Violin bridge adjusting (Have I made a terrible mistake?)

Edited: August 17, 2019, 3:20 AM · In all my years of playing the violin I never thought to ask this but now I need to know:

Is it okay to make a minor adjustment of the angle of the bridge after you tune up a new set of strings? I've taken this for granted and I grew up seeing other players string up their violin, place it on their chest with fingers on both side of the bridge to make slight adjustments to the angle even after tuning, since tuning a new set can cause the bridge angle to change.

Anyway, I don't scoot the feet around or anything, I just sometimes correct the angle to make sure the tailpiece side is at 90 degrees, but it was recently brought to my attention that adjusting in this way can wear the feet into the top and I was absolutely horrified. Now I'm not totally convinced that my bridge angle is right but I'm scared to adjust it. I know it seems weird after all this time that I'm suddenly paranoid about this, but here we are. It appears to me that the feet are still simply resting on top and not bearing into the wood, but I just play it, I trust luthiers to tell me if it's okay. I have included photos.

E string side:
https://ibb.co/SsVfYKb
Front:
https://ibb.co/KL9wbHw
G string side:
https://ibb.co/JKvMQtt

Replies (28)

August 17, 2019, 3:22 AM · its pretty standard and necessary, letting it tilt forward will do more damage to the top and the feet of the bridge
August 17, 2019, 3:45 AM · Thank you, Lyndon. I think my E string side is at 90 degrees but my G string side is ever so slightly more forward, however the foot looks like it's resting flat. Maybe my bridge is a little warped? Since the foot is flat on the top should I just leave it alone until I get a new bridge or should I try to correct it by adjusting the angle?
August 17, 2019, 3:58 AM · Usually the back of the bridge should form a right angle, but some people make the middle of the side a right angle
Edited: August 17, 2019, 7:22 AM · Well, ideally, you should tune down a little bit all strings so the bridge is not highly pressed down. This allows you to move it "freely and easily". It can be done with the strings tuned, but then lifting up the bridge and moving it becomes harder. When setting a bridge you have 2 parameters: angle and feet. The angle must be 90º and the feet must be in a certain place.

When moving the feet around, that's when you want low pressure so you can lift up a little bit the whole bridge, move it and put it down. This way you don't damage anything, don't wear the feet or top of the violin. If you are very, very unlucky, you could have a very loose sound post and in the moment of lifting up the bridge, the sound post could fall down. But, I've never seen that, ever. This is what you do, lower the tension, lift up the bridge just a little bit so you don't touch the top with the fit, and put it down.

When setting the angle, you only need to rotate, no feet movement anywhere. That's what I don't understand: if you wanted to adjust the angle after a string set change, you only needed to rotate, the feet won't move, so I don't understand your concern about the feet.

August 17, 2019, 7:30 AM · Bad idea, if you reduce the tension, the bridge will tip forward again when you take the strings back up to tension.
August 17, 2019, 8:41 AM · If the bridge is fit right and the slots are lubricated with graphite, then tilting it back into an upright position takes very little force, even under tension.
If you have to pull and pull and pull to get it just right, your bridge is no good.
August 17, 2019, 11:51 AM · Thanks guys, I think I made it sound like I’m doing something more drastic than what I’m actually doing. I didn’t change where the feet sit, I just tilted the bridge after tuning to maintain the 90 degree angle as I’ve done for years. As you might see in the photos, my bridge is slightly warped though, which makes it hard to know if the angle is really where it should be.
August 17, 2019, 3:25 PM · I am not a Luthier, but the photos look good, the bridge only slightly warped. I just spent two afternoons at a public school with a large collection of cheap instruments. All of the bridges needed adjustment. The measurements on some were wrong so that I opted to have the string length correct. It is most important that the feet be flush with top. The feet on bridges on some cheap instruments have a slight bevel so that the bridge leans back a little when the feet are flush.
Edited: August 17, 2019, 7:50 PM · What you're doing is actually bending your bridge, not moving it relative to the violin. It's thin wood and fairly flexible, but only within a certain range of departure. That's why you want to take care of this routinely. The first few times you do it, it feels like you're surely going to break something, but you won't. With violins that have not been adjusted in a LONG time (like school violins and cellos even worse in my experience) the warping can be so severe that more invasive treatment is necessary to straighten them up. Bridges can be softened with heat (I have heard that they can be warmed in a microwave oven and then gently pressed flat in a few cycles), but if my violin needed such work I would take it to a pro.
August 17, 2019, 8:18 PM · "Bad idea, if you reduce the tension, the bridge will tip forward again when you take the strings back up to tension"
Not at all if you have the slots lubricated. I'd rather work with less tension, move and put the bridge where it has to be very easily, and tune up the instrument later. If you've done it thousands of times, sure, you can do it with full tension, but for amateurs and players, make it simple and easy.
August 17, 2019, 9:52 PM · tuning down the strings to straighten the bridge is not simple and easy, its difficult and pointless.
August 17, 2019, 10:18 PM · I agree with Lyndon... even with lubricated slots for the strings, tuning it up drags the top of the bridge with it, and it needs to be straightened again when it's up to pitch.

I usually wiggle the bridge into adjustment, alternating tiny movements on the G side and then the E side. The bride is flexible enough to make one side move at a time, and this minimizes the chance of sudden collapse when trying to slide all 4 strings at once.

Edited: August 18, 2019, 8:49 AM · Tuning down strings is not simple?
OK, here I end the discussion. Sometimes I think you simply like to disagree just for the sake of it.

Pointless, for an expert?
May be, they can do it eyes closed with full tension. For someone that doesn't know how to grab correctly the bridge, lowering the tension might be a key point to not break the bridge while moving it. I know this for experience (not me, but I've seen people breaking bridges because they maneuvered it with full tension and bad finger position). With lower tension, you can grab the bridge incorrectly, without much care, and still not break it. Place it and that's it.

Then you simply tune up your instrument, look the bridge stays in place (it should if it's alright) and may be at the end you need to rotate it 0.5º if something moved.

"even with lubricated slots for the strings, tuning it up drags the top of the bridge with it, and it needs to be straightened again when it's up to pitch"
Yes? It can happen, but... so? What's the problem of moving it again a tiny bit once it's up to pitch?

Compared to a sudden collapse, for players it's way more safe to lower the strings tension and move it without much worries about the bridge suddenly falling down, or breaking.

Edited: August 18, 2019, 8:53 AM · I agree with Don and Lyndon. (By the way Don explained why it's not simple -- because of the problem of drag when you tune back up. You've got to tune down a LOT to make a noticeable difference in the downward pressure. Maintaining tension also helps keep you from accidentally sliding the feet.) I've never had to loosen my strings to straighten my bridge, whether the slots were well lubed or not. It's just not necessary. If it sticks you can release the static friction by using Don's one-side-at-a-time approach, but once you get it moving you can have your way with it, actually the usual problem for me is is that it moves too easily. The static friction, by the way, is why the string pulls the bridge along (obviously very slightly each time), because the motion is so gradual that the static friction is not released. You'll notice the same thing at the nut if you tune with gear pegs -- you turn the peg a small amount and nothing happens! Now, of course, the nut cannot move, so the additional tension builds into the string within the peg box and if you keep turning it will soon release. It's not something that happens every time, but I've noticed it a few times. That's why I just tune down a little first before drawing up, to release the static friction at the nut. Not an issue with standard friction pegs because there you've got more static friction in the pegs themselves. When players "tune" their violins by pushing on the string within the pegbox, they're banking on the static friction at the nut holding the differential tension between the peg box and the playing length (lower tension in the peg box after releasing your finger). Of course that works quite poorly which is why your teacher told you not to be lazy about tuning your violin. People still do it anyway usually because their friction pegs are absolute crap and they won't bother to spend the price of a violin lesson at the luthier to get them fixed.
Edited: August 18, 2019, 8:58 AM · Yeah, I can't explain every step, but the string problem can be solved by pulling each string up and then resting it on the bridge again. That way you have a balanced tension all over the length of the string.

Yes, having too low tension can make the whole process more difficult, that's why I said "tune down a little bit". You know, talking about these things online, that can be read by players that have little to no experience in these things, it's WAY safer to tell them loosen the strings a bit so the bridge can be moved easily (not WAY too easily), than tell them to work with full tension. I've seen it, and I can guarantee many will break their bridge if they do it with the full tension. It will snap. My way, less chance, it's easier to work with lower tension, you don't need to grab the bridge correctly in order to move it and not break it, and the whole process is easier, for a beginner. Once they start to tune up, they simply need to take a look at the angle and check it stays there.

August 18, 2019, 9:09 AM · Well I see no harm in tuning down some just to try it for the first time, but once you feel how you put your thumbs and fingers on the bridge and how easily it moves, you should quickly tune your violin back up to 440 (or 415 if you're one of those nut jobs LOL) and go from there. I think where people are going to snap their bridges is trying to rectify three millimeters of curvature displacement in a single go.
Edited: August 18, 2019, 5:07 PM · It has been my "habit" to check my bridges regularly (when playing regularly). Perhaps this is why even the bridge that had been on one of my violins for more than 60 years is still unbent. I first learned this is important because the bridge on my first cello showed signs of bending even when I first got it (the cello was over 70 years old then and I doubt that was its first bridge).

When I was teaching I would check my students' bridges at every lesson - they often needed straightening.

I straighten violin and viola bridges sitting with the instrument in my lap, end button facing my belly and generally pulling the bridge toward me because they generally have tilted the other way. Cello bridges I do with the instrument across my lap with the neck pointed about 30° away from my body and I push the bridge upward from both sides. (EDITED)

(Most cellos seem to hold their intonation better than the smaller instruments because steel-core strings are nearly ubiquitous and cellists keep their strings on for a LONG time - which is good because the strings are so expensive. A pro cellist from the SF Opera orchestra played a couple of concerts with us and I remember noting that the silks on her strings were so worn one could not tell what brand they were - and she could not remember.)

Edited: August 18, 2019, 9:29 AM · "but once you feel how you put your thumbs and fingers on the bridge and how easily it moves"

Yeah, you are going way too fast there. I'd say most people are clumsy by default, and very few people are born with this "gift" of handyman/DIY spirit. They kind of sense when they are grabbing wrong the bridge even with zero experience in music, violin and luthier stuff.

But, when you design instructions and tutorials, you have to talk to the regular clumsy average viewer, that will grab the bridge wherever, as he or she thinks it's a whole piece of wood, and will move it and rotate it as it it was a lever or something. That's why lowering the tension of each string a little bit is crucial for them not to break or snap the bridge in half. I know this because I've taught some student mates to do it, and with full tension they all feel so insecure and are afraid of moving it. If you lower the tension by tuning it down, they are more confident, because it's easier and it responds fluid.

Test it yourself, call your mother and father with zero knowledge in music, violin and bridges, and tell them to move the bridge so it's between the lines and 90º. Give them a tuned violin and a violin with low tension on strings. Tell me which violin survives.

August 18, 2019, 12:25 PM · Like Paul Deck and Andrew but I find to wiggle gives you finer control than to push or pull. When you examine some old violins you realise substantial wear does occur in this area. On my 1809 violin one bridge foot needs to be cut slightly convex to fit the concavity in the table!
Edited: August 18, 2019, 1:07 PM · Yes, Paul is right, there are always people who will be afraid of doing anything with their own hands. Can't change a light bulb because they might burn down the house or electrocute themselves in the process. I just grew up in a different culture. Paul said "my mom or dad" and that's funny because they're just about the most avid DIY people imaginable. My dad has baked all of the bread for his household for the last 40 years, and still does, and he's pushing 90. He knows how to take the back off of a violin too, and how to put it back on. We never went out to eat because my mom could (and did) cook anything. That's where I learned to cook, and my family doesn't go out to eat very often either. I save a ton of money because of that. This afternoon I'm making Italian meat balls and gravy and it's going to be really really good.
August 18, 2019, 2:11 PM · I just thought of another thing (now that my meat balls are in the oven). Here you've got people who are trying, apparently, to do something with their hands that is devilishly hard: Playing the violin. And these are the same people who are afraid to pull back a little on their bridge to straighten it up? Go figure. We do tend to compartmentalize our aptitudes, fears, and proclivities, don't we?
August 18, 2019, 3:52 PM · Come on, Paul, that was a terrible example and logic. The fact that you can play Mendelssohn perfectly, which is very hard, is not a guarantee at all that you are any good at DIY things, mechanics, visual thinking or any of those abilities. It means you play the violin very well, you probably read music very fluently and have a good developed hearing.
Also, I said "your parents" as an example, obviously.
Edited: August 18, 2019, 4:41 PM · Yeah I knew that was just an example. Sheesh. And if my logic is questionable, just remember: This is an internet forum, for goodness sake.
August 18, 2019, 7:37 PM · Your bridge looks good from the pictures, and I agree with Lyndon that you should not loosen the strings before adjusting the bridge (which you probably weren't doing anyway right?)
August 18, 2019, 9:39 PM · That's right, James. I wasn't doing that either. I was just doing the common post-tuning right-angle check. I really appreciated the responses in this thread, and it helped me to realize the actual bridge dynamics, which isn't something I had considered as a player. It turns out what I've been doing all along is normal after all. What a relief :)
August 18, 2019, 10:48 PM · What I do recommend is bending one side of the bridge at a time, not both at once, when bending the bridge back into position, as was said previously this prevents the tendency of the whole bridge to collapse from moving too much.
Edited: August 19, 2019, 2:26 AM · I never met a string player who wasn't continually readjusting their bridge.
August 19, 2019, 2:03 PM · As the tuning person for a beginner youth orchestra I'm constantly adjusting, and occasionally standing, bridges. There are two problems that bother me the most:

Young musicians who put their instrument on the floor, bridge against the floor, to put on their shoulder rest. (This often results in re-standing the bridge and sending the parents to the luthier to have the sound post reset)

Second are non musician parents (usually the father) who, upon discovering that the bridge moves, decide that it is a mistake and glue it down - almost always slightly canted like a guitar bridge and in the wrong position in relation to the F-holes. It is usually obvious but there are a few who used to be model makers who manage to make the glue invisible.

FWIW: The bridge on my violin is over 40 years old and still straight and strong.

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