Shorter fingerboard?

Edited: June 12, 2020, 7:52 AM · Just read this article:

It's about how Stradivari made a shorter, lighter fingerboard and that it made a difference to the sound. Then, in the 19th century, somebody had an idea that violins should have longer, heavier fingerboards.
My question is, why is the fingerboard that long? I know some will say that virtuosic violin technique led to playing higher, but does anybody actually press all the way down to the fingerboard that high up? You can just touch the string if you are high up on the E string and it sounds. All the extra fingerboard does is encourage you to push too hard!

Replies (23)

June 12, 2020, 8:04 AM · Nagyvary’s research is dubious. He has published several papers over the years claiming that he has unlocked stradivari’s secret. The thing is, he is also trying to sell instruments using his magical methods.

I do not think he is taken seriously by respected violin researchers. He does get headlines though.

June 12, 2020, 8:16 AM · That aside, my question is: why do we need the extra length on the fingerboard if we can stop the note without pushing all the way down. Who of you are using that part and actually pushing all the way to the wood?
June 12, 2020, 8:59 AM · I do touch the fingerboard when stopping the note. I do not press hard, but there is contact. I find it helps with clarity of the note.
June 12, 2020, 2:03 PM · I suppose we should forgo electricity as well. Strad had none in his shop; obviously it makes a major contribution to the quality of the instruments he produced. I'll be all those microwaves cook the wood, reducing its the quantum integrity of its microfibres and impeding its resonance.
Edited: June 12, 2020, 10:48 PM · Well let me put it another way. I did have a violin with a short fingerboard for a while. It was about an inch shorter than normal for some reason. It didn't stop me from playing up that high. Not that you really do much. Let's face it, it's largely for comic effect up there!
As the OP I'm really asking the question if we really need that amount of fingerboard, not if the guy in the article is selling snake oil or not.
Dimitri, try not pressing all the way at the very top of your fingerboard and report back to me if you can still get a note!
June 12, 2020, 10:40 PM · Some film music and pop songs (at least before synthesizers took over) use the higher registers pretty extensively.
Edited: June 12, 2020, 10:56 PM · I mean like high A on the E string right at the top of the fingerboard or higher .End of the fingerboard is like ten leger lines I believe. Who has seen that in a score lately? My point though is that you don't need to press all the way down at that height. I'll repeat it again. My point here is that you don't need full pressure high up on the E string. Would anybody disagree? If so, I suggest you try it right now and play with no pressure high up - even past the fingerboard. Even try it lower down. You don't need that much pressure.
June 12, 2020, 11:15 PM · Is it just a coincidence that the bridge is the same distance from the corner of the C bout as the finger board is from the other corner of the C bout, and the end of the F hole is in the middle..? This is also true with viola and cello. And, pressing all the way down is not needed anywhere on the finger board.
Edited: June 13, 2020, 12:31 AM · I'll have to disagree with the above - try playing at the end of the fingerboard on the G and D strings. In order to properly be able to vibrate and maintain pitch, you need to touch the fingerboard. Maybe not press the string down tightly against it, but my fingertip does touch. Without the board the pitch is too unstable with the low tension. This is why the longer fingerboard was popularized during the time of Paganini. High g string playing is common, not comic, in orchestral music like Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, etc. Edited to also note that with lower tension gut e strings, the e might need the fingerboard's help more than with modern steel strings. This I'm not sure about.
June 13, 2020, 12:51 AM · The first time I was tasked with converting a modern violin to baroque I had questions regarding the proper length of the fingerboard. I called a friend who specializes in baroque and early instruments and asked how long the board should be. His reply :"What is the highest note in the repertoire that the player intends to play."
I have been called upon to fashion extensions for bass fingerboards for certain pieces.
So, the board needs to be long enough to play the notes in the pieces you want to play. Now, the free end of the board does contribute to sound by vibrating, so a short board will sound different due to mass,pitch and other factors.
June 13, 2020, 1:08 AM · There are plenty of pieces that use that high a register. The fingerboard is useful, even if you do not need to fully press down the string. Remember that even at lower positions, fully pressing down the string is not always necessary, and some violin setups and high tension strings require you play a bit "over the string". The fingerboard still is essential, regardless.

Even if you do not play such "advanced" works (and 4 octave scales get you there all the time), the modern length harms no one, and I see no purpose in making in shorter unless it is a specialized, historically informed performance instrument.

June 13, 2020, 6:21 AM · Cellists practice scales that go out past the fingerboard, well before they reach the equivalent of the Bruch Level. My sense is that it feels weird to them, like walking on a glass bridge, Until they get used to it, even though the strings are pushed only part-way down long before they reach the end of the fingerboard.
Edited: June 13, 2020, 11:26 AM · I would not think that we'd miss an inch of fingerboard. Ok John, I tried playing up at the very top on the G string (I was mainly talking about higher strings but fair enough). My conclusion is that you can avoid touching the fingerboard on the higher strings but less and less so as the strings get thicker. In first position on the G string I find I'm just about touching the fingerboard but with some relaxation. Maybe a hair off the string but skin touching either side. On another instrument with higher action It's just about possible to sound without touching on wood. Higher up allows a certain break point but I would agree you are more likely to put your fingers all the way down on most of the G string. The very, very top end though - it's not pretty! Special effects territory perhaps. Please tell me what composers have written for playing right at the end of the fb on the G string - I need to have words!!!
I feel it's also an interesting discussion for the build of the instrument. I'm always hearing that Stradivari got it right and that he reached such a peak of perfection that we should not change a thing. However, the consensus seems to be that he got the fb length wrong, at least from the work of 19th century luthiers and from what I hear from contemporary violinists (not to mention neck angle). Yes, I know the repertoire changed but I'm convinced that the last inch is unnecessary. Can somebody tell me how gut strings were different in this regard? Are modern strings with their higher tension more likely to sound with less pressure than gut?
As to sound/resonance etc. I'm sure it is a minimal difference at the end of the day. Is somebody willing to do a before and after with a saw?!!
Edited: June 13, 2020, 4:21 PM · It’s easy for folks to say “they got it right” in 18th century Cremona but think about how much even those instruments were altered over the years and still sound great today:

Longer FB
Longer neck
Different neck angle and now mortised instead of nailed.
No longer using wedged fingerboard
Different bass bar lengths.
Chin rests and shoulder rests
Synthetic strings and higher tension.
Different A pitch 440 (vs 415)
Many have been regraduated. A Nicolo Amati I played a few months ago was paper thin it seemed.

Someone on a post in Maestronet mentioned that Stradivari might not recognize his instrument in a hall if he were transported to today.

June 13, 2020, 4:43 PM · I do not think newer strings are a true "alteration"-just a modern trend. All those altered old violins can be played with gut strings just as well.

Chinrests are "modern" indeed, as I cannot imagine anyone playing a violin without one, barring an specialized performance.

Shoulder rests are optional, even if modern. (I use one, so I am not trying to start one of those argument wars.)

I am glad for all the other alterations, as they went along with the newer repertoire, and helped violin music become what it has today.

As for this subject, I just do not see the point of caring about the length of the fingerboard, unless it is impeding a specific musical purpose. Since I am not seeing any such cons, I think they are just fine "as they are" now.

June 14, 2020, 9:53 AM · I agree it doesn't matter much and if it doesn't interest you then feel free to move on.
What I do find interesting is how the majority of teachers will teach you to touch string against wood. Perhaps because we start with pizzicato? I, like many others, discovered on our own that you don't need to press all the way down in all circumstances. I mentioned in a another post recently that one day my fingerboard came unglued but the violin was still at full tension. I was worried that the thin neck without fb would not be able to take that tension so my first instinct was to loosen the strings. Before I did however, I tried playing without the fingerboard. It still worked fine!
As to it impeding a specific musical purpose, I guess it does if by the fact of it being there it encourages you to press when you don't need to.
June 14, 2020, 3:46 PM · It's not necessary to have the string contact the fingerboard in the higher positions because the finger is what is stopping the string at that point, and not the fingerboard. Especially on the E string, pushing it down that hard near the end of the fingerboard just makes it horrendously out of tune.
June 15, 2020, 4:06 AM · Christopher, I think the only way for you to find out is to spend some money and have your luthier replace your current finger board with a shorter one and see what effect it has on the tone of your instrument, and whether it impedes or facilitates your playing. Or if you have two violins which are fairly similar in tone, have the shorter fingerboard installed on one of the instruments and then try playing (and recording with a good quality mic) the same passage on both instruments and see what you think about the result.

All the theory and discussion is fine but it's the actual physical reality that needs to be tested.

Gene -- if pressing the string down to the fingerboard makes it "horrendously out of tune" aren't we supposed to place the finger where it is IN tune? Anybody playing a not which is horrendously out of tune, regardless of the range of the note, is simply not playing the instrument very well.

June 15, 2020, 4:20 AM · I've been trying to get some vibrato above top E without pressing down on the wood - huh..?
June 15, 2020, 7:17 AM · Despite making some of my fingerboards a little longer than "standard", I have never had anyone complain about one being too long.

As for a shorter or lighter fingerboard producing a better tone, my experience has been the opposite.

Edited: June 15, 2020, 9:50 AM · I'm gauging the distance between the end of the fingerboard and the bridge while playing. If I want a softer sound, I'm playing closer to the fingerboard. I suppose I could the same with a shorter fingerboard but it would take some time to get used to.
June 16, 2020, 11:28 AM · Raymond, are you determining placement of the bow visually? If so, are you also determining placement of the left hand fingers visually?

I don't know of any really good players who rely on either of those. Instead, they rely on the feedback from the sound and the feel. There's already enough visual overload going on from reading the music, and taking visual cues the section leader and the conductor

Edited: June 16, 2020, 3:43 PM · Those are good questions. When practicing I think I am using the bridge and the fingerboard in determining placement (sound-point)and perhaps angle of the bow relative to the bridge. I've been taught that a slight angle (instead of being absolutely parallel to the bridge) is helpful in producing a larger sound (Does that have to with how strings are wound?). I look at my left hand when trying to figure out fingering (e.g. whether I want to do an extension or a shift). I only do this when not reading music (e.g. playing a scale from memory)

To be honest, I'm not sure if I could look at the conductor or the section leader when playing in an orchestra at this point. I would be too focused on getting notes on the page. I'm not a very strong sight-reader but think I think I'm getting better!

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