Tradition and innovation in the world of the violin
There has been a lot of discussion regarding the release of the Dominant Pro violin strings. This reminded me of the seeming dichotomies in the violin world. On the one hand, some new developments are embraced and explored. The new strings are an example of this. On the other hand, many other things are resistant to change. An example would be the widespread adoption of the Guarneri style bridge. This adoption is not even a matter of historically informed practice, as we regularly put such bridges on Stradivarius violins.
In all of this I do not want to start a historically informed practice fight. Rather I want to encourage thought about tradition in the violin world. I want to invite people to share their perspectives, things they see as traditional and why they believe such status is given, and also things that they see are open to change.
I suppose I will get things started. Obviously new innovations in strings are widely accepted. There is no question that they are different that gut strings. Why do you think they were accepted? Cost, stability, lack of substantial visible change (the audience cannot see the difference), strings require replacement, etc...
People do what works. You'll note that carbon-fiber bows have been widely adopted, but, for instance, artificial horsehair hasn't. CF bows work, but artificial horsehair has lots of drawbacks without much in the way of compensations.
People do what works except when they don't. By all accounts internally geared pegs for example work well but are rejected nonetheless by a majority, including many on this forum. The old fashioned friction controlled pegs are really no ideal solution to the tuning problem. So what is going on?
I trust the dude that works on my violin - He's quite savvy and seems to know exactly what to do with a fiddle and bow to make them perform their best - If he told me to go the geared-peg route, I would do it, but otherwise I'll just suffer through.
I asked my luthier about geared pegs: he was concerned about the extra weight having an effect on tone. I have 4 fine tuners to go with my 2 fine ears! (And for quick adjustments as the winds warm up.)
Ah, but the fine tuners are also reported to be a problem due to their weight....
Good points all. We certainly like to think we do what works. One issue is there is risk in doing something new. It also requires skill to develop something that is good. Thus we can get stuck in situations in which good new things are not developed.
MY friction pegs work fabulously well! No problems, tune easily, and stays in tune once the strings (old Dominants that lots of pros use!) are broken in. No problems whatsoever...
The weight of the fine tuners on the tailpiece has vastly more of an effect on tone than the miniscule change at the pegbox.
Well-fitted friction pegs tune faster than geared pegs. Less motion required.
I play viola, which seems much less tradition-bound than violin. The 20th century saw a proliferation of new viola patterns; I play a Tertis-pattern viola myself.
I'm always interested in the terminology that's used in the violin world. We've had "synthetic" cores (polymers) and now we have "composite" cores. Are the composites proprietary materials? My guess is that they are still polymers, likely of the same type that have been used for string cores for many years, but they have been stiffened or afforded other mechanical properties by reinforcement, for example with fibers of another (harder, stiffer) material. Lydia mentioned "various nylon permutations," which I think is an excellent description, and nylon has been formulated into all kinds of fiber-reinforced composites for a long time with many application areas.
My experience is limited, but a personal friend (a professional mechanical engineer) who took up violin making in his late 40s and has now retired from violin making at (about 85) having made his 101st instrument did a lot of experimenting with violin designs, woods, and fabrication methods. I owned his 11th violin (which I gave to my violin-playing granddaugher) his 54th violin (which I bought to replace #11) and his 6th viola. Sometime between violins #11 AND #54 he had switched from carved tops to bent tops Still working with North American spruce and experimented with bent and carved backs (his viola #6 has a carved German spruce back). He also experimented with models (including "his own") and his violin #54 seems to be extremely close in all dimensions to my 1715 Strad model by another maker (made 50 years earlier).
I agree that one factor in the lack of experimentation is the belief that it does not get any better than strad and Guarneri, etc. However, I believe that it is false. Strads and Guarneri are different. So which is best? Clearly a certain amount of diversity is acceptable. Has the space of diversity been filled? I think not. It just takes experimentation, dedication, skill, etc.
Several people, starting mainly since '600 century, established what is called "scientific method". Forgive my english, i'm italian, like Galileo Galilei.
Rather than the added weight of the geared pegs I'd be more concerned about the lack of solidity being made up of multiple parts with the potential to vibrate.
Another advantage to the Wittner pegs is that you can set the afterlength how you want it to be.
Nothing against geared pegs, but at least in my case they are not necessary. I am not more "pro" or "better" because I do not use them. But I do feel players should only opt for them as needed. It should not be an innovation that eventually becomes universal, as there are also benefits to perfectly working friction pegs. Some players have physical issues which may prevent them from easily creating music with regular pegs, in which case I am glad these newer pegs exist, to help them out.
Over the past 10 (or so years) I've installed geared pegs in 14 instruments: 3 cellos, 2 violas and 9 violins. The pegs included Pegheds, Knillings and 2 Wittners. I have noticed no change in tone or other audible or playing characteristics of any of the instruments.
There is no such thing as a "Guarneri" bridge. That idea is an unfounded myth based, as far as I know, on 1 instance of correlation (labels of unknown purpose), which doesn't overcome the body of evidence pointing to the evolution of transitional and modern bridge designs happening after Guarneri's death.
In decades as a viola maker, I never heard a player complaining about the pegs in my violas.
Luis, i understand your point of view, and it's fine.
Luis, It's not always that simple.
Does anyone know, factually rather than guessing or wishful thinking, how much of a violin's vibrational force reaches the part of the peg which contacts the pegbox? This has just gotten me wondering and I tried to look it up and find the internet less helpful of late since everybody has been asking it questions (like Jeopardy). I wonder not only because of the peg durability question but because I'm just curious what's going on in the pegbox. I know about transmission of motion through the neck but it seems like most of the vibration would stop at the nut? Yes? No? I'll shut up now.
You can tell that violin vibrations reach the pegbox because there are electronic tuners that clip on the pegbox and register the frequency (or pitch) of the strings'vibrations. They also will register the same frequency when clipped on the bridge or (with a different mounting device) on the violin corpus when attached over the ribs on the upper bout.
Ann, if your conception of the vibration of the strings is the palpable and visible motion of the strings upon being bowed, then it's reasonable to think of that stopping at the nut. But some of that energy is transferred into the violin at the saddle, the nut, and especially the bridge. It is in the sense that the whole instrument vibrates as a result of that energy passing through its various parts that what Andrew described occurs.
Another opinion on geared pegs:
Andreas, your comments about the bridge are informative. I referred to the Guarneri style bridge on account of the bridge on the il cannone. It had been attributed to Guarneri. Maybe this attribution was insecure or false. Although it lacks a heart, it’s shape is more similar to modern bridges than other bridges of the time. I should not have implied that bridges did not evolve over time. It is my belief that they have been stagnant for a long time. However, even that may not be the case.
Ann: I do not know the answer to your question. I suspect that studies such as the one I link to below provide as close an answer as exists.
Mr. Harrell and others are really exaggerating this "need" for geared pegs in that Strad article many of you must have read by now. But I do agree that players with physical problems should find workable solutions to their issues, as I mentioned before, and is stated in that very reading. And in the end, the point of the article is likely to "move" this type of product, so of course it is biased in that regard.
I will stop shutting up long enough to thank you all for your responses. I was thinking that the entire vibration of the violin is transmitted everywhere through the wood because of all the reasons given here as well as my physics training. Amazingly, when I took physics in college we discussed in detail how a violin "works." In the section on acoustics we started with the simple case of the organ pipe and went on to strings and violins. Bass bar! Sound post! Our prof. was named Grace. We called her Amazing Grace.
Michael - I tend to take a hammer to myths when they pop up, I apologize if anything I said seemed directed against you personally. This sort of misinformation appears in fairly elevated sources at times so it's understandable that a casual reader might think it's true. In fact that's part of the reason I am incessant about it.
Christian, I hate change and was frightened at first about ruining my instrument by having Wittner pegs installed. But this was on a viola with an intractable peg problem. The luthier twice a year changed the run in pegs and then made them fit perfectly and they were fine for 2 minutes. I was in danger of ruining the pegbox through repeated reaming and bushing so I had them reamed one last time for the Wittners and I'm glad I did. I waited a few days to take delivery on my new violin so these pegs could be installed on it.
Adalberto, I never said they were necessary, I just don’t see the problem with it someone using them if they want to.
@Christian - I was interested to learn that the concertmaster of the LA Phil uses geared pegs on his Strad. It was in the LA Phil that I remember noticing the principal violist playing an asymmetrical Rivinus instrument or something similar. I'm all in favour of players breaking with tradition in this way, but get the feeling that it would be risky for rank-and-file orchestral players to attempt anything innovative. The orchestra is one of the last bastions of old-fashioned military discipline!
Violin makers and luthiers have tried all sorts of innovative things. If you don't see them much, it's because they didn't cut the mustard for one reason or another. As it turns out, it's pretty hard to improve on 300 years of fiddle evolution. There is, however, a small market for unusual things, attracting mostly those whose main objective is to be weird or different.
I think David Burgess summed it up perfectly.
Yes, agree with Mr. Burgess as well.
What Mr. Burgess says could be so, however, I think the fault lies in the mustard. There used to be a wide variety of stringed instruments. Gambas, violins, etc. Certain sizes of instruments adopted certain forms. Thus double basses were of the viol family, etc. Did a cello of the viol family not cut the mustard? How about a double bass violin?
Micheal Berger, F holes are probably not the only adequate shapes, but the little flaps stemming from their shape do tend to radiate a high-frequency sound component, quite different from circular holes.
I don't think experimentation is only for people who want something different or weird. Many innovations have stuck. Synthetic-core strings are here to stay, as are synthetic tail-guts. CF bows are selling well -- and not only to non-conformists. Will Corene fingerboards be next?
Paul, synthetic strings and tail adjusters, and carbon fiber bows aren't weird at all, compared to many of the other things which have been tried.
The comments are very interesting. I think they shed light on the fact that there is a very strong tradition which is prevalent. Ideas of non-conformity, etc. Some comments about knocking on doors were deleted. It is indicative that there is some fierce defense on both sides. Despite the strength of the tradition new things are created and, as been noted, some stick and become accepted in traditionalist circles.
David, I guess I'm drawing a brighter line between innovation and absurdity. Most of this thread has been about bridge design, gear pegs, bent vs. carved backs, and violin strings -- not violins crafted to resemble genitalia.
Eight years ago Laurie wrote a blog on David Rivinus's radically innovative "Pellegrina" viola design. https://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20134/14618/
Steve, yes that's an "interesting" contribution. I think there have been a few different designs of viola that are intended to improve ergonomics without losing interior volume. Invariably they have a bulging bout or two.
Steve, I think the Rivinus looks like a beautiful lady ;-)
Paul, I'll probably start using one of the substitute (for ebony) fingerboard materials, once I feel that they have established a sufficient track record. Some have failed to stay glued to the violin very well, and some have had less bending stiffness or shape retention, compared to ebony. It's bad for a maker's reputation if their violins become known for having their fingerboards pop off in the middle of a concert, LOL. I'm quite willing to let others do the beta testing. We'll see what pans out.
I'm late to this forum, and apologize. But I would like to say that when I was playing in the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra, Anno Domini 1973 or thereabouts, our director (the late Manuel Compinsky)let an entrepreneur in during a pause to show his creation to us all.
Dimitri, that may have been the same entrepreneur who visited the Weisshaar shop, around the same time. Weisshaar was quite enthusiastic about these pegs, and we even installed them in some fiddles. But the pegs turned out to have some major problems, some quickly apparent, and others taking a little more time to emerge. So those in your orchestra who didn't buy them probably made the right choice.
As I understand some of the earlier gear pegs had kind of a "ratchet" mechanism so that tuning occurred not in a smooth continuous way but in discrete steps. Of course, that's totally DOA because you'd still need fine-tuners then.
Eric Aceto - apropos of this thread:
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