Fine Tuners' Impact on Sound?

May 14, 2018, 6:33 PM · Do GDA fine tuners impact the sound at all?

Replies (20)

Edited: May 20, 2018, 5:01 AM · 1. The mass that fine tuners add to the tailpiece affect the sound.
2. The shortening of the string afterlength due to add-on fine tuners affect the sound.
3. Tailpieces with integral fine tuners affect the sound only if they add additional mass or change the string afterlength.
4.Bois d'Harmonie fine tuners have neither of these negative effects.

EDIT: I came to these conclusions after years of trial and error (i.e., experimenting) with my 4 main violins after osteoarthritis made tuning friction pegs almost impossible. I finally bought the violin BdH tailpieces one at a time - boxwood, rosewood, ebony and finally pernambuco and tried each on all 4 fiddles. The pernambuco was the heaviest (I have a gram scale that I bought for weighing bows - but it is also handy for weighing mail for postage). The different woods of the tailpieces did not make a difference in sound on the instruments, except for the pernambuco, which was not as good on any of the instruments except for one on which it made no difference.

I had previously installed boxwood BdH tailpieces on my cellos, as have many cellists.

Now that I have installed internally geared pegs on all my instruments (at lower cost to me than the BdH tailpieces) I suppose I could go back to the original simple, bare-naked tailpieces, but I see no reason too, because the BdH sound just as good as they did.

I use BdH Kevlar tailcord on all my instruments and believe they are an improvement of the gut ones I started with long, long ago or the Saccony (nylon) ones. It is kind of tricky to get the cord length just right. Rather than just going for a 1:6 ratio of string after-length:vibrating-length I actually aim to match the after-length vibrational frequency exactly to the 2nd octave harmonic of the next higher string. Because of the way strings are made this can only work precisely for one string (except for bare gut); I settle for either the lowest or next-to-lowest string. Although the Kevlar cord does not stretch, the knot does compress (so the working length of the cord increases) after initially setting up the instrument, so you have to start with it about 1/8" to 1/4" short depending on what type of string instrument (and cord thickness) you are working with.

Don't try this "at home" until you feel competent to resurrect a fallen soundpost. (It is also "nice" to have a bridge jack - but it won't help with this.)

May 14, 2018, 6:48 PM · Andrew,

All the damage from Bois d'Harmonie is to my wallet instead :)

May 16, 2018, 12:31 PM · Frequent fine tuning makes a great difference to the sound!
May 16, 2018, 1:16 PM · Fine tuners on GDA = steel strings. That is going to impact the sound.....
May 16, 2018, 4:54 PM · I read a research paper a couple of years ago conducted by a university (don't remember which) on acoustical properties of stringed instruments and one of the observations I noted was there were definite measurable changes in harmonics and amplitude between violin strings NOT in direct contact with the tailpiece (using integral tuners) compared with strings in direct contact. I don't remember any statements or observations regarding quality of sound, just the definite differences. Ebony tailpieces without fine tuners and with integral tuners were used. No mention of add on tuners. FWIW
May 19, 2018, 6:27 AM · I saw this thread a few days back and became curious. I teacher friend of mine often commented that an instrument with more than one fine tuner wasn't real. I naturally thought at the time that she was just being an arrogant snip. This morning I decided to remove the fine tuners from all but my E-string. Holy smokes! It sounds like a completely different instrument! Lesson learned!!!
May 19, 2018, 7:19 AM · My same experience as Peter's above except it happened 40 years ago
Edited: May 19, 2018, 3:30 PM · The string afterlength is a critically important (and overlooked) area of the violin for sound production.

If you want to maximize sound volume and responsiveness, there are three things (and probably more) that can make a difference.

1) Make sure your tailpiece is lightweight, very hard/resonant wood and sized so that the string afterlength/length ratio is exactly right.

2) Replace your tailgut with kevlar. Some people replace the pin as well. Too many violins are playing with old squishy tailgut that hasn't been replaced in decades. That softens the sound and makes the violin slower to respond.

3) Replace your fine tuner with the smallest you can find (such as a Hill design), from a lightweight material like titanium or carbon fiber.

Each of these things done individually, I don't know if you'd hear a big difference. But all of them together have a noticeable difference in my experience.

Given the tens of thousands of dollars that people pay for rather small increments of sound in violins, a few hundred dollars to optimize the hardware below the bridge -- that seems like a no brainer.

If you need fine tuners for your A-D-G because you have trouble with pegs, consider geared pegs.

I'm suspicious of any tuner/tailpiece combination device because it is adding mass to the afterlength. On the other hand the Bois d'Harmonie and Wittner composite tailpieces (much less expensive) get good reviews.

Edited: May 20, 2018, 12:57 PM · Yes Peter, anything that reduces mass on the tailpiece can make a big difference If you replace your E tuner with something titanium or carbon fiber, you might get another boost in sound.
May 20, 2018, 3:50 AM · I had a funny experience with a new, high-tech tailpiece just put on by one of my makers. Shorter than usual, carbon/boxwood laminate, very light, etc. He's found it makes a huge difference, and while it was one of a bunch of variables at the last adjustment/fix-up, I can't disagree. On the other hand, the E tuner-- integral, probably carbon or titanium-- produces an after-length that makes no sense at all in terms of pitch.

Usually, my Hill tuners will allow for an F# when the E's after-length is plucked. On this, nothing definite at all. Whether that is part of the reason it all behaves well, or if the rest of the instrument is doing well in spite of that, I couldn't say.

Edited: May 21, 2018, 2:58 AM · Some violins sound and play better with lighter tailpieces, and some with heavier. There's no universal rule on this. Depends on the fiddle.

Stephen, the same applies to string afterlengths, and the ideal afterlength will also vary with different tailpieces.

Edited: May 21, 2018, 6:51 AM · I think a more noticeable adverse effect on tone can come from an SR or CR that has not been fitted properly than from a fine tuner. If so, that should be fairly easily rectifiable.
May 21, 2018, 7:02 AM · My most recent violin has tuners on all strings yet sounds better than my other violins.

I would be afraid to remove them because I don't want to change how the violin sounds. The builder told me to try and adjust from the small tuners instead of the pegs if possible. I don't know what kind of tuners these are but the setup is wonderful.

Since the strings were newly installed, I've been moving the tuners a little here and there. We had ten days heavy rain recently and the humidity was at 65% inside. The combination of those two things means my strings have been stretched some and I could almost swear this slightly changed my sound. Not the tuners. The humidity and the act of slowly stretching the strings to keep in tune.

It is a great convenience not having to wrestle with the pegs.

May 21, 2018, 7:11 AM · Tim, I would expect that the wood of your violin responded to the humidity more than your strings.
May 21, 2018, 11:20 AM · Thanks Paul.

The humidity should be back in the 45%-50% range now.I'll see if things have changed.

The thing I find most curious is I've had to tune a few cents + every day for the last week. I don't know if this is the pegs slowly turning or my strings stretching, or as you say, the violin neck itself.

In visually looking at the adjustment range you can see where slack has been taken from the strings judging from the clearances, especially the E string.It's almost to the place where I need to loosen the string and take up some slack on the peg to give adjustment range back to the bridge tuner again.

Edited: May 22, 2018, 8:29 AM · The string could be slipping on the peg. This can happen if the peg windings are not touching as they should be. Even given that, I had that problem several years ago with a set of new steel core strings on my cello. Although the strings were correctly crossed over at the hole in the peg, as they should be, and the windings were touching, the strings were steadily slipping out of tune within a few minutes.

I tracked the problem down to two things: the shiny winding at the peg end of the string, and peg surfaces that had become worn and shiny with age. The solution was simple and immediately effective - I applied rosin dust from the bow to the windings before fitting the strings.

May 26, 2018, 3:16 PM · Thomas,
I took your advice and it was well worth the investment. I put an acoustic(harp) tailpiece with a Hill style fine tuner on the E-string. Then I upgraded the tail gut and end button with titanium. The over all result is purely astonishing. My cheap Stainer copy violin sounds amazing!

So I know just enough about violins to be dangerous. In the process of installing the end button, the sound post fell over. So, off the the luthier I went.(Not a skill I have developed yet) Although I messed up the end button a bit, which might be a minor fix later, he assured me that I've done about all I can to rich up the sound.

Much thanks for the advice! Thank you to all the rest for sharing your knowledge!

Edited: May 26, 2018, 5:42 PM · It's worth noting that plain gut strings work perfectly well with the Wittner micrometer tailpiece fitted to my Jay Haide. Just ensure that you make a tight knot at the end of the string that is the same size as the ball end of a non-gut string. A wound gut G or D, such as Eudoxa, will already have a loop end which behaves as a knot of the right size. Note that you can't make a knot at the end of a gut E that is sufficiently robust to act as a ball end in the Wittner - so no gut E.

Advantages? No stand-alone micro tuner for the steel E. Easier micro tuning on the hoof than trying to turn a peg which suddenly decides to have its own ideas above moving. No problems about substituting synthetics if required. It's all neat and tidy.

May 26, 2018, 5:38 PM · @Peter Papura. I'm keenly aware of the danger of the sound post falling over when doing maintenance such as replacing a tailpiece or end button. Installing a new bridge is a job I always leave to the skills of a luthier.

Before starting work on something that involves letting down all the strings (and therefore requiring the bridge to be taken down) I first use little pieces of cellulose tape to mark the location of the bridge feet on the front plate - I never rely on eyesight or guesswork as to precisely where the bridge should be. I then wrap a length of cloth or towelling round the waist of the violin between the bridge and fingerboard and secure it fairly tightly with an adjustable strap. Not too tight of course - the sound of creaking wood will be bad news! The objective is to try to get something near the downward pressure of the bridge that helps to keep the sound post in place.

Then, and only then, do I release the strings, remove the bridge and do whatever it was I was going to do, such as replacing the tailpiece or end button. While I do this I keep the violin flat and stationary - in its case isn't a bad idea - as extra insurance against unwanted movement of the sound post.

When the job is done I then reverse the process, but before replacing the bridge in its marked location I apply some soft pencil lead to the notches in the bridge and the nut grooves to help the strings slide more easily. I always take the strings up to pitch in stages, checking each time to make sure the bridge isn't leaning one way or the other and then gently correcting any lean.

Finally, I let the instrument "rest" for a while to recover its senses. The strings will most likely need retuning because of slippage on the pegs and stretching.

Edited: May 28, 2018, 10:06 AM · What I have done for decades when de-tuning ALL the strings is gradually move the soundpost laterally toward the the f-hole so it will remain firmly in place. Later, as I re-tune the instrument, I gradually move the post back toward its original position. I do have the tools to move and resurrect my soundposts, but if I fail to reclaim my original sound I visit my luthier.

Some of these home repair techniques were bequeathed to me by my father over 65 years ago when we lived some 2 hours from our Baltimore luthier over 2-lane Maryland roads. So I eventually "inherited" his S-shape soundpost setter and a bag of hide-glue crystals and the courage to try some of these things myself. I have since added to my bag of tools and tricks.

(I recall the first time my father "dropped" the soundpost of his Scarampella and figured out a way to resurrect it using string and slip knots. I never have figured out how he did that (I think it came to me once long ago in a dream, but I've long since forgotten). But he did buy the soundpost setter shortly after that time.)

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