Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I have recently taken to adjusting my fiddle for best playability and comfort. I am very interested in what you folks think is comfortable for our style of playing…such as what you are using for shoulder rests (if at all), or chin rests (do they sit on the side or are they centered….etc.) any other measure folks are using to taking to ensure better sound, ease of play, and comfort.

Another important adjustment is the height of the bridge (and determining the best height of the strings from the fingerboard)…is there more of a standard being used or are folks going by comfort??

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I use a center chin rest because after 12 years of playing I find it most comfortable. I still havn’t found a really comfortable shoulder rest…right now I’m using a Menuhin but heard that they aren’t being made any more. Sometimes a sponge is best, but it tends to dampen the sound. As for height of the bridge I had it lowered and slightly flattend on my fiddle, but I keep it nicely curved, and high from my classical playing. With string height it matters how hard you want to press your fingers down on the finger board and how many string crossings you do. I like a flatter bridge and lower string height for fiddle because it’s easter to play double-stops and fast notes. I hope this helps. Ultimately you just have to try different things until you find what works for you.

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I use no shoulder rest or chin rest and support the body of the fiddle with the heel of my. Contrary to popular belief this does not prevent the use of higher positions although I rarely feel the need to do so. This style of grip does not permit the type of vibrato used by modern classical players.

As to bridge height and profile, I like the strings to be a little closer to the fingerboard than standard classical (if there is a standard) and flatter in profile than most classical prayers would use. The flatter profile makes rapid string crossings and string ringing easier.

I endorse what esfiddle says in that you have to try a few things to find out what suits you.

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

Concerning shoulder rests, I have long found that I play better and more comfortably without one. Its absence gives me more freedom of movement in holding the fiddle.

Historically, of course, the shoulder rest is a recent innovation, and was hardly known before WW2. In the old days a player might use a cloth pad between fiddle and collar bone, or might turn over his coat lapel if so inclined. Some classical violinists are now returning to playing without a shoulder rest, and in the ITM field if you go to workshops and concerts, especially in Ireland, you’ll see some eminent ITM players not using them.

The chinrest is rather older, dating back to about 1820 (it was invented, or at least put forward to the public, by the violinist-composer Spohr). Before then, a player might rest their chin gently on the tailpiece or on the belly of the instrument. Paganini’s Guarnerius violin had most of its varnish worn away in one area by doing this. One player today who uses neither shoulder rest nor chinrest is Oisin Mac Diarmid - one of the most relaxed looking players you’ll see around.

During the scoil eigse at Clonmel in August I inadvertently found I could play quite effectively without a chinrest when the thread stripped on one of its old brass tie rods and the thing started flapping around. I’ve since got another one, but it’s nice to know it’s possible to cope in an emergency. The technique I adopted for not using one is to rest the fiddle on my collarbone and let the tailpiece rest gently against the left side of my jaw - this stops the instrument from sliding across to my right - and my chin doesn’t quite touch the belly. If I go up the positions and come back down again to the root position (not normally necessary in ITM, but I do play other stuff) all I need to do is to slightly grip the tailpiece with my chin to briefly stabilise the fiddle.

One possible advantage of not using a chin rest, and possibly not using a shoulder rest either, is that the instrument seems to be definitely more resonant and responsive, and freer to use. But that’s my personal impression.

What it all boils down to is how comfortable and relaxed you feel, and this depends so much on the individual, their anatomy, and even psychological approach to playing.

When fitting a chinrest try to set it so that its contact with the belly is aboslutely minimal and doesn’t hinder the vibrations. I do this by perching the rest as close as possible to the edge. I’ve seen so many players not pay attention to this, and their fiddles are consequently not as responsive as they might be.

As regards the height of the bridge and the best height of the strings from the fingerboard I’m more than happy to await input from the expert makers and repairers among us. I’ll just say that one significant factor may be your choice of string - steel core or synthetic.

Trevor

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

Rosenun, I know many classical players who like to have the strings as close as possible to the finger board as long as they don’t actually buzz even when played loudly. This makes for much more rapid and easier playing.

Btw, I have no problems with vibrato in the absence of a shoulder rest, or even a chinrest.

Trevor

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

Ah well, there goes another myth, or two.

I certainly found that throwing away the shoulder rest and especially the chin rest improved the tonal response of my fiddle.

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I swapped a centered chinrest to a side-chinrest, and dramatically improved the sound of my fiddle, as the old (centered) touched the tailpiece (stringholder). I also changed my ivory tailpiece with four finetuners to an auminium one with intergrated finetuners. This took a lot of weight of the strings, and gave them a more sensible angle, going over the bridge. All I have to do now is to sand down the fingerboard and glue the crack in the lid.

PS! When I say I did this that and the other, it’s not entirely true. I brought my fiddle and a couple of beers to my fiddlemaker one night……..

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

*Slightly* off-topic, but anyone who’s worried about what throwing the shoulder rest and chin rest away might do to their playing (or who harbours "received" opinions from other players regarding what gut strings are and aren’t capable of, for that matter) might have their fears laid to rest by getting a look at a good baroque player such as Andrew Manze - no chin rest, no shoulder rest, and no problem with stylistically appropriate vibrato or playing in positions.

It doesn’t suit everybody and I’m not saying there is any inherent merit in playing that way *but* for those who suspect they might be better off without all these after-market bolt-on attachments on their fiddles, it does show that *some* people manage very nicely without them. And of course, some don’t, it’s all horses for courses.

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Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I have a low bridge that is tapered towards the E. The G and A are about the same hight off the belly, the D is a little less than a 1/2cm higher, and the E is about 1/2cm lower. The fingerboard is also tapered the same way. This makes string crossings and double-stops very easy and clean. I havn’t seen this set up often, but I love the ease of playing that comes with it. I think it’s as important to have the curvature of the bridge and fingerboard match as having the bridge the right hight.

No shoulder rest for me. I do have a chinrest, but I only use it when I first pick up my fiddle, or to shift out of position. I hold my fiddle between my thumb and the bottom knuckle of my first finger. My wrist is still strait so I don’t have intonation and tone quality issues, but my arm supports the weight of the fiddle. (I really wish I could get away with that on viola. The darn thing is killing by back!) This way I can move my head around, talk to people, call out tune names, etc. without interrupting the tune. (at least in theory. talking and playing at the same time still isn’t easy.)

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

You could call me lazy, but to me it’s about economy of motion. I have very low action on my strings, to allow me to do more with less effort, rather than fighting to push down strings high above the fingerboard. My bridge is relatively flat, rather than curved. I use a chinrest and a Kun shoulder rest (the kind that clamps on across the back of the instrument), which allow me to support the violin without using my left hand and give me freedom of movement up and down the fingerboard. I also keep my wrist straight. My background is classical, as you might guess. Does anyone know if this set-up prohibits playing in any particular style? As far as I know, it allows for as much versatility as possible, but "as far as I know" doesn’t go very far.

Thanks,
Carol

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I think I mentioned this in a previous thread on a similar topic : my fiddle set-up is such that I have the same posture before as after placing the fiddle on my shoulder, ie it’s ‘slotted in’ naturally between my shoulder and chin, and I’m always looking straight ahead - so no undue twisting or ‘squinting’.

I’ve got a standard side-chinrest, and a Forte Primo shoulder rest, with the bottom part bent to the contour of my shoulder. I’m of a fairly slim build with an average length neck, so it works for me, but the same setup might not work for someone built like Bob Hoskins (ie no neck - so ditch the shoulder rest and possibly the chinrest as well!)

Interesting point about flatter bridge/low action : my Yamaha electric violin has a classical high action/steep curved bridge, dimensions of which are almost exactly what my acoustic is….anyway, a famous big boy (name withheld out of respect and who has very low string action and flattish bride), tried my Yamaha one evening at my gig…..he was so taken with the difference in the sound, that after playing three or four tunes perfectly, remarked that he liked the tone. When I asked him how he found the action, he looked at the fingerboard and bridge, and exclaimed, "F*** Jaysus (etc etc) - I never noticed it till you pointed it out!"….Makes you think. doesn’t it?

Carol - I personally don’t have a low action, simply because it degrades the tone, and limits the amount of ‘punch’ you can give with the bow (3-part chords etc) - does your *economy of motion* include only just lifting the fingers off the string, ie just enough to clear the string, so less up-and-down movement when playing rapid passage work? From your description I don’t think your setup would be prohibitive for playing any regional Irish style.
Some of the *big and famous* IT players have fiddle setups which would, on sight, cause me to shake my head in disbelief…but, they still manage to get a good sound for the type of music they play. As you might have guessed, I’m from a heavy-duty + strict classical background, but I don’t have any hint of a *classical* sound when I play ITM. Anyone who’s heard me play will second that.

Having said all that, Tish has really summed it up in meaning that people really just *do what’s best for them* with regard to fiddle setup.

Jim

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I’ve been told by a violin repairer that the *correct* way to lower the action is not to lower the bridge - as Jim says, that can degrade the tone - but to raise the fingerboard. This is done by gluing a thin wedge between the fingerboard and the neck. Naturally, this is a skilled job and a fairly expensive option, and I can imagine it’s more likely to be chosen by those players with instruments that are worth having it done.
Trevor

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I use a bridge radius of 61 mm

and mostly a Dresden chinrest.

-dogma

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

There is an alternative to the standard chinrest - it’s not common now, but I suspect it was used quite a lot a long time ago. I found it in a second-hand shop a couple of years ago, cleaned it up and have been using it on my old German fiddle for well over a year now.

This alternative to the standard chinrest is a strip of ebony which fits on the lower edge of the fiddle’s belly on the G-string side of the tailpiece, more or less where the standard chinrest is normally located. It is about 3 inches long and is curved to follow the curvature of the edge of the fiddle. It is 3/8 inch high and wide at the tailpiece end and tapers gradually to 1/4 inch high and wide at the far end. A small bit of ebony about 1/2 x 1/4 x 1/4 inch is located in a corresponding position against the back plate of the fiddle, and the two pieces of ebony are held in place on the fiddle by a single adjustable brass tie rod (as used with a standard chinrest) connected to them. The back and front of the fiddle are protected by thin pieces of cork which I glued to the pieces of ebony. Sharp edges and corners of these pieces of ebony were apparently chamfered smooth during the making.

The effect is that of a neat little raised "lip" running for 3 inches along the lower edge of the belly plate, with virtually no impingement on the vibrating part of the belly. I don’t actually rest my chin on it - so it’s not a chinrest as such - but it stops the fiddle from sliding out from under my chin, effectively acting as an anchor. It feels very secure, is light and unobtrusive, doesn’t affect the tone, and allows complete freedom in playing, including going up and down the fingerboard.

This device is not made commercially now, as far as I know, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to make if you can do a bit of carpentry. I very recently found another one in the "remainders" bin of a local violin shop, bought it for a nominal amount, cleaned it up, and fitted it to my second fiddle, so both instruments now have identical "feel" when I play them.

If anyone is interested in seeing a photo of the one in place on my old fiddle please email me and I’ll email an attachment consisting of a couple of jpegs (total about 30kB). Btw, I don’t think it’s possible to send attachments via thesession.org’s email service for members, so I’ll need an alternative email address from anyone wanting to see these pics.

Trevor

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

Tim, I started out without a shoulder rest - the chinrest on my first fiddle is fairly high and my neck is short-ish. I still don

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Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I really appreciate all of the comments made…this has been a very productive ‘chat session’ for me. I half expected the answer of ’ whatever is most comfortable for you is best…’ and I tend to agree…it is both player as well as instrument specific. It is useful to hear the experiences of others though…

I have tried a few of the suggestions already…I have been a traditional classically practiced musician, so leaving the chin rest (or the Kun) in the case is difficult for me, however, most recently (and especially) since my trip to Cape Breton I have noticed that I am holding the fiddle lower and resting it in between my thumb and forefinger more often…and I tend to lift my head and look around the room more during a session with more control while still keeping with tone/control..(So I believe that some of my techinique and habits have some psychological implications…I have been dependant on the chin rest so I think I need it…perhaps I don’t) I’ll tell you what slipping out of that ‘classical stance’ does help the back and neck..(it shouldn’t be *so* painful to do something you love!)…I’d like to get rid of the Kun though I never can adjust it comfortable anymore the thing is a real pain in the a$$…but I have a more difficult time without it…I think I may tray the idea with the cloth on the shoulder for a while and see how it works.

As for string height this is still in the experimental phase for me….since I have been working on this I have had folks tell me to the very milimeter what a bridge height should be and to what degree of angle the G and E should be. (my history with classical guitar lead me to think that a low bridge gives me the advantage of speed and ease across the strings) this is true with the violin as well, however, I loose a lot with projection. Projection is not a big deal when I am am hooked up to a piazo and a PA but its too quiet what playin’ acoustically….I like the ease of the flatter bridge for double stops (but it can get sloppy if I am not careful)…Well I will keep up with the scientific process and experimentation! ( I now have four bridges that I am playing with….I may have to go with the one that is not to low..for tone and projection,…not too high…for speed and ease,…and slightly curved for good double stops and clean cuts! lol

My next question would be what brand stings are folks using?
I have always used ‘Dominants’ but I am finding the higher tones a little harsh…what your feeling on stings?

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I’m allergic to bee stings, and also to threads about whistling e strings.
(A search for "Pirazzi" will take you to some old threads about different string brands and qualities :o)

Posted .

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

I use Helicore strings, they stabilize quickly after you put them on and they have a nice clear tone. I used to use Dominants, but the A string came unwound after a month of heavy playing!

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

There are many reasons why strings can unwind (apart from a manufacturing defect) and have been discussed many times on these threads. To summarise the more important points,
1) Ensure the grooves in the nut and the bridge are smooth (use a soft lead pencil) and have no sharp edges.
2) Try to avoid the last turn of the string on the peg pressing against the inside of the peg-box - this can cause premature string failure.
3) Keep fingernails short, and in any case don’t let them touch the strings when playing.
4) Keep the skin of the finger tips clean and smooth.
5) Try to have the string action fairly low (close to the fingerboard). This lessens the increase in tension on the string when playing.
6) Don’t press the strings too hard with the fingers - it’s rarely necessary and wastes energy.
7) Don’t play the wood of the bow on the string - it doesn’t often happen, but when it does it’s no good for either string or bow!
8) When fitting new strings don’t over-tension them - it will shorten the life of the string. Bring it up to pitch rather than down.
9) Keep the strings clean from a build-up of rosin. Wipe them off after playing and every now and then do a thorough clean with isopropanol on a clean cloth, but keep the stuff well away from the varnish and the fingerboard.
Trevor

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

Treabhar,

I have found it only has happened with the Dominant strings and not other brands I have tried. When I went to the fiddle shop and asked about it, they said that Dominants tend to unwind more than Helicores. You have some good information about strings that I can apply, I will keep these points in mind, I appreciate it!

Re: Fiddle Adjustments and Bridge Tips

Oh and Trev, the fiddle shop did check your points: 1, 2, 5, 8 & 9. I don’t do 3, 4 or 7, but 6 might apply to me, as I do slides sometimes up with my 1st or 2nd finger on the A string, I am sure that might contribute to any unraveling. I have been known to press too hard on strings, need to relax while playing! Thanks again for these tips..

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The tone of your instrument kind of determines what kind of string to use. I used Dominants for a while, but I thought they sounded too harsh on my instrument (it has a big, bright voice). I now use Obligatos. The were described to me as "Dominants for those who don’t like Dominants". They are synthetic and have a warmer sound. I think Dominants are better for an instrument with darker richer voice.