Time for Planetary pegs?

August 4, 2016 at 05:34 PM · I have a very annoying problem where my pegs are going slightly out of tune after as little as 30 seconds of playing piece. It's most obvious if the piece is virtuosic in some way, requiring fortissimo playing, double stops, or pizzicato. I've tried adding peg grease, but this does not solve the problem. I've had this problem with several violins, and I'm so desperate I am now considering the Knilling perfection planetary pegs. Has anyone tried these pegs? In a perfect world, I'd love a violin that won't go flat, despite heavy pizzicato and heavy playing.

Replies (40)

August 4, 2016 at 05:53 PM · If you have had this problem with several violins, it is most likely something that you are doing instead of something about all of the violins. You are the only thing that they have in common.

Have you gone to a violin maker/repair person and told them this and let them watch you play? Have any or all of the instruments that you have had this issue with been properly set-up or was it a mix of mail order and properly set-up instruments?

I had a player with this complaint, and I tried everything in my arsenal to no avail. Another shop in town eventually found that the saddle was loose...not the usual!

I'm putting in 2 sets of Perfection Pegs today, and they work very well, but I can't say that they would solve your problem with any great confidence. Well fit, well maintained good wood pegs are still the best. Every generation seems to have invented a replacement guaranteed to improve upon the old friction peg. Every successive generation of violin makers seem to have to remove the previous "improvements" and replace them with plain old friction pegs.

August 4, 2016 at 06:03 PM · After the peg problem is fixed, one way to facilitate tuning is to replace the tail piece with a Wittner type with built-in fine tuners. It makes the micro-tuning much easier and quicker without a significant increase in overall weight.

August 4, 2016 at 07:20 PM · Andrew, do you use a specific type of strings? I am finding that the Pirastro Chromcor G does that on me all the time, and I do have the perfection geared pegs.

August 4, 2016 at 07:55 PM · Look at the clock. If there is a big hand and a small hand, then it's time for gear pegs!!

But also ...

I agree with Duane that you seem to be the factor in common for all the violins you've tried, but if they're all $50 violins, then they still might all have ill-fitting pegs.

The Wittner tail piece with the built-in tuners that Sung Han recommended is a good alternative. Luthier needs to install that, it's not a DIY job.

You do want to ask a luthier to look at your violin and make sure there is not some other problem like a tail gut that is slipping or some other kind of mechanical issue.

Are you also in the habit of experimenting with different sets of strings these days? Strings can take a week or two to settle down and maintain pitch.

August 4, 2016 at 10:05 PM · Andrew, You say that "my pegs are going slightly out of tune," but pegs are never really in tune. I assume that you mean your strings are going out of tune. Can you see that the pegs are slipping? Are you in the helpful habit of lubricating the string notch in the nut when you change strings, with pencil lead (graphite)? Sometimes the strings can hang up there, and then relax to a more equalized state with a little playing. And are you tuning "up" to pitch, and not down? When you tune down to pitch the string can hang up a bit in the nut slot, and again relax to equalibrium when you start to play.

August 5, 2016 at 04:27 AM · Thanks everyone for your help! I should clarify my question. What are the best pegs to prevent any sort of slipping? Gear pegs or normal pegs? I guess my complaint is against the unfortunate laws of physics, and possibly lack of peg grease.

My current instrument is a 2005 violin worth around $12,000 and is well set up with one fine tuner on the E, although I'm having trouble with the D and G strings primarily. One of my old teachers showed me how to pull a string (pizz) to make it slightly flatter, or press inside the peg box to slighty raise it. This is only a few cents of change, but annoying when it happens unintentionally. I'm trying to minimize, or prevent this from happening, if it's even humanly possible.

August 5, 2016 at 04:59 AM · Andrew,

With some of the higher tension strings, like Evahs, if you pull/stretch to make it flatter and/or press in the pegbox to make it sharper, that alone will damage some of the strings in a way that might explain some of your problem.

As I said earlier, the best peg is a well fit, well maintained friction peg. As with a regular peg, the mechanical pegs will present a problem if the groove at the nut isn't smoothe and well lubricated. The string can bind and jump a bit while playing or tuning, so that is something else to check.

I would venture that most professional players frown upon the use of geared pegs, although I have put them in some pretty expensive instruments, and if you polled symphony players on this subject that they would probably tell you that they have slight variations in pitch when playing, but they just listen and play in tune anyway.

August 5, 2016 at 09:22 AM · With insufficiently seasoned woods, we will often have an oval peg in an oval hole, according to the weather (the British version of climate..)

August 5, 2016 at 12:55 PM · After I installed my first set of geared pegs, I became a true believer. I have no fine tuners on any of the strings and find it trivial to tune using either a chromatic tuner or double stopping to just perfect fifths. The pegs do not slip.

That said, well setup friction pegs should not slip either. But there are a variety of things that can cause a string to go out of tune while playing, even with geared pegs. Each has to be investigated in turn until you resolve the problem.

My first question would be how do you know the pegs are slipping? It sounds like they are professionally setup so you might want to consider the following issues, all related friction of the string against some part of the violin.

If a string is touching the side of the pegbox, this can cause a problem with the string going out of tune as you play.

If the string exits the nut groove into the peg box at an extreme angle, this can also cause friction at tuning which will eventually release while playing and change the tuning.

Grooves on the bridge which are very narrow, or if the width of the top of the bridge is too narrow will cause friction and sticking problems that can change the tuning while playing.

Fine tuners on tail pieces can, rarely, have the level mechanism stick against the tailpiece and cause unexpected friction release and tuning issues during play.

If the friction pegs move smoothly and allow you to feel them grab when you press in on them, you might want to examine some of the things I mentioned to see if they are causing your problem.

Finally, be aware that many strings, when new, will "creep" while playing until the stretching stabilizes.

August 5, 2016 at 01:05 PM · Time for Planetary pegs? No!

Remove the pegs one at a time, clean 99% of the peg paste off the pegs, then re-install. When tuning, NEVER pull the string, and NEVER push the string in the pegbox, turn the peg to adjust the pitch of the the strings. Problem solved.

Speaking of dogma... I would only put mechanical geared pegs on a painted electric violin, which I would then place in a plastic BAM case, and give to Donald Trump.

Cheers Carlo

August 5, 2016 at 01:54 PM · I'm curious...to those who dislike planetary pegs, could you elaborate as to why? I'm having trouble understanding what the downside could be.

And there are plenty of upsides - besides the reduced risk that your violin's pegs will pick the moments before your recital starts to start misbehaving, isn't there also the advantage that the peg holes won't become enlarged over time due to the wear and tear of friction pegs?

August 5, 2016 at 04:58 PM · I have had Wittner geared pegs installed on all my violins. They are excellent : I have never had any problems with them and the violins stay in tune even through extreme climate variations. They make life so much easier !

NOTE : Isn't peg grease more likely to make your pegs slip. Why are you using that ?

August 5, 2016 at 06:31 PM · Would the ideal peg grease have thixotropic properties?

August 5, 2016 at 08:35 PM · I also have gear pegs on all my instruments. Knillings on my daughter's violin, PegHeds, on my violin, and Wittner Finetune pegs on my viola. They are all good instruments. I have written elsewhere about my opinion of the three brands, and PedHeds do have an edge over the others.

There have been so many threads already on the pros and cons of gear pegs. Do we need another? Perhaps we can summarize:

The main pros are: (1) Gear pegs work better. They NEVER slip and you never need peg dope or chalk or rosin or grease or any other such nonsense. You have to get used to how slowly they turn because of the static friction at the nut that was mentioned earlier. Even more important to tune in the up direction. (2) They are much less stressful on your hands and wrist because you only need to push in very gently (you don't have to push in at all with Wittner pegs, which are not "planetary" in their internal mechanism).

The main cons are: (1) Sometimes a small amount of reaming is necessary to fit the gear peg, because while they are available in many sizes, obviously the sizing is still in discrete intervals. Adhesive should not be needed but sometimes it is used. These are not insignificant considerations for a very rare antique instrument, but many rare/expensive violins HAVE been fitted with gear pegs, including at least one Strad (Elizabeth Pitcairn's "Red Violin" has Wittner pegs). (2) The weight of the gear peg is a little different and some worry (i.e., "know") that this will change the instrument's overall tone. (3) Knilling and Wittner pegs have plastic heads, which may be undesirable aesthetically, and as far as I know you cannot get gear pegs where the shaft is anything but black. PegHeds allow the normal wooden head of your regular pegs to be grafted securely onto a steel shaft.

Charles Herin, proprietor of PegHeds, claims to have personally installed hundreds of sets of gear pegs, and not one customer has ever asked to go back to friction pegs.

August 5, 2016 at 09:02 PM · In my opinion, the geared pegs are the future. Unfortunately substantial number of violinists and/or violin teachers seem to be averse to changes, reminding me of the LP/tube amp aficionados.

August 5, 2016 at 09:13 PM · In my opinion, geared pegs are not the future, but an abomination, used by those that cannot fit, or cannot use traditional pegs. Traditional pegs have worked perfectly for hundreds of years. Look at my avatar, 1610 pegbox, no cracks, no bushing, and pegs that turn effortlessly.

Cheers Carlo

August 5, 2016 at 09:19 PM · Well, I respect your opinion and your choices, Carlo, but lots of technologies have been improved since 1610.

August 5, 2016 at 09:50 PM · Carlo,

if it is from 1610, it has bushings. You might have difficulty seeing them, but if it is the orig. pegbox, and it has been used since 1610, it has bushings.

August 5, 2016 at 09:50 PM · Paul, I agree! Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu did improve on Amati's work. So I'm not against progress :-)

Duane, unusually there are no bushings. This is noted on the papers. It has the original Amati scroll and neck extended at the heel. The back too is perfect. Unfortunately the front did not escape the ravages of time. Cracked, patched, and fully half edged :-(

Cheers Carlo

August 5, 2016 at 10:21 PM · I was in my 70s when I first heard of internally geared pegs. They made good sense to me. I had already switched out my simple (bare-naked) tailpieces for Bois d'Harmonie (integral tuner) tailpieces because osteo-arthritis made peg turning difficult. My luthier (Ifshin) said they had never installed such pegs (at that time) so over a fairly short time period I (personally) installed Pegheds or Knilling Perfection Pegs in 3 cellos, one viola, and 7 violins (including one 5-string), I had no mishaps, although I had never done anything like it before - and I have never regretted doing it. Some years later I installed a set of Wittner Fine-Tune pegs in an 8th violin and was please with the results, although I never really played or tuned that violin after that.

I gave 2 of the Knilling-Pegged violins and the Wittner-pegged violin to my adult son and I asked him last week what he thought of the pegs and he liked the way loosening the Knillings by pulling them out a little makes installing new strings faster, and he has never had any problem with them, but he thought he slightly preferred using the Wittner pegs.

I will be installing geared pegs in one of my adult granddaughter's violins next month so I called Ifshin to learn their opinion in this decade. They have installed Knillings and Wittners and said they generally prefer Knillings. So at this point I'm in a bit of a quandery about which brand to buy for the next installation.

Personally I have been delighted using all my geared pegs. A colleague who plays an Enrico Rocca violin had Pegheds installed by the Rolland Feller shop in San Francisco earlier this year. The Wittner ads say that virtuoso Elizabeth Pitcairn had Witnner Fine-Tune pegs installed on her "Mendelssohn Red Stradivarius" violin. (SO - that's 2 expensive fiddles with them.)

August 5, 2016 at 10:40 PM · My daughter's full-size violin has geared pegs, and she is immensely benefiting from the effortless tuning. I have witnessed so many intonation problems in kids' recital, and the vast majority of them were flat, even after the teacher tuned their violin to perfection. Why?

I don't have a scientific evidence, but my guess is that the difficulty with tuning made kids not to bother with it in their daily practice. This may have in turn gradually caused their ears to adjust to a flat version over time.

The guitar has been around at least since the 17th century, and even classical guitars have the gear pegs. I have never met a guitarist who advocates friction pegs, unlike some violinists do here.

August 5, 2016 at 10:49 PM · Well, that turned into a pegwar fast... Shall we mention improvements made by adding chinrest and shoulder-rest while we're at it?

I think the bottom line is that there is no "time for" something, rather, an opportunity to explore because you are curious from what others recommend. If you like it, that's good, if not, then it can be switched back, if fitted, and replaced properly by professional luthiers.

I can tell you that, I've been curious about the geared pegs for a long time, eversince I learned that my luthier put them on the viola d'amoire that she made.

I have had some well fitted, and good experiences with friction pegs, and some bad experiences, mostly environment related. Basically, if I tuned my violin in my 60%RH, 23degC in my room, and start playing it in the basement at 80%RH, 25degC, I do have to retune it. Mostly from strings stretching. The difference is that with friction pegs, a well fitted peg in my room swells and gets too big in the basement, and gets harder to turn. Plus, my arthritis and 2 surgeries on my left shoulder doesn't help either.

With geared pegs, I find them, about the same stability as well fitted friction pegs, in a good 'indoor' condition(Let's not start CF vs Wood bow here).

August 5, 2016 at 11:03 PM · Steven, "traditionalists" would strongly encourage you to buy a much more expensive violin to solve your friction peg problem ;)

August 5, 2016 at 11:24 PM · Steven, SRs are an abomination too...

Cheers Carlo

August 6, 2016 at 12:22 AM · Sung, I'll have ZERO problems with that if traditionalists will pay for one ;)

August 6, 2016 at 02:47 AM · Steven J. - "· Well, that turned into a pegwar fast... "

Weird.

August 6, 2016 at 03:06 AM · Edlix, when I posted on any discussion threads regarding getting perfection pegs, when I was getting them. All threads reached 100 quickly due to people arguing why friction pegs are superior/inferior and etc.

August 6, 2016 at 03:25 AM · I started having to mess with "friction pegs" in late 1938. I have done it in summer relative humidity (RH) of 100% at over 90° F, in desert heat over 100° and 5% RH, an autumn night open air concert at Death Valley in the 50°s, etc. etc,. I have watched professional cellists on stage have to turn their instruments so they could face the fingerboard and grasp the friction pegs in their right hands (left hands at shoulder height not being strong enough) to try to tune up their strings. BUT NO MORE!

Traditions are great, grab a spear and fetch home a rabbit for dinner, please!

August 6, 2016 at 06:33 AM · A spear and a rabbit for dinner have nothing to do with tradition, only survival.

Cheers Carlo

August 6, 2016 at 02:37 PM · For some players shoulder rests and geared pegs are also about "survival."

August 6, 2016 at 05:34 PM · As someone with a 1790s instrument from a foundation, which costs around as much as a Mercedes S-class, I would say that geared pegs work just fine and they were on the instrument when I picked it up from the shop. I find them a bit more convenient when tuning, though it takes a little longer to change strings. I wouldn't say most friction pegs are the end of the world though.

August 6, 2016 at 09:56 PM · I feel it is a shame that the foundation fitted mechanical monstrosities to such an instrument. They should, in my opinion, be preserving the integrity of the violin. The maker intended it to have traditional friction pegs. What is next? Fitting a pick-up and drilling the belly to add the tone controls?

Cheers Carlo

August 7, 2016 at 12:04 AM · What about Strads? They were "supposed" to be baroque instruments, who had their neck and fingerboard lifted. Even "La Pucelle" had her "integrity" disrupted/modified.

Here's what they look 'should' look like left with their original integrity

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/55.86a-c/

August 7, 2016 at 12:30 AM · Steven's link to the 1693 "Gould" Strad in the Met has an audio of it being played - a "Prelude" by Carlo Ambrogio Lonati; this is probably the closest we'll get to hearing what a Strad really sounded like in its day.

August 7, 2016 at 02:29 AM · Speaking of which, I'm curious, how did they fine-tune the E string without the finetuner during Baroque period? I'm guessing the friction pegs are/were good enough?

August 7, 2016 at 03:47 AM · gut e does not need a fine tuner, steel e does

August 7, 2016 at 09:48 AM · As an everyday user of plain gut strings I can confirm that a gut E is easy to tune from the peg, as are the others; assuming of course that the pegs are in good order and that there is good pencil lubrication of the grooves at the end of the fingerboard and in the bridge.

August 8, 2016 at 04:49 PM · If Elizabeth Pitcairn uses Wittner Fine Tune, I think I've found my match! Thanks for your input everyone!

August 8, 2016 at 06:24 PM · Andrew, please be aware that Wittner pegs tune twice as slowly as PegHeds or Knillings. That may be desirable to you, but it does aggravate the issue of static friction holding back the string at the nut. Also the heads of the Wittner pegs are not as aesthetically pleasing because they have to be slightly chubby as the gears reside in the heads, rather than in the shaft. Look carefully and if possible feel a set of pegs before buying.

Ms. Pitcairn may have chosen Wittners for a different reason, possibly because their installation, for her particular violin, required less invasive treatment of the existing pegbox (reaming, etc.). I really don't know though. It is also possible that she has been compensated by Wittner for use of her name and image in their advertising.

I think a very good thing for a shop like Potter to have would be a few not-for-sale student instruments (perhaps scratched or damaged and therefore not worth very much) that have different sets of gear pegs so that you could see them and try them.

August 8, 2016 at 09:34 PM · I had Wittners installed by the same shop that Elizabeth went to, Robert Cauer in Hollywood. In my case, his reasoning was that the pegbox (18th century Italian violin) was going to need so much work that this might be a better solution. (less stress overall on the box, cracks wouldn't reopen, etc) I had never considered switching over for tuning reasons. But having used them for a few years now, it would be hard to go back, I have to say! I don't love the look of the Wittners, but they may improve that in time.

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