Strings too high?

Edited: December 18, 2019, 11:19 PM · Ive been playing on a violin that was donated to me for about a year now, but theres always been something that's felt off. The strings were very hard to press down. Even when using minimum viable pressure, which I spent a long time trying to perfect, It still felt like I was pressing too hard. This ended up causing an injury which I am currently healing from. 2 days before I began resting my left hand, I went to my orchestra teacher and asked if I could try out different violins after school to see how they felt. To my surprise, all of the other violins I've tried were drastically easier to play than the one I've been playing. Pressing down on the g string with my fingers, which used to be a huge issue with the donated violin, required little to no effort at all. This made me believe that my bridge was too high, so I switched the bridge on the donated violin with another violin's bridge in hope that it would change how easy it was to press the strings down
yet it didnt. The bridge did nothing, so now I'm not exactly sure what is wrong. I would go to a luthier if I had any money. Could it be the nut? Are my strings truly too high or is there something that is causing this issue?

I tried sharing an image but it didnt work.

Replies (48)

Edited: December 18, 2019, 11:41 PM · Measure the distance from your strings to the end of the fingerboard with a small, precise ruler and report those back to us.

You should be able to shove at most a business card in between your strings and the nut, that's all.

Remember you do not have to press all the way down to the fingerboard, not even in first position. Ask your teacher about that, also to make sure your hand position is correct. But I don't think this is the issue based on your comparison study.

One more thing is maybe the violin came with "stark" (heavy) strings. What kind of strings are they? (you can find color charts for the silk windings online).

December 18, 2019, 11:51 PM · The height/angle of the fingerboard varies between violins, so a bridge that is the right height for one violin may not be the right height for another. Your violin may have a low fingerboard. I had the same issue with the violin I inherited.
December 19, 2019, 3:51 AM · A bridge replacement usually isn't very expensive (that being a relative term, I realize) and a competent luthier will be able to match the bridge to the instrument for proper string height. You shouldn't develop pain in your left hand from playing a properly set up instrument.
December 19, 2019, 8:00 AM · This article by violinmaker, Jonathon Price, has plenty of info with some basic measurements that might help you better pin point what might need to be addressed on your violin: https://adbowsllc.com/2019/11/12/checking-over-a-setup-on-a-violin-viola-and-cello/
December 19, 2019, 9:57 AM · To clarify what Paul wrote:"You should be able to shove at most a business card in between your strings and the nut, that's all."

Should be:"You should be able to shove at most a business card in between your strings AT the nut, that's all.

Simple typo, I make them all the time!

December 19, 2019, 10:27 AM · Here are some good starting heights (I use the top of the strings):
E--3 mm
A--4 mm
D--5-6 mm
G--5-6 mm

If you go much beyond these figures, you tend to get problems of either buzzing or playing difficulty/lack of projection.

Edited: December 20, 2019, 3:54 AM · OP, with inclusion of everything which has been mentioned so far, there also could be some huge problems with the fingerboard shaping,

Edited: December 19, 2019, 11:05 AM · "I switched the bridge on the donated violin with another violin's bridge"... yikes! Unless that second bridge wasn't set in place onto its violin, you now most likely got 2 violins in need of bridge adjustments.
December 19, 2019, 12:16 PM · Switching bridges usually doesn't work because the feet need to fit flush with the top plate.
1) Take it to a Luthier for a proper bridge.
OR, if you must;
2) do it yourself, If the bridge is to high. With a triangular file take down the string notches until they are at the measurements listed by Scott. Then with a sharp knife shave off the excess wood. Be sure to use a bridge jack to keep pressure on the top. Otherwise your sound post could move or fall down.
Edited: December 19, 2019, 1:10 PM · If you can't easily get hold of a bridge jack a workable alternative is to wrap a cloth round the waist of the violin between the fingerboard and bridge, and hold it in place with a tightened strap. Then you should be able to take the bridge down safely without the sound post moving. As a further precaution it is a good idea to carry out any further work on the violin when it is safely lying horizontal in its case.

The idea of the bridge jack, or the alternative I've just described, is to get a downward pressure on the violin a little less than, but certainly not greater than, the downward pressure exerted by the strings when tuned up to pitch. So if you're using a cloth and strap don't overtighten the strap - creaking from the violin will be bad news!

Another useful point - before you take the bridge down mark the position of its feet on the violin with a couple of little paper stickies. This will help you get the bridge back into its correct position, which is important.

Edited: December 19, 2019, 8:09 PM · This question does bring up a few aspects that aren't very clear among such discussion, and the answer can't always be to schlepp it all off to a luthier- I'm wondering if this is real advice, as impractical as it sometimes seems, or just discouragement to those who may be faltering under bewildering concerns.

Anyway, the main thing, and already mentioned, is that the angles of the neck and fingerboard DO vary as to create an un-standard bridge height. This is something I always try to see when I look at a violin (and unfortunately it is ALWAYS on the internet) because, a STEEPER neck and fingerboard means- to me at least- LESS cutting down of the bridge, which I almost always do.

It might also mean that a higher bridge and higher action generate a fuller sound then, because there is more downward pressure on the string when the bridge is higher between the end points, and so that means greater vibration down and through the bridge and into the sound post.

To grind the bridge, I just use an electric drill with a grinding bit-large goods ones are hard to find- and lay it flat on the kitchen floor. With variable speed I run the bridge across it, not the other way around, and I'm always amazed at how HARD maple is!

The sound post should be a consideration, though I never find them particularly loose, if I can keep the violin flat I've never had a problem, but if I think I'll be fussing with pegs or something more, then I put an old rather low bridge in as a substitute to keep it in place.

Does anyone ever lightly glue that in place? I'd think a thin coat of clearcoat on each end might better hold it in place but not bind it impossibly.

The violin I play most now came to me a few years back with a rather low neck angle and the sound post flopping around inside of it. Although I hate to set sound posts, I'm glad I can, and have even fixed a good classical guitar with a viola sound post, which saved me from getting rid of it. I use the Sound Post Mate and it is not terribly difficult- but I recommend the heavier model for a few dollars more. The neck angle has only more recently been in my mind.

I just pulled my violin off the wall an hour ago- the G had popped out , and when I started to tune it, two more pegs popped at the slightest touch. Must be the rapidly cooling wet weather.

anyway, good luck and enjoy.

December 19, 2019, 9:12 PM · you shouldn't go near violins!!
December 20, 2019, 3:53 PM · Brandon,

Take it to a shop and have a luthier look at it. Make sure that she checks to make sure that the fingerboard is straight.

My violin (which spent decades in an attic) had a subtle up-curve that nobody noticed till I had the same complaint you have. She finally put a straight edge and while the strings were the proper height over the end of the fingerboard, the middle showed it was significantly curved. However just eyeballing it it looked fine. That is the difference between an actual luthier and a music shop repair person.

December 20, 2019, 4:46 PM · .............had a subtle up-curve...….

Isn't that called a 'scoop', don't all violins need it to avoid string buzz..?


Maybe the violin in question previously had low-tension strings replaced with high-tension thus making the bridge too high for the latter..?

December 20, 2019, 5:54 PM · They make a great gauge these days for guitar that would work well for violin to measure string height- it's just a rectangular steel "ruler" about 3 x 5 with mm and inch scales right along the side to place directly on the fingerboard. Search it at ebay- I think mine cost about $4 about 6 months back.
Edited: December 20, 2019, 6:28 PM · OK- this is interesting- I just took that gauge and measured the string heights on the 3 violins I have- but more revealing is the height from the bottom of the fingerboard to the body, and that varies.

My main squeeze- a chinese violin from the Song company measures only about 7.5 from the body to the bottom of the fingerboard. I thought it fairly low when I got it, but then I HAVE replaced the fingerboard with a rosewood inlay flower style from Vietnam (and it wasn't easy) so I might have altered it slightly then. If I'd been more aware of this aspect when I did that 4 years or so ago, I might have even built up more of a wedge of some sort under it at the neck to steepen the angle.

The second violin is the Rothenberg it succeeded. The Rothenberg measures a full 11 mm from the bottom of the fingerboard to the sound box.

The next violin I got recently was another China Song Brand- and called a "Baroque" violin, it nevertheless has the same standard length of fingerboard. I think the widths of the fingerboard material of all three are the same widths to- so there is some genuine comparison to see here.

The new violin checks in at 12mm- slightly higher than the Rothenberg. All three bridges then have to be different heights for me to achieve the same relative action. This has not been yet precisely done, and may never, for I my want to stay flexible as to different string heights within reason, but on classical guitar- having broken left hand fingers- I always try to get the action as low as possible.

I guess maybe even more appropriate would be a protractor device to accurately measure the neck angle itself- they might even have one already and I'm ignorant of any standard measurements there may be about neck angles or height of fingerboard above violin bodies, which probably vary as well, as I can imagine that shaping a violin has parameters that are hard to control and I think even the sound post can vary the top slightly.

December 20, 2019, 7:28 PM · "I just use an electric drill with a grinding bit"... a powered hack-saw and sandpaper on the top of the violin also works well for fitting the bridge feet I saw on Youtube once!
December 20, 2019, 8:26 PM · this is turning into the hack forum!!
Edited: December 21, 2019, 12:01 AM · What? I can't shape my own bridge now? Me or gullible students I guess. And sandpaper turned up on the top of the violin IS a great way to shape the feet! eh?

The net experts are with us.
Give em moolah! Give 'em moolah!

Next I'll hear how grateful I should be for their sage comments...

December 21, 2019, 4:34 AM · you suggested gluing the soundpost in place!!
Edited: December 23, 2019, 10:58 AM · Nancy, would you consider taking an introductory setup course such as this?
(They have more advanced ones too)

https://training.unh.edu/course/basic-violin-setup-i-and-tool-use-0

While I am in the trade, I have never gotten more than zero "moolah" from this one, nor have I ever been a teacher at this particular series of courses, so I thought it might be safe to suggest it without getting a retributive beat-down. ;-)

December 21, 2019, 8:27 AM · On a par with (lightly?) gluing a soundpost in place, but IMO much worse, is gluing a bridge in place, presumably to stop it from falling over. I've come across an instance or two of this during my time in pub sessions. I sighed, muttered something and averted my eyes.
Edited: December 21, 2019, 10:24 AM · The last instrument I purchased (a new cello - 15 years ago) had the strings set too high for me (at least what I had grown used to after playing the same instrument for 55 years) so I had the dealer (Ifshin Violins) lower the bridge (while I went to lunch) before I took it home.

The next week I returned to confirm the purchase and have the bridge lowered a little more.

The next time I returned to the shop they refused to lower the bridge any further and did a "New York" neck reset (which involved opening the seam along the top of the upper bout and increasing the neck angle to get string standoffs to my liking) - and thus it has remained ever since.

Subsequently when I participated in a chamber music workshop I had a chance to try the cello of one of the coaches (the cellist in the internationally know string quartet that comprised the coaching staff) and found her cello string heights were quite high.

When you find an instrument for sale (at least an instrument that was not previously owned) the bridge is more likely to be too high than too low because it is easier to lower a bridge than to "raise" it, which would typically involve shaping and fitting a new bridge. However, one really good cellist I played chamber music with for years actually used a bridge that was too low and had it raised on a few wooden-match-thickness strips of hardwood.

December 21, 2019, 1:00 PM · I thought Nancy was joking at first, but further posts suggest not...
December 21, 2019, 1:15 PM · Back in the early 1960s there were a couple of magazine-size soft cover publications on "home repairs." One was aimed at school orchestra directors. One was published by Sherl & Roth - I'm not home right now so I can't check my library.

They had pretty good directions for fixing minor things like open seams and re-gluing finger boards. I just used one of them yesterday to guide my re-gluing a fingerboard on one of my cellos - it worked great (just like the previous time that happened - same cello.

Edited: December 21, 2019, 1:30 PM · YES, I AM trans.

I raised a suggestion about lightly using a small bit of clearcoat to keep a sound post in place- "but not bind it impossibly"

So what? What else ya got?

Here's a good one- just did it last night and it worked LIKE A CHARM.

If a peg starts pushing through too far on the other side of the peg box, take a damp Q tip and swish it around in the peg hole-
when it dries, the wood will have swelled and the peg fits tighter-

I backed the peg back about 3/32" and holding tune now too.

DIY DIY DIY- if you play an instrument, as much as possible DIY

Dems Impeach Yahoo ? NO- Do it yourself!

December 21, 2019, 2:32 PM · you're obviously not qualified to be near violins!!
December 21, 2019, 7:16 PM · You're getting repetitive, Lyndon. I own three- that makes me qualified, for at least those three.
December 21, 2019, 7:47 PM · It's her violin.
December 22, 2019, 7:07 AM · Lyndon, don't be unpolite please - isn't it obvious that owning three violins is enough of a qualification to give bad advice to others?
I also thought we got pranked while reading the first post...
Edited: December 23, 2019, 12:36 AM · "Bad advice" is your own poor opinion, and I'm sensing the usual vendetta I sometimes experience.

Say on, but I'm out of this discussion.

In all other threads, I will be back.

(DO IT YOURSELF!)

December 22, 2019, 12:30 PM · Actually no, bad advice is not just my opinion, but the opinion of all professional violin restorers.
December 22, 2019, 12:33 PM · @All -- DIY is Ok if you only have cheap instruments and are too far from a real Luthier. I have also done some DIY work on student grade instruments. There are reasons why a Luthier school lasts 2-4 years, and restoration can be as difficult as constructing a new instrument. Every Luthier sees instruments that have been damaged by botched amateur repairs.
Edited: December 22, 2019, 6:55 PM · You can probably get away with unorthodox DIY work on a cheap instrument because they're not very well made to begin with. Additional problems aren't really going to be noticed... of course this means "works like a charm" could be very very inaccurate.

Based on a quick Google search, Nancy's three violins appear to have a combined value of about $700.

Edited: December 23, 2019, 12:40 PM · Definitely a trip to your local luthier if you can. I know it can be pricey, but preferable to go now then later on if there is damage or alterations that need to be done.

Some table top work can be done, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it yourself. Hope the issue gets fixed Branden.

Do you have the option of borrowing a school violin, which are clearly better set up? Might prevent further injury.

As for home DIY. I tinker with my old old violin, practicing as it were, but there is no way I’d do it for payment for others. I’ve reamed / shaped my own pegs and refitted the bridge, all with good success. Perhaps I’ll learn to do it in a professional manner some day. (the pegs in question are on a £50 Chantry violin I found in a charity shop as a thirteen year old. Dreadful shape, not worth the cost of a Luthier doing it).

December 22, 2019, 5:50 PM · If you would rather spend the time practicing than DIY then a visit to the luthier is well worth it. Because, the thing with DIY is that you need to make many, many run throughs to learn how it's done, and even then you may very likely not get it right.
December 22, 2019, 6:09 PM · Very well said, Henry.
And, to all the kids out there - please don't do this at home. Even on cheap VSO we will not glue the bridge or soundpost into place. Never. Ever.
Edited: December 22, 2019, 7:15 PM · On another thread I mentioned two books I have found useful for the self-repairing I have done on some of my instruments over the past 50 years (since the books were published).

These are those two books (currently available used in very limited quantities from Amazon.com for the approximate prices shown).

Sherl & Roth “You Fix Them” $25 +shp
https://www.amazon.com/You-Fix-Them-Albert-Roth/dp/B000NO4V62

“Emergency String Repair Manual for School Orchestra Directors“ Lowell and Douglas Bearden $20 + shp
https://www.amazon.com/Emergency-String-Repair-Orchestra-Directors/dp/B00KBC3B5S

I have found the Sherl & Roth to be more useful. I even used its instruction to to beef up the thumb leather diameters on a number of my bows these past few weeks after receiving the leathers from China.
(You would think this would be a simple thing to do but to get the taper you find on good bows you have to do some careful work on the leathers and it is a good idea to get some UHI adhesive as they suggest if you don't want to mess things up (a sharp X-ACTO knife also helps) - all these details you might not think of - at least not before messing up some pretty nice bows.

One of the nicest features of the Sherl & Roth book is the inclusion of full-size French and Viennese bridge-top curvatures for all 4 bowed string instruments. I have actually found those useful a couple of times for students with broken bridges (but I don't want to discuss that further for fear of inciting Lyndon's ire).

Even though they devote 3 pages of detailed instructions to rehairing bows, I would never attempt it since a friend who started lutherie in his 40s (over 40 years ago, and has now made and sold 101 of those instruments, found rehairing a daunting and troublesome task even though he now does it for many bows in his small city, I think he even did some for me before I moved away 25 years ago). A mechanical engineer in his previous "real life," he developed some kind of rig to help make the job fool proof and easier. These books give no clue as to how to do that.

Edited: December 23, 2019, 12:40 AM · Oooops. I'm back.

Someone above mentioned some DIY, but- not to get picky over semantics, cause I like the post-- pegs are not REAMED- pegs are SHAPED, peg holes are reamed.

In fact I have a saying there- peg holes have length of days, while pegs can simply be replaced. I would almost never ream a peg hole, because they wear larger with age and every tuning. That's why I mentioned the Q-tip moisten tip above-

and before I get labeled a heretic again, let me tell you how I discovered it. I play harps as well- relatively cheap ones before I'm attacked for that- YES, I PLAY A LOT OF ENTRY LEVEL INSTRUMENTS- that way I can try them out and develop a remedial intermediate ability at least. My 4 and 5 string violas are fairly cheap too, but I have them to mess with when I want.

Anyway- a couple years ago I got burned on a "Camac" harp on the internet. Long story short, I ordered what I thought was a Camac Bardic harp, and despite having the same (pirated) commercial pictures as a Camac harp, and even using the same ad text verbatim, and claiming to be based in the UK, a really very cheap harp eventually arrived- in fact an actual bio-hazard of mite infested rotting wood, from Pakistan. A 26 stringed harp- about ten of the pegs would not hold any tune at all- When I raised them to pitch, they spun backwards like propellers- extremely loose.

So after much angst and maneuvering I eventually got my money back and the bio-hazard harp was mine to keep- or at least I didn't have to ship it back to Pakistan. With nothing to lose, I decided to try to get the harp to tune up, and on the loose pegs I used wet Q tips- with not terribly bad success- even though I eventually threw the harp in the trash. I had many of the steel pegs actually holding tune when it seemed like that would be impossible, by swelling the wood in the holes and letting it dry before reinserting the pegs-

gotta be better than peg drops, right? All that can really happen is the wood compresses back to the original overused size.

Or you can just get new unshaped pegs that are likely bigger than the ones already fitted., and maybe- if the holes are already enlarged beyond "water swelling" artificially- I would never recommend a dip in the pool-
the new pegs won't push through the wood so far anyway.

Yes- sorry- not afraid to do things like that. Must be the old bicycle mechanic coming out in me, although I've reconditioned a lot of furniture too. I own a few Cordoba classical guitars, two of which I got on the cheap by buying them from clearing houses after the bridges had come unglued from the tops- and I just glued them back on neatly in place and both have gone years now with no incident.

I've DEFINITELY reshaped and reset the bridges on every violin I have- sometimes two or three times, as it's better to leave it a little high instead of grinding it too low. And that's good advice- not "cutting heads". And while I've had to set a sound post that fell once or twice, I've also reset them to try to enhance the sound, and had good result too.

As far as my "cheap" violins- Yes-I haven't spent over $200 each for any of them- but they are fine playable axes for someone who didn't take it up until I was about 60. If you took a poll here- and I realize there are some talented pros with the finest in equipment- I'll bet you'd find there are a lot of people on this board that have similar experience and instruments if they'd admit it.

December 23, 2019, 12:33 AM · sorry but I don't have any violins that cheap!!
December 23, 2019, 12:40 AM · That was uncalled for, Lyndon.
December 23, 2019, 12:42 AM · Maybe you just don't PRICE them that cheap- who knows what you get them for?
December 23, 2019, 2:31 AM · I don't deal in VSOs, what's wrong about that??
Edited: December 23, 2019, 6:52 AM · Nothing, Lyndon.
Nancy, I'm totally okay with what you're writing now. And, let's be objective, as soon as you step by a luthier, the costs of anything you'll want him to to will easily cover the value of your violins. In this case, it's reasonable to try things on your own. I'm doing that as well on my lesser pieces, including spiral and conic peg hole bushings, peg fitting, gluing cracks and open seams, and with success. Basically this is not rocket science, but if I should be messing things up it's no tragedy. Different with a $$$$ or $$$$$ instrument, I would not try to save money on my good ones. And I had a little bit of training by my luthier, to whom I am always welcome to ask how-to if I'm experiencing hard times.
Reshaping the arch of a bridge can't do any structural harm anyway. But always stay clear from gluing in parts that are meant to be mobile. We never glue bridge, soundpost, endpin, tailpiece, strings, pegs, bows onto the violin. The same (for other reasons) with shoulder and chin rests. A butterfly sticker on a cheap instrument may pass, if you fancy.

Having said that, my largest respect goes to those who know how to play stellar even on trashy almost-VSO with butterfly stickers all over.

December 23, 2019, 10:48 AM · Sorry to interrupt the food fight, but...

Hard to press the strings down can only come from 3 sources: 1) bridge too high (or neck projection too low; same effect), 2) nut too high, and 3) too much "scoop" (or upcurve) in the fingerboard.

For first-position playing (what I do mostly), #2 and #3 are the most critical.

Ways to check the bridge and nut height have been mentioned. To check fingerboard scoop, press down the string near the end of the fingerboard util it just touches. The string will be a good straght-edge to see how the fingerboard curves; if there's more than a string diameter clearance, I'd say that's too much.

December 23, 2019, 11:09 AM · Thank you, Don. More than a string diameter - measured at what point?
December 24, 2019, 11:23 AM · Anywhere.
Edited: December 24, 2019, 10:41 PM · no, he means in the middle of the fingerboard length, it should be slightly lower than the ends, .5mm on the e string, 1mm on the G string

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