The Violins Adjustments that can turn your instrument into a whole new one

Workshop Insights
5 October 70

If you want to get the most out of your violin in the long run, it is important to take good care of it! Whether you’re looking to increase the value for selling on or want to ensure plenty more years playing a quality instrument. Everyday care is crucial, but also, if you feel like you need something extra from your instrument, small adjustments can make a huge difference.

An instrument is a good instrument on its whole, so you need to pay attention to all the small details that, in the end, will have the instrument in its full potential. So to help you have the best experience with your instrument, there are a few things you should do and know about your violin.

 

Check if the violin is not unglued in any part

Changes in humidity levels can cause seams to open and cracks to appear in the instrument, especially in vulnerable areas like the top. These disbondings are detected by minor hits throughout the surface, identifying the hollow sounds that are clear.

 

Keep your bridge at a 90-degree angle with the top of the violin

To check it, you can use anything you have at home that makes a 90-degree angle like in the picture shown, and it could be a business card, bookmark, rule, etc. The bridge receives a lot of pressure when the strings are vibrating, so it might happen to its shape to be twisted, slant, or warped; always certify that it is standing vertically straight in the top plate, with a sharp 90 degrees angle.

This check improves the resistance needed to support the strings’ pressure, prevents you from changing the bridge every now and then, and maintains the set-up in its ideal configuration. When adjusting it, make sure to lose a bit of the string to facilitate the movement. 

If the angle between the bridge and the strings is not symmetric the bridge will receive more pressure on one side than the other, causing it to warp very easily. This check is important to keep this angle symmetric on both sides to distribute all the pressure the bridge receives from playing evenly.

And what problems a warped bridge can cause

When you have a warped bridge, it will make it difficult to transmit the vibrations, making it an unbalanced one. 

All of the instrument’s vibration is transmitted through the bridge, both on the back and on the front as well as on it as a whole. So if the bridge is warped or twisted, it will definitely affect the sound as the vibration won’t go through both sides equally as it should, and therefore there will be a slight delay in the sound. 

It is a minimal deformation on the sound, seconds of delay. But for an instrument, everything must be in order.

When the bridge bends, it also modifies the string’s height. It puts more pressure and destabilizes the bridge’s foot base hence affecting the transmission. Be careful because if the bridge is too warped, it can break or fall.

 

Bridge curvature and its types

It is important to be able to play the center strings without touching the others. That is an ability conquered when the musician achieves a more experience level. As you evolve, so does your playing, you can always ask your luthier to change the curvature to a professional level, having it slightly flatter. 

Here is an important tip for you: observe the strings’ height and position. Turn your instrument like this and look at the strings in this way, the D string must be higher than the A string. 

The A string is shorter and denser, while the D is higher. in order to have a good balance while you play this configuration must be respected. If you feel uncomfortable while playing, this could be a sign that the curvature is wrong or exaggerated.

 

Strings spacing, the ideal measurements

The distance between the strings must be equal. In a violin, the distance between the G and E strings is usually around 33mm and 34mm. You can easily measure this position with a ruler.

 

The F’s notches: what are they and how does it affects the string’s length?

The f notches are central insertions made in the f-holes. They are the acoustic center of the violin. They act as a reference point to the diapason, which is the length between the superior region of the edge and the f notch. The standard measurement of the diapason is 195mm, but it can change depending on the violin model. The Guarneri model ranges between 188mm and 197mm. On a Stradivari model, this variation is smaller.

The diapason is also used to calculate the string length. To do that you will need the diapason length + the neck length (which ranges between 130mm and 131mm) + 3mm of the bridge inclination. This will sum up to a string length between 325mm and 330mm. A value higher than 330mm will provoke tighter strings that will hinder playability. A value below 325mm results in looser strings.

The ideal position of the bridge is in the middle of the f notch, but of course, you can change the bridge position around the f notches to vary the string length and obtain a different sound, but always keep in mind that the bridge must be at a 90-degree angle. Many musicians do this, and even Paganini used to do quite a lot. By observing Il Cannone you will notice the wear below the bridge, which means he used to change its position according to what he would play.

This can also be done by moving the soundpost, however, we do not advise musicians to do it so. It is much easier to move the bridge, especially if you don’t have the right equipment to move the sound post. But if you want to do it, don’t forget to lose the strings a little bit and check the length between the strings in the fingerboard, it must be visually equal. 

 

The afterlength – it’s time to understand all about it

When moving the bridge, to find a better string length, it will directly affect the afterlength, which is the distance between the bridge and the tailpiece’s nut. The afterlength distance can be set as 1/6 of the string length or 1/5. So, if you divide the string length by 6, you’ll get an afterlength of 53/54mm. 

This distance is calculated so that the strings in the afterlength part are in tune. This tuning is fundamental, as it will bring a much more colorful sound and more open harmonics. It is necessary to have this correct distance for the instrument to sound properly.

But how can you tune in this part?

First, grab your bow, and keep in mind that when the afterlength is set of 1/6, the G string in this region has to sound close to the D note. So play and see if it sounds close to the D; if not, you need to adjust the distance from the bridge a little to find the correct intonation.

This is a tip that really changes the sound quality of your instrument, and the harmonics will open up. Another distance option is 1/5. If we put the two instruments together, you can see this difference. By dividing the string length by 5, the distance will be around 63, 64mm. 

For this to happen, you need a smaller tailpiece, around 100mm long. It is not a ¾ tailpiece, it is a 4/4 shorter tailpiece. Some instruments sound better with this setting, and they open up the sound more with a greater distance. However, this varies a lot, and it will depend on how the instrument behaves and how the vibration occurs within the instrument. 

Sometimes the violin opens up and vibrates more with this greater distance. This region must also be tuned, and the G string must be a B. If needed, you can tune it by adjusting the bridge, but don’t forget, these are slight variations.

A Very important reminder: This distance is not usual, not everyone does it, but it is good to know it can be done!!