Does bridge height and string action have any effect on sound quality

February 20, 2017 at 07:17 PM · I have been experimenting a couple of bridges with varying thickness at the tip. I noticed that a thicker tip tends to lessen or mute the high frequencies. A thinner tip is sharper and more vibrant.

But does bridge height or string action (I.e distance between the strings and the fingerboard) have any effect on sound quality. Usually it is easier to play on higher positions when the action is low.

How is your violin bridge set up and how high are your strings from the fingerboard?

What are your thoughts on this?

Replies (20)

February 20, 2017 at 07:24 PM · Bridges should be individually carved and fit to a particular instrument by a capable luthier.

February 20, 2017 at 07:43 PM · yes, and there have already been extensive discussions on this site already. Please use the search engine. It works.

February 21, 2017 at 05:32 PM · Quick answer: yes! Now try as Rocky said!

February 21, 2017 at 06:52 PM · This would be a good question for your teacher.

February 21, 2017 at 10:59 PM · A playing teacher will generally not know a lot about the mechanics of violins. Not that they, and nearly everyone, won't have strong opinions.

For the most part, I don't tell better players how to play. And they don't tell better luthiers....

Not that who is really good at anything is easy to sort out.

February 21, 2017 at 11:19 PM · This is a good question to search out on the internet - provided you can phrase it concisely in several parts. There are researchers who still work on the science of bowed string instruments trying to get good math models of all aspects. ("math" models not "meth" models - I hate the way some of these sites (or is it my computer?) "correct" my spellings!!!)

Carving a bridge well takes much knowledge and skill. The OP has observed some "truths" about bridges and there is lots more to it than getting a good fit to the contour of the instrument's top.

I don't know much about it, but I suspect choosing one's bridge maker is a lot like choosing one's surgeon. I think you'd rather choose the luthier who fits 300 bridges a year than one who fits a dozen. And the luthier's CV (including apprenticeships, schooling, etc.) might have strong bearing on it too. Of course all that knowledge will cost you!

I've bought a few violins in my lifetime and the bridges by the makers of those instruments who also had a very active repair practice were still good 50-60 years later when I had them looked at by other pro luthiers. Bridges by those makers with less repair experience and more time making were replaced and improved by more experienced luthiers - improving the instruments' performance significantly.

However, there is another aspect to the OP's question(s): The more acute the angle of the bend of a string at the bridge, the greater the downward force ("pressure") of the bridge on the top of the violin. My experience has been that although higher bridges can result in more sound from some violins, with others the higher force dampens the sound. This dampening can be alleviated by using lower-tension strings just as greater downward force on the bridge can be created by using higher-tension strings.

The optimum height of the strings above the fingerboard may differ a little bit for different players but must be within a small range.

February 22, 2017 at 12:07 AM · Andy hits the nail on the head. You get good at making bridges by making a ton of them. Luthiers who've spent years working at high-traffic violin shops generally do better bridges. Many makers who haven't done so won't necessarily make great bridges, so the best bridge for an instrument might not actually be the one the maker has done for it.

February 22, 2017 at 03:14 AM · To answer the original question, consider an extreme case. Would a bridge that was six inches tall make a difference to the sound of a violin?

February 22, 2017 at 03:25 AM · Stephen, what is the answer to your question?

February 22, 2017 at 08:00 AM · The extreme cases are obvious. Too low and the strings will hit the fingerboard; too high and you will not be able to press the string down to the fingerboards, and by doing so the bow would hit the neighbour strings instead. But I think the OP meant a mm or two higher or lower - would that make a significant change to the sound or is it only a matter of playability? I do no have the knowledge to answer that, but if the answer is yes then it follows that during the lifetime of your fingerboard, which will be planed dow from time to time, your will either have increased hight of the strings over the fingerboard or changes to the sound of the violin....

February 23, 2017 at 10:44 PM · There's controversy, even in my pro luthier trade. It's widely believed that higher neck projection (within reason) increases sound output. I haven't been able to come to that conclusion yet myself.

Some of the better people in the trade will try different height bridges, before jumping to the conclusion that a neck/fingerboard height needs to be altered to conform to a certain bridge height. Yes, doing the background work might involve greater expense than just resetting a neck according to a set of beliefs. Or maybe not. It might turn out that the neck was just right to begin with.

While a 27mm fingerboard height (measured at the bridge) is considered standard, I've run across really good sounding violins with everything from 22 to 30.

February 23, 2017 at 11:40 PM · What I have found - as an inquisitive "tinkerer" - is that the amount of wood above the cutouts is as important as the thickness and the total height: I try to find blanks where the cutouts are a bit lower. But the actual effects depend on the instrument.

February 24, 2017 at 03:53 AM · David Burgess. I totally concur what you said.

Would a bridge made from more-dense maple produce better sound and increase durability.

February 26, 2017 at 04:58 AM · David,doesn't higher neck projection give more downward force on the bridge? I ask this because I just had my violin overhauled. I noticed my violin was becoming less and less focused and it took great effort to pull out a good fortissimo.

Tim Bergen noticed that the fingerboard had sunk 4mm so he re-angled the neck along with a subsequent new bridge (and dress the fingerboard,reshape the nut,heavy clean up etc.).

The increase in "horsepower" is simply amazing.Was it the neck angle or the new bridge? Or both?

February 26, 2017 at 08:05 AM · Increase in volume would be the increased neck angle.

February 26, 2017 at 12:20 PM · Peter asked:

"David,doesn't higher neck projection give more downward force on the bridge?"


Yes it does, but this is an increase in static downforce, and the static forces produce no sound. It is dynamic or cyclic forces from the vibrating string (and bow) which are responsible for the production of sound.

In your case, I can't pinpoint exactly what was responsible for the increase in "horsepower", or whether it could have been achieved without changing the neck angle. I need to experiment with a violin to get an accurate sense of what it needs.

Guatam, yes, a bridge made from harder or denser maple will generally result in greater durability. However, if the material is very stiff or dense, more of it may need to be selectively trimmed away to give the amount of mass and flexibility needed to produce the best sound.

February 26, 2017 at 02:37 PM · Thanks for that.Although the "horsepower" has increased with the fiddle,the main targeted improvement has been the G string which I have always had my reservations about since I bought it in 1997.Perhaps I perceive "horsepower" as meaning"more connection" with the instrument.Not necessarily louder.

Addendum: just finished a concert...It is louder,in a good way.

February 26, 2017 at 06:33 PM · After 20 years you should change the G string ;-)

February 26, 2017 at 08:20 PM · Hmmm...good idea Bo!

February 28, 2017 at 01:37 PM · A higher bridge does two things: (a) the sharper angle of the strings as they pass over the bridge will transmit more of the string tension downwards into the instrument (a louder, but maybe duller tone); and (b) the vibrating section is a fraction longer than before, so the tension will be a fraction higher to reach the same pitch.

This "(b)" effect was confirmed when I used an adjustable bridge "jack" behind my bridge (to remove bridge without disturbing the pegs). With the real bridge removed, a 2mm rise in the jack raised the pitch about a semitone (9% more tension!) and more in the steel E-string.

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