Fine tuner tailpiece

October 24, 2020, 12:16 PM · I've an 18th century instrument with a great sound. My luthier just made a new bridge for it at no cost to me as he wasn't quite happy with the setup when he sold it to me. It sounds even better than it did before and that's saying something.

The tailpiece is the same fine-tuner tailpiece that was on my previous $850 violin that he took in trade. I've small arthritic hands and a very short reach. My teacher advises me to stick with the fine tuners. It is a Wittner tailpiece.

My pegs are perfect, very easy to use but I can't use them in playing position due to my physical issues. Given I need to stick with 4 fine tuners, would there be any real benefit to eventually moving to a better tailpiece? Given it came on my student instrument I am assuming it's not a very good one - or are there marked differences between fine tuner tailpieces?

Replies (13)

Edited: October 24, 2020, 1:39 PM · They are all just the same. You could get a wooden one with integrated tuners if you want to be real fancy, but the only noticeable difference will be aesthetic, unless there's a significant difference in mass.
October 24, 2020, 1:39 PM · Sound-the idea is not to appear more "pro", but taking full advantage of what your violin can offer. The "regular" tailpieces are lighter.

I would not go as far as going after ZMT tailpieces, but if a Hill style would work and it is properly installed, that would be good.

However, if you cannot tune with pegs, you should be wary. See of you are able to tune with pegs as an experiment, without pain or trouble.

Geared pegs would be recommended in your case in place of the wittner tailpiece, for a theoretically better setup. I do not think they should be used unless a player really needs them, as well adjusted pegs do thwir work fine, but some players have tremendous physical problems with regular pegs. Confirm that they give you real trouble first.

Best wishes, and do not get hurt tuning or practicing.

Edited: October 25, 2020, 8:44 AM · I went through the gamut of fine-tuner tailpieces as osteoarthritis made turning wood-on-wood pegs too painful at times. I finally settled on the French "Bois d'Harmonie" brand for all 4 violins, 3 cellos and one of my violas. Except for the screw, which is metal, the fine tuners are made of carbon fiber composite and hence very light weight. That part can break, but the replacements are available and easily installed.

I have "looked back" since installing geared pegs on all my instruments mostly "Knilling Planetary Perfection" and Pegheds [same design] but one set of Wittner. Had I known about the geared pegs there is a good chance I would not have gone for the fancy French tailpieces - but I use both tooning methods to good advantage.
BUT - my instruments suffered no decrease in acoustic or physical performance with these fine tailpieces.

October 24, 2020, 2:50 PM · The Wittner pegs have an 8 to 1 gear ratio that make fine tuning trivial and peg slippage a non-issue. You will not need fine tuners on the tail piece, even for the E string.

The Knilling and Wittner pegs use a 4 to 1 gear ratio that still make tuning easy, but some high tension E strings can be a bit fussy to tune.

October 24, 2020, 3:17 PM · The Wittner peg tuning is racheted (i.e., in small steps) - so they need the 8:1 ratio for fine tuning. The Knilling and Pegheds have a less fine 4:1 gear ratio, but they tune continuously rather than incrementally so they can be tuned right on, easily within 1 Hz.

I have noticed that the Knilling/Peghed pegged strings must be tuned upwards to get them in tune; tuning down from sharp does not seem to work.

Edited: October 24, 2020, 4:26 PM · My takeaway from the group comments is that changing tailpieces for another fine-tuner tailpiece probably wouldn't make a real difference in my sound, and the suggestion for a Hill-style tailpiece is noted.

My pegs turn fine - even to tune a couple of cents, the problem is my actually REACHING them in playing position.

Now that my Warchal Ambers have (finally) settled down - and it took rather longer than expected, the fine tuners are really all I need most days as they only require a very small amount of tuning, any "peg tuning" happens then.

I don't think the geared pegs would really address my problem with actually reaching the pegs properly - and I'm so stretched out just to touch at least 2 pegs that I can see my straining myself trying to turn them.

October 25, 2020, 4:54 AM · Fine tuner tailpieces are not all alike -- most have a shape which is straight across, parallel to the bridge. But I bought a violin that was revived by a local luthier and he installed a harp-model tailpiece similar to this:

He had a harp tailpiece with only one fine tuner, but we had him install the same make but with 4 fine tuners (my wife has similar hand issues to what Catherine has) and the violin is just as resonant.

The violin was an inexpensive German import from the 1920s/30s but it has a lot of resonance which the luthier feels is a product of the tailpiece since he had tried a traditionally shaped taipiece and it didn't have nearly the resonance it has now.

Unfortunately I don't know the brand, nor where he ordered the tailpiece from, but it would have been from one of the online luthier supply sites.

October 25, 2020, 5:24 AM · About the option of geared pegs: I had Wittner pegs installed on my new violin. I'm actually not that thrilled about them. As I turn the pegs, the tuning jumps in steps of about 5 cents, which makes me have to go back and forth quite a few times before it's right. With a Wittner tailpiece, it was much easier. Or is it normal to tune to +/-3 cents accuracy?

I assume it's because of a stick-slip effect on the nut, even though I have applied ample amounts of 1B pencil graphite on the nut and bridge. (Using synthethic-core strings.)

That and the luthier reamed the E-string peg hole too much. Now the gap between the rotating and the fixed part of the peg is exposed, always ready to swallow the E string. I think I'll hot-glue a piece of cardboard into my pegbox next time I change the E string.

My teacher, who had never seen geared pegs, liked them, though.

Edited: October 25, 2020, 6:30 AM · The built-in tuners vary a lot in quality. The zinc alloy (as in Dinky Toys) wears out faster than the brass inserts in a resin or wooden tailpiece. Also, the design of the attachments can affect the longevity of the strings.

I find fine tuners essential for the quick micro-adjustments as the temperature of the venue lowers the string tensions, and hot breath raise the winds..

Edited: October 31, 2020, 10:10 AM · On a decent violin the tailpiece makes quite a bit of difference, but if you are happy, why change? I would expect a good quality wood tailpiece with integrated tuners to sound a bit smoother, less bright, less open, and not as loud, but a lot depends on the architecture and materials of the specific one you switch to, and cost is not a measure because it depends on what would benefit your particular instrument. Of the non-wood models, the Wittner is the best, but that is also by far the most common, so you probably already have one.

I would leave it.

Geared pegs work, but it sounds like that wouldn't solve your arthritis problem, just make tuning somewhat easier. Again, if you are dealing with it in a way you like with the Wittner, I wouldn't recommend a change. The problem with with any change in equipment is that you might not like what happens. Changing tailpieces isn't a huge deal, except for getting the bridge back where it worked the best. Reverting from geared pegs is a more complex process.

October 29, 2020, 7:28 PM · Han I suspect you are seeing slip-stick (periodic release of static friction) at the nut. What I do with my gear pegs is tune down (just like you would with a friction peg) to release the static friction and then draw up. I haven't notice jerky tuning with my viola which is my only instrument with Wittner Finetune Pegs.

I wonder if y'all luthiers have ever lubed nut grooves with molybdenum disulfide? As a mineral molybdenite ("moly") has a layered structure that is analogous to graphite and it functions analogously as a dry lubricant. (But careful: it is usually sold in grease formulations.) I ask because moly is generally regarded the superior lubricant in high-pressure applications.

October 29, 2020, 9:01 PM · I haven't tried it, but that's an idea. I do have some powdered teflon for piano actions, and haven't thought to try it--much the same idea. You can also buy powdered pure dry graphite in small tubes for lubing locks. The traditional lube is pencil lead (which has clay added, so it's not really perfect for the job, but I often will rub a candle in the slots of the nut. Do NOT use wax on the bridge slots, though!!!! The bridge needs a bit of friction to stay up because the forces aren't equal on either side. I spit a bridge halfway across the room once trying this! :-(
Edited: October 29, 2020, 10:12 PM · If you’re happy with the sound of the violin and the Wittner tailpiece helps you overcome your physical difficulties, there’s no need to change anything. The Wittner tailpiece is designed well and works nicely on most instruments.

A well-made wood tailpiece will be more aesthetically pleasing. Some players and shops are bothered by the look of plastic on their instruments. There are alternatives, like Y. Chen and Bois d’Harmonie. This is really a matter of personal preference more than functionality.

Do different tailpieces affect the sound in different ways? Yes, but not nearly as much as adjusting or replacing the soundpost, cutting a new bridge, adjusting the afterlength, or changing strings. If your violin sounds a bit harsh and you have a lighter boxwood or plastic tailpiece, switching to a denser one of the same size in rosewood or ebony may dampen some unwanted overtones. It’s by no means a cure-all, just another aspect of setup that can be altered for possible marginal gains.

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