One for the luthiers: Bridge Position and Vibrating String Length

November 10, 2019, 4:07 PM · As this is the first thread I’ve started, first let me express my appreciation for all the helpful information I found in this forum. I have recently revived my love of playing violin. I hadn’t touched my instrument since starting college in 1981. Now that I have retired from my medical practice, I have time for my passion for the violin. My instrument is a student violin my father bought for me new in 1973, a Karl Meisel strad copy made in West Germany. It has no cracks, and when I tried to tune the steel strings, very carefully, I was amazed that it seemed to be intact, no buzzing or wolf tones, and the bridge was not warped. I have replaced the strings with Visions. I want to optimize the sound and have read about bridge position and vibrating string length. The back of my bridge is at 90 degrees with the top plate, the feet are such that the backs line up with the f-hole notches at 19.5 cm from the upper edge of the top plate. The original marks left in the varnish from the feet are exactly where the bridge is currently. In this position, the vibrating string length is 32.8 cm. I have read that the middle of the bridge feet should be at 19.5cm. This would extend the string length. Should I move the bridge or leave it alone?

Replies (15)

November 10, 2019, 5:03 PM · 32.8 is a good string length. Leave it there.

What kind of change in sound do you want?

November 10, 2019, 5:30 PM · A conventional string length will be of higher value to most players, than whatever minor gains (whether real or not) which can be had from moving the bridge around.
Edited: November 11, 2019, 3:26 AM · I know of luthiers who will find the optimal bridge location by tapping on either side of the foot, in addition to the usual things with straightedges and rulers to measure side-to-side distances. By contrast, I also met someone who said that was nutty-- you make a string length of 32.6cm, get the bridge standing up correctly, and there you are.

Personally, I've found that small changes to the bridge location can make a remarkable difference in sound when you finally get it to the right spot. But if yours is exactly where it was before (as shown by the varnish), chances are you have bigger fish to fry.

You could also take it to a good shop for an opinion. A student violin might have a bridge that is too heavy for optimal response, and could stand some alteration. And even if the bridge is correct, the soundpost might need some adjustment or even replacement.

November 11, 2019, 5:50 AM · I'd leave well alone! Moving the bridge will change its clearance from the sound-post, which matters more for tone than any absolute measurement.
November 11, 2019, 6:48 AM · The string length is perfectly fine. I ditto leaving it be.
November 11, 2019, 7:16 AM · Hi Jerry, congrats on your retirement!

I would say leave the bridge in the original position if the length is 32.8 cm. If you were to move the bridge back out of those worn bridge feet markings in the varnish there is a chance the bridge will lean forward from the back half of the bridge feet sitting on the raised varnish. More importantly have a luthier check the sounds post. This would be more important to optimizing your sound.

November 11, 2019, 2:35 PM · Thanks for the input.
Luis, I was seeking a darker, richer tone. The Vision strings have already helped. The instrument has a nice ring whenever a D, A, G or E is played, but the upper positions on D and G strings get to sounding choked. I was wondering if a bridge position adjustment would help.
I will consider having the soundpost checked.
Edited: November 11, 2019, 8:45 PM · An amateur's input (bear that in mind):

None of my instruments cost much (in today's dollars) - but then, they were bought many decades ago.

I have postulated that the standard dimensions (i.e, position of ff-holes, position of soundpost, graduations, etc.) are not necessarily optimized for other aspects of a specific instrument including the exact shaping of the spruce top and physical properties of the wood.

Ignoring all other factors, there is a strong relationship between optimized position of soundpost and bridge feet. Therefore, I have found it easier to move the bridge a millimeter than an equivalent move of the soundpost. Working from that I have done a lot of moving of bridges and soundposts over the past 5 decades. Ultimately, I keep the bridge very closely in line to the F-hole clefts (except for one cello - but that's another story for another time). I have the right tools to do these things for my violins, violas and cellos.

I have found that some of my instruments are relatively insensitive to the exact positioning of the soundpost (with fixed bridge) and others are incredibly sensitive.

Some professional luthiers will just position bridge and soundpost according to the standard metrics for "run-of-the-mill" instruments but will "dig-for-gold" if the instrument's value is in its maker's name. Others will do some trial and error around the standards for any instrument put in their hands - those are the luthiers you want to have check your instrument. The good ones can probably do that in an extra 5 minutes (that's all the time it took Haide Lin to move the soundpost of one of my cellos around a half-dozen times and get it right).

November 12, 2019, 9:18 AM · That post, and the last paragraph. . . solid gold.
November 12, 2019, 9:47 AM · A related story:
One of my 3 cellos (I have had 4 but traded #3 for #4 15 years ago), a strad model made in Germany in 1877 has an indicated vibrating string length about 1/2 to 3/4 inch longer than any of the others (both Strad and V. Rugeri* models). When it was repaired (for very serious damage) about 20 years ago, the luthier installed a "reversed bridge"** decreasing the vibrating string length by about 1/4 inch. The resulting tone of that cello became the best of its (now) 70 year life with me - but still it is very frustrating getting my fingers in the right place------
----- so I have not played that cello for several years.

*Rugeri (Ruggieri, etc. spellings are all over the map - you have to wonder about those guys!)

** "reversed bridge" - the flat side of the bridge faces the scroll/nut thus moving the top of the bridge closer to the nut shortening the vibrating string length.

November 12, 2019, 2:35 PM · Mr. Victor, thank you for your insight and experience.
Perhaps the next step in my quest for a rich dark tone is to try a set of Pirastro Eudoxa heavy gauge strings.
November 13, 2019, 9:25 AM · Strings seem to me to give you maybe 5-10% variance in sound at max. (The rest comes from instrument, bow, room acoustic, and your playing. Oh, and humidity.)

That said, if you want a darker, richer sound, Eudoxas are certainly good to try (not sure why to go with high tension, but then my instruments hate high tension - yours may not). Other things to consider are D'Addario Pro Artes (lowish tension, about an order of magnitude cheaper than Eudoxas, and more pitch stable - though certainly without that last bit of richness and personality you get from gut), or (in the middle of the price gap between Pro Artes and Eudoxas) Kalpan Amos.

There is also a degree to which the easiest way to get a darker sound may be to consider a different/additional instrument. Bow matters too, but in my experience the main variable in what some poster here once called the base "vowel sound" an instrument makes is in fact the instrument. Almost everything else can be more easily adjusted with string/bow/player variables, but I've not had a lot of luck varying the base sound except switching instrument, at which point (when you find the right one) it comes almost trivially.

November 13, 2019, 10:19 AM · The heavy Eudoxas have a slightly lower tension than the Visions I am using now. I’m considering those to perhaps provide a better bow response than the medium gauge.
Edited: November 13, 2019, 11:38 AM · Francis Browne wrote:
"Strings seem to me to give you maybe 5-10% variance in sound at max. (The rest comes from instrument, bow, room acoustic, and your playing. Oh, and humidity."

I have to say that while taken one way this may be so, taken another way, which has been my experience, you have to "solve for" a 6-variable equation (Browne's variables). My two better violins seem to be exactly opposite in many of their preferred strings and the difference (to my ears) is closer to a factor of at least 2 to 4 variance in sound (I don't know what percentage that is (depends on what you chose as the reference state). And these are good strings (particularly referring to Timbre and Tricolore). However with some other strings they seem to have similar preferences and their most favored are Evah Pirazzi Gold - topped with Peter Infeld Platinum E.
I have a lot of time on these instruments, 67 and 45 years, respectively.

My other two violins both seem to be at their best ever with Warchal Timbre sets. I have had these instruments for 46 and 20 years.

Edited: November 14, 2019, 12:26 AM · Andrew—
Any experience yet with Lenzner Supersolo? I am finding them to be a small revelation, even if they do need adjusting every few minutes.

When the Timbres arrive, I am hoping they will deliver much of that effect— more reliably, of course.

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