Instrument with geared pegs chronically doesn't stay in tune

Edited: March 9, 2018, 9:44 PM · I have a nearly 17" viola made in 2012(bought in 2013) that will not stay in tune. I remember it being a problem pretty soon after I purchased the viola, at least since 2014. The A is pretty good, but D,G,C will go several cents or more flat within 10 minutes regardless of climate conditions of the room.

Here is what I have done to try and solve the problem.
~ Had new friction pegs installed.
~ Perfection geared pegs installed. This has made it markedly better, but still not great.
~I got a plastic tailpiece with fine tuners installed. It's a tad small for the viola's body,but doesn't seem to be slipping or anything
- I re wrapped and trimmed the strings to make sure they weren't rubbing against the peg holes, which can cause problems with geared pegs.
~Ordered longer Dominant C,G, D strings, which helped the overall sound and pitch stability, but still a problem.

Does anybody have any other ideas? My luthier and I are seriously scratching our heads on this one. Do some instruments have structural instability that keep it from ever being in tune?

Thanks for any suggestions!

Replies (12)

March 9, 2018, 11:35 PM · Try replacing the tail piece with one with no fine tuners, you don't need them with the perfection pegs, the tailgut might be slipping or the fine tuners.
March 10, 2018, 12:45 AM · I had a violin that started to go out of tune alot. Then the tail piece cord broke. Could your's have a problem.
March 10, 2018, 3:42 AM · I imagine your luthier would have noticed any glue/seam failure?
Edited: March 10, 2018, 6:16 AM · Thomas, did it stay in tune with the new tailgut?
Edited: March 10, 2018, 8:40 AM · I have experienced this kind of problem due to several different causes on several instruments. Those I remember were:

1. Non-Sacconi nylon tailcord - it would not stop stretching. This was solved by changing to a Sacconi tail cord (sometimes it is just not worth trying to save a dollar or 2). I now use only Kevlar Bois d'Harmonie tail cords and once the knot sets they stop stretching. I allow for 1/4 inch of stretch when I make the knot. It seems to work just about perfectly for the string afterlengths.

2. Inadequate bracing of the neck by the maker (possibly no neck block) on a cheap 1/2 size violin I bought for my granddaughter - I finally returned it to the seller. The visible effect was a gradual lowering of the fingerboard over some months and resulting gradual shortening of the vibrating sting length.

3. Knilling PERFECTION or Chuck Herrin's PEGHEDS can slip if not glued in place (the Wittner fine-tune pegs will not do this). The glue connection that prevents the peg's threads from continuing to thread deeper into the side of the pegbox can break loose causing the string to go flat. I've had 3 such slips of the 45 such pegs I've installed (one of the pegs has slipped twice). For such emergencies I keep a tiny tube of superglue in each of my instrument cases - but the incidents always occurred at home.

It's been well over 50 years since I last installed an honest-to-God real tailGUT!

March 10, 2018, 5:49 PM · Yes it does.
March 10, 2018, 9:13 PM · I've not had any of my gear pegs slip and I have one set each of Knilling, PegHeds, and Wittner. Mechanically the Wittners are the best. PegHeds are very good mechanically but also look the best.

I have issues when I take my viola out of its case anywhere except my own home, the humidity and temperature will be different and within half an hour I have to tune again. There are no pegs in the world that will solve that problem. It's your instrument.

March 11, 2018, 9:17 AM · Paul, the viola gets wonky out of tune even in my own house. It usually happens within a few minutes, and each string goes flat to a sort of consistent level regardless off weather conditions.

I don't think my pegs are slipping, however.

Andrew, I do have a nylon cord with my wittner tail piece. Is it obvious if there is some slippage with that, because I can't tell.

March 11, 2018, 12:07 PM · If it's all your strings that are slipping it's not your pegs.

Just so you know, if you have Knilling Perfection Pegs or PegHeds, you need to pay attention to how those are used. You have to push in a little while you tune up. You do not have to do that with Wittner Finetune pegs.

Edited: March 11, 2018, 2:35 PM · William - it was not at all really obvious that my instrument's de-tuning was due to the tailcord. I might have read about it as an on-line suggestion. I still don't know if the tailcord was really stretching or whether it occurred in the threads of the tailcord. I think that possibility occurred to me after I first visited Frank Passa, who had been the inventor and was patent holder of the Sacconi tailcord - the first one of that design. So - even after the patent expired it was the one to buy - not any cheaper off-brand, as I had done and we discussed the off brands.

If you are able to detect an absolute "few cents" of de-tuning the problem may be that your hearing is too good!
If you detect relative de-tuning of some strings by that amount - that is not uncommon.
If you are using an electronic tuner app to detect this, relax a bit. I find just by bowing differently my open strings will easily register ± 5 cents or so.

Edited: March 12, 2018, 4:14 PM · I never got the paranoia that makes people think that gluing metal tapered threads into maple was necessary or even a good idea. I've installed several PH/Knillings on violins, violas, and celli and never had a problem apart from a couple of grindy gears. the whole idea of a tapered peg thread is so that it is pulled tighter as humidity changes. If it's slipping, it's probably because your glue-hardened wood fiber have stripped out and the threads can not get good purchase (bite,) something I have never experienced having not used glue-ever.
That said, I second the other possible causes mentioned.
March 12, 2018, 7:30 PM · I had the same experience a couple of months ago. Geared pegs, and every time I would pick up the violin it was detuned. In that time I blamed the strings, as if they were stretching endlessly.

Later I discover that the culprit was the tailcord. It was interesting. The issue was actually that the nylon/hard plastic tailcord was very rigid but that allowed it to force a slight curve after hugging the tail button. However, that curve straightened during play, detensing the strings. All that was minimal in actual measures, but enough to detune.
I didn't even change the tailcord. Just giving it some minutes of "massaging" and making it less rigid was enough. The problem has not repeated itself.

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