Metal vs wooden tailpiece

December 20, 2017, 1:12 AM · Hello there,

I have violin made by german luthier's manufacture in 1922, I bought that beautiful instrument one year ago. I am thinking about changing tailpiece, someone put metal tailpiece to this instrument, with all fine tuners.

But I am thinking about wooden one, because I think it fits better to the older instrument (my wife has violin made in 2006 by luthier - great instrument, also with metal tailpiece).

What do you think about difference? I prefer darker fuller sound, I am still experimenting with strings, now I use Dominants, but looking forward to try Warchal strings.

And what do you think about weight? My instrument is heavier than my wife's. But I have bigger chinrest (don't know the name of type but it is over tailpiece, she has small one), but I think it is not just this part.

Is metal lighter or heavier?

What about your experiences?

Thanks,

M.

Replies (50)

December 20, 2017, 10:08 AM · Do you mind going without fine tuners?
December 20, 2017, 10:11 AM · I never heard of anything other than a wood tailpiece. It is certainly possible to have four fine tuners with a wood tailpiece.
Edited: December 20, 2017, 10:29 AM · IMHO wood with built in fine tuners.I play in orchestras that use varying a tuning- 440, 441, and 442 and have to constantly retune. I use Dov Schmidt harp tailpieces in ebony, rosewood, and boxwood. I know others that like Fritsch brass. Many find the composite Wittners sufficient.
Tailgut will also make a big difference. I prefer tied kevlar or other synthetic braided over nylon with screws or steel.
Pusch are cheap and fall apart. I’ve also seen cheap Chinese composites break.
Another way to go is without fine tuners and get geared pegs, which imho, are very stable, light, have little effect on sound, if at all, and free up better string to tailpiece resonance.
Edited: December 20, 2017, 5:38 PM · There certainly have been aluminum tailpieces (Wittner), and composite/CF, maybe even just plastic (Akusticus?), but I have always gotten better sound with wood.

Ebony always seemed to be the standard when I was growing up, but lighter boxwood has also come into favor - you especially see it a lot on cellos. When arthritis "bit" my hands I switched to wooden Bois d'Harmonie tailpieces with 4 very lightweight integral fine-tuners (that can actually be completely removed for standard stringing (or if one of the strings is too thick for the "yoke"). To see what the H... was going on (and because I had a fiddle collection) I purchased ebony, boxwood, rosewood, and pernambuco (I was still working not fully retired yet) and tried them on all my fiddles in a sort of round-robin. The pernambuco was the only one that did not work well on all the violins, but it did sound as good on one of them as the standard ebony I had had on it - so that is the violin it has lived on for the past 15 years.

The wooden Bois d'Harmonie tailpieces sound as good on my violins as the conventional bare-naked tailpieces I used most of my life. Unfortunately they are really expensive. I use the Bois d'Harmonie Kevlar tailcord on all my instruments.

I agree with Edward about the Pusch tailpieces - and they are heavier than the "Harmonie." The Pusch tuning mechanism on the finer tuners is not as positive nor as "proportional" as the "Harmonie" and they are harder to insert the strings in. But they are made of quite beautiful woods. And they are a lot cheaper.

I also use a fairly light-weight, left-mounted chinrest. My experience with my violins (and a number of others) have convinced me that the heavier, center-mounted chinrests rob sound from a goodly number of violins. Some years ago I switched the "Original Stuber made in Germany" that I had used on all my violins (with the standard cork separators) that perfectly matched my jaw to a much cheaper design that was shaped slightly differently but had a different, soft plastic separator that better isolates the chin rest from the violin -BETTER SOUND. My chamber music colleague who plays a fine, Enrico Rocca violin, also switched to that chin rest brand, but a center-mounted over-the tailpiece design (Guarneri) that he felt also improved the sound. These chinrests were clearly based on inexpensive wood chinrests with a large price multiplier for the unique mounting material. This patented chin rest is called The RESONATION CHINREST, invented by Gary Anderson and has a website.

Finally - I now also use geared tuning pegs (Pegheds, Knilling Planetary, or Wittner easytune) on all my instruments AND if I had had those when I switched to Bois d'Harmonie tailpieces (for my arthritis) i would not have those tailpieces today. A set of such pegs costs half as much as a Bois d'Harmone tailpiece, or less - and if you can do the work yourself!!! (The Wittners are easier to install than the other designs because you can overshoot the peg hole diameter by a little bit and still have a fully functioning peg - not so with the Pegheds or Knillings.)

December 20, 2017, 11:28 AM · The "standard" Wittner tail piece that has the four built-in fine-tuners is made of a synthetic composite material. It's the same material they use for their chin rests and the heads of their gear pegs. I would be floored to learn that a blind test can discriminate between the sound of the violin with this composite tail piece compared to a wooden one.

I use gear pegs on all my instruments now too. I have a set of Knillings (on my daughter's violin), a set of PegHeds (on my violin) and a set of Wittners (on my viola). Overall I like the PegHeds the best (combining function and appearance) but for pure practicality the Wittners work the best.

December 20, 2017, 1:41 PM · You might well be floored! I had no ax to grind for wooden tailpieces.

When I tried a Wittner tailpiece, I'm pretty sure it was still metal.

December 20, 2017, 2:14 PM · Wittner comes in both metal and composite, both sound worse than wood.
December 20, 2017, 2:34 PM · Which tailpiece sounds best can vary from one instrument to another, and according to ones individual taste in sound. Just like string choices.

I use either the Wittner metal or plastic tailpiece on all my cellos, but have not done that yet on my violins, simply because tailpieces with four fine tuners are less accepted in the violin world than in the cello world.

December 20, 2017, 3:47 PM · Yep, Wittners are very popular with cellists.
Michael Tree uses a Wittner metal tailpice on his viola, but it is rare to see it in violas and violins.
December 20, 2017, 6:08 PM · Well, maybe so, I have not done a blind comparison with one violin, so I'll defer to y'all who, I'm assuming, have. (That is, I hope this isn't merely one of those "pros know" situations.) But usually you see the composite tailpieces just on student instruments anyway. There does come a time for most violinist when they leave their four fine tuners and cleave to their gear pegs. :)
December 21, 2017, 1:59 AM · At first thank you all for lots of precious informations, much appreciated.

@Ella - I don't know, I can possibly loose them if I will have perfect working pegs. (My wife is also Ella, beautiful name).

@Mary Ellen Goree - it is usually on cheap an school instruments, my violin is not some kind of high level instrument but it is good, I don't think it deserves metal one, so I am gathering very precious opinions.

@edward torgerson - gear pegs? What is your opinion on them, when I saw this, I was thinking about it like "strange innovation" and feared of it. I am guitarist (college), so I am used to changing things, but violin is for me the tradition. But it can be very cool. I am little bit fascinated to see masters tuning, with left hand, easily and precise, I must hold my violin more seriously and tuning is harder for me. Thanks for tips for tailpieces. In my country (czech republic) is on market the most expensive one Pusch, and bunch of cheaper Dictum etc in third of price of Pusch, unfortunately (as usual) will be necessary to buy abroad.

@Andrew Victor - great answer Andrew as usual lots of information. What do you thing about geared pegs? You are using them but overall opinion, I feel little bit afraid of classical orthodox surrounding. All of you insipred me to use them, I am thinking about combination wooden tailpiece without fine tuners (or just on E string) and geared pegs. Bois d'Harmonie will be expensive too much I think. I am looking on thomann.de for better than dictum or Wittner.

I have Dictum ebony chinrest, it is fine, but maybe with new tailpiece I will change it, mostly because look. I don't know yet.

---

I understand that I must try, maybe I will change a few times. But thank you, you gave me the direction. It is good pracice to buy one and then go to luthier to do the change or first visit luthier and talk with him? I am absolutely newbie to these modifications.

Thank you

Have a great day and holidays.

December 21, 2017, 4:31 AM · Off one of my violins came an ebony tailpiece with 4 very large tuners. That combination weighed 42 grams. I drilled holes in a $3 metal tailpiece with built in tuners that ended up weighing 22 grams. The boxwood tailpiece without tuners weighed 12 grams. I also drilled holes in a metal tailpiece on my cello. I cannot speak about the difference in tone with authority, I'm not that good.
I have a mandolin with a heavy tailpiece and that heavy tail is the cause of the volume and tone of the instrument. Without the weight the sound becomes tinny.
December 21, 2017, 5:58 AM · If you want a wooden tailpiece with fine tuners, look at Dov Schmidt's catalogue – he has a large range of options there!
December 21, 2017, 6:31 AM · @ Aditya Chander thanks :) I will look on them
December 21, 2017, 6:32 AM · Paul, it's pretty well-established that the tailpiece does affect the sound, and it stands to reason -- it's directly connected to the strings, near the bridge, and vibrates with them. Contrasted with the pegs, which are behind the nut, so don't have as much of an impact.

As to whether or not wood (of any sort) is always better than something else, or not, that certainly isn't established, and from what I've heard matching with violin characteristics and individual preferences come into play.

All of this matters very little to me -- I'm much more concerned about technique, intonation and music than how my violin sounds, other than hoping that it isn't too loud for the neighbours and others, so I often mute it, mooting it further, and haven't done tailpiece swapping for that purpose.

December 21, 2017, 6:45 AM · Martin, I have personally installed 11 Peghed and Knilling geared peg sets and 2 Wittner Easytune sets - (thats a total of 53 pegs because one instrument was a 5-string violin). Chuck Herrin, who designed and patented the Peghed design licensed Knilling to use that design. The Peghed design has a gear ratio of 4:1; the Wittner, 8:1. The only time these ratios are annoying is when you install new strings and have to keep cranking and cranking as opposed to the 1:1 ratio of standard pegs.

To install these pegs you will need 2 tools you may not have:
1. a digital micrometer to measure your current pegs to determine what size geared pegs to purchase - about $10 from Amazon.
2. a peg-hole reamer (violin model), cheapest I've seen is about $20 on ebay.

I have also had good luck purchasing my Knilling and Wittner pegs on ebay.

You have to be absolutely certain that the pegs you purchase have larger specified diameter than your current pegs - but as little larger as possible.

My luthier had quoted me a price of $50 per peg (plus cost of the pegs) to instal geared pegs on one of my instruments. Wittners are easier to install and easier to tune than the Peghed design (which is identical to the Knilling). Hearing that I bought my reamer and micrometer. I started by installing the pegs in a cheap violin I had purchased for my son. Then I did my cellos (working "large" is easier) and finally my violins. Violas were last - but can use the same pegs as the violins - at least that's what I have done.

I have been delighted with the results. There have been times when other cellists have stared at me in amazement as I easily tune my cello with my left hand without blinking an eye. I have seen professional cellists have to put down their bows and turn their instruments around to manhandle the pegs.

These pegs eliminate the need for fine tuners, although having one for a violin E string is still helpful for the finest adjustments.

I just installed a set of Wittners on my 2nd viola yesterday.

One word of caution, before embarking on peg installation go over the entire process mentally - and then re-read the instructions and do that again.

Edited: December 21, 2017, 11:18 AM · I don't have any qualms about installing the geared pegs, if a client requests it. Along with the potential advantages already mentioned, they have the potential to decrease wear and stress on the pegbox, if one is coming from a conservationist viewpoint.

As to how a greater weight of geared pegs might affect sound, sometimes greater pegbox mass can enhance sound, and sometimes less is better, just like tailpieces. I haven't been alive long enough to test every possible combination, but it might be said that I've taken a decent stab at it.

December 21, 2017, 11:57 AM · I wonder: how many of your customers have requested geared pegs when they commissioned a violin, so far?
Edited: December 22, 2017, 4:38 AM · Very few so far, maybe three in total. People are used to what they're used to, and there's quite a bit of resistance to change in the violin world.

I was around when gut-core strings were still the standard setup, and Dominants had recently come on the market. It took many years before the non-gut strings started to reach a general level of acceptance.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 6:45 AM · When using a tailpiece without integral fine tuners isn't it important to maintain a 6:1 ratio of vibrating string lengths fore and aft of the bridge? For that reason my luthier changed the fine tuner on my E-string to the short Hill-type (?), with the other strings anchored directly to the wooden tailpiece. I think that may have resulted in truer harmonics. The Hill-type tuner requires a loop-ended rather than a ball-ended string which seems to limit the choice considerably. I'm currently using Evah Pirazzi but my luthier also recommends Golden Solo.
Edited: December 22, 2017, 7:17 AM · David, Han N., I'm one of those old violinists resistant to change. It took me a long time to try out the synthetic strings, although now I generally stay with them, but I'm still always looking for ones that sound the most like gut. As for metal tailpieces, and geared pegs, I have an irrational reaction to the idea of more metal parts on the instrument. I had a violin with a metal tailpiece, once, and when I replaced it with wood, the sound was warmer and richer.
Edited: December 22, 2017, 7:35 AM · Steve, before switching to geared pegs I used Hill-style E string tuners. I found I could usually pop the ball out of the loop if I had accidentally bought the wrong E string.

Rather than aim for a 6:1 ratio I select one of the lower strings to have the after length vibrate at the frequency of the 2nd octave harmonic of the next higher string. I have found I can never get more than one string to do this (it's just the way they are built), but it is the reason for the specification of a 6:1 ratio. It is hard to get this just right with Kevlar tail cord (or gut-but don't have to worry about that these days).

By the way, I have not found the commercially available geared pegs to feel noticeably heavier than wooden pegs - perhaps except for the Pegheds that have wood handles/wings. I fear I never actually weighed any of them on my digital gram scale.

December 22, 2017, 7:46 AM · it should be pointed out that the actual number of people recommending geared pegs are actually a small minority of very vocal posters, almost everyone else is using traditional pegs.
December 22, 2017, 9:04 AM · Andrew - I never thought it through before but I can see the sense in getting the after-length of the A string to resonate with the open E and harmonics of E. But in that case the after-length of the E shouldn't matter too much, there being no higher strings for it to resonate with!
December 22, 2017, 5:17 PM · I use knilling pegs on my cello, spare chinese violin, and electric violin and viola. I beleive the exchange to be better tailpiece resonance due to less parts and a cleaner transfer of vibrations through to the saddle with a slight loss of resonance in the (imho less important) peg box and scroll. The weight difference is pretty insignificant and is not in the plane of the wood sides of the box, but perpendicular. I do not believe that it is enough to affect the resonance of the neck and is most logically less of an impedance than the string to tailpiece interface that IS clearly resonating close to and between the bridge and saddle contact points
December 22, 2017, 5:24 PM · That said, I have yet to pull the trigger on installing them on my 1892 Benzinger and 1926 Roth as I don’t trust myself to install them on my beloved old ones. I was very sorry about that the other day when the temp change popped three pegs loose- probably more dangerous than the installation.
Edited: December 23, 2017, 8:50 AM · My experience switching tailpieces is mainly limited to cello, because players' opinions regarding what they expect to see aren't as strong there. In cellos, tailpiece and hanger can make a huge difference, and my cellist Hersh partner and I usually spend several days figuring out what works best for a cello, working back and forth among string, bridge, post, and tailpiece changes. One point that's come out of that is that it's not a clear choice what tailpiece to use until it's actually tried on the specific instrument, so it's impossible to make a specific general recommendation.

The violin situation seems a bit clearer, which is not surprising since the three--violin, viola, cello--are really different instruments and need completely different strategies. I would disagree with several suggestions that have been made above, but won't, because I don't know the individual instruments and players. But I do know that the differences between the choices are often dramatic, and I'd be wary of one-size-fits-all recommendations.

Edited: December 23, 2017, 6:09 PM · Definitely NOT saying geared pegs and harp tailpieces for all. Michael is absolutely correct. Each instrument, player, climate, playing style, and setup (...) is different as is the subjectivity of what is good sound and good playability. Everyone weighs the trade-offs differently. Opinions should always be taken with a grain of salt
December 24, 2017, 9:24 PM · Lyndon wrote, "it should be pointed out that the actual number of people recommending geared pegs are actually a small minority of very vocal posters, almost everyone else is using traditional pegs."

True -- but one thing I've never seen is a post from someone who installed gear pegs and wishes (s)he hadn't. Chuck Herin, the proprietor of PegHeds, claims that he has installed hundreds of set of gear pegs and not a single customer has ever asked to go back to friction pegs.

December 24, 2017, 10:29 PM · Also not a single customer has sold their violin to anyone else, perhaps because of the pegs!!
December 25, 2017, 2:55 AM · I don't know if it's true , but on the subject of metal on violins . I heard that Strads have a nail driven through the top block into the heal !!!
December 25, 2017, 4:23 AM · Three nails actually. That's just how it was done then. But all Strads have had those nails removed and the necks glued into mortises, as it's done now.
December 25, 2017, 4:34 AM · Actually the real reason no one changes their mechanical pegs is that they are glued in, often with super glue, and you'd practically have to destroy the pegbox to remove them, which will happen when inevitably the pegs fail of old age, as all mechanical things do. Also you'll need to bush the pegholes as they've probably been reamed out too big to fit the mechanical pegs.
December 25, 2017, 4:47 AM · A number of inaccuracies there.
Edited: December 25, 2017, 7:14 AM · One of the nice results of people using standard tools to standard specs: the two sets of mechanical pegs I've fit were direct drop-ins---if the player didn't like them, all I had to do to put the original pegs in was take the old ones out. The pegs come in a range of sizes, up to and including "these holes really need bushing".

The mechanical pegs I use are tightly threaded in place with a backwards thread on one side (string pull tightens them all in rather than screws them out) and I haven't felt the need to glue anything, so they'd be easy to get out.

Players like them. I find changing strings to be irritating but not impossible.

December 25, 2017, 7:17 AM · That's great that you do it that way but amateurs think they can fit them themselves and the manufacture specs actually recommend gluing them in place. They also don't have the option of buying all the sizes so often fit the largest size, reaming out the holes for no good reason to fit.
December 25, 2017, 7:59 AM · David had it right already with "a number of inaccuracies there".
December 25, 2017, 8:22 AM · I tried geared pegs on my viola (shoulder problems made tuning regular pegs difficult). After about a year, I had them restored to standard, and now use a tailpiece with integrated tuners.
The greater ease of tuning w/ geared pegs did not compensate for the change in sound, or for my perception...note, it is ONLY that; my luthier was not convinced... that the strings' pitch slipped ever so slightly on a regular basis w/ geared pegs.
I'm perfectly content with my tailpieces-cum-tuners, and represent one who abandoned geared pegs gladly.
Edited: December 25, 2017, 8:36 AM · Lyndon, I think it's rather unfair referencing amateurs in this specific instance, since EVERY time amateurs attack their violins, the violin is in danger, and you can say that about any category of repair. The problem is not pegs, it's amateurs.

You need sizes? It doesn't get any more amateur than Ebay:
https://www.ebay.com/itm/Knilling-Perfection-Pegs-Violin-4-4-Full-Planetary-Geared-Tuners-7-8-8-3-8-5-9mm/162329624107?

December 25, 2017, 8:56 AM · My philosophy for changing things is "don't", if it already works well with no problems. In view of my zilch woodworking skills if it ever did come to pass that I felt I should go along the geared pegs road I'd make sure the job was done professionally by a luthier - as I did a few weeks ago when a broken bridge needed replacement, the result turning out to be truly wonderful.
Edited: December 26, 2017, 9:41 AM · Using glue to lock in Knilling or Peghed pegs was recommended to me by Chuck Herrin, inventor of that design and I did that using superglue with 45 pegs (including one 5-string fiddle). So far, since I started these installations 7-10 years ago only two pegs have slipped in use and had to be reglued - no problem unless you happen to be performing at the time. My concern about allowing the Peghed design to self-tighten in the peg holes was that it might require heavy tools to remove the pegs someday - also the threaded connection to the pegbox walls could continue to self-thread the walls and thus slip slowly. I bought a pack of small superglue "one-shot" tubes and carry one in each instriment case for emergencies (none have been used so far).

My experience with 8 Wittner Finetune (2 violins) pegs is that their design makes them easier to install and a bit easier to tune - BUT - their 8:1 gear ratio compared to 4:1 for the Peghed design makes installing new strings more time consuming. Also, the Wittner design allows all 4 pegs to be identical, whereas for the Peghed design the port and starboard pegs are different. The Wittner design has 2 sets of string holes in each peg, which has two advantages: not just identicallity of all pegs, but also for choice in how to wind the strings.

I may be remembering incorrectly, but it seems to me that the Wittner design for self-locking into the pegbox may now be different than it was a few years ago (please correct me if you know I'm wrong) and there is now more leeway in peg-hole diameter in fitting the pegs than for Pegheds, which allow for virtually no leeway.

I don't mean to sound like I am advocating for one design over the other. One of the biggest reasons for choosing one model over the other might be the range of peg diameters available - and - for some people the range of visible, genuine woods available for aesthetic reasons. If you hope to get into these geared pegs, study them closely.

FINALLY: Since Lyndon has raised the question of the weight of geared vs. wooden pegs, I dug around my stuff and found a lone Knilling peg and compared it with an ebony peg of the same diameter:
Wood: 4.7 g
Knilling: 7 g

So the total mass difference for 4 violin/viola pegs is 9.2 grams (!1/3 ounce) - might be noticeable on some instruments, but I have never noticed any negative effect on 13 instruments.

By the way that lonely Knilling was a "gift" from Chuck Herrin, inventor of the Peghed. Years ago I emailed him to find a way to purchase a single peg to complete the pegging of my 5-string violin and he sent me 2 pegs free, with different "wings/handles" to match what I had - thus a spare! (I had no idea there was that option.)
Thank you Chuck!

December 25, 2017, 2:16 PM · Lyndon, the last time you went off on one of your tirades against gear pegs, I asked my luthier whether they're easy to remove and he said it was no trouble -- not quite as easy as putting them in, but not difficult at all. He installs almost entirely Wittner pegs.

Marjory that's interesting -- which type of gear pegs did you have? Knillings Perfection Pegs? PegHeds? Or Wittner Finetune Pegs?

December 25, 2017, 6:59 PM · @Paul, I don't recall which species I had. When my luthier gets back online after the holidays, I'll ask him. He's sure to remember, because tho he had no problem removing them, no professional likes having to undo a good piece of work.
December 26, 2017, 2:03 AM · Like I said incompetent amateurs are super gluing the mechanical pegs in. And gluing in the pegs is recommended by the manufacturers. This is not restoration, it is butchery.
December 26, 2017, 4:14 AM · And like Michael said, ANY violin work performed by incompetent amateurs is risky, including the fitting or replacement of conventional pegs.
December 26, 2017, 4:38 AM · I used an alumnium Wittner on my viola for manyyears, until the screwthreads wore out. Tapping it with a fingernail gave a metallic ringing sound, so I coated the underside with silicone mastic. Heavy, though.
The composite ones are lighter.
December 26, 2017, 6:55 AM · The Wittner installation notes say the following: "The tapered peg is put in place without glue by simply pressing it into the pegbox just like any ordinary peg."

The shop I tend to go to would typically include or add installation to a purchase for a very reasonable fee and do the work well, with care and knowledge applied to not harm the instrument.

Edited: December 26, 2017, 8:28 AM · Just for the record here, I am not sure that heavier pegs are worse than lighter, and wouldn't want to make that claim until I'd tested in on the specific violin in question. I can easily extend from some other experiences that it might be a gain, tonally, and there's a logical model for that.

Do people here know that many classical guitar makers have drilled out their guitar heads to pack them with lead, and done similar things to get weight up in the head? When I learned guitar making, I was taught that some thought that the ideal guitar head was a block of concrete the size of a VW. :-)

Of course, guitars aren't violins, but think about the implications for a while. . .

December 26, 2017, 12:12 PM · Michael, it shouldn't be too difficult to test the hypothesis by attaching a weight (say 20gm for starters) firmly to the scroll and see (i.e. hear!) what happens.

In my classical guitar days I was aware that the neck and head are vibrating components of the system. I would think that increasing the weight of the head would increase its inertia, reduce its vibration and in effect provide more stability for that end of the strings.

December 26, 2017, 10:03 PM · For those who are interested, luthier Chuck Traeger published some interesting findings about lateral resonance in necks and scrolls in double basses, which btw, often use REALLY massive brass hardware.

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