Severely warped bridge - easy fix!

June 28, 2020, 7:30 AM · My bridge was very warped because of the humidity and time. Plus a bit of neglect I suppose! See pictures.

Yesterday I decided to do something about it. I concocted a temporary clamp from paint stirrer sticks and rubber bands to keep the post in place, see pix below. Once the bridge was free I put the tea kettle on and got it boiling. I held the bridge, using forceps, in the steam stream emanating from the whistler hole for about 5-8 minutes. Rotating it like a marshmallow over a fire and the bridge had relaxed back to its as new condition. I let it “dry” is a woodworkers clamp for a few hours and reinstalled it a few hours later. Now it’s perfect.

This is an easy repair that could be done by anyone.

Replies (22)

June 28, 2020, 7:45 AM · Sorry that the pictures don’t show. The pictures really demonstrate the issue and how successful the fix was. I’ve tried a few times to get them to display but failed. Copy and past appears to work but it is a cludgy method.
June 28, 2020, 8:28 AM · The pictures show just fine!

Copy & Paste is the way it works here.

Edited: June 28, 2020, 9:14 AM · Can also use a clothing iron. Just needs hot steam. Three cheers for diy, eh?
June 28, 2020, 12:13 PM · I wouldn't hesitate to try that if my bridge was warped. Unless I had a luthier handy who would probably take care of some adjustments and such while he was at it. But my luthier is moving to Philadelphia and I'll probably be forced to do more stuff DIY.
June 28, 2020, 1:42 PM · No no no! Please just go to a trained luthier and get a new bridge. This website unfortunately enables people to share their bad at home remedies for repairs that should be done by a trained professional. That bridge would never have gotten so warped in the first place, if it was properly maintained at a straight position. Sorry to be so brutally honest...
June 28, 2020, 1:50 PM · these quick fixes are temporary at best, they almost always warp back
June 28, 2020, 2:01 PM · Exactly Lyndon. Wood has a memory. This reminds me of seeing these ghetto at home remedies for straightening crooked teeth on YouTube by some amateur with no discussion about the most important thing: retention (after said treatment). If you want to have a perfect bridge, go to a trained luthier, if you want to have good teeth, visit a dentist or orthodontist.
June 28, 2020, 2:36 PM · Yes Lyndon and Nate--this easy (but temporary) fix reminds me of the TV ads that promise liposuction will remove fat cells permanently; the ads don't mention that new fat cells will immediately replace those that were removed. New bridge, better care, no more warping!
Edited: June 28, 2020, 3:03 PM · That bridge is in real danger of snapping in two! The distortion shown in the photos will have permanently weakened the internal structure of the wood, and will not be cured by the suggested diy "repairs". I go 100% with Nate's and Lyndon's advice on this.

Note that it is possible that a bridge may unexpectedly break without warning on a rare occasion, even though it may have been installed professionally and has been maintained as per spec with no bending or distortion. A couple of years ago I had first-hand experience of such an event, with a properly installed and maintained bridge. This was when I was doing some evening practice on a gut-strung violin. The bridge suddenly went "bang!". Fortunately, the collapsing tailpiece did very little cosmetic damage to the varnish because there were no micro-tuners installed, but the sound post went down. Later, examination of the break in the bridge under a high power lens revealed what appeared to be a tiny section of bad wood within the bridge at its waist level. This evidently was the cause of an inherent weakness that was not observable externally.

If a bridge breaks, it will be a very sudden and catastrophic event, likely with no prior warning. 50+ lbs of string tension will be instantly released, causing trauma to the structure of the instrument. The tailpiece will collapse onto the top, very possibly damaging the varnish, and perhaps causing an expensive crack. The sound post will almost certainly fall, or shift to another position. The aforesaid sudden release of string tension may cause glued seams to open or weaken, which the luthier would check for and take appropriate action.

A leaning bridge is usually brought about by the tuning process causing the strings to stick in their notches on the bridge, thus pulling the bridge one way or the other. Over time, the bridge may acquire a permanent "set" as a result. The remedy is two-fold and simple. First, the luthier, when he installs a new bridge, will ensure that the notches are the correct shape and not too deep (a very common fault), so never attempt to cut notches yourself - it is a skilled professional procedure. Secondly, the player should regularly apply soft pencil lead (4B or softer) to the notches to enable the strings to move smoothly over them when tuning. A convenient time to do this is when a new string is being installed. When doing this, give the same soft lead treatment to the notches in the nut at the scroll end of the fingerboard. This also makes tuning that much easier.

Edited: June 28, 2020, 5:00 PM · Actually, that's exactly how I keep the rental fleet in our shop running. Fifteen years of experience says that the lore that it's not permanent is a myth BUT you have to correct what cause the original bending.

If it was neglect, and the person who has the instrument stays on top of pulling the bridge back, it will stay just fine. If the bridge was cut at a wrong angle, or the top of the instrument has collapsed a bit (common on cellos) you have to recut the feet so the bridge stands correctly again or it will warp again. If you cut a new bridge the same as the old one, give it back to the same person and they fail to straighten it, it will happen again, and it's not the new bridge relapsing in memory of the old one being straightened.

It's not something I would advise anyone to do, but it certainly does work, and some folks are clever enough to pull it off! When I see bridges collapsing on old violins that come into the shop very often the problem is the cut of the feet (or maybe the collapse of the arch) and if the bridge is good and there's enough foot, I will recut the feet and straighten the bridge, and it's fine. But not if the owner is afraid of pulling their bridge back.

I see a certain percentage of new bridges cut leaning forward. Those are doomed.

However, my question is what are you doing to prevent it from happening again, because something wrong caused that--it didn't happen on its own!

June 28, 2020, 5:01 PM · And by the way--that little string tube on the E should almost entirely be behind the bridge. The leading edge should be right at the front of the bridge, no farther, or it will damp the string. Sometimes that's a good thing, but not if it is happening just by accident.
June 28, 2020, 6:25 PM · I agree that this was not the best way to fix the problem but in my current situation both with COVID19 finances and having my 90 year old mother in law with a failing heart (she just got checked last week at cardiologist) just move in - visiting a Violin shop was not a viable option for a few good reasons. It’s always easy to spend other peoples money!

This wood has memory argument has two sides: when heated the bridge reverted to its original straight configuration without any clamping or manipulation. Some have argued it is somehow wanting to go back to the stress induced warped state? Time will tell I guess...

As for how it got this way, that’s on me. No A/C and I play outside on my porch 2-3 hours a day. I tried to straighten it many times but it just got worse over time. This was an attempt to fix it before a catastrophic failure happened. Steam heating seemed to work fine but again, time will tell..

Thanks for the advice on the E string tube. I always rub a No 2 lead pencil on the bridge string groves when changing strings I will be much more observant on the bridge leaning in the future.

June 28, 2020, 6:30 PM · I agree with Nate and Lyndon. If I "fixed" my own bridge, it would only be until I could get proper professional care for my violin. One thing I'm worried about with these DIY bridge straightenings is that I'll weaken the material and it will fail violently causing even more damage. So I'd have to be desperate to do something like this on my own.
June 28, 2020, 6:31 PM · Michael can you comment on E-string tubes when one has a parchment? Does that change anything about how you would view the use of that tube?
June 29, 2020, 6:06 AM · I agree with Michael Darton. I have used a vegetable steamer to straighten bent bridges. A good bridge will usually just return to its original straightness by itself, no additional flattening needed. It then functions as normal; I have never had a bridge snap.
Edited: June 29, 2020, 2:06 PM · WOW! I have seen bent bridges, but nothing like that!
It looks very thick to me, for a violin bridge, am I wrong? I think your repair action was brave! Glad it worked.

In 1951 one of my bridges came from the maker on the same violin it sits upon today - still just fine.** If I am playing an instrument I check the posture of the bridge every time I pick it up. For those instruments I am not playing regularly, I check the bridge every time I open their case. When I was teaching I checked my students' bridges before every lesson; for those instruments I had to tune, it was just a natural thing to do.

** Actually I just put that bridge back on last month (after switching to Warchal Amber strings) after a 20-year hiatus because it just sounded better with these strings than the luthier replacement of year 2000. The older (1951) bridge weighs 2.0 gram vs. 2.1 gram for the newer (2000) one. I wonder if I should try sanding the 2.1 g bridge down to 2.0 g. Any thoughts?

June 29, 2020, 4:48 PM · Also, these bridges that have been leaning forward and warped almost always have feet that no longer properly fit the top, all the more reason to get a proper luthier involved in the process.
June 29, 2020, 7:33 PM · If you have a skin under your E you don't need the tube. I'm not totally convinced by either and in some cases will harden the E groove with superglue and leave off the skin. Basically I make the decision on what I want to hear.
June 30, 2020, 7:11 AM · Thinking back, it appears that the tendency of the bridge to warp towards the fingerboard appears to have increased since I took off my fine tuners on all strings and switched to Wittner’s geared pegs. I have to do quite a bit of tuning because my fiddle goes from inside to outside every day and easily can experience temperature swings of 20 to 30F during the course of a summer day.

I always loosen the tuners and tune up to proper pitch which, with the absence of fine tuners, always means increasing string tension from the fingerboard side of the bridge. Using fine tuners increases tension from the other side of the bridge. If the bridge acted like roller bearing this would not matter but there is always going to be some friction between the string and the bridge regardless of how much graphite you apply. Perhaps this is one disadvantage of only using geared pegs and not a combination of regular pegs and fine tuners?

June 30, 2020, 8:39 AM · String players have been tuning exclusively with pegs for hundreds of years. They just need to be constantly cautious.

Cellists have tended to add fine tuners because it seems their (mine) pegs tend to get "sticky" more because of larger contact area.

I switched to internally geared pegs over 10 years ago (because arthritis made peg turning difficult & painful) eventually redoing all my violins, violas and cellos. I had previously switched to tailpiece-mounted fine tuners eventually installed Bois d'Harmonie (all wood tailpieces with integrally-mounted fine tuners) on all my instruments. The mass of these tailpieces is no greater than the ebony tuners I previously used and permit proper string "afterlengths." If I had known about Peghed, Knilling and Wittner internally geared pegs I would have save a lot of money on the new tailpieces by installing the modern pegs instead.

I follow the same "fine tuner loosening" protocol as you, James.

Edited: June 30, 2020, 12:14 PM · I have parchment on the E groove on the bridge of both my violins, and a plastic tube on the E string is therefore unnecessary. Without the tube the E string sound is at its best, for me. I believe there is a tendency for the tube to attenuate some high frequencies before they get to the bridge itself.

So what to do about a surplus string tube? I wouldn't remove it because it may be needed later, such as when a used string is passed on to another player. Also, the tube can be difficult or impossible to pull off over the peg winding, and would be at least equally difficult to put back on without damage to it or the winding. What I do therefore is to slide the tube to the peg box end of the E out of sight and mind so as to abut the string winding there. No buzzes or rattles.

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