Sleeves, Parchments, or Nothing?

March 26, 2023, 10:15 AM · I've changed strings a dozen times on my four violins, but I never paid much attention to E strings until recently. Most new strings come with string sleeves to protect the bridge. Two of my violins purchased new have bridge parchments for the E string. I had new bridges cut and installed by two different luthiers on my used violins, and they did not install bridge parchments for the E string.

I know that the E string will eventually wear down the groove on the bridge, but some luthiers and even string manufacturers say if you don't want to use the sleeve, just take it off. Some say the sleeve will slightly mute the sound, but won't a leather parchment also mute the sound?

I know the sleeve isn't needed if you have the parchment, but do I really need either one, or is it best to use parchments for the E string on all bridges?

Replies (18)

Edited: March 26, 2023, 10:37 AM · A parchment is best for the bridge and string. Although I have seen thin leather used before, most parchments are made of a skin such as that of a drum, a material that does a great job of transmitting vibrations. Without anything, an E string will cut into the bridge fairly quickly.

The plastic or rubberized tubes that are found on E strings are really just there in case your bridge doesn’t already have a parchment on it, and they should be discarded if the bridge is set up properly. Yes, they are tone-killers. The muting effect can be somewhat limited if you position the tube so it protrudes by 1mm or less toward the fingerboard, but you’ll always get a clearer and fuller tone with a parchment, something that is standard on good bridges.

There have been all kinds of experiments with alternatives to parchments, like ebony or ivory inserts, epoxy, or even titanium, but parchment remains the most effective and practical option.

Edited: March 27, 2023, 8:33 AM · On the other hand, most e strings tend to be obnoxiously bright and a little less zing as per using a sleeve doesn't hurt any IMHO It doesn't effect the volume or the lower harmonics, only tempers the upper harmonics, you can also adjust it so it barely sticks out on the vibrating string side, and this lessens the effect
March 28, 2023, 11:21 AM · The way Lyndon describes is how I have my e-string sleeve. It was recommended to me by another luthier.
Edited: March 29, 2023, 2:53 AM · Basically what Lyndon said, although I did once buy, naively, a bridge with an ebony insert - I still have it and I'll try it out one day. I also have a set of titanium bridge protectors - they won't have been an expensive experiment.
As to having the minimum amount of sleeve poking over the bridge on the vibrating side, I find that I more or less have to have it that way anyway, as tightening the peg pulls the sleeve in the direction of the nut (I put graphite on all four bridge slots. Perhaps I should leave the E slot without), so I start with the sleeve only just on the bridge, mostly towards the tail, then it ends up where it ends up. I keep all my old sleeves, just in case. And I think the Visions came with a little packet with a spare ball end and one or two spare sleeves.

I'm not sure what Rich is saying.
Drum skins vibrate, because they are elastic - it's not about transmitting vibration. Elasticity will always absorb vibration. But they are stretched very tight, so they have to be very strong (tough), and the animal protein in the vellum is strong (I have no idea about plastic drum skins, but if you saw any old broken drumskin, maybe you could salvage it for bridge protectors). But perhaps also vellum is not hugely elastic and doesn't absorb much vibration. Its toughness made it ideal for protecting the bridge before plastic was invented, although I don't know how much a gut E string would have cut into a bridge.

I read a nice quote somewhere about leather being the plastic of the middle ages.(?)

March 29, 2023, 10:07 AM · A drum skin vibrates when it’s struck and causes pressure disturbances in the air inside the drum’s body, which is then sent out to our ears. The skin is tuned to a specific frequency to focus a certain overtone series and eliminate unwanted overtones, somewhat like a violin top.

Plastic tubes dampen the desirable overtones, even in the ideal position where the effect is limited as much as it can be. Every time I’ve had a customer’s violin come in with a tube, removing it and using just the parchment or installing a parchment has been a considerable improvement.

Edited: March 29, 2023, 1:09 PM · I had been purchasing bridge "parchment" inserts for instruments' highest strings (they are available on ebay as well as from some on-line dealers). But about 20 years ago I asked my luthier's shop (Ifshin Violins) about it and they sold me a 3 sq. inch rectangle (with a range of thickness; thin for violins, thickest for cellos) that I was able to cut into a sizeable number of E and A string (for viola & cello) inserts for many years. It may have been leather, I think it's all gone now.

I prefer using those to the cylindrical sleeves. The bare E strings definitely cut into the maple bridge over time.

March 29, 2023, 2:23 PM · Parchment e's are a nightmare to adjust the height of the e string, because once you've glued them on there is no way to change the height of the e string, you can't file further into the parchment without making it useless, whereas with a sleeve, its easy to make slight adjustments lowering the groove with a file in a way you can't do with parchment unless you peel the parchment off, lower the groove and glue on a completely new parchment
March 30, 2023, 1:50 PM · Establishing string heights should be done before putting a parchment on. If for any reason the bridge needs to be adjusted later to allow lower string heights, removing the parchment is just a simple part of the process, along with making a new bridge curve that takes the desired string heights into account, cutting the bridge to that line, laying out new grooves and cutting them if necessary, planing the bridge so that it is at the appropriate thickness at the top, and relieving the sharp edges. It is possible to file the parchment a little, although it’s thin enough that it’s often necessary to remove it to make the adjustment.
March 30, 2023, 2:34 PM · @Andrew - I am curious why you use inserts for viola A strings. They don't seem to present the same problem for the bridge as a violin E.
March 30, 2023, 5:12 PM · I'm going along with Rich Maxham on this. Drumskin-type bridge protectors are some of the most wear-resistant and longest-lasting on the planet.

If a luthier is too lazy or work-averse to remove and replace one when altering the bridge curvature or height, I wonder what else they might be too lazy to do.

Edited: March 30, 2023, 6:04 PM · Tom, I have Warchal Amber strings on that viola now and I think the A is all metal (the Warchal helical design). But anyway, I previously used a Dominant Weich A and I had the parchment on there for that too. It's possible I put parchment on 25 years ago when I bought the viola and was using a Larsen A, which I thought was too bright.

But Tom, I get your point!

And Lyndon, I've had no trouble removing and replacing parchment "inserts." However, in my opinion, your point as to how the string height is affected by these additions is well taken relative to playing in higher positions - and it also affects "instinctive" bowing angles.

March 30, 2023, 6:34 PM · no, David it comes down to I don't prefer obnoxiously bright e strings like you do on your fiddles
March 31, 2023, 4:40 AM · Lyndon, using the parchment to give greater longevity to the bridge doesn't preclude using your tuby thingy tonal enhancer. :-)
March 31, 2023, 9:46 AM · My violin has an e-string bridge parchment that is a little broken-down, so I use the little tube as I explained above. It works fine. I didn't really notice much difference in tone, but I'm not the best judge of that for reasons of compromised hearing probably mixed with ignorance. One of these days I'll get a new bridge cut, but the bridge is the original one. Probably all the more reason to do it, I guess.
March 31, 2023, 11:08 AM · Although I had a new bridge luthier-cut for it 20 years ago I often revert to the original maker's bridge on my 1951 violin, as I did within the past year. I think it sounds better and I prefer the bow angle when playing A-to-E string (old habit, I guess). Both bridges weigh 2.1 grams and both bridges have parchment E-string protectors.

I am a "bridge watcher," living within 7 miles of two big ones and having 8 of them on my instruments at home. I learned to tend my own bridges early in life. I can only recall one of my bridges ever having a bend and that may have been in it when I first got that cello at age 14.

April 1, 2023, 3:05 AM · Better than any of them are Pirastro papyri.
April 1, 2023, 12:27 PM · Is Pirastro papyri as good as a bridge protector made from a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls?
Edited: April 1, 2023, 1:15 PM · I must admit, David, I haven't tried, and now that it is after midday, I'll call it a day - indeed, one with a particular date!
But there are Dead Sea Scrolls made from papyrus and Dead Sea Scrolls made from parchment (and one from copper). I would expect a bridge protector made from papyrus to be about as effective and durable as one made from a discarded oboe reed.

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