Hill vs Wittner E fine tuner

July 12, 2019, 9:43 PM · All my violins currently use the Wittner style fine tuner for the E, which alters the afterlength of the string. From what I've heard, some people don't find a big difference, and others swear by Hill style because it doesn't alter the afterlength. Anyone tried both or know if there is indeed a difference?

Replies (34)

July 12, 2019, 10:20 PM · Some people believe that the hill style fine tuner allows for more resonance and a better sound than a wittner tuner. I haven't tested them side by side but I have used both. I used to use a hill until a luthier advised against it due to added tension because of the loop e and switched it to a wittner tuner. I'm not sure how true that is but I just went with it considering he was a luthier. I would be open to using a hill again if someone could shed some light on the concept. Shortening the afterlength would be beneficial for the sound if it's true.
July 13, 2019, 12:02 AM · Hills are harder to turn
July 13, 2019, 10:16 AM · They both pale in comparison to geared pegs.
Edited: July 13, 2019, 11:20 AM · Why would a loop E have higher tension?

It is true that unless the Hill tuner contacts with the string are rounded a bit there will be much more local stress on the E string's contact points with the tuner.

Unfortunately, I switched to Bois d'Harmonie tailpieces with integral composite tuners before I ever learned of geared pegs. These are designed for "ball-end" strings and the tailpieces weigh no more than plain wood ones. I added geared pegs years later - the best of both worlds.

As far as tuning string afterlengths is concerned, since you really can only precisely tune one string, I choose one of the two lower-pitch strings and adjust the tail cord length for that one. I never worry about the highest string - let it fall where it may --- most people my age can't hear overtones of those high pitches.

Edited: July 14, 2019, 5:46 AM · @ Christian Harvey

The tension of the string depends only on the frequency of the empty string, it's vibrating length and it's mass per unit length. If a string has a loop- or a ball end doesn't influence the tension of the string. Same is true for the type of fine-tuner.
Presumably your luthier warned you of the very high strain the slim hook exerts on the tiny contact area between the wire of the loop and the the hook. Because of this the wire usually breaks in this location before the string reaches the end of it's playing life. It's easy to avoid this problem by increasing the contact surface between the hook and the wire. Just wind the hook with a tough-elastic material before you put the loop on it. Of course you also can use a post-type (wittner-type) fine-tuner and put the loop of the sting on one of it's prongs. Because these prongs are more broadly than the hook of a hill style tuner they offer a bigger contact surface for the wire in the loop so it won't break prematurely.
Maybe your luthier didn't explain it clearly or you just missunderstood him.

The afterlength of the strings should be as long as possible on most violins. As you said a post-type (wittner-type) fine-tuner reduces the afterlength of a string. That and the relative big mass of the post-type fine-tuner are the reasons why luthiers recommend tailpieces with buildin fine-tuners when fine-tuners are necessary on more than the e-string. A hill-type fine-tuner partly avoids these problems: it's mass is clearly smaler than the wittner's and it doesn't reduce the afterlength. But it doesn't keep the afterlength constant either. There are two very enlightening articles on that problem you can find here:

https://follandviolins.com/articles/tailpiece/

and

https://follandviolins.com/articles/tailpiece-hanger/


@ Garrett L

A reduced afterlength for the G- D- and A- string worsens the sound on most violins (look the cited articles above). But on the e string the influence isn't that big at the most. That's why the difference between a hill-type and a post-type (wittner-type) fine-tuner on an e string is not that big. So I would recommend to just keep your Wittner-type tuner when it works for you.

@ Paul Deck
Just regularly lubricate the thread of that beast!


Have a very nice day!

July 13, 2019, 1:47 PM · That makes a lot more sense than the way he described it. However, I also hadn’t had a loop e break prior to when he told me that. In that case I’ll probably go back to a hill tuner. But I do plan on getting geared pegs so I’ll either keep the fine tuner for aesthetic (but as a hill to keep the after length long), or have no fine tuners altogether.
July 13, 2019, 1:52 PM · The loop-end E breaks more often than the ball-end, at the tuner, which can be annoying in a concert.
July 13, 2019, 3:12 PM · I use Hill style fine tuners almost exclusively (except on my Nr.1-viola's A), and I experienced several E-string breaks yet, but never ever did the string break at the loop. Maybe there are low quality Hill style tuners with sharp edges out there - but since such a tuner costs next to nothing anyway even from the more expensive brands, I cannot see the point in trying to save money here. However, it shouldn't be a problem to file and sand down these sharp edges if necessary.
Most string breaks I had were in the peg box (my own fault...) or at the nut, which is the most common stress point. Once it broke just somewhere in the middle, and only God will know why. I guess it was produced on a monday.

I also use(d) geared pegs. On one of my violas (the cheap one) I'm quite happy with them. On my Nr.2-violin, however, I had them out again faster than they were installed. To my own surprise, the added weight (it's the Wittners I'm talking about) brought the whole instrument out of it's equilibrium, and although it still sounded like a quite-okayish-better-student-range-violin, all the silvery ringing I loved this instrument for was gone. What a relief when I finally had replaced them again with boxwood pegs (including a bushing of the A peg hole...) Not a big thing, I dare to mention this only to point out that it's impossible to generalize, no matter if pro or con, it totally depends on the instrument. Some instruments react more sensible on changes of the setup - even at the scroll end - and others don't.

July 13, 2019, 3:12 PM · I use Hill style fine tuners almost exclusively (except on my Nr.1-viola's A), and I experienced several E-string breaks yet, but never ever did the string break at the loop. Maybe there are low quality Hill style tuners with sharp edges out there - but since such a tuner costs next to nothing anyway even from the more expensive brands, I cannot see the point in trying to save money here. However, it shouldn't be a problem to file and sand down these sharp edges if necessary.
Most string breaks I had were in the peg box (my own fault...) or at the nut, which is the most common stress point. Once it broke just somewhere in the middle, and only God will know why. I guess it was produced on a monday.

I also use(d) geared pegs. On one of my violas (the cheap one) I'm quite happy with them. On my Nr.2-violin, however, I had them out again faster than they were installed. To my own surprise, the added weight (it's the Wittners I'm talking about) brought the whole instrument out of it's equilibrium, and although it still sounded like a quite-okayish-better-student-range-violin, all the silvery ringing I loved this instrument for was gone. What a relief when I finally had replaced them again with boxwood pegs (including a bushing of the A peg hole...) Not a big thing, I dare to mention this only to point out that it's impossible to generalize, no matter if pro or con, it totally depends on the instrument. Some instruments react more sensible on changes of the setup - even at the scroll end - and others don't.

July 13, 2019, 3:12 PM · I use Hill style fine tuners almost exclusively (except on my Nr.1-viola's A), and I experienced several E-string breaks yet, but never ever did the string break at the loop. Maybe there are low quality Hill style tuners with sharp edges out there - but since such a tuner costs next to nothing anyway even from the more expensive brands, I cannot see the point in trying to save money here. However, it shouldn't be a problem to file and sand down these sharp edges if necessary.
Most string breaks I had were in the peg box (my own fault...) or at the nut, which is the most common stress point. Once it broke just somewhere in the middle, and only God will know why. I guess it was produced on a monday.

I also use(d) geared pegs. On one of my violas (the cheap one) I'm quite happy with them. On my Nr.2-violin, however, I had them out again faster than they were installed. To my own surprise, the added weight (it's the Wittners I'm talking about) brought the whole instrument out of it's equilibrium, and although it still sounded like a quite-okayish-better-student-range-violin, all the silvery ringing I loved this instrument for was gone. What a relief when I finally had replaced them again with boxwood pegs (including a bushing of the A peg hole...) Not a big thing, I dare to mention this only to point out that it's impossible to generalize, no matter if pro or con, it totally depends on the instrument. Some instruments react more sensible on changes of the setup - even at the scroll end - and others don't.

Edited: July 13, 2019, 3:17 PM · I use Hill style fine tuners almost exclusively (except on my Nr.1-viola's A), and I experienced several E-string breaks yet, but never ever did the string break at the loop. Maybe there are low quality Hill style tuners with sharp edges out there - but since such a tuner costs next to nothing anyway even from the more expensive brands, I cannot see the point in trying to save money here. However, it shouldn't be a problem to file and sand down these sharp edges if necessary.
Most string breaks I had were in the peg box (my own fault...) or at the nut, which is the most common stress point. Once it broke just somewhere in the middle, and only God will know why. I guess it was produced on a monday.

I also use(d) geared pegs. On one of my violas (the cheap one) I'm quite happy with them. On my Nr.2-violin, however, I had them out again faster than they were installed. To my own surprise, the added weight (it's the Wittners I'm talking about) brought the whole instrument out of it's equilibrium, and although it still sounded like a quite-okayish-better-student-range-violin, all the silvery ringing in the higher register I loved this instrument for was gone. What a relief when I finally had replaced them again with boxwood pegs (including a bushing of the A peg hole...) Not a big thing, I dare to mention this only to point out that it's impossible to generalize, no matter if pro or con, it totally depends on the instrument. Some instruments react more sensible on changes of the setup - even at the scroll end - and others don't. Eventually similar could be said about the difference in weight and afterlength between Hill and Wittner style fine tuners, but my personal experience is limited in this point.

Edited: July 14, 2019, 5:50 AM · @ Nuuska M.

The problem with the breakage of the loop at the hook of a hill-type tuner isn't inversely proportional to the price of the tuner. At the cheap models the hook is made of a material softer than the steel of the string. So the string cuts in the hook that results in an optimal maximized contact surface between the wire and the hook. Breakage of the loop is rare with these tuners.
That is confirmed in this article:
https://www.warchal.com/technical_support/e_loop_strings_safety.html

On the other end, there are fine crafted hill-type tuners with a hook made of titanium (e.g. see at the bottom of https://www.ulsamusic.com/unsere-produkte/feinstimmer/) with already perfect rounded edges. Additionally the material thickness of the hook is bigger than that on the standard and cheap models so the contact surface is distinctly enlarged to reduce the strain on the string wire. The disadvantage of that is, that the hook of that tuner won't fit in the slot for the e-string of several tailpieces.

So the really problematic hill-type tuners are the medium priced standard hill-type tuners with a slim hook made of hardened spring steel. Even if you round the edges of the hook by sanding, the contact surface between string wire and hook remains small which results in a high strain on the wire. On the cited warchal page some string protectors are offered to prevent string breakage at the loop. Alternatively you can wind the hook with a tough-elastic material before you put the loop on it. That has the same effect as the protector.

Edited: July 13, 2019, 8:26 PM · Nuuska,

When you install new pegs on a violin, and especially if the holes need work, you have to take all the strings off. The tailpiece, bridge, soundpost... all these vital parts of the violin get moved around and reset during the procedure. And you assume the pegs changed the sound? Your hand has a damping effect on the neck orders of magnitude greater than that of the pegs.

Edited: July 14, 2019, 1:19 AM · Cotton, when I install new pegs, I first do the G and E, with the D and A strings still under tension, and then the D and A just the other way around. This way everything should stay in place, except that the pressure on the top plate decreases for a few minutes. But this also happens when you're changing strings, or if one or two strings snap inside the case because of low humidity, which unfortunately happens regularly in my climatic situation (this is why I originally started to think about geared pegs). So, yes, I really do believe that it were the geared pegs that changed the sound, especially because the sound went back to it's best immediately afterwards.

Its true that a hand (and even an arm) weighs much more than a set of geared pegs. But usually your hand holds its own weight, and as long as there still is soft tissue between bones and wood, it doesn't get part of the resonant system. But anything toughly installed to the scroll or peg box inevitably dampen the vibrations there. In this case it was pretty obvious, and I shouldn't be negatively biased since my preoccupation towards geared pegs was a very positive one and I already planned getting them installed on all my instruments (in fact, I had bought them already), including the two Nr.1-instruments with serious insurance value.
If you doubt the impact of added weight on the scroll end, I'd propose to experiment by temporarily installing weight there, let's say with a small but tough clamp. As long as it is a resonant instrument with rich overtones, I'd be surprised if nothing was going to happen then.

July 14, 2019, 5:40 AM · I can second nuuska here. What he wrote is physically correct. The neck of the violin has it's own vibrational modes which interfere with the modes of the rest of that vibrating system called violin. Since the amount of mass and it's distribution is a crucial parameter of any vibrating system, the vibational modes of the violin neck changes when it's amount of mass and distribution of mass is changed. And that vice versa influences the vibrations of the rest of the system.
This is the reason why luthiers even offer to work on the pegs for advanced tonal adjustments (see for instance here:
http://badiarovviolins.com/jp/tonal-adjustments/)

Have a very nice day!

July 14, 2019, 7:29 AM · @Jose, lubrication may help, but if the lever arm of the Hill style tuner is shorter than the corresponding lever in the conventional tuner, then it'll just be harder to turn for that reason alone.
July 14, 2019, 9:32 AM · @ Paul Deck
You got me! I can't deny that
July 14, 2019, 2:16 PM · Well, I guess that assumes the pitch of the screw and the diameter of the screw head is the same. I've seen some tuners with wider screws and they look weird.
July 14, 2019, 3:03 PM · I am not quite sure which "Hill tuner" is being discussed here. For the avoidance of doubt, the one I have used in the past is the one illustrated in this link:
https://www.thestringzone.co.uk/wittner-hill-style-adjuster-for-ball-end-e-strings

The pros for this design are, as I see it, light weight compared with the ubiquitous lever arm Wittner, low projection underneath the tailpiece (so minimizing damage to the table in the unfortunate event of a bridge collapse), and best after-length - although there are reasons for doubting the importance of the last item as far as an E-string is concerned.

I have identified a couple of possible cons in the design. The first is that they are hard to turn. You will see from the picture in the link that the pillar is threaded on its inside and outside and is divided into two longitudinal halves by diametrically opposed splits parallel to its longitudinal axis. The function of these splits is to accommodate the lever arm. Tightening the retaining threaded collar when installing the tuner on the tailpiece will tend to move the two halves together. This will provide more resistance to the threaded adjusting screw within. As Paul Deck mentioned above, lubrication will solve the problem, so this "con" need not be an issue for many users.

The second con is more subtle and interesting. When installed, the E-string ball held by the two-pronged lever lies vertically higher above the plane of the tailpiece than anything else I've seen. The angle of the E-string after-length is therefore significantly altered, thus reducing the downward pressure of the E on the bridge, and perhaps affecting the transmission of sound vibrations through the bridge and therefore the tone of the violin. Would this be significant? I'd be grateful for comments from a luthier.

The second con is more subtle and interesting. When installed, the E-string ball held by the two-pronged lever lies vertically higher above the plane of the tailpiece than anything else I've seen. The angle of the E-string after-length is therefore observably altered, thus reducing the downward pressure of the E on the bridge, and perhaps affecting the transmission of sound vibrations through the bridge and possibly the tone of the violin. Would this be significant? I'd be grateful for a comment from a luthier.

Edited: July 14, 2019, 4:44 PM · @ Trevor Jennings

In the discussion above the term "Hill-type tuner" adresses the models of adjusters that are called "ENGLISH MODEL for loop end strings" on the following homepage of wittner:
https://wittner-gmbh.de/saitenfeinstimmer_e.html

Wittner doesn't give a special denotation to the type of string adjuster shown in the link you cited. It is depicted as the last in the row of violin adjusters on wittner's homepage given above.

The second con you mentioned has been discussed with David Burgess in the thread with the address:

https://www.violinist.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=1570

Have a very nice day!

July 14, 2019, 4:19 PM · Jose, thanks for the link. David Burgess's post answered my question.
Edited: July 14, 2019, 6:19 PM · The idea that tightening the outer knurl introduces compression onto the screw is something I'd have to think about. I should have one of these tuners lying around somewhere, maybe I'll have a look at that or test it by "installing" it in a piece of hard wood other than a tailpiece.

This is a "nuts and bolts" discussion if ever there was one on violinist.com!

Edited: July 15, 2019, 7:42 AM · Paul, I would expect that the thicker the tailpiece/other piece of hard wood then the outer knurl would be higher up the threaded pillar. In this configuration, tightening the knurl would tend to bring the two halves of the pillar closer together, from considerations of leverage, thus making it a tighter fit for the adjusting screw inside the pillar.
Edited: July 15, 2019, 4:39 PM · Personally, I think loop end E strings sound more vibrant, but they can split on the hook of any Hill tuner especially if you play hard, or overtighten the string. The slipcover for the hook does cut down on splitting. Before the tuner is installed, the hook also can be gently sanded or filed but it’s very tight work. That said, if I’m using a wound E, the winding will break before it breaks at the loop.
July 16, 2019, 7:57 AM · Am I the only violinist on the planet that puts the hole in the ball on the prong of the Hill tuner? Best of both worlds, only one tuner, and no stress-breakage of the loop.
Edited: July 16, 2019, 9:33 AM · Welcome to the club, elise. Now we are two already.
Unfortunately we have to exclude members with no hole in their balls.
Edited: July 16, 2019, 10:14 AM · I tried a Hill tuner on my violin once, and I have ball-end strings, and I thought, "Now ... how does this work ..." and I tried to put the ball onto the little hook but it just didn't seem secure. The hook didn't go all the way through the hole. That's when I figured out I had to take out the ball and use the loop. That didn't actually seem all that secure either, because the loop looks like really thin wire and I was worried that any roughness on the hook would quickly break it, which others in this thread have mentioned as well. Then I went totally fine-tuner-less for a while because I have gear pegs, but I found I still wanted the fine-tuner on my E string. Eventually I just switched back to a regular tuner.
July 17, 2019, 6:32 AM · elise stanley: No I do the same.
July 17, 2019, 6:58 AM · Paul, these string balls are no standard parts. That's why their size (and the size of the hole) differs from manufactuerer to manufacturer. D'Addario and Kaplan have string balls at their guitar steel strings with holes big enough to fit perfectly on the hook of a standard Hill tuner for loop end strings. I took some out of old strings and keep them as string protectors for loop end strings when I'm experimenting or in case of an emergency. I normally don't use this configuration when playing with others or when playing in public. In the case the ball slides down the hook or the string slides down the ball the harmless string ball will be converted into a bullet with enough energy to take an eye out. So everyone should THINK TWICE before using such a contraption in public.
Some decades of experience taught me that the least problematic configuration is a loop end string hooked on one of the two prongs of a post-type or standard tuner. Sounds funny but this combination includes the least number of problematic parts. That's why it always works trouble-free.
July 17, 2019, 12:36 PM · Jose - that sounds a little dramatic if I may say so. Do you know of any actual examples where the ball was freed from the Hill prong AND the string loop and actually shot out of control? Its a fun idea though - maybe we could advertise that and improve attendance for the danger factor...
Edited: July 18, 2019, 7:18 AM · IMHO, it is mass AND the contact with the bridge. Both reasons to HATE the massive Wittner style tuners with their massive cantilevered arms that keep the string FAR away from the tailpiece. Hill style is lighter with the vibrational end closer to the tailpiece.
Bogaro & Clemente make an extremely light carbon composite fine tuner -ball end- that sits like a Hill style, but is shorter, behind the edge of the tailpiece. The string can contact the wood rise (ridge?) like the other strings, making excellent vibration transfer with the tailpiece.
Another style is the type Dov Schmidt uses that have the threaded insert and screw in the tailpiece with a carbon composite lever that holds the ball just above the hole, again behind the end of the tailpiece, but over the wood contact ridge. Stradpet makes these in titanium as well.
You could also try different metal Hill style tuners, like titanium for different resonance.
The ball does have a small mass that is almost negligible.
I
July 18, 2019, 7:15 AM · You may need a luthier to fit a Bogaro & Clemente fine tuner (I just used a needle file.) The slot needs to be wide enough for the carbon guide bit. Stradpet makes a titanium clone of this design - did they buy the design or just pilfer it? It is a very minimalist design with an ultralight screw and backing nut that fits through the standard tailpiece hole. The screw cantilevers a small plate under the tailpiece to tighten or loosen string tension. The string follows a slender guide through the existing slot in the tailpiece. Not for baroque style tailpieces that don’t have a standard hole with string slot.
Edited: July 18, 2019, 1:29 PM · Thank you for your recommendations and the hints for mounting Edward. I will consider that option.

Elise, first of all I didn't address strings with ball end produced by known manufacturers. These can be used safely and trustworthy when handled in a proper way. It can happen that a ball of a string breaks when it's cought an edge in a fine tuner, mostly because the associated violinist didn't mount it thoroughly. (For that reason Thomastik uses balls without a hole for their E-strings, at least in the Dominant line.) Normally incidents like that get off easy.
What I had in mind when I wrote that post above was to rise awareness to the elevated risk when things are used in a way which was not intended by their maker. Hooking up a loop end string on an used ball and sticking that on a Hill tuner is just an example.
You asked for a real event of that kind. Sadly I clearly remember a tragic one that happend several years ago. It was reported in the classic radio program as well as a side note in the newspaper and the internet. During a rehearsal of a school orchestra a "string holding device" (the reporting journalist wasn't a string player for sure) of a violin broke and a fragment of it hit into the eye of another pupil and injured it badly. Really a very very rare and tragic accident. I never heard of something similar before or afterwards. That's why by and now it comes back to my mind. I think one incident of that kind is enough. So I wrote "think twice" when you plan to use experimental configurations in public.

Take care!

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