Tuning with pegs---while bowing

October 18, 2018, 1:02 PM · This is a baffling mystery to me. Theoretically I understand how it should work and have watched tutorials, but I cannot do it!

How are you supposed to get enough leverage not just to turn the peg but push it in HARD---with only the scroll to push against? So your thumb and first finger tune, and the other two fingers somehow create the leverage to push the pin all the way in?? I can't get the pin in well enough, it slips back out. I've got the pegs with the wide side facing me so that I can get a good grip.

I am also a rock climber, so I'm pretty well sure it's not a hand strength issue. More baffling!

I asked my teacher about it and she said it doesn't matter, go ahead and tune it however you want, maybe implying that anybody who looks down on you for not tuning while playing is probably a snob. Ok true, but I *want* to hear the strings come into tune while using the bow, not pizzicato... and it's annoying to take the violin down every time, tune it plucking, try the bow, adjust again... plus I want to become less reliant on the fine tuners.

Is there a secret tip?? Are my pegs too slippery? Or, a mystery.

Replies (20)

October 18, 2018, 1:10 PM · I usually don't bow and turn pegs, but I will do it with fine tuners. There are some pegs that are mechanical and are really easy to turn while bowing, but it just depends on your pegs.

Mine are pretty thick, so I need more leverage in order to turn them, but I've had students whose violins I can tune the way you're describing.

A lot of it is based on preference. You aren't a worse or better violinist if you can or can't tune with pegs while bowing.

Edited: October 19, 2018, 10:28 PM · In perfect and close to perfect condition, tuning pegs will work the way you want. Pegs get out of that perfect state due to all kinds of external influences. I have seen seasoned professionals struggle as you describe. I used such for 70 years and struggled with temperature and humidity changes and pegs going out-of-round, but starting 10 years ago I converted all my instruments to one of the following:

Pegheds
Knilling Perfection Planetary Pegs
Wittner Fast tune pegs

You can google them all to check sellers and prices and to find reviews.

I'll never go back!

I've installed all three kinds in at least 14 instruments (violins, violas and cellos) myself - all in my family. I would not attempt to do this to someone else's instrument. All you need is a a peghole reamer and a digital micrometer (both from Amazon) to measure the diameter of your current pegs so you order the right size of the geared pegs (always exactly equal to or at least a "tad" larger than the current holes). Also need a hacksaw and some sandpaper. If you attempt this yourself always read the instructions several times and visualize the entire process before you start. Start on a cheap instrument, if you can. If they charge a reasonable price and you only have one or two instruments get a pro to do it. When I first did it my pro wanted to charge too much and had never installed a geared peg before.

Also some of the new tailpieces with four integral (i.e. built-in) fine tuners do not spoil an instrument's tone and allow for fine adjustments over a reasonable range.

October 18, 2018, 2:06 PM · i second Andrew’s recommendation. I had the same problem until I installed (myself - easy if you have some skill and are starting with a decent violin) Wittner geared pegs ($65 for four). The Wittner pegs turn buttery smooth and the 9:1 ratio makes sneaking up on the correct pitch with ones left hand while bowing with the right easy.
Edited: October 18, 2018, 2:44 PM · Leslie, people are suggesting gear pegs, which are probably great, but the answer to your original question is that your pegs are either not well made, or need to be treated with peg paste. This is a compound containing both a sticky and a graphite substance mixed together so that you can turn your pegs but they will also stay fixed. You can pass by a violin dealer and they will happily fix it for you. You can also buy Hill Peg Compound yourself. Just google "hill peg compound".
Edited: October 18, 2018, 3:47 PM · where are you putting your other fingers? on the A string I hold the peg with my thumb and middle finger, and hook the first finger around the scroll on the other side. As I turn, I squeeze between the first and 2nd fingers (lateral?). For the D and G strings, I hold it between thumb and first, hook the pinky around the scroll over near the A string peg, and squeeze that way.

edit: and push the peg in the entire time you're turning, not just at the end

October 18, 2018, 5:39 PM · Leslie, the answer to your question is "yes, we generate enough pressure with the rest of our hand to drive the peg in as we turn." Partly this is a practiced skill that we've developed since childhood, so even if I didn't have powerful hands, I would know how to apply the strength I had in the right way.

You're definitely not alone if you find this somewhere between uncomfortable, maddening, or even impossible. Lots of folks in my community orchestra struggle terribly with their pegs.

You can use peg dope, or try to get your pegs working better. I predict that will be a frustrating path.

Following up on comments by James Stevens and Andy Victor, Wittner Finetune pegs are easily installed (but I recommend having a luthier do it). And boy do they ever work well. The set of pegs is around $65 and installation might be $60 to $120 depending on where you live. I have Wittner FineTune pegs on my viola and they are wonderful.

Edited: October 18, 2018, 7:12 PM · I was considering fitting finetune pegs, but I already have the tools to fit wooden pegs and even 50¢ boxwood pegs can turn buttery smooth if done right. Just need to make the holes nice and round with a reamer and apply some soap to the pegs.


October 18, 2018, 9:00 PM · If the peg slips out as easily as you say, it sounds like they are not properly fitted. Well fitted pegs should give you no problems and if you add peg dope, they are very, very easy to tune.
But make your numbers. If getting a luthier to fit the peg holes and the pegs gets closer to 60USD, buy the geared pegs and, like andrew said, install them yourself.
October 18, 2018, 11:06 PM · Agree with Irene -- For friction pegs you need to push against something. So have your fourth finger on the other side when turning the D or G pegs: the first finger on the opposite side when turning the A or E pegs. OR - it's legal to use a fine tuner with the A string, unless it is gut.
October 19, 2018, 6:52 AM · If you "do it yourself" with a reamer and fifty-cent boxwood pegs, you'll be doing it again in a week's time. Soap should not be necessary for your pegs to turn well. If it is necessary then that tells you something right there about your DIY skills compared to a professional luthier using "Genuine GM Parts." The risk is that you'll mess up your peg box gadly and then you'll be paying one whole hell of a lot more than the price of gear pegs to have your violin fixed.
October 19, 2018, 6:57 AM · Hi Leslie,

I think it does take a lot of coordination to tune a violin using the pegs and that is why most beginners use 4 fine tuners on their instrument. In time with practice you will get the hang of it. For G and D tuning I place my pinky on the other side of the pegbox to allow me to push peg in slightly while tuning, and this process does not require a lot of force to accomplish.For the A I use my thumb on opposite side of the pegbox and the E I tune in my lap when changing to new string and usually do not have to touch peg again until next string change.

Your pegs do need to fit correctly and doped just right for your climate. If your peg are slipping after bringing string up pitch it needs more grip and if peg is difficult to turn it needs to be doped with pencil graphite, soap or whatever else works for you. In winter there is often daily 15 degrees temperature swings in my house so I have to use a bit of chalk on them to keep the pegs working as they should.

Edited: October 19, 2018, 9:51 AM · Yeah, ok, Paul.
I take it your pegs are just burnished—no graphite, wax, clay, or soap? Those must really turn smooth.

I fit my second violin with cheap ebony pegs aeons ago when it was my main instrument and it's still perfectly fine. Curb your elitism.

October 19, 2018, 10:09 PM · No elitist here. For the last several years I've been a gear-peg user. But in my whole life I've never put graphite, wax, clay, soap, chalk, or any other treatment on ANY violin peg. When I was a kid frankly I never even knew of such things.

Since moving to Virginia and taking up the violin again, a few times I noticed that I would open my case and discover a peg that had slipped. I learned about gear pegs, asked around a little, and shipped my violin to Potter's to have PegHeds fitted. Since then I have had them installed in my viola (Wittner FineTune) and my daughter's violin (Knilling Perfection Pegs) as well. Couldn't be happier knowing that I will never, ever have to use "peg dope."

October 19, 2018, 11:25 PM · Any comment on pegs at all has to get the same tired old comments from the gearheads.
October 20, 2018, 10:51 AM · Lyndon. I think the responses here have been well balanced. Great advice on how to make conventional pegs work smoothly if that is what the OP wants to do and some experience of others who have gone to the dark side of geared pegs.

The free exchange of conflicting ideas is good. In fact, it is one of the reason forums like this exist. No harm done and no foul.

Edited: October 21, 2018, 8:03 PM · Lyndon wrote, " Any comment on pegs at all has to get the same tired old comments from the gearheads."

And the same tired old comments, variously, about:
(1) DIY reaming and peg-fitting.
(2) Peg dope of sundry description.
(3) Cheap boxwood or jujube vs. expensive ebony or rosewood pegs.

Really, Lyndon, what the hell else do you expect?

October 21, 2018, 8:39 PM · Thanks for your replies!

One point of confusion -- the peg slipping after tuning isn't the issue; they stay in place once tuned. It's that if I am trying to tune with just the left hand the pegs will not push in well enough to stay put, and I have to take the violin down to do it.

I'm getting the sense it's a peg fit issue. I don't have what you'd call a terrific violin... it's not bad, but it's probably on the low end of decent for a student violin, cost around 1k. That was 20 years ago though.

I recently returned to violin (about 9 months ago) in a committed way for the first time since I was 14, so, 18 years. But I played from ages 4 to 14 in Suzuki institute and two school orchestras, chamber groups... so while there are some huge gaps in my knowledge, I'm not exactly a beginner. That's sort of why this bothers me, I feel like I ought to have figured it out... Actually, I should go try a better violin at a shop and see how that is. Then I would know if it's me...

I may try some peg dope, seems like no harm in it... but maybe, it's fine as is until I can afford a good violin.

October 21, 2018, 8:55 PM · the harm in it is you use the wrong peg dope and your pegs won't stop slipping, or that they grip too much. There is no one size all peg dope, you need one compound to promote slipping and one to promote gripping, no one compound will do both, you have to balance out the two which is why you'd be best to go to your luthier.
October 21, 2018, 8:57 PM · Hill compound basically promotes slipping so you use it when it grips too much, otherwise it will make the pegs too slippery and they will slip.
October 23, 2018, 12:01 PM · Even with good pegs, it takes practice to do this properly. I vaguely remember struggling to do it when I started learning violin. These days, it's second nature for me. However, even with practice, I do believe that you need a certain level of dexterity to do it. My son never got over the hump of learning to do it (he's 19 now).


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