Is it unprofessional to use a tailpiece with 4 tuners?

August 13, 2016 at 04:12 AM · Hey Guys,

I was having a conversation with my local violin luthier, and we were talking about the effect of a good tailpieces on the sound of the violin. He also mentioned how it is unprofessional to use a tailpiece with 4 tuners. I didn't understand why, but I did realize that more expensive violins most often had a single tuner on the E. I would love to hear your responses as to why it is considered to be unprofessional to have 4 tuners. I currently have a single tuner for my E string, and I do not have a problem with just the single tuner, but I was curious to why people may have a problem with 4 tuners.

Replies (48)

August 13, 2016 at 04:17 AM · Because it is not optimal for the tone, it will never sound as good as the regular tailpiece set up IMHO, to many metal parts to rattle around, and it can really mess with the afterlengths if the fine tuners protrude in front of the tailpiece.

August 13, 2016 at 05:49 AM · If you play well, no one important will care what tuners you have. However if you want four tuners, get a tailpiece with built in adjusters. Bois du harmonie make good wooden ones.

Cheers Carlo

August 13, 2016 at 06:26 AM · That's the best choice, Carlo, if you insist on fine tuners, and the least detrimental to the tone of all the fine tuner options, but the inbuilt tuners do not work very well on those inbuilt models from my experience, to the point of why bother, get your pegs maintained properly and just learn to tune with pegs like violin players have done for hundreds of years, is my advice.

The only place is see for all fine tuners is children, and violins that have barely functioning pegs that makes fine tuning by pegs just too difficult.

August 13, 2016 at 07:17 AM · Lyndon, for most people, I couldn't agree more!

Cheers Carlo

August 13, 2016 at 07:25 AM · No one in the studios cares what your equipment is, as long as you do your job, which includes playing in tune. If that requires being able to make the kind of quick and small adjustments that built-in fine tuners allow, then by all means, use them.

Nearly everyone that I've played outdoor wedding gigs with uses instruments with four built-in fine tuners, especially the cellists, who would not be caught dead without that equipment available in any setting where temperature and humidity can cause strings to go out of tune more quickly than normal.

However, the big metal ones that screw into an existing wood tailpiece are awful, as mentioned they screw things up. It's better to go with the Wittner Ultra if you don't want to spend more than $20, or one of the integrated carbon fiber fine tuners on fine wooden tailpieces from Bois d'Harmonie:

August 13, 2016 at 09:18 AM · I like the fine tuners for convenience. All depends on your priorities and how much of a difference the tailpiece actually makes to the sound of your instrument.

August 13, 2016 at 09:20 AM · A luthier that I know said there is nothing wrong with using the Wittner space-age composite tailpiece. However, he does discourage using four metal tuners on a wood tailpiece. The key, it seems, is not to have a heavy tailpiece.

August 13, 2016 at 09:27 AM · The wooden tailpieces with the inbuilt fine tuners are not heavy, and wood ALWAYS has a better tone than metal or composite IMHO, the amount of metal in the wood tailpieces is very little, hardly more than one single heavy conventional fine tuner on the e string

Or were you referring to a conventional wooden tailpiece with four protruding metal fine tuners, in which case we all agree that is not the best option. And is heavier.

I'm taking about the wooden tailpieces with inbuilt small tuners that preserve the same exact afterlength as a conventional tailpiece.

August 13, 2016 at 11:20 AM · The practicalities pro and con have already been well covered. But somehow, aesthetically, a tp full of tuners reminds me of a mouth full of braces! (That's not a put down. I've been there - but still...)

August 13, 2016 at 11:29 AM · At my shop, when an instrument comes in to be refurbished for sale, excess fine tuners and fine tuner tailpieces are the first things to go, and there they sit in my box until a buyer comes along and says my sons teacher insists he has fine tuners on every string, then the suspect tailpieces find their second life!!

August 13, 2016 at 12:22 PM · Gene, I was not able to get from that link to the wooden tail piece with built in CF fine tuners. Can you help with that? Do they have a tail piece with only ONE built-in fine tuner?

August 13, 2016 at 01:00 PM · Michael Tree (Guarneri Quartet) uses a Wittner tailpiece with fine tuners in all strings, and I think he is a professional. Just avoid the big, have ones, as mentioned by Gene Wie.

August 13, 2016 at 01:18 PM · I've been using Bois d'Harmonie tailpieces on all my instruments for at least 10 years. When your wrist joints start to go it makes sense. There is no metal in the fine tuners of these tailpieces other than the tiny screw (and the tuner ardware can be removed for any string you wish. I tried many tailpieces before making the large expenditure for Bois d'Harmonie. For me nothing else compared - and the instruments' sound is no different than when I was using bare-naked tailpieces.

Cellists have been using such fine tuners for at least 50 years. Some cellists still use the add-on fine tuners and based on their sound those who do seem to get away with it. On my cello I did not use fine tuners when I was playing with gut and gut-core strings -- and it was a real pain, especially in the soggy eastern states with no air conditioning.

I don't care if it is "unprofessional." Those who say it is are snobs. This whole "racket' is about playing the music. We don't look down on pianists for hiring tuners.

August 13, 2016 at 02:08 PM · I agree that the fine tuners can help those of us with some joint issues or with residual hand and wrist weakness from previous repetitive stress injury. I also think — purely a nonprofessional opinion here ;-) — that for a majority of players the difference in sound quality will be imperceptible to a member of the audience.

August 13, 2016 at 02:32 PM · Fair point, Cynthia.

AFter all, it is up to the customer, if the customer wants fine tuners they get fine tuners, unfortunately at my store if the customer wants pegheads or wittner mechanical tuners they get directed to one of my competitors!!LOL

August 13, 2016 at 03:30 PM · First of all, to make a choice based on worrying about how you look is dubious. Tuning and tone are better considerations.

Mainly, it depends. If you have really well fitted pegs, you work in stable temperature and humidity, you don't use steels core strings and you feel comfortable with peg tuning then go ahead. Even better, get geared pegs.

I'll speak for myself here. I find myself in all sorts of temperature changes and if you play with nylon string guitarists it may be them that go out of tune, so midway through playing it is good if you can adjust quickly. I don't think pegs are so good for on the fly tuning. On some of my violins I have steel core strings and they take less turn to tune so it's not uncommon for steel string players to have adjusters. Tuners may take away some tone due to weight and length of string before the tailpiece. Built in tuners have less affect on tone if any. Personally, I value tuning over the nth degree of tone and wish to be judged by my playing rather than if I look the correct part according to somebody else's ideas.

August 13, 2016 at 03:53 PM · As usual, Andrew Victor's is the steady voice of reason and experience.

Here are my comments (and remember that I'm an amateur subject to being overruled by anyone with superior training and experience):

1. The most important thing you have to do as a violinist is play in tune. Unless you're Joshua Bell, you can't expect to do that on an out of tune violin. Your tone will mean *nothing* if you are out of tune.

2. If you're a student, you're probably playing a student-level instrument which might not have super smooth friction pegs. Using fine tuners makes sense.

3. There are plenty of good options for tail pieces with built in tuners, whether made of wood or of some composite material.

4. Unless you are playing a violin that is worth more than $10,000, then your instrument's tone isn't going to be so special or so finicky that things like built-in fine tuners, or gear pegs, or shoulder rests are going to make a huge difference.

5. Unless you are at the Bruch or Mendelssohn concerto level, given the equipment you have, the largest factor affecting your tone isn't your fine tuners -- it's your technique.

6. Someone mentioned Michael Tree using fine tuners, and there's a top-level player for sure. (If he does, then I think that answers the original question very succinctly.) For that matter there are excellent violinists who have had the gear pegs installed in very precious antique violins.

7. Gear pegs are another issue, and there have been plenty of threads on those already. I use them. But as Christopher Payne pointed out, even gear pegs are not as fast or as convenient for on-the-fly fine adjustments. As someone else said previously, that's important if you're in situations (gigging) where your violin is subject to changes in temperature or humidity.

August 13, 2016 at 04:07 PM · As long as you realize you're expressing a minority opinion, the vast majority of violin players do just fine with a standard tailpiece and e string fine tuner, that's what most musicians do, and its demonstrably one of the best options tonally. Any player can use fine tuners if they want them, but most player feel no need for them, and I think most experts will back me up on this.

August 13, 2016 at 04:37 PM · I think this whole thing is up to you. I prefer four fine tuners because I can tune accurately and quickly more easily. The pegs are in good shape though, and I definitely use them for making big adjustments.

August 13, 2016 at 05:53 PM · Christopher wrote:

"First of all, to make a choice based on worrying about how you look is dubious."


That depends on whether you want to be one of the "cool kids". ;-)

August 13, 2016 at 06:33 PM · In my opinion, installing a tail piece with the built-in tuners may be one of the most affordable ($20 range) investment to improve the usability of your violin. Besides, I think it is beneficial for the intonation. You can worry about the professional appearance when you are at that level.

p.s. I agree to each item in Paul's list above. For item #5 though, your technique is still the dominating factor even after you are well past Mendelssohn.

August 13, 2016 at 08:26 PM · I hate to say this, but a certain amount of this discussion reminds me of SR discussions. Which leads me to believe that unless your luthier can point to some significant change in your sound from having the fine tuners (which I doubt, although it may depend on the brand of tailpiece w/tuners), the main thing that matters is technique, and how the setup works for you.

August 14, 2016 at 02:18 AM · Is having four adjusters a wee bit like having stabilisers or trainer wheels on your bicycle? Necessary, until you learn to do without them ;-)

Cheers Carlo

August 14, 2016 at 02:26 AM · Hey guys,

I thoroughly understand now, that the significance is minimally likely to affect an audition or recital. I really liked the metaphor you used regarding the bicycle and four tuners, Carlos. Also, Paul, it's funny you mention Mendelssohn and Bruch, because I just finished the Bruch violin concerto and I am learning the Mendelssohn.

Thank you guys for all the thoughtful responses!


August 14, 2016 at 03:38 AM · My teacher claims the 4-fine-tuner tailpiece I use makes my violin rattle. I like it for speediness of tuning and ease on my fingers, but when I get a new violin, I'll switch to a 1-fine-tuner tailpiece.

August 14, 2016 at 03:40 AM · One of my violins had gone through four different tailpieces. I could not tell any difference in sound. But when my bow hair loses grip, the sound changes are obvious.

I know some people fuss over the endpin material and the type of tailgut used. If you need to go that far to search for a better tone, you probably are already playing at a level better than many violinists.

August 14, 2016 at 04:04 AM · The 'training wheels' analogy is rather condescending, even w/ the emoticon. I played (in pro orch) for quite a while w/ one tuner. Now I have integrated tuners on both instruments for ease, accuracy and uniformity. Maybe it is the minority who are simply ahead on the learning curve?

August 14, 2016 at 05:24 AM · No offence meant Marjory, I merely voiced what many people think. What I believe is in my first post; if you play well, no one important will care!

Cheers Carlo

August 14, 2016 at 11:37 AM · A practical question: I associate fine tuners with metal core strings. Do they work equally well with non-metal core strings, i.e. gut core or non gut core?

August 14, 2016 at 02:50 PM · Fine tuners are just fine adjustments in string length. Gut and nylon are far more "stretchy" than steel core, so for G, D, and A strings, it takes a lot of screwing around with a fine tuner to make much difference in the pitch. The steel E is far more sensitive, so therefore a fine tuner is needed.

I have tried out all kinds of tailpieces, and the only ones that I found to make a large downside difference are very light ones... hollowed boxwood or the like, where the G string loses power. I haven't tried a wooden tailpiece with 4 heavy add-on adjusters, as that is just too clunky and likely to put major dents in the top.

Bottom line... for fiddlers using steel core strings (and often needing to use alternate tunings), 4 fine tuners are a huge help. Gut/nylon strings aren't so touchy, so you can manage with peg tuning. And, yes, I think there is the snobbery issue for playing a classical violin with more fine tuners on it than just the E, and that comes in different levels too: a fancy Bois d'Harmonie would get more respect than a Wittner.

August 14, 2016 at 03:37 PM · If your stand-mate gives you any grief for having four fine tuners, just practice your butt off and leave them in the dust at the next audition.

August 15, 2016 at 04:51 PM · It may be that playing violin with a fixed pitch, like piano or in classical setting is a different than those on this board who play other types of music. Sometimes I play with singers who use capos on guitar. You can both be "in tune" in open positions, but as soon as a capo is used, the pitch is raised very slightly. The singer will then sing to the corresponding pitch, you must make quick adjustments with 4 string tuners or be out of tune with them.

August 15, 2016 at 05:04 PM · It appears that Yuri Bashmet has no trouble using all 4!

I guess it comes handy on a monster size viola....

Personally, the less metal there is, the better my instrument sounds.

August 15, 2016 at 05:26 PM · My daughter's violin teachers often used the built-in fine tuners in her violin when tuning it for her. Even the one who was initially against the fine tuners.

I really feel sorry for the young student violinists (and their parents) who have to struggle with terrible tuning experience because their teachers refuse to acknowledge what is basically an ergonomics/usability issue.

August 15, 2016 at 11:52 PM · @Sung. I don't think anybody is against the use of four adjusters for children. Fractional sizes nearly always come with four tuners. The OP was asking about professional use.

Cheers Carlo

August 16, 2016 at 12:33 AM · It doesn't matter whether it's for children or for professional use. What is "unprofessional" is to play out of tune, or not be able to keep your instrument in tune when environmental conditions might cause rapid changes (and demand rapid fixes).

August 16, 2016 at 01:32 AM · Gene - you have nailed it. Thanks.

August 16, 2016 at 09:47 AM · @Gene. I couldn't agree more about playing in tune, but for rapid adjustments, properly fitted friction pegs are faster than adjusters.

Personally, I don't think it is unprofessional to use four tuners, just ugly!

Cheers Carlo

August 16, 2016 at 11:52 AM · Jeff has an interesting point. There are contexts where tuning "on the fly" is often necessary, potentially including outdoor performances subject to reasonably rapid changes in temperature and humidity. I'm sure many professionals working in this context would make use of four fine tuners e.g. see photo of Sam Sweeney with his instrument here:

Sam was the fiddle player with Bellowhead.

August 16, 2016 at 02:23 PM · The question of what is "unprofessional" depends on who is doing the judging. If the peer group is fiddlers (even professional ones) of bluegrass or other folk persuasions, you might get one answer. If you're playing in a baroque ensemble, you'd get another. It's almost the equivalent of asking if denim jeans are "professional". It depends where you are.

August 16, 2016 at 06:25 PM · @Don. What a brilliant answer! I forget that fiddlers as well as real violinists write on this site.

Cheers Carlo

August 17, 2016 at 04:45 AM · I was invited to join a baroque string ensemble and investigated what I would have to get as an instrument. My contact said that "everyone" in the ensemble uses geared pegs.

August 17, 2016 at 06:39 AM · @Francesca. That is very sad. Why are these baroque violinists unable to tune their violins properly in a non-anachronistic way? Do they use nylon hair on their carbon fibre bows too?

Cheers Carlo

August 17, 2016 at 09:10 AM · Bassists have been using geared pegs for a very long time, should they return to friction pegs simply because of sentiment?

> but for rapid adjustments, properly fitted friction

> pegs are faster than adjusters.

An accomplished player can use both with equal ease and speed. That's not the issue. Playing in some conditions where temperature and humidity change a lot, like in an opera or musical pit, or at an outdoor venue in the summer, make touching the pegs a gamble. A built-in fine tuner on the tailpiece is more reliable in that instance.

August 17, 2016 at 12:25 PM · I agree with Gene. The bottom line is getting the best possible performance. I say do whatever it takes to get the job done.

August 17, 2016 at 04:25 PM · @Carlo, I'd have to check my notes but I think the subject came up because I said I'd want to retune my viola to 440 for non-concert repertoire.

August 18, 2016 at 09:25 PM · I wouldn't use 4 fine tuners. It shortens the string length and also takes away the resonance. If you use gut strings, you can't use fine tuners. I would use 1 max (for the E). I know people who use 2 on the (E, and A) but that's really unnecessary. You should learn how to use the pegs if you're a serious violinist.

August 18, 2016 at 10:17 PM · It doesn't shorten the string length with integrated fine-tuners like with Wittner or Bois d'Harmonie. We've already established that the add-on metal tuners that do shorten the string length are not preferable, and for the E string the Hill-style tuner that maintains the full length of the E string is best.

I play a gut G/D/A setup and won't take it with me for outdoor performances. :P

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