Sound quality with built in fine tuners on all 4 strings

Edited: November 9, 2019, 2:32 PM · If I have a violin with a composite built in fine tuners for all 4 strings. Is there a difference in sound if I remove them all except the e string?
How do you remove the fine tuners out? Can I do it myself?

Replies (32)

November 8, 2019, 4:00 PM · Focus on perfecting your technique before blaming your tone issues on built-in fine tuners.
Edited: November 8, 2019, 4:28 PM · Some folks say that fine tuners ruin your tone. I'm skeptical about that, but if it is true, then probably it's quite violin-dependent. If you're going to remove your fine tuners, probably you want to get a tail piece that doesn't have them built-in. If you do remove your fine tuners, will you be able to tune your violin with just your friction pegs? Many folks have trouble doing that, especially with their A string. Even Anne-Sophie Mutter has a fine tuner on her A string and somehow her tone seems fine. Another alternative to fine-tuners is to get gear pegs (such as Wittner Finetune Pegs or PegHeds). They're not super expensive (probably about $150, installed) and they work beautifully (I have them on all my instruments and people have installed them in priceless antique violins too). Of course, some people say that these wreck your tone too. There have been many threads on this already -- you can search for them in the "Custom Search" box if you're curious.

Finally, I have to agree with Cotton even though his phrasing was needlessly (but characteristically) abrasive. I didn't hear you "blaming" your tone on your fine tuners; I heard you asking a basic question. But unless you're a pretty advanced player already, there is a lot you can do to improve your overall sound by working on your bowing technique -- this is likely to give you more improvement in your tone than extracting the fine-tuners from your tail piece.

Edited: November 8, 2019, 4:48 PM · Since you're using a composite built in model, you should just leave it as it is. Usually it's a Wittner
(https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wittner-Size-Ultra-Tailpiece-Violin/dp/B000LIEPDE)
or a Bois d'Harmonie
(https://luthiervidal.com/en/violins-and-accessories/tailpieces-tensors-violins/violin-tailpiece-with-fine-tuners-le-bois-d-harmonie-french-model-ebony.html)
or similar. They will for sure not alter the sound to a measurable extent. And the fine tuner elements should not be removed, since it's easier and even cheaper to buy a new plain wooden tailpiece than to destroy your high tech product.

Things would be different if it was about four removable full metal fine tuners which add a lot of weight and shorten the afterlength.

November 8, 2019, 5:44 PM · You can't remove the built-in fine tuners from a Wittner-type tailpiece; you would need to replace it with a standard tailpiece and then add an E tuner. I wouldn't bother.
Edited: November 8, 2019, 6:12 PM · I've been using using Bois d'Harmonie tailpieces on all 4 of my violins for almost 20 years, since osteoarthritis made wooden pag turning troublesome. I noticed no change in tonal properties (or any playability issues) compared to these violins when they only had Hill E tuners and their "bare" wooden tailpieces.
November 8, 2019, 6:47 PM · The composite tailpiece you have is very light. I went back and forth with one on my violin and could not hear a difference. Putting four metal fine tuners on a standard tailpiece is a definite tone killer. I found that metal tuners on my E and A strings had no effect on tone that I could hear.
November 8, 2019, 7:50 PM · Bottom line, everything affects tone. I myself planning on trying a titanium fine tuner for my E string for e.g. The tailpiece shape has an effect, the string that holds the tailpiece has an effect, the material of the tailpiece has an effect. The number and type of fine tuners used has an effect. The only thing that doesn't have an effect is perhaps its color!
November 9, 2019, 12:46 AM · The violin I bought actually only had 1 fine tuners but I request for 4 fine tuners. Now I regret it if it affects the sound
Edited: November 9, 2019, 4:30 AM · The first violin I got a half dozen years back was the cheapest I could find on ebay- just to see if I thought I'd be interested. It had built in tuners on an alloy tailpiece. I later got a couple of better violins, both came with only one tuner on the high string. I missed the built in tuners and added full tuners just for the sake of the strings- the built in tuners were easier to dial in than the pegs and so I figured less likely to break strings- and because the new violins take a bit to get the pegs pushed in and holding tune.

I learned about after length and now prompted by this discussion and the realization that my lower strings really don't need that much adjusting and have low tension, I think I'll try removing the tuners there- I found them heavy, but not terribly bothersome. Yet they do cut the afterlength while the built in tuners do not. On new violins I don't think I could've heard any tone difference, so now it may be interesting to see if I can now.

I wonder if people have tried to use a smaller size- like a 3/4 tuner to increase after length, but have no idea how much that might affect the spacing of the strings- since the bridge floats maybe the strings can be spaced fairly normal- I don't know, and it's all complicated by vendors who give no details about dimensions- 4/4 and 3/4 are sometimes given in the description for the same tailpieces- almost know one even lists the lengths of tail pieces, let alone the string spacing.

I also have been interested in compensating 'harp" tailpieces and assumed I'd get longer bass lengths that way- but the few I've ever found with any dimensions have surprisingly been at least as long as the tails I have on the SHORT SIDE, so they'd actually be no longer string length on the bass side, and apparently cancelling any gain in bass string length. Or are they intended to cut down the length of the trebles rather than increase the length of the basses? Apparently, some of these compensating harp tails now are coming with built in tuners, but most are still not.

Anybody have experience with that?

I've thought about using a violin tailpiece on a viola, just to see, but my cheapie already has built in tuners and long afterlength- I recall breaking two high A strings when I first set it up-
and the other's a five string I don't have much time to play- it still needs lowering, years later.

November 9, 2019, 5:34 AM · Does having all fine tuners just dampen the sound? Does it really affect the tone?
Edited: November 9, 2019, 6:26 AM · I used to be a naysayer, but I have found that Wittner composite tailpieces are quite nice, and one can set the proper string after-length with them, something that is mostly impossible to do with 4-fine tuners.

(The after-length is the distance between top of the bridge and the point where the string leaves the tailpiece, and that distance really affects tone!)

It is particularly useful for people who use metal strings. I don't think the composite tailpiece dampens the sound.

I use traditional tailpieces on my violins, but I have found that students and fiddlers like the Wittner composite tailpieces a lot.

Wittner composite tailpieces also save wear on your pegs and pegbox.

Edited: November 9, 2019, 6:27 AM · A modern lightweight composite tailpiece with integrated fine tuners will neither affect sound volume nor the tonal quality. Your model most probably seems to be one of those, but you haven't been more specific.
Four metal fine tuners will not do much to the sound volume measurable in decibels, but they will dampen the overtones. Your instrument may sound A NUANCE more "flat" and cigar-box like.

Not every instrument reacts the same. My main violin is super-sensible to things like that, that's why I'm having only one Hill-style fine tuner on the E. But there are plenty of instruments doing completely fine with two ordinary models for the E and the A.
The reason why you can't see built-in fine tuning tailpieces on most professionally played instruments is NOT in tone, but because this business is very conservative. And since this does not seem to be be a pain in the butt as much as for cellists, we violinists (and violists) stick to our old-fashioned habits.

Removing fine tuners will neither turn a VSO into a musical instrument, nor will it add to the users abilities.

November 9, 2019, 6:37 AM · I always thought that a wooden tailpiece (indeed, with just one fine tuner) produces a "warmer, wooden" tone in comparison with those composite tailpieces which bring some "coldness" in the sound? Has this ever been tested? I myself play on a decent chinese violin with a wittner tailpiece and have been planning for a long time to have it replaced by a wooden one. Never got to it yet, for some reason.
November 9, 2019, 6:38 AM · Jo J, if you presently have a wooden tail piece with one fine tuner for your E string, and you want four fine tuners, you have three options:

(1) Put metal fine tuners on the rest of your strings. This option is the easiest and cheapest but also the most likely to degrade your tone. But, you can try it!

(2) Get a Wittner tail piece (or Bois d'Whatever) that has four fine-tuners built in. This will cost you for parts and labor but it is a very well-functioning and good-sounding alternative.

(3) Just keep your current tail piece with one fine tuner and exchange your pegs for Wittner Finetune pegs or PegHeds.

November 9, 2019, 8:17 AM · Jean, to be honest - I have no idea... I have tried this only on two "cheaper" although pretty fine violins (around 5k) without noticing a huge differenence (Wittner vs plain ebony) and could not say what happened if done to a "better" one. (My luthier doesn't mount them on >2k instruments, and my son was test-driving but did not want to live without his Wittner tailpiece...) Before and after, both fiddles had a nice warm timbre but weren't in need of more clarity.
November 9, 2019, 8:53 AM · I have *always* had trouble tuning my instrument with the pegs alone, and both my current instrument and my previous had fine tuner tailpieces installed at my request. I was hoping to have the geared pegs installed on my current instrument, but two luthiers recommended against doing so. So... a Wittner fine tuner was installed and it has not impacted the sound of my violin whatsoever. I have been thinking of upgrading to the Bois d'Harmonie composite fine tuner, but I've been spending any extra "violin funds" on... violin lessons.

If you have a composite fine tuner tailpiece already installed, I'd leave it there for the time being.

Edited: November 9, 2019, 9:21 AM · Jean wrote, "I always thought that a wooden tailpiece (indeed, with just one fine tuner) produces a 'warmer, wooden' tone in comparison with those composite tailpieces which bring some 'coldness' in the sound?"

That's all just psychological bias -- but, yes, you hear that kind of stuff all the time. It's the same nonsense that makes people think vinyl records or tube amplifiers sound "warmer." Gold-plated stereo connectors sound "warmer" than nickel-plated ones. Ufda. The term "warmer" is always associated with the older technology or the thing with natural materials. Wool is warmer than polyester polar fleece (even though it isn't), etc. It's a term of simple nostalgia.

The glorious thing about tailpiece material (like just about anything having to do with violins) is that constructing a truly demonstrative study with all the necessary controls would be next to impossible. So claims of superior "warmth" with wooden tailpieces will never be disproved and will continue to be argued long after we're in our graves.

Edited: November 9, 2019, 9:36 AM · I recommend sticking with the fine tuners. I feel I can tune the A string quicker with a fine tuner. But if you can tune as well with the pegs, then I suppose it doesn’t matter.
Edited: November 9, 2019, 10:03 AM · Ah, fine tuners. In my BIASED, PREJUDICED, SELF-RIGHTEOUS, UNEDUCATED opinion, I always associated violins with 4 fine tuners as beginner violins. I never tried them - even with the composite tailpiece with built-in tuners. When I bought my kids their violin, I consciously avoided getting them violins with 4 tuners. Their violin only has one fine tuner on the E string, and I just taught them how to tune their violins. But I also made sure the pegs on their violins are well fitted, and easy to turn without losing its tune. However, there are YouTube videos showing how the different tailpieces with and without tuners, can affect the tone on a violin that anyone can watch. There’s even videos that compares harp tailpieces vs regular tailpieces. But these are videos, so there would be some sound degradation.
Edited: November 10, 2019, 5:48 AM · Yes, Ben David, I find your opinion is pure snobbery!! The ease of fine tuning with well-fitted pegs varies with ambient temperature and humidity, And during a rehearsal I will frequently have to make quick, minute adjustments as the winds warm up.

The old aluminium alloy Wittner tailpieces tend to ring, and I put a layer of silicone mastic on the underside. The newer composite version is both lighter, and more neutral-sounding to my ears.

On two YouTube videos, I find the harp-shaped tailpieces give more "honky" sound than the straight ones.

November 9, 2019, 11:59 AM · @Adruan Heath wrote:

“The ease of fine tuning with well-fitted pegs varies with ambient temperature and humidity, And during a rehearsal I will frequently have to make quick, minute adjustments as the winds warm up.”

Not in my experience, and I’ve played outdoors in varying temps. However, if the violin does go out of tune outdoors, it usually requires more than fine tuning. But it does not happen often.

November 9, 2019, 12:38 PM · Another poster on this forum had mentioned Michael Tree, violist of the Guarneri Quartet as a user of Wittner tailpieces with built-in fine tuners. I don't think anyone regarded him as unprofessional or childish, and this link has more on his views on technique:

https://theviolinchannel.com/michael-tree-guarneri-string-quartet-obituary-memoriam-mark-holloway-viola/

November 9, 2019, 12:57 PM · "Does having all fine tuners just dampen the sound? Does it really affect the tone? "- Jo J

To simply clarify- with built in tuners- the answer is probably "no"- regardless of the quality or preference for that kind of tailpiece.

If four separate metal tuners are added onto an older traditional tailpiece- the answer may be perhaps, simply because those kinds of tuners stick out and up towards the bridge another centimeter or so, decreasing after length. They can also tilt or pinch the string- I've had to spread the ends with a flat driver.

Personally, I'm going to try going back to using an A and an E. Most of us need to just keep practicing!

Edited: November 9, 2019, 1:51 PM · The most stable strings tuning-wise I've used (and still do) are the Warchal Ambers. Tuners with these strings are quite unnecessary for the G, D and A. But recently, as an experiment playing without the add-on Wittner E-tuner, I have found that the E tunes perfectly well from the peg - if you're careful, I might add! The tone of the E now seems even a little better, possibly because of the increased after-length and the fact that the E is now in direct contact with the wood tailpiece without the intermediary of an add-on tuner (which perhaps could have a damping effect on some of the vibrations?), and less weight on the tailpiece.

My first thoughts about removing the E-tuner were that it would make it more convenient for swapping over to an all gut setup, which I do occasionally.

November 9, 2019, 2:33 PM · To clarify I have built in tuners for all 4 strings, not just the A and E.
November 9, 2019, 3:27 PM · Jo J, that's what I'm talking about. Just leave it as is, except your concerned about not being "professional" enough by your peers.
November 9, 2019, 5:55 PM · On thing to keep in mind, the effect of the tailpiece/finetuners variations should in theory be more noticeable on the better instruments, which tone can be more easily affected. Put 4 fine tuners and a heavy tailpiece on an instrument built like a tank, you probably won't see much of a difference as compared to the effect it may have on a feather light instrument.
Edited: November 10, 2019, 5:48 AM · Roger, the violin I've just been talking about is a feather-light 18th c instrument. It has a 14-1/4" back, with bout and rib measurements in proportion, so I think your comment applies.
[Nov 11, 2019 edit] This violin weighs in at 392gm, without shoulder rest and chin rest, which I don't use.
November 10, 2019, 3:29 AM · Ben David's comment prompted me to look on YouTube and I found this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BvajOUimeM

I think in that video, the composite tailpiece positively sounds more "metallic".

November 10, 2019, 3:59 AM · on the violin, the only thing wood doesn't sound better for are the strings!!
Edited: November 10, 2019, 5:57 AM · Jean, I agree, but the ebony tailpiece is weighed down by four added tuners.
Maybe the carbon's lesser weight and the longer after-string length allow more overtones?

But may I add that removing (e.g. for cleaning) and replacing the same tailpiece just after will also sound different!

And Ben David, I was referring to slight changes affecting the wood and strings e.g. coming into a heated hall on a cold, damp winter day! (I'm near Paris, which has British-style weather.)

November 10, 2019, 8:21 AM · Weight and tailgut free length are what I have found to affect tone the most. String afterlength can too, but not as much.

As far as materials and presence/absence of fine tuners, I'm thinking that those who hear a difference are mostly affected by pre-existing biases, and with a true blind test, you couldn't prove a difference.


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