5, 2014 at 02:44 AM · I totally get operating on a limited budget, but DIY violin repair is often a false economy because of the odds of ending up with a bill bigger than what you started with. If you're 100% okay with living with any mistakes you might make or further damage you might do, go ahead and DIY. But if you think you'd want to have it fixed if you realized you'd gotten in over your head, it probably makes more sense to just take it in to begin with.

December 5, 2014 at 03:34 AM · Laurie, there is a lovely and inexpensive book that describes the kinds of things a violinist ought to be able to do for himself/herself and how to do them. It's called Kitchen Table Violin Repairs and it was written by Dalton Potter. You can get it from his online store or from Amazon. I bought it from his booth at the Blue Ridge Suzuki Camp this summer and it's very handy.

Maybe this book should be on your violinist's holiday shopping list!

December 5, 2014 at 02:35 PM · Just a thought : what if one lives in an area where there is a few, hard-to-reach luthiers or even no luthier at all? What would they have to do with their violins?

December 8, 2014 at 03:41 PM · Many people will make trips to bigger cities for violin repair. Again, it just depends on how much it would mean to you if your DIY went horribly wrong.

December 8, 2014 at 05:15 PM · Jefta, perhaps even make one's own violin. John Bunyan did. It is made of metal, and people say it sounds quite good considering.

December 9, 2014 at 07:19 PM · I don't see any problem with the advice given. He said that the violin wasn't worth the cost of the repair quoted to him, and he was advised early on that most home repairs aren't successful.

He was already told that it would need revarnishing, and he actually made his situation better because the work he did apparently saved him $225.

December 9, 2014 at 10:01 PM · Thanks for the book suggestion, Paul!

December 10, 2014 at 08:05 PM · You are meant to keep the bow hairs glued to the strings, not the bridge to the fiddle.

December 11, 2014 at 12:57 AM · Luthiers definitely can take off bridges that have been glued on. It happens a lot more than you might think.

December 11, 2014 at 01:04 AM · Yes, Sarah. David Burgess, in the post following the OP, outlines one way of doing it.

December 11, 2014 at 01:05 AM · Right. I was responding to Philip.

December 12, 2014 at 12:31 PM · Gluing down the bridge is one thing. Gluing in the (wooden) pegs another altogether. Any of y'all loothey-A's seen that one?

December 12, 2014 at 03:28 PM · Heard about it!

December 12, 2014 at 03:59 PM · About 6 years ago I was in my "Let's try out eBay violins." I'll never forget opening the case, going to tune it and a peg broke off. Then I realized they were glued in. To add more fun, the sound post inside was glued in place. What fun.

People should also learn how to put a chin rest on. Other than that, string changes and bridge adjustments (to an extent), I take my Violin in to my Luthier of 20 years. When your Violin is over 300 years old, DIY projects just is too frightening a prospect.

December 12, 2014 at 06:14 PM · Some violinists just do not have any idea of how to put on a chin rest - not its location on the instrument so much, but over-tightening the tie rods. I have been told by a luthier that he'd seen chin rests over-tightened enough to distort or crack the ribs, to say nothing of the damping effect on the tone.

On both my violins the center-mounted chin rests are just tight enough to hold during playing (by finger tightening of the tie rods and not using a tool) but can still be slid on or off very quickly.

December 14, 2014 at 12:05 AM · Here's a related question for the experts: What is the difference in sound between a properly fitted loose bridge and one that is glued in place, assuming the glue-job is neatly done?


December 14, 2014 at 12:12 AM · If super-glue is used maybe you get a super sound? (wink)

December 14, 2014 at 09:56 AM · Tom, my experience is more with bridges which are stuck to the varnish, and less with bridges that are deliberately glued in place. When the bridges are unstuck, the sound generally improves. Don't ask me why, because I don't know. LOL

My guess is that having the bridge stuck to the instrument restricts some of the normal wiggling and flopping about motions that bridges go through during playing. (yes, bridges have their own set of vibration frequencies)

December 14, 2014 at 02:33 PM · I'd also think it would reduce the transmission of the vibrations from the bridge to the body of the violin, where the sound comes from, correct?

December 14, 2014 at 05:13 PM · An adhesive, even if it forms only a relatively thin film between the violin and the bridge, will have its own mechanical response characteristics. And if the adhesive seeps into the wood (the top of the violin and / or the feet of the bridge, then the response characteristics of those items could be changed too. Whether any of that is perceptible I can't really say.

December 14, 2014 at 10:56 PM ·

December 16, 2014 at 12:40 AM · Latest cuckoo idea for fixing a bridge to the violin - screw the feet to the violin's top plate using micro screws, such as watchmaker's. Now guess what's going to happen if such a screwed-down bridge gets knocked!

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