Bridge Height

June 19, 2004 at 12:53 AM · My (new) luthier has recently put a new bridge on my violin which is a lot higher than I'm used to (3.1cm at G string side and 2.6cm at E string side with a fairly high curvature). This feels very high to me and I'm having trouble playing clearly at the top end of the fingerboard as the action is a lot higher. I'm also getting harsh string marks on my fingers. I'm not sure whether or not to get it lowered or maybe try gut strings or soft tension strings to decrease the tension. However, the higher bridge was put on in the first place to increase the tension of the strings.

I wondered if there is such thing as an 'average' bridge height, or is it purely personal preference vs. quality of sound?

Replies (16)

June 19, 2004 at 01:21 AM · i've never noticed bridge height to affect quality of sound unless it is way too low, if i were you i'd have it put back to what you're comfortable at and try different strings to get the desired tension. Company's like Infeld-dominant etc post lists of string tensions precisely for this reason.

June 19, 2004 at 02:38 AM · Greetings,

Owen, bridge height is a -fundamnetal- factor in the kind of sound your violin produces and it takes a very experienced luthier to decide this in discussion with the palyer as well as lsitening to them play. My violin does not fucntion well without a higher than average bridge but, there is no way I want a really high gap betwen the strings and the fingerboard. There are three options abailable:

1) change the angle of the neck (major operation)

2) Place a wedge under the fingerboard (you might wnat to discuss this oneNancy)

3) Have a slightly thick fingerboard curved upwards in abanana shape. this takes a rather skilled craftsman to do but it is what I have dne by one of the top three luthiers in Japan- but we are talknig good and -expensive-now.

It sound sot me like this work was done without adequte consultation with Nancy and she has every right to be dissatisfied in a positve way. Talk to your teacher, explain what the probnelm is and see how they can help.

The height of the bridge should not be forcing you to change strings if you have a preference for a certain string. the luthier shoudl have taken this inot account,

Cheers

Buri

June 19, 2004 at 10:22 AM · Thanks Owen & Buri. Buri - please could you explain the wedge under the fingerboard thing?

I did initially ask my luthier to keep the bridge low, but he convinced me that my violin would sound a lot better if it was higher, but I can't actually hear much difference. I forgot to mention that he also lowered the nut. I found another problem with this last night in that when I play high on (for example) the D string, because the string has to be depressed quite a way to get a clear note, the bow is catching both the G and A strings when I play - there seems to be no way I can play on the D on its own. I'm not sure if this is down to the height of the bridge or its curvature, but I'm sure this can't be right?

June 19, 2004 at 10:38 AM · I understand your problem because recently I had a similar situation, where the distance between my strings and the finger board was too high and it resulted me in having to apply more pressure on the strings than necessary. As Owen was saying about placing an insert under the finger board, this is porbably the best wasy to solve the problem. This will automatically raise your fingerboard higher and make the distance between finderboard and strings shorter. In relation to your bridge, from what I gather, your bridge is most likely not shaped correctly or evenly for even string crossing. The perfect shape is one that has the D string as the highest, the G string lower, but the E and A string is curved much steeper down towards the curve, where your bowing occurs. You can solve this problem by having your luthier reshape your bridge or get a new one. However, in the end it is your choice to make because you're the one that has to play it.

Anyway, I hope this helps.

June 19, 2004 at 12:21 PM · There are precise measurements involved. The distance between the surface of the fingerboard (at the bridge end) and the underside of the string, should be exactly 5 mm. (3/16") on the G string side, and 3 mm. (1/8") on the E string side.

That assumes you are on a full-size violin, the measurements being different for other sizes.

The precise measurement for the spacings on the bridge on a full-size violin, from the G string to the E, is 34 mm.

Hope that's helpful. It never ceases to amaze me how many violin repairers get these distances wrong - strings way too high off the fingerboard, strings way too low, and strings unequally spaced on the bridge.

The sad part of it is that of course it is the player who always gets the blame - if, for example, their co-ordination of bow with string is all a mess when in fact it was the guy who cut the nicks on the bridge who was acting as a kind of saboteur.

Tim

June 19, 2004 at 01:43 PM · Tim, you're absolutely right about the nominal measurements for string height. In my experience, though, players have different tolerances and opinions when it comes to string tension. Here in New York, most people like to have the strings a little higher, say at 5 mm and 4 mm (G and E), or even 6 and 4.5. The extra tension and pressure that it takes to stop the string gives more "snap" to your articulation.

On the other hand, when I was working in Indianapolis, most players, especially members of the ISO, wanted the height at 4 and 3-3.5. It makes for less articulation, but stopping the string requires less pressure and makes the instrument easier to play overall.

There's also always a sound quality tradeoff to the debate as well. In general, a higher bridge will tend to produce a louder and brighter sound (more string tension). A lower bridge will tend towards the opposite. However, if you still want the brighter sound quality of a high bridge with the playability of a low one, you can change the angle of the neck in the ways that Owen and Buri were describing. Another alternative is to raise the pitch of the neck, sort of a "poor man's" neck reset. You do this by placing a very thin wedge (many times .5 mm)at the joint between the neck and the upper block, without fully removing the neck. The wedge changes the angle just enough to raise the pitch (the height of the fingerboard if you were to extend it out to the bridge). The pitch on a healthy instrument should be about 26-28 mm, depending on how much tension the instrument can take.

June 19, 2004 at 03:04 PM · Yes, the angle of the neck has to be right, and certainly individual preference into how high or low you want the bridge to be, must be possible.

I don't ever understand, though, why anybody chooses to have a higher string action, thereby causing the left fingers to have to work so much harder.

You want the fingers to 'dance lightly' over the fingerboard, not go 'press, press, press, press' all over the place - and the higher the bridge, the more you've got to press to stop the string.

Besides, the gain in string tension under the bow that you get from having a higher bridge, is as nothing compared to keeping the bridge at a normal height and simply bowing a little nearer to the bridge.

There's another thing as well. In a way, this is one of the 'best-kept secrets' about setting up a violin. What I am referring to is...the length of the tail-gut.

The very slightest adjustment in the length of the tail gut has as big an effect on the tone, and the feel of the string under the bow, as the slightest adjustment of the soundpost has on the tone.

And like the position of the soundpost, where there is one exact place where you get the 'best of all possible worlds' in terms of equal advantage for the upper and lower strings, i.e. the post left, right, forwards, or backwards, similarly there is a specific length of the tailgut which, coupled with the exact height and position of the bridge, produces the most perfect feel of the string under the bow and the most perfect resonant tone.

Yet a great number of violins can be seen with the tailgut woefully too long (giving a 'soggy' feel to the strings because they are too slack), or woefully too short (making the string feel too hard and giving too brittle an edge to the sound - and causing the player to overwork.

In fact, you can imagine that there have probably been cases of tendonitus etc. caused by this very thing - the overworking caused by a too-short tail-gut. You can imagine the teachers looking for technical reasons and not finding them, the physicians looking for physical reasons and not finding them...when all along it was that innocent-looking tailgut, never drawing attention to itself, that was to blame.

Tim

June 19, 2004 at 10:05 PM · If memory serves, the string length behind the bridge should be 1/4 of the string length from nut to bridge. For most instruments, that's about 55 mm. The easiest way to test is to pluck the strings behind the bridge. They should sound two octaves and a fifth higher than on the fingerboard side.

As far as tension goes, it all comes down to personal preference. New York players, in my experience, want power, power, power, and then some more power. The addition of a little more pressure stopping the string is of no consequence. I'm not advocating it, I just know that's what a good number of them are looking for.

June 20, 2004 at 02:58 PM · Hello, this topic has made me want to take one of my violins to a diferent luthier!

Can anyone here recomend a real good luthier in CT or NYC?

Peter

June 20, 2004 at 08:10 PM · nyc? there's tons, forgive me because i havnt been there in a while but there's a building with about 8 of them in it somewhere (help me guys), hang out in there for a while.

June 21, 2004 at 01:28 AM · In the shameless plug department, I'd recommend Julie Reed-Yeboah at Machold Rare Violins. Before I was an employee, I was a customer -- and I've never met anyone as good as Julie with setup and tonal adjustment. She's the best.

June 21, 2004 at 03:00 AM · Hi Owen, the building you are talking about must be the one on 50 or 51st street, a few blocks from C.Hall

Peter

June 21, 2004 at 07:51 PM · I understand the correct string height to be 2.5mm at the E and 4mm at the G... looks like the Brits are marching to a different tune... It is indeed odd how many repairers get this wrong - or worse, are unaware of the standard specs: my bridge was fitted years ago by a local repairer. It was way too high and I had to get it filed down later. The chap in question now owns a world-renowned violin shop in London. You have to wonder...

June 21, 2004 at 08:36 PM · Owen, the building is 250 W. 54th, right next to Studio 54. There are indeed a bunch of makers and restorers there -- Carlos Arcieri, Rene Morel, Gael Francais, James McKean, and the list goes on.

I still think that Julie is the best. :-)

June 21, 2004 at 08:57 PM · 54th, there we go, thanks

June 25, 2004 at 02:34 AM · What are everybody's thoughts on the correct bridge shape for an electric violin?

Do considerations on string height (relative to the fingerboard) also apply to e-violins?

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

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