Violin strings' fingering intervals are uneven?

October 13, 2020, 8:52 AM · The strings of my student's violin are uneven for fingering purposes--when he plays a 3 on E, for example, it's higher pitched than it should be based on his 3 on A. The higher the note on the E string, the lower, relatively, he has to play it as opposed to where it should be. The lower strings are the opposite; on G he has to play notes higher than they should need to be played.

We have tried having a luthier adjust the neck of the violin.. Changed strings. Checked bridge height. Luthier couldn't find anything wrong, but the finger placement is up to a half step off of where it should be by only third position!

Does anyone have any ideas as to what is wrong or how to fix it? I've tried all the teachers and luthiers I know...

Replies (13)

October 13, 2020, 9:25 AM · This is very surprising: I find I have to reach further on the E string than on the others!

But in any case, the different materials and thicknesses of the four strings, even when brand new, mean that they do not vibrate in quite the same way. For example, the "bulge" of the vibrating portion may not start immediately after the finger-tip, depending on the stiffness of the string.

What type of strings are you using?

Edited: October 13, 2020, 9:35 AM · I have no idea what is going on here. However, if I were faced with the same problem I would make a device (similar to a guitar CAPO) that would be capable of stopping all the strings exactly the same distance along the neck positions and use that to test the disparities.

What we feel our hands are doing as parallel positions across the strings is all in our heads - and we must never forget that it is the "upper" edge of each finger contact that determines the pitch, not the aiming point our minds envision.

October 13, 2020, 9:43 AM · I have to place my fingers higher on my G string relative to the D. I don't know what causes it; my best guess is the difference in string height and elasticity of the strings causes the disparity. Maybe using one of those twisty Amber E strings (or just twisting your own E string around a twig or something) will solve the problem.
October 13, 2020, 9:49 AM · If the string is too high off the fingerboard, the distance that it needs to be pressed to the fingerboard will be too large causing a higher pitch.

In addition to checking the bridge height, the luthier should check the action for each string individually to ensure that they are correct. He/she should also check that the strings are properly adjusted at the nut, and that the fingerboard is properly planed and scooped.

Checking action on a violin is always important because too high action can also cause serious hand injuries.

October 13, 2020, 9:51 AM · Do you know the total vibrating string length, stop length, and neck length? If those are not in sync, you might have issues with intervals.

If parallel fifths are out of tune, it’s most likely a fingerboard problem. Your description sounds more like the latter, but any additional information you can share might help to isolate the problem.

October 13, 2020, 11:37 AM · There are numerous things that can cause small difference in fingering locations among strings, but a half step off is extreme.

Sometimes this can happen when different string types are mixed, like a steel string on the A and E, and synthetic strings on the G and D.

October 13, 2020, 4:15 PM · Could the bridge be improperly placed, or not perpendicular to the strings?
October 13, 2020, 6:47 PM · Odd. If the bridge is perpendicular to the strings, and not too high over the fingerboard, this should not happen. Measure the string length of the G and E. One early sign of worn, or faulty strings is to play perfect fifths. If a fingered perfect fifth is out of tune when the open strings are in tune, a string might be old, false.
October 14, 2020, 10:36 AM · Thanks so much all for your input! I'm 99% sure all the strings are steel, but will try putting a brand-new matching set on. I believe he has Dominants on right now, but he might have a Red Label or two. He is very prone to breaking his strings. :P

It's not the bridge--bridge is perpendicular (and for kicks, we tried it in several un-perpendicular positions) and height is good.

Yes, half a step is really extreme...and that's only in third position. The octave harmonic point halfway down each string is almost a full step off!

From what everyone is saying, the fingerboard sounds like the culprit. George Huhn, that makes sense; thank you so much! I'll ask the Luthier to do that.

Thanks again, everyone.

October 14, 2020, 12:33 PM · The octave harmonic should be independent of the fingerboard.

Could there be some irregularity in the nut?

October 14, 2020, 12:35 PM · If the strings are cheap steel strings, the pressure of the bow stroke could cause the pitch to bend.

Have the fingerboard checked out, though. The number of playability issues that stem from that part of the instrument is much higher than you might expect.

Edited: October 14, 2020, 1:54 PM · The bridge is probably not straight or bent. My school have some violins like that, it's impossible to play 5ths in tune. Sometimes the bridge is bent on one side because of the fine tuners.
October 14, 2020, 2:59 PM · People have a lot of good ideas already.
Mixing strings is definitely going to be a problem, and mixing Dominants with Red Label is probably the worst, so I'd start with getting a matching set of Dominants on it and throwing ALL Red Labels in the trash to avoid temptation in the future.

Also, the fingerboard scoop could be excessive. Put a straight edge on the board next to each string, one at a time. There shouldn't be more than 1mm of sapce under the straight edge at the center of the length of the board under any string, and less on the E and A.

But I'm betting first on the strings. Also, if they are old, that will throw evernthing off, too.

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