Position of the pegs

April 26, 2020, 4:09 AM · Hi,
I wonder if there is a trick to make sure that the pegs are in a comfortable position after new strings have settled.

Especially the peg for the A-string happens to be turned in a way that I cannot really hold it well in order to turn it and at the same time press it towards the scroll, sometimes.

I don’t know if this was just my imagination but I had the impression that when I had loosened a new string, in order to pull it a bit farther through the peg, that it somehow lost some sound qualities, for example the pitch stability - I had to retune it, constantly, afterwards.

Is it just me having this not very important, but nonetheless annoying problem?

Perhaps there is some secret trick...

Replies (31)

April 26, 2020, 4:29 AM · I think there are several variables that affect where the pegs end up with new strings, like which kind of strings, any changes to temperature and humidity while settling, etc. I’ve never really noticed a problem tuning after changing strings though.
April 26, 2020, 5:43 AM · If you are not happy with the peg position you can somewhat fine tune the peg position after stringing up by loosening the peg and unwinding string then pull string out of the peghole a half inch or push it in a tad more and rewind to see if if is in a more favorable position for you. I do this only to my E so that it gives me a bit more hand clearance vibrating the F note.
April 26, 2020, 5:48 AM · I'm confused -- pegs get turned as you tune. TThey are never in the same position all the time unless you have very stable strings and 4 fine-tuners. What's the problem?
Edited: April 26, 2020, 6:00 AM · You are not alone ;) It's very important for me to have the pegs at a more vertical position, rather than that awkward horizontal no man's land...

If you are putting on new strings, I would not adjust straight away. Suffer for about 5 days until the strings have fully stretched, and only then start adjusting.

As for how far to feed the string through the peg hole, I don't know the exact science. I find that feeding as little string as possible through the peg hole helps to keep the peg in place. However I would also then assume that since there is more string on the peg itself, that would also stretch and slightly increase break in time for intonation.

If you don't have 5 days to adjust, then for synthetic strings I would have the pegs placed as horizontally as possible so that they eventually become vertical. Wound gut strings maybe 120 degrees.

April 26, 2020, 6:24 AM · Hi, thanks for the replies. David, I think James made the problem clear, so I don’t have to explain it, further.

I am currently in that situation, and I am just a little afraid of doing what was suggested- loosening the string and then wind it up, slightly differently.
As I said I think this procedure might affect the string’s quality. Might depend on the brand of strings? No idea!
With Evah Pirazzi Gold, the string got affected, at least that was my impression. Right now, I am for the first time trying out Warchal Amber.
I could give it a try, anyway.
It is Corona-time, so not such a big deal.

I will check to adjust the E-peg, that I haven’t thought of, yet. Maybe this will add some more space, such that I can better work with that horizontal A-peg.

April 26, 2020, 8:28 AM · I know what you mean -- if you're trying to tune your A string, which is on the far side of the peg box, and your peg is not lined up in a good way, then it's harder. Think how that's going to feel when you're 70 years old. I look around in my community orchestra and that's what I see -- older violinists wrestling with their pegs with expressions of dire frustration on their faces.

ALL of these difficulties with grasping the pegs, pushing-and-turning, etc., melt away when you get gear pegs. All of my instruments now have gear pegs except for my daughter's new cello. Cellists are not bothered to have tail pieces with four built-in tuners even on very good instruments, so it's less of an issue for them. All they need to do with their pegs is get within a mile of the pitch.

I recommend Wittner FineTune pegs if you are primarily concerned about their function. If you also care deeply about aesthetics then PegHeds are the best choice, in my opinion.

April 26, 2020, 8:44 AM · It's not only 70+ violinists who have these peg turning problems. I agree with Paul's advice on geared pegs 100% and have been using geared pegs on all my instruments since I was about 70 years old. Installed them all myself; 9 sets for myself, 3 for my son and 2 for my granddaughter - mostly Knillings, some Pegheds and 2 Wittners.
Edited: April 26, 2020, 9:22 AM · In the olden days, when cellists used gut strings (which is how I started) some tuned by the peg. There were also some who used external peg gearing (a la double bass), and this was essential for the elderly or those who otherwise had physical difficulties. Then steel cored strings for the cello arrived, tailpiece tuners were promptly installed, and the game changed forever.

Incidentally, the cello's spike enables the cellist to use floor resonance to effect; free of charge. I remember at school doing cello practice on my own in the school's rehearsal room. The orchestra's conductor wandered in and remarked approvingly on the resonance coming up from the floor when I played on the C and G strings.

Edited: April 26, 2020, 9:09 AM · It's random... If it's too uncomfortable, you have to remove it and install it again. It's not that much of a problem.
April 26, 2020, 10:34 AM · Don't remove the string from the peg when you do this. Just pull it through an additional 1/4 inch or so (or whatever amount you figure you need depending on its present uncomfortable position) and rewind. If you need to trim a little from the end of the string it will not be a problem---really, I've been doing that for years (especially when inserting a previously used string).
April 26, 2020, 10:50 AM · https://youtu.be/Z75ByNldv5Q
April 26, 2020, 11:40 AM · I am 100% with Andrew and the others who like geared pegs. I have them on my violin and swear by them. I would note that I have fine tuners on my viola, and that system also works quite well for me. Any system that avoids my having to make fine adjustment with regular pegs is a g-dsend.
April 26, 2020, 1:01 PM · Here’s a very informative video:

I have used this technique with success. A tip you may find helpful, once you have removed the string from the peg, cut about 3-4 mm less than your mark on the string. Then insert the string and begin winding. After the 1st or 2nd turn, grasp And hold the end of the string with a fine clamp or needle nose pliers and tighten the slack in the string with the other hand, so it is well snugged on the peg before turning the peg to tune, and do not relax that tension. Keeping the tension on the string will prevent slipping as you turn the peg. Carefully turn the peg and let the string down to the nut, ensuring that the string settles into the bridge notch before you attempt to tune it.
When tuning, make sure you place a finger on the opposite side of the peg box and apply force to push the peg inward while turning the it.

Edited: April 26, 2020, 7:09 PM · Good video -- but notice how easily he held the string so that only about 1 mm was extending from the peg and then it wound around very easily without slipping out? That takes practice. The string tends to slip more in gear pegs, I've notices, perhaps because they're not wooden so the silk end of the string does not grip as well against the surface.
April 26, 2020, 11:21 PM · I agree the Wittner pegs are probably the best of the geared pegs, but I doubt I’d ever put one on a violin except maybe a carbon fiber one. All geared pegs are heavier than wood ones, which has to have at least a little effect on both the balance and the sound. They’re also expensive, but even more to the point, I’ve never had a problem tuning with properly fitted wood pegs on any of my instruments.
(of course all the above is my own experience and opinion only, I know a lot of people love geared pegs).
April 27, 2020, 7:47 AM · I very occasionally have had strings slipping on the pegs during tuning and afterwards. In each case it was due to a combination of pegs that have become polished with age and the peg winding on a new string. It first happened on my mid-19th cent cello when I was installing a set of Spirocore steel strings. The A and D proved impossible to tune.

My solution was to apply rosin from the bow to the peg winding - no more slipping! I have also used it once or twice on my old violin (again polished old pegs) when a new A string also proved to be a bit slippery.

However, whether application of rosin from the bow to the peg winding should be done in the case of geared pegs is quite another matter. I have concerns that the rosin dust could interfere with the peg gearing mechanism. I have never used geared pegs, so could someone who knows about the mechanism in detail advise further, please?

April 28, 2020, 11:59 AM · I use surgical forceps--the tweezers that look like scissors--to push or pull the string through the hole to adjust peg position. You only need to loosen the string a turn or two, not fully unwind it, to gain enough slack to move the string through the peg with these handy tiny pliers.

It's all trial and error. I try to set most of the violins that come through our shop so that the pegs are the "right" way.

Edited: April 28, 2020, 12:35 PM · "All geared pegs are heavier than wood ones, which has to have at least a little effect on both the balance and the sound." I frequently see that "conclusion" cheerfully trotted out by purists with nothing more than a few data points' worth of anecdotal evidence obtained, without any kind of controls for bias, in support of such an "obvious" theoretical argument (aka hypothesis).

If the weight of the scroll is so important to the violin's sound and playability, then every scroll should have a 1/4" hole drilled into it from the back so that the tone and response of the violin can be adjusted empirically by inserting objects of varying mass into the hole. Once optimized, the luthier can finish the hole and even touch it up with varnish. That approach would be at least somewhat scientific. But nobody ever does that.

Gear pegs are not expensive. A complete set professionally installed costs you what you would pay for 2-3 lessons. There are people on here who have no problem dropping $50 on a cake of rosin or installing a new $90 set of strings every three months or buying Barenreiter and Henle editions of all their music. The cost of gear pegs needs to be considered with some perspective. They're certainly cheaper if your luthier tells you that you need bushings.

There are many of us who have strong, flexible hands and good-working pegs and don't need gear pegs. I get that. But in my community orchestra, I see folks struggling, and they're too proud to ask someone else to tune their violins. Please, folks, don't be one of them.

Edited: April 28, 2020, 3:55 PM · Paul wrote:
"If the weight of the scroll is so important to the violin's sound and playability, then every scroll should have a 1/4" hole drilled into it from the back so that the tone and response of the violin can be adjusted empirically by inserting objects of varying mass into the hole. Once optimized, the luthier can finish the hole and even touch it up with varnish. That approach would be at least somewhat scientific. But nobody ever does that."

Actually, there are many makers who have experimented with ideas like that.
Luthiers are not always as dumb as some people would like to imagine them. ;-)

Edited: April 28, 2020, 6:52 PM · It's not just luthiers who experiment. I know a folk fiddler who has his E string running off the A peg, and the A string running off the E peg. He is a retired engineer and his rationale for this unusual arrangement is that it makes it that much easier to install a new A, whereas installing an E string is much less frequent occurrence. Needless to say, he doesn't lend out his fiddle!
Edited: April 28, 2020, 7:08 PM · David, which issue of Physics Review Letters was that in? :)
Edited: April 29, 2020, 4:55 AM · Paul;
Unlike the academic community, there is little-to-no incentive for violin makers to publish. Much more importance is placed on what they can actually do, than on what they generate in text.

There were no articles of papers published by Stradivari (as far as we know), yet he seemed to do OK. ;-)

The article below mentions an unusual violin made by Jan Spidlen, with a lead weight in the scroll. This is just one of the thousands of various experiments with violins that I have run across.


April 29, 2020, 10:51 AM · David, can you give us some qualitative feedback on scroll weight. I've been tempted to put blue tack on my scroll as an experiment, to see what added weight does to it.
April 29, 2020, 12:34 PM · I think if traditional pegs are properly fitted and lubricated regularly with W.E. Hill & Sons peg compound, you don’t need to use geared pegs. My Vuillaume has its original rosewood pegs, fitted by the maker, 170 years ago and they work great! Sometimes the old-fashioned way is the best.
Edited: April 29, 2020, 3:16 PM · Dimitri, that sounds like a low-risk, and possibly enlightening experiment.

I have not yet been able to reach any universal conclusions about scroll weight, since not every musician prefers the same feel or sound, and since scroll weighting can produce different results on different instruments.

April 29, 2020, 3:21 PM · Like Nate, I prefer traditional pegs. If they're well fitted, you can tune much faster with traditional pegs than geared pegs.
April 29, 2020, 5:13 PM · A couple of days ago I fitted to my 18thc violin an ebony baroque tailpiece (with gut chord) made by a luthier in Bristol Violin Shop. The violin, which has important characteristics of a violin of the period (e.g. a low, short fingerboard) is now virtually back to its original 18thc setup with Chorda gut strings and sans SR/CR. But then I noticed that my sole gut E is on its last legs. I don't know if I can get a new one from my usual sources in town under the present COVID-19 lockdown, and I don't know what the on-line situation is, so I've decided to stick with my low tension Goldbrokat E for the time being; it works well with the Chordas anyway.

Problem: there is no provision in the design of a baroque tailpiece for fitting microtuners. Interim solution which works: the Goldbrokat E is eminently tunable from the peg - with a little extra TLC as you tune! What I think helps is that it is low tension.

Concerning scroll weight, in my classical guitar days I found if I were to grasp the guitar peg box as I played open strings there was a muting of the sound, not a lot but certainly observable. The guitar I had then was a quality Taurus 68 that was a particularly resonant instrument, and eventually discovered to have been made by Ramirez.

I can illustrate a similar muting on my violins by gripping the scroll, but it is not as noticeable as on the guitar, and certainly nothing like the muting provided by a bridge mute. This is because violin and guitar are designed with markedly different acoustics in mind, one for bowed strings and the other plucked. I think one may conclude from the gripping the scroll, with some justification, that increasing the weight of the scroll does have some effect on the sound, as would be expected from the physics of such a complex acoustic system. Gripping the scroll affects the vibrations as would adding weight.

If you want to try the "gripping the scroll" experiment for yourself I recommend first removing the SR and CR. Both of these add-ons, which grip the instrument and add significantly to its mass, must inevitably alter to some extent the vibrations and therefore the original sound envisaged by the luthier.

Edited: April 29, 2020, 6:06 PM · Actual data:
Ebony Perfection mechanical pegs, "Hill style" (no undercuts): 30 gms/set
Plain ebony heart pegs, same shaft size: 20 gms/set.
This is with full length shafts.

In the vein of the current speculations, FOR MY PARTICULAR CUSTOMERS, I slightly prefer the tonal results of a heavier head, so I don't see a tonal problem with the weight of the mechanical pegs.

"Gripping the scroll" is not the same as adding metal or wood weight to it, and the results shouldn't be confused. I might refer you to the tonal difference in pounding on a one pound bag of meat vs a one pound block of wood.

There's quite a bit of dissension on this among guitar makers; it's sometimes been common to load classical guitar heads with lead. . . it depends on the tonal objectives. I just read a bunch of guitar threads on this, and it seems that the discussion takes the usual form: the people with the least experience have the strongest opinions. :-)

April 29, 2020, 9:25 PM · Michael makes a good point that if you want to add weight to a violin scroll you shouldn't use something soft (like "blue tack") that might have an outsized vibration-dampening effect. The experiments where lead was added are interesting.

The first time I picked up a banjo I was amazed by how heavy it was. I don't know how banjo players hold those things for a whole gig set. I guess you build up to it.

The data Michael shared with us indeed suggests that gear pegs (at least, Perfection pegs) are quite a bit heavier than wooden pegs. If you are having trouble visualizing 10 grams of weight, remember that an American five-cent piece weighs 5 grams. So I guess that gives you a very crude approximation of how much metal there is inside those things. I was curious so I weighed the jujube pegs that came out of my MJZ viola when I had Wittners put in. They weighed 17 g for the set (trimmed). I've asked my luthier, who has a lot of experience with Wittner pegs, how much those weigh, because I couldn't find that information in Wittner's product literature.

"I think one may conclude ... with some justification that increasing the weight of the scroll does have some effect on the sound, as would be expected from the physics of such a complex acoustic system."

Without modeling "the physics" in close detail or at least conducting better experiments than muting your scroll vibrations by grabbing it with your hand, I don't agree that such a conclusion is justified. And remember that the question is not merely whether there is an effect, but whether the magnitude of the effect is sufficient to be audible. Blanket statements like "there must be some effect even if it's small" are not helpful.

April 30, 2020, 8:39 AM · Hi again,

I always like to experiment, normally, but for two reasons, I won't try geared pegs:
First, this is a new violin (4y/o), and I don't want to mess around with its original setup without including its luthier (whom I have only rarely and unfortunately not the best contact to).
And second, it is not such a terrible problem for me that I am desperate.

I watched the video by the luthier that Jerry shared, thanks a lot!

But interestingly, nobody seems to take into account what my original concern was: The fact that - under my impression - some strings won't be the same if you let them settle, and THEN loosen them, in order to fix the peg positions. I had definitely done that, a couple of times, and sometimes, when tuning the violin after such a procedure, the sound of the string was somehow ruined, and I had to retune it as often as if it were new, until it was time for changing strings, again.

I used to think that I made this up, only, until a cello colleague of mine mentioned he wouldn't use Larsen strings although they are great for cellos, because if they get loose by accident, they won't be as good again when stetching them back, again.

April 30, 2020, 8:41 AM · By the way, I had an accident cutting off a small part of my fingertip, two days ago, so I won't be able to try things out, soon. Nevertheless, I will do so, and report if I find out anything useful.

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