How does changing Bridge height affect sound?

November 21, 2022, 10:37 AM · Hey all! I find that my violin's strings are wayyy too high off the fingerboard, and slightly affecting how I play. I was wondering if changing to a new, shorter bridge would necessarily affect the sound negatively?

Thank you all!

Replies (18)

Edited: November 21, 2022, 11:11 AM · My guess is that if your strings are higher your violin will have a bigger and brighter sound but that's just a guess. However, you need to consider how your instrument plays. If you're hanging around in first position playing bluegrass fiddle music, the high bridge could be an asset. If you're wondering why your instrument is hard to play in higher registers, then it's time to hire a good luthier to cut you a new bridge and probably adjust the nut and look over a few other things too.
November 21, 2022, 11:13 AM · You don't need to cut a new bridge to lower the strings, only if you want to raise them, you just file the notches lower till you get what you want then round off the top of the bridge to match the new lower notches, of course leave this to a professional luthier.
Edited: November 21, 2022, 5:19 PM · The force vector through the bridge into the violin is proportional to the height of the bridge; the higher the bridge, the larger the force into the violin. This can choke the instrument's response and spoil the tone with some strings

We assume that the makers of our instruments knew what they were doing and built them so that if the installed bridges are shaped to have the strings at the proper heights relative to the fingerboards they will work optimally.
If that were always true there would be fewer violin repair people and fewer string options for purchasers!

November 21, 2022, 11:46 AM · And, of course, there is the fact that many instruments have long lost their original bridges.
November 21, 2022, 11:47 AM · I am considering getting a luthier to cut/modify the bridge for me, as it does affect my playing in the higher registers. Oh well, as long as it doesn't affect tone and projection I'm completely up for changing/modifying the bridge.
November 21, 2022, 11:57 AM · It will affect those things. But quite possibly in a good way. Ask the pro.
November 22, 2022, 4:13 AM · In my experience, shaving wood from the top of the bridge has two effects:
- lowering string pressure via the bridge, with a softer but clearer tone;
- lowering the mass of the top half of the bridge (like removing a mute), with a more nasal or acrid tone.
November 22, 2022, 4:50 AM · "Acrid tone". Haven't heard that description used before. Can't wait to try it out. :-)
Edited: November 22, 2022, 7:48 AM · Is it a new violin or an old violin? Is it a well-made violin or an inexpensive mass-produced "factory" violin?

The bridge height might be fine, but the neck angle may be too low or fingerboard warped. You need to get the entire violin checked out. If the neck angle is too low and it is a good violin, then it is likely worthwhile worth getting the neck re-set. Violins usually sound their best when they are set-up properly.

But more importantly, playing with too-high action ("wayy too high off the fingerboard") can cause serious long-term physical injury to your left hand, particularly your 4th finger, even if just a little too high. Be careful.

Edited: November 22, 2022, 10:00 AM · Lowering the bridge (by trimming the top) reduces the rocking moment to the body, thus weakens the lower frequencies. And the reduced mass is like "unmuting", thus strengthening the high frequencies... including the very high ones you might not want, giving harshness (or acrid tone, if you taste or smell with your ears).
November 23, 2022, 8:12 AM · All original and never re-set? Have someone look at that to be sure.

And apart from the neck, there is the fingerboard. You might be able to have a new one added that doesn't have any unwanted extra mass but stays higher off the belly and thus closer to the string.

But don't try this at home. Ask someone who really knows.

November 23, 2022, 9:42 AM · My violin (Nicolas Morlot ca.1820) has a warm, but rather dull tone.
After trying PI and Evah Pirazzi to brighten it, I tried Tonica: the lower tension "released" the finer vibrations, where the tenser strings "cramped its style"..
November 23, 2022, 10:03 AM · Tricolore light gauge can also work miracles in the right spot. Even with the wrapped D.
November 24, 2022, 3:34 AM · oooh those sound like good ideas. Stephen, Im not sure if the neck has been tampered with, but I only know that it is all original, the same one from the 1700s.
Edited: November 24, 2022, 5:03 AM · An Italian violin from the 1700s will have a neck glued onto the top ribs, not set into the block inside like a modern neck

Also the overstand should be zero with the neck flush with the top not extending roughly 5mm above the top

And of course the fingerboard will not be even thickness at the side but rather wedged so that it is much thicker at the body than the nut, this is the characteristics of an original baroque violin

November 24, 2022, 12:43 PM · Assume for a minute that the angle of the violin neck is "typical".

Then the amount you need to lower the bridge height to make the strings easier to finger would be a few millimeters at the most.

If you do this by lowering the notches of the existing bridge, any difference you notice in sound would be due to your fingering of the strings (can get the strings tight to the fingerboard), rather than any meaningful changes to the properties of the bridge.

If you get a new bridge cut, then you can very well hear a dramatic difference because the new bridge can have dramatically different weight and rotational inertia than the old one.

As an aside, lowering the bridge does not change the tension in the existing strings by any meaningful amount. The change in play length will be miniscule. Same for the pressure of the bridge on the violin body. Just a few percent change in the string force directed into the bridge.

November 24, 2022, 1:33 PM · I know we are taught at the beginning to push all the way to the fingerboard because we start with pizzicato and need to do that for a plucked note to ring. However, we generally use more pressure than we need and it's worth experimenting with how little pressure you can get away with when it comes to the bow. One of my violins has a higher action and for most things the break point of pressure making a clear tone is before the finger touches the fingerboard.
November 29, 2022, 7:28 AM · I once lightened two bridge blanks to the same extent, but in two ways:
- thinning the whole bridge, and
- increasing the cutouts on the other.
The difference in tone was remarkable: lighter and brighter on one hand, and snarly or honky on the other.
In both cases the violin was easier to play.
I practice, we mix both methods.

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