F-holes bridge notches not aligned

Edited: February 14, 2020, 10:06 AM · When the F-hole notches for the bridge aren't aligned, on a handmade violin from a good maker (not amateur), do you think it was intentional or by accident?

Replies (25)

Edited: February 14, 2020, 10:24 AM · Could be either one. A maker might have been copying a Strad on which the ff-holes were not perfectly aligned (of which there are many) or have applied a preference for machine-age standards, including symmetry.
February 14, 2020, 10:16 AM · I've heard that the f-hole-notch-align-with-bridge thing is largely nonsense. Which of the great early makers cleaved to this practice, if not Stradivari?
February 14, 2020, 10:16 AM · Don't worry about it. F-holes on handmade instruments are almost always asymmetrical anyway.

The notches are a rough guide. Besides, one never really knows precisely how to align them anyway:
Should one align one side or another of the bridge feet? Should one split the difference and align with the exact middle of the bridge thickness?

I think the important things are:
1. overall scale length, 324 mm or whatever is standard.
2. back of the bridge perpendicular to the top.

February 14, 2020, 10:58 AM ·
February 14, 2020, 10:16 AM · Don't worry about it. F-holes on handmade instruments are almost always asymmetrical anyway.

"The notches are a rough guide. Besides, one never really knows precisely how to align them anyway:
Should one align one side or another of the bridge feet? Should one split the difference and align with the exact middle of the bridge thickness?

I think the important things are:
1. overall scale length, 324 mm or whatever is standard.
2. back of the bridge perpendicular to the top."
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There might be some issues here. Typical scale length is more around 327-329. I will also disagree that the backside of the bridge needs to be perpendicular to the top.

February 14, 2020, 11:21 AM · David wrote: "There might be some issues here. Typical scale length is more around 327-329. I will also disagree that the backside of the bridge needs to be perpendicular to the top."

Thanks for the comment. Is this a new idea that has somehow taken over? I can't seem to remember it from long ago.

Also, could you please expland? How do you set the bridge angle - I suppose the important factor is that the bridge is at the same angle as the cut of the feet...

Edited: February 14, 2020, 11:33 AM · @Scott "Should one align one side or another of the bridge feet? Should one split the difference and align with the exact middle of the bridge thickness?"

I've always heard that if they're not aligned, the left notch takes priority.

February 14, 2020, 2:09 PM · Backside of the bridge: I have been told as well to keep the backside perpendicular to the bridge.
The main reason might be that the bridge has a tendency to tilt forward with repeated tuning, so there is some leeway before it becomes a problem.
However that may not be the best position sound wise.
David do you have any comments why you do not agree?
Edited: February 14, 2020, 7:57 PM · I agree completely with what David has said. First, a stop of 195 plus neck length of 130 equals 225mm, but that's not a straight line through those measured points--it's a diagonal upward to the top of the bridge well above the line measured on. . it's the distance of "c" in a standard right triangle formula, a2+b2=c2, thus longer than the baseline. Like 327-329, as David says.

Second, perpendicular is one of those thoughtless statements made by someone who thought using his eyes was good enough, then endlessly repeated because it's simple enough. But it's wrong because what is going on in that area is complex, and eyes aren't good enough. More usually, if you get out a square and measure, the way to line it up is to put a square or the long side of a business card on the c-bout edge of the instrument, and use that as a square sighted against the back of the bridge. When you do that, you will see that the situation in a bridge that's been cut normally is such that if the square is even with the back of the top of the bridge, about 1/4 of the width of the foot is sticking out visible at the bottom. That is, the back of the bridge is leaning very slightly forward. 90 degrees if you are eyeballing it with bad eyes, but not exactly 90 degrees. The front leans backwards, the back leans slightly forward, the net effect is the appearance of a slight back tilt. I teach my customers to use a business card to gauge this, not their eyes.

In point of fact, usually (not always) because of the peculiarities of the arching, the bottom of the feet will be 90 degrees to the back of the bridge, but that's not something you can really see, or rely on in every case, or use when the bridge is on the instrument, so forget I just said that.

Edited: February 14, 2020, 8:11 PM · The fact is that the violin could not care less about whether the back of your bridge is (<)90° with the top or if it's centred on the line between the f-hole notches. The only things that matter are the stop length and that the bridge feet make full contact.
February 14, 2020, 8:39 PM · No, not really.
February 14, 2020, 8:53 PM · The bridge needs to bisect the angles of the strings, that is best done by fitting the back side at a 90% angle, is quite logical.
February 14, 2020, 9:22 PM · Mine has the same "issue", my Luthier said it's not a problem, you have to find the violin "G spot" for the bridge anyway, the feet has to be near enough the bass bar(or else almost no sound on the D and G strings), sometimes it doesn't align with either F-holes.
Wherever the bridge transfers the sound of the strings the best, is where it should be.
Edited: February 14, 2020, 11:30 PM · Re: angle of the back of the bridge, my experience has taught me that Michael Darnton is correct. I'm engaging in self deception when I imagine that I can judge that angle with my eyes alone. First my eyes have astigmatism which my eyeglasses correct for in terms of sharpness. But that correction causes distortion in my ability to judge things like perpendicularity. So I take my glasses off to make geometric judgements. Without my glasses my vision becomes less sharp but better able to judge that angle. Still, it's not really reliable. For proof of this I can look at the bridge from the bass side, then turn the violin around and look from the treble side, and my perception of perpendicularity will be different in each case. So, mostly by necessity (or is it perfectionism) I've fallen into the habit of using a two foot (60cm) machinists ruler to measure from the nut to the bridge top. Then I know unequivocally that it's right. Everyone doesn't have machinists rulers around, so I'm not sure my suggestion is applicable to everyone's situation, but you could always go and get some.
Edited: February 15, 2020, 10:04 AM · My luthier, who fairly recently installed new bridges on my violins, carving each bridge to fit accurately, gave me a mini-lesson on how to spot if a bridge is starting to lean. If it leans this means it is starting to lose full contact with the violin, so affecting the tone.

Examine closely the junction of the bridge feet with the violin, both front and back. If you can see a fine dark line at the junction this is a sure sign that the bridge is starting to lift at that junction and therefore starting to lean. Note that the angle of this initial lean may not be at all obvious to the eye just by looking at the bridge as a whole.

You can reduce somewhat the tendency of the bridge to lean under the action of tuning procedures (pegs or fine-tuners) by making sure that the strings fit properly in the notches at the nut and bridge and lubricating the notches with liberal application of soft pencil lead – I use 6B.

Edited: February 17, 2020, 5:27 AM · I should have been more thorough in my description. Thanks for giving a lot more detail, Michael.

One quite reliable way to maintain the angle of the bridge is to have the luthier adjust it to the angle where they think it should be, and then measure the distance between the upper nut and the top of the bridge (first choice), or the distance between the end of the fingerboard and the top of the bridge (second choice, but doesn't require as long a ruler). When this distance is no longer as originally set, adjust the angle. Might need to be done as often as once per week, more often if you have just installed new strings.

Edited: February 16, 2020, 9:09 AM · David, that looks like a useful way to detect if a bridge is starting to bend (an "Oh dear!" scenario), even though its feet are still in full contact with the front plate.

It also occurs to me that your detection method may also work if the top plate distorts in the bridge area, or the sound post is trying to exit through the back plate (both of which scenarios are a few levels above "Oh dear!").

Edited: February 16, 2020, 10:23 AM · @Mark Is that the case with all people who have astigmatism? I have it and I've never heard of that.
February 16, 2020, 11:05 AM · It is a characteristic of how brains work: they consider things in context. For instance look at your soundpost through one f-hole and decide if it is straight or leaning upstream or down. Then switch to the other hole and see if you come to the same conclusion.
Edited: February 16, 2020, 12:44 PM · I find that

(a) there is usually a place where the bridge sounds its best. Luthiers have different ways of figuring out where that might be.

(b) the best position is not necessarily going to be the one that produces a particular stop length. Moving the feet even a fraction of a millimeter can make a huge difference in sound. Get the feet right before anything else.

(c) the notches are useful guides (in addition to marks in the varnish under the feet) as to whether the bridge has wandered away from optimal. But that information must be read a little differently for each violin. There may also be necessary improvements that won't be caught by this gross estimate.

Edited: February 16, 2020, 11:32 AM · I check the the angle of my bridge in front of my music stand. The page break in the music (to which I align the back of my bridge) is perpendicular to the stand's shelf (to which I align the violin's table/top). I've had bridges on 2 different violins for 50 years with no bending whatsoever. Close enough!

Ifshin did replace one of those maker-made bridges after 50 years for a slightly higher one with slightly different curvature - also the violin was a little better afterwards (I think). That was 20 years ago. He kept the other violin's maker-made bridge on (also 20 years ago) and it's still on.

I keep all my old bridges (identified).

February 16, 2020, 12:21 PM · @David Duarte, my astigmatism is "diagonal," as it was explained to me. So maybe my experience isn't the norm. I guess I'm not really sure.
Edited: February 16, 2020, 12:56 PM · Hmmm... I have had some nice success with backs of bridges being perpendicular, but others have said with some certitude that the real game is for the bridge to bisect the angle outlined by the strings.

That would require fitting the centerline of the bridge (not the back edge) to a vertical line in the music and then comparing strings' relationship on each side to the top edge of the stand. Perhaps taping a protractor to the stand would be a useful addition to that exercise.

Edited: February 16, 2020, 4:35 PM · I am pretty sure no one's bridge bisects the angle of the strings. Close but not exact. Folks are welcome to get out their protractors, not their eyes and imaginations, and check. That would be entirely sacrificing the bridge's relationship to the top.

In spite of how people say they measure this, I notice that most shops whose violins I see do it about the same.

February 16, 2020, 6:19 PM · Now I feel better. That’s a hard goal to reach!
February 17, 2020, 6:35 AM · "Is that the case with all people who have astigmatism? I have it and I've never heard of that."
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Peripheral image distortion is present, to some extent, in all corrective single-element eyeglasses. The stronger the correction, the greater the distortion.

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