Less winding = better tone

March 6, 2015 at 07:05 PM · I can understand clipping a violin string so it only needs to wrap around the peg a few times preventing it from hitting the edges of the peg box (I've had multiple strings where the string wraps around the peg a ridiculous amount of times which makes it difficult to tune and almost breaks the string)

I've run into some people who claim that if the string wraps less around the peg is makes the instrument sound better (more resonant?). I cannot understand how this would effect the sound. On the same note I have seen one person on multiple occasions not clip the string but just thread it far through the peg and wind it up so the student ended up having this long string sticking straight up from the peg box rattling when the instrument was played.

Thoughts on this?

Replies (33)

March 6, 2015 at 08:36 PM · A colleague of mine demonstrated this for me:

I put the E string through further. Depending on the string type, it affects how it stretches, and thus the final tension of the E string, which has the greatest affect on the response of the instrument and the consequently, the rest of the strings.

So on my own violin, for the best response with a Pirastro EPG or Gold E, I actually put it through so the end is sticking out about 1.5 inches from the hole in the peg. If it rattles or contacts anything problematic I clip it.

I haven't really spent a lot of time yet thinking about *why* this is the case, thanks for bringing this up! :)

March 6, 2015 at 09:15 PM · I've always understood it is good to aim for 3 or 4 windings on the peg. Any more than that and you can run into problems with the string jamming tight against the peg box, depending perhaps on the location of the string hole in the peg and how much the peg has worn and therefore traveled further through the peg box. Fewer than 3 windings and you could find the string slipping on the peg, depending on the nature of the string winding; also, the last winding of two (say) could be in such a position that it tends to pull the peg out of the peg box rather than in, so tending to cause the peg to slip.

String slipping on the peg - I once had this problem on the cello with Spirocore strings with smooth winding on well-worn and too smooth cello pegs. I solved it by applying a little rosin dust from my bow to the string winding just before winding the string onto the peg.

Why should a lot of wound string on the peg affect the tone? Making the reasonable assumption that this is so I suggest that the extra weight of string damps the natural vibration of the peg box, thereby affecting the tone. When I played classical guitar I discovered if I gripped the peg box, or the guitar neck, tightly then there was a discernible diminution of tone, almost like that of a light mute.

The violin pegbox is part of the total vibration system of the violin. Get someone to grip the pegbox when you're playing and you should notice a tonal difference. Likewise, users/sufferers of/from the dreaded left-hand death grip on the violin neck take note!

March 6, 2015 at 10:35 PM · It seems that grabbing the pegbox with a hand would lead to much higher damping than a few extra windings of the strings. But I would say that if you cut your hair, the sound would also be affected because the violin is touching your chin and sound is conducted through your jawbone to your head's various cavities. Therefore, going from foot-long hair to a complete bald would alter the sound, wouldn't it? :)

March 6, 2015 at 10:53 PM · When I first put on a new string, I put it a little past the hole and see where the angle of the peg is when tuned up. Then I may have to re-adjust, pulling the string out more from the hole or pushing it in more and trying again. I find the ideal angle of the peg as more or less perpendicular to the peg box. But I'll usually aim for an angle approaching that ideal but not reaching it, since the string and peg will move as the string stretches.

After a long time down the line, some further adjustment of the peg may be called for and I'll repeat the same process.

I can see how putting the string too far into the hole so that a lot of it will stick out, might affect the tone: the string will be effectively shorter, with more tension needed to have it up to pitch. So I guess I'm disagreeing with the original premise. But I'm not sure. As you see, I've looked at this more in terms of peg angle. But anyway, if it's sticking out through the hole a 1/2 inch or more, I wouldn't clip it, which would eliminate options. I'd try to pull it back a lot more, and seeing what peg angle we get. If we're lucky, we might get it where we want it in 1 or 2 tries. If not...

March 6, 2015 at 11:10 PM · "I can see how putting the string too far into the hole so that a lot of it will stick out, might affect the tone: the string will be effectively shorter, with more tension needed to have it up to pitch."

Totally incorrect.

I don't know how this sounded, but I once found a double length gut string with more than half the length wound on the peg.

March 7, 2015 at 11:32 AM · Lyle is right: the tension for a given string depends entirely on the length of the vibrating section. After-length, and "before-length"(!) can affect resonance, though.

March 7, 2015 at 11:55 AM · So if it can affect the resonance, which way do you think it would have a better or worse resonance?

March 7, 2015 at 01:32 PM · "I can see how putting the string too far into the hole so that a lot of it will stick out, might affect the tone: the string will be effectively shorter, with more tension needed to have it up to pitch."

I freely admit that I suck at physics. But I don't understand what you are trying to say.

March 7, 2015 at 02:03 PM · The tension in the section of string between the nut and the bridge is proportional to the square of the tuning frequency. It is independent of how much string there is from the bridge to the tailpiece, or from the nut to the string end sticking out of the peg hole.

What this means is that string tension along the playable length is fixed for a given tuning. But tension is proportional to how much the string is stretched between the nut and the bridge, so the total stretch along the play length is also fixed by the tuning frequency.

In other words, the stretch of the string along the play length is also independent of what the string is doing after the bridge or before the nut.

How much string is wrapped around a peg will affect the angle of the string as it leaves the nut and first touches the peg. So some small change in the overall "before length" of the string might occur that can, theoretically, change the frequency of the "before length". Is it possible to hear it under the ear? >shrug<

The change in the before-length angle would also affect how forces are resolved at the peg holes. That might change some neck resonances that can be heard.

What happens in the section of string wrapped around the peg is a bit complicated. Basically, a type of pressure builds up in the peg to resist the changing forces as the string wraps around it. The pressure exerted on the string by the peg gives rise to frictional forces. I cannot think of how this would give any noticeable change in the sound of the violin.

Some experiments:

Using the same amount of string wrapped around the peg, arrange the wrapping so the angle from the nut to the peg is dramatically different for two cases. See if you can hear a difference.

Using different lengths of wrapping around the peg, make sure the angle from the nut to the peg is the same for two cases. See if the tone does not change.

March 7, 2015 at 02:16 PM · I have some pixie dust that you can sprinkle on your pegbox that will have a greater effect on tone than how many wraps around the peg you do.

Simply send $20 my way and I'll hook you up.

March 7, 2015 at 08:26 PM · Well, there's an assumption being made here...that all E strings are constructed in such a way that they stretch uniformly throughout their entire length. Is that the case?

March 7, 2015 at 09:12 PM · Sometimes you see a violinist in the middle of playing a piece use a finger to press down on the before-length of a string in the peg box in order to quickly increase the tension and sharpen the pitch of string. I sometimes need to do this in concerts. In my experience the plain gut D needs this treatment if the temperature changes and humidity of the hall make it go flat early on. If ever you need to do this make sure before that the groefen in the nut are lubricated with pencil graphite so that the string will not stick.

March 7, 2015 at 09:19 PM · Gene, if it were not the case we would have even more difficulty playing in tune.

Raphael, the non-playing sections of the string between bridge and tailpiece have resonant frequencies, so I suppose the pegbox sections may have too, although very high ones (try plucking them..) If the string does not quit the peg neatly, maybe these vibrations will be damped?

March 7, 2015 at 09:41 PM · OK, here's what I'm trying to say - and if anybody thinks I'm wrong, my feelings aren't hurt as I'm just starting to think about this and I'm not at all sure that I'm right, myself:

Let's say that we're putting on a new A string. We want to pull it up to 440 cps. We have leeway as to putting the top end of the string through the peg hole a very small amount - just enough so that it won't slip out - or a considerable amount, maybe up to 3/4 inch or so. Does the tone get affected differently in either extreme, or anywhere in-between? I think: maybe.

It seems to me that by pulling the string a considerable amount through the peg hole, we are effectively shortening the play of the string. We are pulling up a - for all practical purposes - a shorter A string up to 440. (This will also result in the fewer coils that has been stressed earlier.) If this is true, then it seems to me that we are putting more tension on the string to get to the same pitch then we would if we let more of the string in play by putting it through just a little bit.

Maybe it makes no difference either way. I'm really not sure. But in any case, is more or less tension better or worse? I thought at first, more tension is worse. But then I reminded myself about different types and thicknesses of strings that are purposely made that way from the start by different manufacturers, yielding, among other things, more or less tension. So it probably comes back to the individual instrument and player.

BTW I happened to meet with a violin maker today for other reasons and while I was at it, put this issue before her. She freely admitted that she didn't know the answer!

March 7, 2015 at 11:11 PM ·

Less Whining = Better Tone

March 8, 2015 at 12:54 AM · Raphael: I think you are mistaken in your analysis of total string length versus tension to reach a certain pitch. Someone up above already said this and I agree completely with that person (Lyle). However, I liked your discussion of peg angle. I've been reluctant in the past to re-wrap a string around a peg for a more desirable peg angle, thinking that repeated stretching of the string will harm its tone and its uniformity over its vibrating length. But if a pro can do this, then I guess I can too. :) This touches on what Gene asked about strings that get stretched in a non-uniform manner. Such an unevenly stretched string will beat against itself and never really be in tune, which is a good reason never to tune above the pitch you want - to reduce the chance of uneven stretching as well as the chance of the string breaking (the ultimate in uneven stretching!).

March 8, 2015 at 01:02 AM · Ken Meyer, an instrument adjustment guru and restorer, does this, and it does seem to have some effect. I mentioned it to a retired Boeing engineer who is a violinist, and he explained a possibility for the why part, but I didn't understand it.

It seems that the string that is wrapped around the peg can move, and the more string there is wrapped around the beg, the more it can move, and that can affect the sound.

The players who swear by Ken Meyer come back with white-out on the string tails marking just how far they should pull the string through.

I don't understand it, but I can hear it.

Perhaps someone should ask Ken to provide a written explanation.

March 8, 2015 at 02:46 AM · What's next? Tone affected by magnets?

March 8, 2015 at 04:07 AM · Storing your violin in a pyramid will definitely help the tone.

I'm calling Shenanagins on the whole idea.

If a wrapped string slips on the peg it affects the tone- CORRECT!

It's called "being no longer in tune".

After once again applying correct tension to the string it will be in tune and sound exactly the same as a string with two wraps, ten wraps or however many you choose.

March 8, 2015 at 09:48 AM · What is not clear to many is tha fact that the 3 sections of the string have the same tension (unless the string gets a bit stuck in the grooves of the bridge & nut). But we only pluck the central section when tuning.

I actually had a luthier tell me that a long after-length meant a higher tension to reach the same note; this just not true.

Try explaining to a friend (or spouse!) the difference between voltage and current, or between weight and pressure (hee-hee)...

Ok, a sticking nut notch can force a higher tension in the pegbox (with risk of string breakage), just as jamming in the bridge groove cause the bridge to lean forward.

March 8, 2015 at 12:53 PM · As far as my analysis, maybe I'm right and maybe I'm wrong - and maybe it doesn't make a difference. As I said, a maker that I just asked yesterday didn't know, so for now I'll just leave it.

As far as re-positioning the string length through the peg hole for the purposes of getting a more comfortable peg angle, this should only be necessary once in a really great while. By the time it might be ready for another such adjustment, a new string is probably long overdue.

March 8, 2015 at 01:40 PM · In https://archive.org/details/violinhowtomaste00hone (referenced in discussion #26594) the author goes in some detail in pp. 25-30 into the choice and fitting of strings, pegs, bridges and soundposts.

March 9, 2015 at 12:18 AM · Greetings,

this is a fascinating issue which I have to admit I had never considered before. On the whole I would probably go with thowe suggesting it really doesn't make much difference. Part of my reasoning is that string manufacturers would probably have advised on the issue if it was so important.

Another aspect of his question that I don't think has been mentioned is what happens at the tail piec end. For some players it is quite normal to pull the loop under and out toward she bridge and then thread the string through. See for example Gitlis playing the Mendelssohn. Would this not be an issue on the same lines?

cheers,

Buri

March 9, 2015 at 01:45 AM · If the tension of either of the short lengths inside the peg box or between the bridge and tailpiece differ from the main length of the string, my understanding is that this creates a metastable state enforced by static friction at the nut and bridge. This imbalance will eventually relax to equalize those tensions. I sometimes see young students "tuning" their violins by tugging violently on the strings or pushing on them in the pegbox. That type of thing should only be used in an emergency situation, e.g., during a performance.

Despite pencil/graphite lubrication, etc., static friction at the nut can be considerable. I have gear pegs and when you tune down slowly, sometimes that friction will not immediately release, and then you have to tune down farther, and then tune back up once the nut has released the string. I have witnessed this several times. Not a problem at all, and once tuned correctly for all strings, the instrument really holds its tune well. With traditional wooden pegs you wont see this because the static friction in the peg itself dominates, and once that sets free, there is enough movement in the string for the nut to oblige.

March 9, 2015 at 01:50 AM · I invited Fan Tao to comment here. Maybe he will. He is an expert string researcher for, I believe, D'Adario. Meanwhile I found this on the Thomastic-Infeld site:

1. If you put strings on an instrument which is smaller than the one which the string is

designed for, there will be a considerable loss of tension and sound quality. Apart from

this, the thicker playing length of the string will end up being wound around the tuning

peg, which - especially with thicker strings - will result in damage to the core, loss of tonal

quality and strings breaking. This is one of the most common mistakes. We refer you to

the listing of strings for smaller instruments in our catalogue.

2. If you put strings on an instrument which is larger than the one the strings are designed

for, e.g. on a large viola, it will have the same effect as tuning the string to too high a pitch,

or starting tuning from the highest string to lowest instead of the other way around. Doing

this even once can severely fatigue the string or break it.

3. Sharp edges on the bridge, the nut or the tailpiece will damage the string, and can lead

to breakage. The same can happen if the channels in the nut are too narrow, so these

should be of sufficient width and prepared with a little graphite from a soft pencil. Another

mistake to avoid when re-stringing the instrument is improperly winding the string around

the tuning peg. The correct number of windings is between four and five, without any

bending of the string between nut and tuning peg and without jamming it against the

peg box.

W

March 9, 2015 at 12:19 PM · Warchal made a post about wrapped ends of a string. I believe he said that the windings on wound strings are too stiff and brittle to handle the sharp turns around the peg, so a section of the string under the wrapping is prepared differently to make it more flexible.

In other words, only the wrapped part of the string should be wrapped around the peg. So one should not push so much of a wound string through the peg hole such that an unwrapped section gets twisted around the peg.

March 9, 2015 at 01:32 PM · Carmen, try that and then tell me how you did it.

Andy

March 9, 2015 at 03:53 PM · So, per my colleague who encouraged me to try this, I just experimented with pulling through my E string (currently Pirastro EPG) to various lengths past the peg hole. I started with only a tiny bit through the peg hole then tried 1 inch, 2-3 inches, and a lot (5-6 inches?).

Strangely enough, it has a noticeable effect on the feel of the E string and the sound of the instrument. When I only put it through a tiny bit, the E feels fine but the rest of the set doesn't sound as resonant. If I shove it through over 5-6 inches, the E feels very stiff and the sound is awful. I have a sweet spot getting the E string in around 2-3 inches where it works really well.

Anyone else care to experiment and report their results, if any? I had assumed it would make zero difference, but...it's nice having assumptions challenged. ;)

March 9, 2015 at 04:09 PM · Andy,

I started a post about very little wrapped string on my G and D strings between the nut and a where it starts to wrap around the peg. But I realized you are correct (at least I think you were implying that the section of wrapped string between the peg and nut will not change).

So let me edit it as follows:

This is consistent with what I posted at the start of the thread: the strain in the string remains constant once one reaches tuning pitch regardless of how many turns of the string are around the peg.

As a test, I pushed enough of the G string through the peg hole to reduce the number or turns about the peg from 5.5 to 3.

The "tuned" length of the string from bridge to where it first starts wrapping around the peg remained unchanged, so I was in no danger of having bare string wrapping around the peg.

Reducing the number of turns of the G string about the peg made no difference in tone as far as I could tell.

My E string has barely three turns about the peg so I will have to find a longer string to repeat Gene's test.

March 9, 2015 at 09:59 PM · I don't get any of those problems with plain gut strings :)

More seriously, though, and on a slightly different tack, never re-use a steel E, on the same or a different violin, if you can possibly avoid doing so - that wire string is much more likely to go south when you don't expect it, a lesson I've learnt the hard way.

I think the reason for the breakage is that the tight turns round the peg and sharp angles here and there weaken the crystalline structure of the metal; particularly so if you inadvertently cause a kink when dealing with a not easy-to-handle springy wire. A kink is always a prime focus for a break.

March 10, 2015 at 03:37 AM · Paul - I'm a seasoned pro who since childhood has been fine tuning as needed with a mild - not violent! - pull at a string to flatten it a tiny bit or a push above the nut to sharpen just a bit. I've never noticed any ill effects whatsoever. I don't see how this would stress a string more then pulling it with the peg - especially if we have to do so a number of times to get the pitch as exact as we can. I've seen even Heifetz do it.

Trevor - re putting on an old E, also it gets so scrunched up at the winding area that it's quite trying to re-use!

March 13, 2015 at 08:07 AM · Raphael,

I don't think that Paul is saying that tuning like that is stressful to the string. Just that the tension imbalance you're creating by doing that is delicate and will eventually be reversed.

March 13, 2015 at 12:50 PM · Maybe so. I got the sense that Paul was associating such procedures with students, when the likes of Heifetz et al did it freely and often. If so, I apologize to Paul!

As to such changes in tension reversing, I do find, if this is relevant to what you're saying, that pushing at the string a bit, above the fb nut, to make it a bit sharper is sometimes not as long-lasting in its effect as using the peg. But in my experience, pulling at the string a little to make it a bit flatter, is quite as long-lasting as using the peg.

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