E string height at end of fingerboard

Edited: July 1, 2023, 8:28 PM · Greetings, can I ask you all a personal question? How high is your E string from the fingerboard, at the very end?

I've been playing some high stuff, and I'm beginning to feel like perhaps my E string is sitting too high, because it's awfully hard to push it down to the fingerboard up there. At the very end, it sits about 4 mm above the fingerboard. Could be totally normal, but I just want to see where it's at for others, just in case my bridge needs a look. Also, if any luthiers have thoughts about this!

Replies (20)

Edited: July 1, 2023, 8:50 PM · 3.5 mm tends to be the standard. I like to set the E at 3.25. A few of my customers like the E lower, one even as low as 2.5. At 4, most players would say it feels too high.
July 1, 2023, 11:29 PM · I don't know how high mine is, but I know my action is on the medium-high end of the spectrum. In the extreme high positions of the E string, I don't end up pushing the string down fully, I get it most of the way down and that's usually enough.
July 2, 2023, 4:19 AM · In my main violin it's around 2.5 mm. It's very low at nut too. Strings have quite a strong tension.

I don't care at all what the standard is, and what others prefer. I know what i'm confortable with.

In the other 2 violins it's just a bit below 3mm, with less strong strings.

July 2, 2023, 10:36 AM · On my 4 old English violins the distance is between 3 and 4 mm.
July 2, 2023, 10:37 AM · Part of that optimum measurement is the "scoop", the curve of the fingerboard.
July 2, 2023, 12:13 PM · Mine's 4 and yeah, it feels a little high. Not worth a trip to Charlottesville though.

I'm guessing the measurement could be seasonal. Cellists sometimes have summer vs. winter bridges.

July 2, 2023, 1:21 PM · My French violin with a newer bridge is right at 4mm. My german violin with a 15 year old bridge that may have settled a bit is a touch more than 3. I would call it 3.25.
July 2, 2023, 2:35 PM · I have two at 4 mm. One was set up at John Montgomery's the other at Robertson's.

Also, Edgar Russ recommends the same:

July 2, 2023, 6:57 PM · I'm not sure what my actually measurement is (it's quite low), but I definitely feel like "the lower, the better" applies here. I would be curious to hear an argument against that, assuming that the string isn't hitting the fingerboard during wide vibrations.
July 2, 2023, 7:28 PM · @ Erik, I am speculating that to achieve a lower string height one would have to lower the bridge. This would decrease the string angle and tension. The vibrations would be less powerful thus reducing the sound projection.
July 2, 2023, 9:18 PM · I keep mine low, at most 3.5mm, but usually more like 2.5-3. The E string has such a small range of motion that the extra space is not needed. Just wasted effort for your left hand.
Edited: July 2, 2023, 10:10 PM · My measurements have indicated an E string distance to the top of the ingerbnoard of 3.5 mm.

But it seems to me a significant question is how close to the fingerboard do you have to get the string to actually stop it. Another related question how is the tone affected if you stop it in "midair?"

Some cellists attack their strings from the right side (equivalent to left side for violinists and violists) but they have more room between strings for the fingers to fit. They can stop the strings above the fingerboard.

At a chamber music workshop many years ago (at which I played cello) I checked out the string height of the the pro cellist coach's instrument and they were about as high as my newest's had been before I bought it and had the shop's luthier lower the bridge twice and I was still not satisfied. They refused to go any lower to my 3rd request and instead did a "New York neck reset" that finally satisfied me - and I got to take the cello home after a lunch break the same day. Satisfied 3 weeks after paying them.

Lowering the bridge does not change the string tension, but it does reduce the downward force of the bridge on the instrument top, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Of course a dealer would much rather lower a bridge than have to fit a new higher one.

July 3, 2023, 2:18 AM · Rene Morel’s standard specs, which are still highly regarded, included string heights of 3.5 and 5.5. Henry Strobel’s book of measurements, one that’s commonly used today by many shops, also gives these heights. All other good shop spec sheets that I’ve seen also use those as their standard heights.

The height of the bridge can affect the amount of tension on the strings, but that’s not the only factor, and it’s not necessarily the case that a taller bridge will lead to greater sound projection. The string break angles at the bridge can also be affected by the angle of the neck, overstand, and saddle height. A low neck angle tends to lead to a weaker sound, but too high an angle tends to choke it. The feel of the strings under the fingers is affected by the heights of the strings at the nut, at the end of the fingerboard, and the amount of scoop throughout the fingerboard. A good setup will take all these things into account to maximize playability.

July 3, 2023, 9:13 AM · I set e strings at 3mm and the g at 5mm. I think the Rene Morel numbers are a little bit of a hangover from the gut string Era and heights set for a humid climate. Strings usually get closer to the fingerboard when it's dry and farther when wet. Some instruments are more sensitive than others.
July 3, 2023, 4:41 PM · I was taught not to press the strings fully to the fingerboard unless trying to achieve: a) pizzicato, or b) a very focused tone. That said, the violin I played before this one had an action that was too high and required too much pressure to get a good sound high on the E string. Ouch! I have heard that too high of a string action can cause injury to the left hand over time.
July 3, 2023, 5:28 PM · In my personal book, these types of rules are made for the people who need them :)
Edited: July 4, 2023, 1:00 AM · Laurie, my default is about 3.5 mm, but there's usually no reason it can't be lower if that's what one wants, providing there's enough bow clearance on the treble C bout, and there is enough fingerboard scoop that the A string can still get a clean sound. (The A string will need to come down some too, and the D a tiny bit, to keep the bowing angle differences between different strings similar to what they were before)

There may be a slight change in the sound of the instrument...

July 3, 2023, 8:38 PM · The Morel specs aren’t a holdover from the gut era, as the shop was doing work long after synthetics became the standard. I agree with David Burgess that it’s fine to go lower if you prefer, but I definitely wouldn’t want to go above 3.5. Customers complain pretty quickly if the E is over 3.5. It may seem like a small detail, but that’s the kind of thing that can kill a sale in a heartbeat.
Edited: July 3, 2023, 8:47 PM · Mine sits at 4mm. That feels right to me.
July 3, 2023, 8:55 PM · It’s very interesting to hear about all these measurements! Sounds like mine is on the high end of normal.

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