My strings height and angles between strings are weird

June 16, 2016 at 05:02 PM · Hi, I have a cheap $300 violin that is kind of decent to start playing the violin. Nevertheless, it has 2 "unusual" things: the bridge height and the angle of the A-E double stop.

First, the strings are notably higher than pretty much any violin of my friends, or any violin I've seen in my music school. All of them have more or less the same height. That makes me sound completely out of tune whenever I play any other violin different from mine. I can deal with it and after 5 minutes or so practicing I can start to hit the right spots, but the thing is that all the violins I've seen, except mine, have almost identical string height.

So, that's the first point. I don't know if it's due to the bridge, the nut where the strings rest, or both.

Is it normal?

Should I ask my violin dealer to fix it?

Second, the E string is "too low":

It's more or less like that one in the picture. So now I've learned to play the A and E string at a certain angle, and when I switch my violin and play any other one, I won't double stop the A and E strings cause the angle I create with the bow is the one that suits my violin, but not others. Again, it seems that only my violin has that very different angle, all the rest bridges I've seen have a higher E string so all the angles are the same: from G-D to D-A is the same angle as from D-A to A-E.

Should I ask my dealer to "normalize" my violin dimensions?

Is it bad if I learn from the very beginning, where I am, the violin as it is and I develop a bad angle of the bow and bad spots on the fingerboard?

I play a lot one piece that has many variations between the E string and the A string. So that combines both my irregular problems: angle and spots of the notes. When I play that piece in my violin, I more or less dominate it, but whenever someone gives me his/her violin, I can barely play it, I miss a lot of bows to the A sting cause of the angle I'm used to create, and you know, I think you get what my problem is.

Replies (21)

June 16, 2016 at 05:40 PM · You need to be more specific about the heights you are measuring.

Take a ruler and measure the distance from the top of the finger board to the middle of the G string. Do this at the very end of the fingerboard.

This should be about 5.5mm, give or take 0.5mm.

Do the same for the E string. This should be about 3.5mm from top of the fingerboard to the center of the E string.

The rule is whatever height the players wants that does not cause the string to buzz on the fingerboard because the height is too small.

Next you should check the distance between the E and G strings at the bridge. Put a ruler under the strings as close to the bridge as you can get and measure the distance from G to E string, center-to-center. A typical "student" value is about 35mm to 36mm. This will make for easier bowing. But some professional setups may go smaller, say 33mm to 34mm.

Finally, to check string angles, get a compass and set it to draw a curve with radius 42mm. Now draw an section of arc on heavy paper and cut the paper away on the inner part of the arc. This servers as a template that you can place on top of the strings.

The tops of all the strings at the bridge should be touching the arc, or very close to it. This will give you consistent bowing angle and distance across the strings. Again, some professional setups may use a larger radius arc, but this can make bowing a bit ore challenging.

Spacing between the G to D, D to A and A to E, measure center to center, will come out to about just over 11mm, up 12 mm. Occasionally you will find a set distance across strings measured from the inside of the strings, instead of to the centers, mostly for visual purposes.

Heights of A and D strings are usually not specified, because once you have set the E and G string heights, the spacing between strings, and the bowing arc (42mm radius), the heights of the A and D strings are uniquely determined.

June 16, 2016 at 07:57 PM · Any bridge should be cut to match that of the violin. I would recommend taking it to a trusted luthier, and have him or her take a look at it.

June 16, 2016 at 08:48 PM · A cheap $300 violin - this is what an expert would charge to set up a new bridge and maybe reset the sound-post. So you can't expect a violin at this price to have been set up properly.

June 17, 2016 at 01:44 PM · OK, here are some pictures of my violin:

The measurements of the strings height at the edge of the fingerboard are exactly the ones you said, as well as the measurements of the bridge grooves of the strings. That's quite strange since I notice a lot of different if I pick up any other violin.

May be it could be the nut?

The distance from the top of the G string to the surface of the fingerboard right there is 1.8 mm.

Notice the nut is not well finished, cause the edge of the scroll side should be softened and in angle, not almost 90º as it is right now.

I think this picture shows that the E string is way lower than it should be, cause the distance of the two pictures should be the same, so the angles are the same.

June 17, 2016 at 01:53 PM · the e is supposed to be lower than the G, your bridge looks to have too much curve, it should follow a 42mm radius curve with the d possibly slightly higher, your nut is too high, it should be the thickness of a business card BELOW the strings.

The angle of the A-e double stop changes from violin to violin, there is no set standard. Right now the angle is higher than it should be because you have too much curve to the bridge especially from e-a-D

Please refer this to a professional luthier and resist the temptation to try and fix it yourself.

June 17, 2016 at 08:29 PM · I don't like the lopsided thing that much myself. Your bridge- the height the angle, the width the string spacing- these are NOT things written in stone the only thing your bridge need be really is a good foot on the top of your violin- the rest is for you to discover. Like guitar, I've found I generally like my bridge sanded low, and even on both sides works for me. Part of it is how the double stops feel too. Working with a five string viola really has opened me up because the relationships of the strings- the angles and spacing seem even more crucial. It took me awhile to get that instrument dialed in- the new pegs were slipping in the mix a bit too- but now it feels pretty good and I will bring it down evenly just another string width or two eventually, and hope I don't break any strings in the process!

June 17, 2016 at 09:47 PM · Well, there seems not to be a standard, but all the violins of my friends in the music school happen to have pretty much the same height of strings and the same angles of bowing. So something tells me that there is a standard that most violins seem to follow.

I didn't understand one thin, Mr. Taylor. If the strings must fit a 42 mm radius, how could the E string be below the G?

They should be at the same height, well, the E slightly below due to the E string gauge, but I'm not sure if you could tell by looking at it.

June 17, 2016 at 10:46 PM · No the fingerboard is supposed to be slightly angled lower in the treble, and the e string is always lower than the G string to the fingerboard, the combination makes the e string lower than the G, should never be the same height, always somewhat lower a little bit or a bit more, yours looks about right for that, the 42 mm radius represents the curvature of the top of the strings over the bridge, has nothing to do with whether the e string is lower or not or how much lower, it has to do with the curvature of the strings relative to each other.

June 17, 2016 at 10:49 PM · Your violin probably needs the d and a strings to be lowered, this will make the angle you need to play the e, and the a and the e double stop less severe.

June 17, 2016 at 10:52 PM · Also you measure the height of the strings above the fingerboard from the bottom of the string, not the middle, G 4.7(absolute lowest)-6mm, e string 4mm- 3mm(absolute lowest)

June 18, 2016 at 12:38 AM · Your bridge looks fairly normal to me. However, I can see two things: 1. those strings look like Chinese knock-offs. The weird colors, which kind of look like Dominants (but aren't) are the clue. Get rid of them.

2. The other thing is that you need a parchment E protector put on the bridge. Dump the silly plastic sleeve, which will not only wear through and let your bridge be damaged anyway, but mute the sound as well.

Resist the urge to use your instinct to decide what "looks normal." And be wary of making comparisons with other violins. Not only can they vary, but many instrument out there have poorly-cut bridges to begin with. My students often have strings that are way too low or way too high. They're not going to spend money to fix it, which actually makes sense for a school loaner or a really cheap instrument. In your case, are you really going to spend half of what you paid for a new bridge anyway? Thats the problem with buying a cheap instrument in the first place. It's money thrown out.

June 18, 2016 at 10:45 PM · that nut would hafta be replaced, or fixed if possible, no? It's way too high and has no jump off angle, as the OP mentioned. and how 'bout the finger board?

IMO, If you're serious about learning to play, you should get a better instrument. Even if you moved up to around $650.00, you may be able to find a decently playable fiddle.

June 19, 2016 at 12:10 AM · You know, Dave and Scott, if I have this $300 violin is because I couldn't afford any better violin. Thanks god my violin dealer is nice (kind of a friend actually) and lowered the price cause it actually costed $350. I upgraded like 5 months ago to this one, before I had a $100. Sum to this a $100 decent violin case cause I'm traveling with my violin everyday, plus a barely decent $100 bow plus $10 Pirastro Tonica rosin plus $20 Wolf SR. That's almost $600, my God, I didn't even know I've spent that much, Jesus. Oh, and the strings I have are the stock Chinese ones. So I have to spend $40 more. Indeed I've been wanting to change the strings since I upgraded, but time to time.

I would spend $1500 in a luthier violin if I could, but I can't spend that huge amount of money. I'm saving money though.

I'm definitely gonna go to the store so the store's luthier takes a look at it.

June 19, 2016 at 02:54 AM · Ok Tim. All the best in your saving efforts. I don't mean to mind your business, just a suggestion...got a bank account? why not try for a small loan? Also, I'm wondering what you mean by a "luthier violin" if you mean a hand made/bench made, don't see how you could get one for $1500.

Anyways, like you said, let the stores luthier have a look at it.

June 19, 2016 at 03:03 AM · Oh, it's alright, I've never felt offended or attacked in any way. I'm not poor, at all, it's simply I can't spend more money than that on the violin.

Yeah, by a luthier violin I mean a violin made by a luthier. Some of my friends in the music school say I can get one really good for about $1500. Do you think they cost way more?

June 19, 2016 at 08:22 AM · Unfortunately you cannot get a properly made (luthier) violin for less than about $5-7K and a very good violin will start at about $10,000. You can however buy good luthier made violins if you shop around for older instruments or ones that haven't quite made the grade - possibly for about $3,000

On the other hand (sorry Lyndon) you can get quite nice Chinese fiddles for a few hundred dollars but you would need to spend at least $500 more to get them set up properly. I'm not sure about US prices so please correct me if I have got these sums wrong.

In the UK you can get a decent violin properly set up for about £2,000 or a Chinese one for a lot less but have to spend as much again having the pegs, bridge, strings and tailpiece changed, and probably sound-post too. So this would probably come to about £800-£1,000

June 19, 2016 at 12:36 PM · The prices Peter gives are for the lower grade of hand made by one maker modern violins(and some of them are fakes made in the white in China and finished by the luthier), and similar quality antique hand made by one maker violins can be had for substantially less than that or more, depends on the instrument and who you buy it from.

In Student to intermediate grade antique violins, I don't find hand made by one maker to be always an advantage over good quality group production. The OP has talked about having very low budget for buying violins, at my store a really quality budget genuine antique instrument with all the proper setup(bridge, soundpost, fingerboard pegs etc) that his violin seem to be lacking start at around $800. I am aware that fairly well set up Chinese new violins can be had for this price also(though I doubt they are set up as well), you would have to compare them to see which you prefer.

June 19, 2016 at 12:50 PM · Hi Lyndon - yes, Chinese fiddles have to be re-set-up as the finer points are missing . I'm sure there are older more antique fiddles available, of which a few can be great, if set up by someone really very good.

I played on a fairly crap violin for a few years as a 13 year old. But this can help you understand how to produce a good sound, even if the fiddle is not great. In the end the player can learn how to sound pretty amazing on a lesser instrument. Even Heifetz early on had a fairly basic old Italian fiddle from which he produced amazing sounds.

June 19, 2016 at 07:06 PM · A Tononi is a fine concert instrument, not basic, or it wouldn't be bequeathed to Heifetz'student, Sherry Kloss.:)

Let's not exaggerate to try to make a point please!

June 19, 2016 at 11:12 PM · Hi Tim, from looking at your violin pictures I think you have a nice instrument for your money, a decent value. Do you have a teacher? If not you will need to find one to help you on your musical path. Your teacher can recommend a good luthier to properly setup your new violin after you have saved up about three hundred dollars or a little more. As the others here have already said,this should get you a new properly fitted bridge, a properly fitted soundpost, the nut properly fitted.

I think the key for you is a good teacher, and careful steady practice. The violin does not play itself and you will be the one pulling the sound from it. There is nothing about the violin that is easy or inexpensive in my opinion. I do think though that eventually with the right set up you will find greater joy in your practice and playing.

June 20, 2016 at 11:27 AM · A.O.

I hope you won't report me to the headmaster!

Oh, you ARE the headmaster!!

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