Bridge lifespan

March 22, 2018, 11:45 PM · Hi all,
I am very happy with my violin. It has still its original bridge which is getting to be near 50 years old.
I understand that violins are made to last, but what about the bridges? they are not varnished and I don't know if the wood is seasoned as good violins' often are.
I have not been tempted to ask a luthier to make another bridge for any projection or tone issue, but I was thinking of asking to make a clone of this one in prevention of any accident. That led me to think if bridges have limited years of use.

Replies (21)

March 23, 2018, 12:52 AM · This is interesting for me too. I have already brought back home my violin from luthier. I have violin made in 1920 and bridge is very very old too. He has cut it to have a better string profile (height), and now (after few more adjustments) my violin sounds sooooo perfect :) I want home to play not sit at work :)
Edited: March 23, 2018, 1:49 AM · It'll last until it snaps, warps beyond repair, or other parts of the violin deform making it too short/narrow/etc.

Also your E/A string can do some damage to a bridge.

March 23, 2018, 4:57 AM · If the E or A has cut too deeply into the bridge, many people will fill the grooves with superglue and file new notches therein.
March 23, 2018, 5:12 AM · I once talked to a Belgian luthier of some repute who claimed that a bridge can be likened to the membrane of a drum. The quality of the membrane deteriorates from use and must be regularly renewed. Similarly he said that a bridge should be regularly renewed, something like every few years of intense playing. I am not saying this is not nonsense, just reporting what I heard back then.
March 23, 2018, 6:11 AM · A new bridge every few years? That seems like a suggestion designed to line the pockets of luthiers. I don't know any violinist who does this. What I have seen more than anything is the strings eventually cutting in too deeply.
March 23, 2018, 6:15 AM · I had a bridge on a violin that I had purchased that apparently dated back to the 1950s. It lasted more than 60 years before it warped and needed to be replaced.

Conversely, I had a bridge on a contemporary violin that warped in less than a decade of use. But that was a less temperate climate.

Edited: March 23, 2018, 8:22 AM · The bridge on one of my violins (made in 1970) has the maker's name on it and is still in great shape. I purchased the violin in 1974. about 15 years ago I had all my instruments "serviced" by my luthier who made new bridges for most of them and new sound posts for some of them - but not for this one. All he did was clean it up and remove rosin accumulation that had occurred before I bought it.

(All the bridges he made for me were better in some way than those that had been on, none of my bridges were warped-I'm kind of a fanatic about looking for bridges to be perpendicular to the top.)

I'd say if you have the spare money and want to have a backup bridge go for it - depends on how old you are (i.e., how long you expect the violin to be yours).

March 23, 2018, 7:39 AM · I often say that hands, collarbones etc are as varied as noses.
So are trees!!
March 23, 2018, 7:55 AM · When I bought my 19th-century violin back in 1994, it had a bridge that was installed by the shop I got it from. That bridge lasted until 2014, when it warped and had to be replaced by my local luthier, who always does excellent work. I live in a climate where it seems like we can go through 3 seasons in a single day, but I've always been careful about protecting my instruments from changes in humidity. I think mileage varies with that sort of thing.
March 23, 2018, 7:58 AM · to be honest maybe he didn't say "every few years", indeed that sounds crazy, and he wasn't, indeed he was talking about a French antique violin he had restored. probably he was trying to say that it is standard to fit a new bridge when restoring an old instrument, even if the original bridge is not warped. anyway, not so important, apologies for my post!
March 23, 2018, 9:11 AM · The bridge is maple, the same type of wood as most of the violin. It could last as long as the violin-centuries. But if it is ever slanted past 90 o vertical, then the stress and damage starts. It can also be replaced to improve the fit, after the first year break-in period, or after a big change in the type of strings. A "fiddler" using all steel strings will want a slightly lower bridge with less of a curve, compared to a classical player using gut strings.
March 23, 2018, 10:46 AM · I'd say that a bridge can last indefinitely, if it was excellent quality to begin with, and is properly cared for.
March 24, 2018, 9:27 AM · For a few years I maintained a Strad cello that had a bridg cut around 1910. The string heights were not optimum, and over the years I tried various new bridge blanks and was never able to make a bridge equal to the old one. A few years after the cello was sold again, I finally found some blanks that I felt were similar to the one on the cello, but the cello was gone, so I won't know. The original bridge was unusually light, and unusually hard, and this was obvious when you held it off the cello--nothing like a modern bridge blank.

It's not unusual to see violins with 50+ year old bridges functioning fine. Something I have noticed recently is quite a few violin bridges cut on good blanks by good shops that are collapsing on the E string side. I'm forced to think that the wood just isn't what it used to be.

A bridge that's well cut and maintained won't warp, in my experience. That comes from having a bridge cut to stand at a different angle than the player habitually moves it to, or cut to a bad angle where it can't happily live, or cut in such a way to not balance front-back forces. However, this business of collapse in recent bridges that are plenty thick and well cut. . . that's disturbing. Almost every example of this that I've seen was in a brand and type that players will often insist on having, which I no longer use at all because of this problem.

March 25, 2018, 5:56 AM · I have read in previous discussions over the years that luthiers were complaining about the deteriorating quality of a few brands of bridge blanks that were their preferred choice for many years but then changed to other bridge brands.
March 25, 2018, 9:52 AM · I agree about the quality of the wood in blanks. I've seen many where minimal wood is taken out of the bottom of the kidneys and the e-string side ends up touching the bottom! I use mainly Stamm bridges now, but have a small stash of Auberts from the 70's and 80's. Although I am told that you can go the to Aubert factory and choose blanks and still get excellent products, I don't see much of them here.

I have a violin in the shop that had the bridge cut in 1947, and it is still straight and good as well as thin (3.9 at the base). I also maintain a few violins that have bridges from the early 60's that are excellent examples, not distorted, not collapsed.

I would also say that most warped bridges, provided they are properly cut, warp because of either environmental concerns-excessive humidity being the most problem-or the musician simply not keeping the bridge straight.

March 26, 2018, 7:03 PM · A poster (here, or on Maestronet) with a del Gesu once said that he was still using the bridge cut by Vuillaume. So that's at least 150 years, more than likely. I couldn't say if it is still any good, of course.
Edited: March 26, 2018, 11:11 PM · Does anyone know the reasons behind the necessity of maple for bridges? Even carbon fiber or violins made with experimental materials don't deviate from that wood for the bridges.
And on the other hand, for tailpieces there is an argument about the sound properties of pernambuco, or rosewood or boxwood or ebony.

My question would be: If pernambuco is such a good wood in transmiting the sound, shouldn't there be pernambuco bridges? Or if Maple is the one to go, why I see no maple tailpieces?

EDIT: Ok... I see that there are maple tailpieces available in a number of sites, in particular for Barroque settings. I still wonder about the bridge and the rosewood/boxwood preference for tailpieces.

Edited: March 27, 2018, 4:34 AM · Counterfeit bridges made of poor quality maple, but stamped with premium bridge-makers' brands are something to be wary of.

Warped bridges can often be straightened by steaming. I have an 80 year-old original-equipment bridge that is still just fine, but it is not a daily player. It seems that A-strings slowly saw into a bridge over years of daily tuning.

Edited: March 27, 2018, 6:33 AM · I recently had the c. 1570 Andrea Amati "Charles IX" in my hands, an instrument which is played with some regularity. It has a bridge made by Sacconi when he was working for Wurlitzer in NY; since Sacconi died in 1973, the bridge is at least 45 years old.

The bridge looked fine but the string heights are now off; so under certain circumstances it's the violin that perhaps changes as well.

Edited: March 27, 2018, 10:00 AM · I believe the bridge is the most continuously stressed part of the violin. It supports a set of strings that have 50lb or more tension between them. Obviously, that doesn't mean that the bridge itself is supporting 50lb - not near it - but the bridge is always under compression nevertheless. It also transmits vibrations, and therefore energy of varying levels according to how the violin is being played, from the strings to the body of the violin. There is also the extra loading imposed by player's bow on the strings, a component of which will increase the compression on the bridge. And lastly, the possibly corrosive effect of pervasive rosin dust on the wood of the bridge over a period of time should be considered.

So is it surprising that a bridge may very occasionally fail catastrophically, as mine did a few months ago? - even though I am careful to ensure that the bridges on my instruments are always upright and don't bend.

Edited: March 27, 2018, 4:36 PM · How about using a saphire or diamond inlay under the e string - like a record player needle? Then you could have a whole orchestra using them and maybe in a large space the stratospherically high notes as eg in a passionate moment of Mahler won't be lost at the back of the hall ??

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