Tips, Tricks and Trouble Shooting
This section addresses some of the more common
problems players may encounter, and suggests some
My pegs are sticking (or slipping). What can I do?
Normal usage will eventually cause both the peg and
the peg hole to wear, which may result in the pegs
slipping or sticking, making tuning difficult.
Ordinary chalk, applied to the areas of contact
between the peg and peg box (which show up as shiny
areas on the peg shaft), can help provide more grip.
The operation of pegs that stick or are difficult to
rotate may be improved by the use of peg dope or
lead from a soft graphite pencil applied to the
contact areas. Eventually, pegs may wear to the
extent that replacement pegs will need to be fitted
by a qualified repair person.
How can I tell if the bridge is on straight?
The feet of a properly cut bridge should follow the
contour of the top
perfectly, with no gaps. The fit of the bridge feet
is critical because they serve as the conduit for
transmitting vibrations between the strings and the
rest of the instrument. If a bridge is tipped, the
feet of the bridge will no longer be flush and in
full contact with the top.
The bridge should be positioned so that the back
side of the bridge (the side facing the tailpiece)
is perpendicular to the top or belly of the
instrument. The slightly beveled and breasted
contour of the side facing the tailpiece can impart
the illusion of the bridge being slightly tipped
backwards; however, the back of the bridge should
still be perfectly straight.
How can I tell if my bridge is in the right place?
While there are more precise methods of determining
proper bridge location, an approximate placement can
be achieved by aligning the feet of the bridge
between the inner notches of the f-holes. If the
bridge has been knocked off the instrument, do not
attempt to replace the bridge before first checking
to see that the instrument is undamaged and that the
sound-post has not fallen. When in doubt, have the
instrument checked by a qualified repair person.
Never glue the bridge to the instrument.
How do I straighten my bridge?
A relatively safe technique for straightening a
bridge is to carefully pinch the string right next
to the bridge between thumb and forefinger. By
squeezing the fingers together and rolling them
against the bridge, lateral pressure is applied
against the top face of the bridge, pushing it
slightly backwards (or forwards, depending on which
side the pressure needs to be applied). Repeat with
each string, in turn, until the bridge is once again
perpendicular. If the bridge is significantly
warped, have the instrument serviced promptly,
before the bridge collapses or breaks.
Better to have avoided this situation in the first
place, by having checked that the bridge was
perpendicular after each tuning; it is easier (and
less traumatic) to correct a slight bridge lean,
than have to address a situation where the bridge is
substantially tilted and the feet are no longer in
full contact with the top.
When do I need to change strings?
Strings will eventually lose their original
responsiveness. Replace aging strings at regular
intervals, commensurate with use. For some players,
it may be a few months; for others, a few years. A
general rule of thumb is to change strings every six
months or so.
How do I change the strings on my instrument?
Replace strings one at a time, to prevent the
soundpost from falling, and reduce stress on the
instrument itself. Before removing the old strings,
inspect the area around the nut and bridge; if the
strings are being pinched, or have cut deeply into
the grooves (they may even be flush with the top of
the nut or bridge!), take the instrument to a
qualified repair person for service. The strings
should rest roughly a third of the way into the
After removing the old string, check the grooves in
the nut and bridge for wear or sharp edges. A bit of
soft pencil lead applied in the grooves will reduce
friction and help the string slide smoothly over the
bridge or nut.
When string adjusters are not being used, pass
replacement strings through the tailpiece holes from
underneath the tailpiece. The string should then
extend straight from the tailpiece hole, over the
saddle or fret, to the bridge – do not thread the
string back through the ball or loop at the end of
the string. Wind the string on the pegs so that the
string passes over the peg and not under it, and
progresses from the peg hole towards the peg box
walls. Make sure that the string does not overlap or
cross over itself, nor contact the peg box wall.
Whether steel, nylon, or gut, take the time to
gradually bring the string up to pitch. Avoid
over-tuning, which may damage the strings, and guard
against the top of the bridge being pulled forwards
as new strings are being brought up to pitch.
Do I need to use string adjusters?
String adjusters, or fine tuners, need only be used
when steel core strings are installed on an
instrument. The relative elasticity of gut and
synthetic core strings obviates the need for fine
tuners with these more pliant core materials.
E-strings in synthetic or gut core violin sets
typically have a metal core, and E-string adjusters
should always be installed with these strings.
For ease of tuning, many educators do request four
fine tuners regardless of the type of string being
used. Special wide slot string adjusters are
commonly available for synthetic and gut core
strings. Alternatively, the slot on a standard
string adjuster may be carefully spread to
accommodate the slightly thicker synthetic or gut
My string adjusters are stuck!
Often, when a string adjuster screw will no longer
turn, it is because the arm of the adjuster has been
fully extended. Care must be taken that the arm of
the adjuster below the tailpiece is not pressing
against the top of the instrument itself.
To remedy the situation, turn the adjustment screw
counter-clock-wise, and then raise the string back
to pitch by using the peg. Usage of string adjusters
which have protective sleeves (Buschmann tuners),
will help prevent damage from the string adjuster.
Another possibility is that the adjuster simply
needs to be lubricated. The screw threads could also
be cross-threaded, or the screw shaft may be bent;
if so, the string adjuster should be replaced.
When does my fingerboard need to be replaced?
Fingerboards can eventually wear out or become
warped, and need to be replaned, scraped or
replaced. Signs of wear include pits from fingers,
longitudinal grooves from string wear, or overall
warpage. The instrument may then buzz, or intonation
problems may be experienced.
There’s a buzz in my instrument.
Chances are, a buzz or rattling sound in the
instrument is not caused by a loose bass bar, but
something much more prosaic. Likely culprits
include: loose sliding (Si-Hon-style) mute or loose
string adjusters (don’t forget to check the lock
nuts, too), loose string winding, loose purfling or
decorative fittings, loose or badly worn
fingerboards (these often open at the base of the
neck), and open seams or cracks.
By holding the instrument by the neck and gently
rapping all around the top and back, an open seam
can often be located by the slight rattle it will
On celli, if too much of the endpin is retracted in
the body, the pin may buzz when the instrument is
When new violins are varnished, sometimes a bit of
varnish dries in the narrow opening of the f-hole,
and when the instrument is played, the dried varnish
What is a wolf tone?
Wolf tones occur when strong sympathetic vibrations
instrument itself interfere with string vibration.
The sensation may
manifest itself in pulsation, throbbing, roughness,
frequency, or difficulty in drawing the tone from
To a greater or lesser degree, wolf tones are
present on all
instruments, even the finest Stradivari, caused by
excess tension, or
an anomaly in design or graduation. Typically, wolf
tones can be
heard (and felt) when playing B or B flat on the
violin, B flat or C on
the viola, and E to F sharp on the cello (especially
in fourth position
on the G-string.)
Most good players learn to compensate for the wolf
Vibrato can often make the wolf disappear; cellists
squeeze the lower bout with a knee when playing in
areas where the
What can I do if my instrument has a bad wolf tone?
Adjusting or refitting the soundpost or bridge,
installing a thicker
soundpost, or fitting an internal wolf resonator can
help tame the
wolf, but, before taking drastic steps, try the
First, make sure that the instrument has no open
seams or areas that
have come unglued. A loose soundpost can often be
the culprit, and
may be caused by a loose bottom seam on the treble
side, or even
too much humidity, which causes the instrument to
If the instrument is sound, try:
1. Changing the offending string to a thinner gauge
2. Using a Si-Hon style mute, which dampens the area
around the tailpiece, or twisting a Tourte-style so
it wedges between the strings.
3. Fitting a wolf-tone eliminator on the string
behind the bridge. Moving the eliminator closer or
further from the bridge can alter
the pitch, and by placing it on a quarter tone or
less vital note, reduce the frequency of the wolf to
some degree. Once the optimum location is
identified, the eliminator can then be locked in
position by tightening the adjustment screw.
4. Altering the sympathetic vibration of the
strings. One way is to fractionally lengthen the
tailpiece loop (which will slightly shorten the
overall string length).
5. Using a heavier tailpiece. Often, switching from
a synthetic tailpiece to an ebony or metal tailpiece
will noticeably reduce a wolf tone.
Can harmonics help tune my instrument?
Bowing while lightly touching a string at ½ its
length, sounds a pitch an octave higher; 1/3 its
length, an octave and a fifth; ¼ its length, a
double octave; 1/5 its length, two octaves and a
third; and 1/6 its length, two octaves and a fifth.
Familiarity with harmonics often facilitates tuning,
especially for bass. Touching the D-string at 1/3
its length sounds the same pitch as touching the
A-string at ¼ its length. This also applies to the
other adjacent strings.
When should the bow be re-haired?
Generally, when the ribbon of hair is so thin that
there are not enough to perform their function
properly, or when the ribbon has become uneven, the
bow should be rehaired. Playing on a bow that has
had too many hairs broken on one side can actually
cause the stick to warp. Caked or dirty hair can be
cleaned occasionally with mild liquid detergent, but
should only be done with utmost care taken not to
get the bow wet – beware especially of capillary
action wicking moisture into the mortises.
In winter, bow hair may shrink due to lack of
humidity, preventing the bow from being properly
loosened. Likewise, summer humidity may cause the
hair to stretch to such an extent that the bow can
no longer be tightened. Either scenario is reason
enough to take the bow to a qualified repair person
to shorten, lengthen, or even rehair the bow.
As of April 3, 2008
The new Greenwich/Cos Cob address is:
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Cos Cob, CT 06807
The new address for the Riverside School
of Music that is located in Greenwich/Cos Cob
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Cos Cob, CT 06807
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Westport, CT 06880
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