How To Setup A New Violin Bridge

Edited: March 16, 2019, 3:50 PM · I have a Meisal I bought about ten years ago, and haven't played it since then. I would like to start "fiddle" around with it again.

The bridge is warped from sitting, and the finish under the bridge is gouged. Other than that the violin seems in fine working order.

I have asked about having a professional set it up, but they all want over $100 where I live. That was about a year ago. I bought some new bridges on aliexpress. What do I need to do to set up a new violin bridge? Does anyone have any online tutorials? Also do shallow scratches and gouges on the surface of the wood in the area where the bridge rests make the violin sound bad, less playable, or worth less money?

Replies (21)

March 16, 2019, 6:34 PM · A warped bridge can be straightened out with moisture, pressure and heat.
March 16, 2019, 6:44 PM · You will not make a good bridge on your first try. There are too many mistakes you can make.

Should have ordered five blanks and not one.

You will need charcoal, a narrow carving knife with a steep edge, and a very small hand plane. The rest is practise.

March 16, 2019, 8:32 PM · Make yourself a bridge jack - or buy one - you will find it advantageous to keep pressure on the violin belly and soundpost. You could buy one but if you look them up on line you may be able to figure out how to make your own.

Do what Craig said - moist heat and pressure on the warped bridge under a brick or concrete block may resurrect your old bridge.

Use the internet to find instructions for shaping a bridge if that fails.

After rough cutting the feet you can shape them to the violin body with instructions found on line or in some printed guides. Shaping the top is a whole other game - there are templates for that and guides for how high the strings should be above the end of the fingerboard.

As with any construction project "measure twice and cut once." I prefer to measure twice and then triple check!

You also want to taper the side of the bridge that faces the nut but keep the back (that faces the tailpiece) straight and perpendicular to the belly. Experts further reduce the bridge mass by opening up the holes. The finished violin bridge should should weight about 2.1 to 2.3 grams.

Edited: March 16, 2019, 9:06 PM · This is what a skilled luthier does to provide the best performing bridge for a violin, which is what tone and playability is all about:

1. Selects a bridge blank that will suit the particular violin.

2. Identifies the optimum location for the placement of the bridge, to an accuracy of no more than 1 mm.

3. Carves the profile of the feet of the bridge with a sharp tool accurately enough so that they fit absolutely precisely to the profile of the violin at the chosen location, bearing in mind that there may be almost imperceptible differences in the profile adjacent the chosen location. The carving will be such that when the completed bridge is in position the side facing the tailpiece will be at a right angle to the surface of the violin.

4. If the bridge needs to be thinned then the luthier will do this using a small wood plane, not sandpaper.

5. The top profile of the bridge will be precisely cut to an arc of a circle of a specific diameter.

6. The notches in the bridge for the strings will be made at carefully measured points on the arc, and will be sized with a fine rat-tail file so that they are the correct sizes for the strings and that the strings can travel smoothly in them. More specifically, the depth of each notch will be usually be slightly less than half the the diameter of the string, so that the string stands slightly proud of the bridge..

7. A small piece of parchment is often provided for the E-string notch to protect the wood.

The above work carried out by a skilled craftsman in my view justifies a charge of $100+ (it's about the same in the UK), and you'll have a bridge that should provide excellent service for many years.

[EDIT: Clearly, I was unaware of Andrew's post when I was preparing mine. Only 8 minutes and 5,500 miles between us!]

March 17, 2019, 5:12 AM · Would you take your violin to be worked on by a complete inexperienced amateur, there are reasons why you go to an experienced professional for difficult operations.
Edited: March 17, 2019, 7:37 AM · This will give you a rough idea of what's involved in fitting a bridge:

Are you sure you want to do this yourself?

March 17, 2019, 8:58 AM · David, that trianglestrings link, which usefully can be downloaded as a pdf, certainly fills in the enormous gaps in my very brief summary. Thank you!
March 17, 2019, 9:15 AM · You'll need a professional bridge jack in your tool kit if you're taking down bridges for whatever reason on a regular basis and don't want the soundpost to fall or move. If, on the other hand, taking a bridge down is a rare event - in my case changing a tailpiece - you can make your own jack which does the job effectively.

What I do is first to mark out the exact location of the feet of the bridge I'm going to take down. Then I wrap a folded cloth or towel tightly round the violin's waist between the fingerboard and the bridge, holding it in place with a tightened strap. Obviously, don't tighten things until you hear creaking - that's bad news! Then I can safely de-tension the strings and take the bridge down. As a further safety feature I do this with the violin in its case. Then, when the job's done I reverse the procedure.

I suppose I've done this at least a half-dozen times in my life as a cellist and violinist, with no soundpost problems.

Edited: March 17, 2019, 9:56 AM · I stopped counting my violins after the first dozen or so. Picked up one today. Vastly improved by my amateur efforts. You must have one of these: Violin-Luthiers-Tool-Bridge-Foot-Adjuster You don't have to get it from Snodland though :) but I'd pay the $100 if it's a one off unless you enjoy the tinker. Also, how do luthiers know what you want anyway?
March 17, 2019, 10:14 AM · Bridge jacks and other fancy gizmos are just an added cost. I do fine without them. Besides—it's a good way to learn soundpost setting at the same time.

If you don't have any of the tools, it will be a lot cheaper to go to a luthier.

March 17, 2019, 10:24 AM · That tool only allows you to rough out the feet of the bridge, it is entirely unsuitable for a final perfect fit.
Edited: March 17, 2019, 12:00 PM · What gets me is of the luthiers I've used none has asked what sound I wanted to end up with. Also, as mentioned above, get yourself a sound post tool. Real cheap from China. Look through the tailpeg hole (tailpiece out obv.) and make sure it ain't slanted.
March 17, 2019, 11:58 AM · SO you're claiming that unlike the luthiers, you're able to customize the sound to your wishes by doing the work yourself???
March 17, 2019, 11:58 AM · I guess one can play luthier and practice with cheap violins, but none of you "self-made" tinkerers will ever touch my instrument (I wouldn't mess with it myself, actually.) Only thing I do on my own is change strings, pull back bridge whenever necessary, change fine tuners the rare case it's needed, and change the chinrest (which I do not need to do for the time being.) All other "simple fixes" such as soundpost adjustment, gluing seams, and whatnot I leave to the true experts.

Note that I am not saying an expert is better than you as a person-he/she just has much more expertise. No need to feel offended because I believe it's best to trust the people that dedicate their life to the craft vs those who do it as a side personal project.

March 17, 2019, 12:01 PM · I can hear the difference between a thick vs thin bridge (and the graduations).
March 17, 2019, 12:36 PM · The mass of the bridge (thick vs. thin), has a large effect on the sound. The wooden mute adds mass to the bridge. I have done a few bridges on cheap student grade instruments, making the adjustments by feel and sound. You must have a bridge jack. The feet need to be thin enough to be slightly flexible. It is Very time consuming. For any instrument of quality and value the Luthier's labor cost is actually cheap compared to their time and expertise.
Edited: March 17, 2019, 4:00 PM · Lyndon wrote:
"That tool only allows you to rough out the feet of the bridge, it is entirely unsuitable for a final perfect fit."

Not only is it inadequate, but bad enough that I even went to the trouble of making a video satirizing the practice.

Edited: March 17, 2019, 3:40 PM · By the time you buy the tools and the blanks and whatnot, you might as well just spend $100 with the luthier. Fitting a bridge is mostly a one-off.

(Although the way that I play apparently really compresses bridges, requiring some recarving each time I need an adjustment. So YMMV on how often you end up needing a new bridge or alteration to an existing bridge.)

March 17, 2019, 4:10 PM · This is the first David Burgess video I have watched and there was about 280 likes and 220 dislikes on this video. Reading the comments shows that there is a large percentage of people with no sense of humor.
Edited: March 17, 2019, 5:59 PM · Yes, there were some people who thought I was really doing this on an actual Strad, and others who didn't realize that the whole process was a satire on fitting bridge feet with sandpaper, which high-level pros do not do. The negative reactions from the clueless have been quite amusing. :-)
Edited: March 19, 2019, 8:36 AM · Lydia wrote,
"Although the way that I play apparently really compresses bridges, requiring some recarving each time I need an adjustment."
Are you sure it's the bridge that's changing? Enough compression to measure using a good caliper? Also how do you make a bridge taller by "recarving" it? Or do you mean you have a new bridge cut every time you get an adjustment? That's got to get expensive not to mention time-consuming.

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