Fiddlers Green

Fiddlers Green

A Chairde,
I suppose this one is for fiddlers less green. Ouch! it hurts when I press down those strings. But then, like the pagan chieftain that St. Patrick was baptising at the well when the crozier injured his foot and didn’t cry out because he thought the pain was part and parcel of the ritual, me too with the fiddling. Aren’t we supposed to suffer for our art? Well yesterday I had an experience that called all that into question. I visited a music shop and tried out two fiddles. What, no pain? Strings practically lying on the f/board. Is this what it’s supposed to be like?

My QUESTION is, to all you fiddle gurus, how high above the f/board should the strings be? Go raibh maith agaibh.
mairtin temp -23 Celsius

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Well I’m not a fiddler, but I’m at work and border so I’ll say that from this mandolinists perspective the lower the action the better. My el cheapo mando gets quite high from the 6th fret or so upwards, and it *hurts* little pinky to press down that much harder. And it doesn’t do wonders for my playing speed either.

However, my friend’s Gibson has an adjustable bridge and - like you say - his strings practically touch the frets when at rest, and lord it is *so* much easier to play!

The only plus side of having a high action that I can see is that ones little finger gets stronger than it otherwise would.

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

"Border"?

I meant to say "BORED" of course. And how.

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Thanks, Reuben, I had forgotten about the other string players. I guess I’m becoming too focused. I can certainly relate to what you say. The fiddles I played yesterday almost seemed like they should be illegal, they were so easy. Slan.
mairtin

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Getting the action, the height of the strings above the fingerboard, adjusted is largely a matter of shaping the nut and the bridge … a good luthier can do it for relatively cheaply.

My current fiddle is set up at a standard height, but since I only use steel strings I probably should get it lowered a little. It’s about
3mm on the E, and 5mm on the G.

Playing your fiddle should NOT hurt, if you’re in pain when you play something is wrong.

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Thanks rz, the best Irish fiddler we have had in these parts is John Kroczynski. Sadly, he’s too busy now in his restaurant to attend our seisiuin. Slan.
mairtin

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

I found when I switched from Tomastik Dominant to Tomastic Precision, the latter steel strings were a lot kinder to my fingers, not digging quite so much into the fingers after a long period playing.

Posted by .

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Reuben -

I’m border too!

Where do you hail from? (no profile).

If you’d like to bring me your mandolin, I’ll modify it to make a better action if you like. Usually I make a new bridge and modify the zero fret. This is a thing I’ve done on a lot of mandolins round here - especially the cheaper ones - and I have always managed to make them much nicer to play, and with a better sound too.

Frozen - when Trevor spots this post he’ll give you the correct answer I’m sure; but basically its almost certainly a matter of shaping the bridge better. Bridges as bought are made to be shaped to suit the individual instrument and player - mebbe yours never got done.

Dave

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Hi Dave,

I’m in West London (guess I should update my profile!) and my only mandolin, my pride and joy for all the pain it gives me, is a guitar-shaped Crafter with a "saddle" bridge (according to my pal). When my missus first saw it she swore it was no mandolin, but a guitar made for an elf! It has been known as the ‘elf guitar’ ever since.

I did take the strings off once and take the white bit of the bridge out (which sits loosely in a wooden mould fixed to the mandolin body) and filed it down a millimetre or so, which helped, but I’m loath to fiddle with it further. If you’re an expert in such things and I can reach you, I’d be most grateful for some assistance!

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Dave: Forgot to say that I’m moving to Manchester soon … where abouts in NW England are you?

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

As far as mandolins etc are concerned, lower action is better for melody playing including "tunes" but for chords and accompaniment it’s probably better to have it a little higher. You’ll also get a brighter tone. However, it’s often a matter of personal preference and it can,as Dave points out be adjusted. Personally, I like a happy medium i.e low enough to play melodies easily but the strings should clear the frets so there’s no buzzing.

My fiddle has quite a nice action too, although I’ve tried some which are even lower. Again, the bridge can be cut and fitted to suit by a good luthier.

I agree that your fingers shouldn’t be hurting either, unless you’re an absolute beginner who has never picked up a stringed instrument before.

John

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

The other thing you can do with almost any instrument is hold it by the thin end and smack it on the table a couple of times.

Always alters the tone and the action.

Dave 🙂

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Frozen, as Dave and others have said, the lower the strings the better, as long as they don’t buzz against the fingerboard with your most energetic bowing.
Exactly how low depends on a number of factors. If you are using entirely steel strings they’ll need to be lower than if you’re using the slightly thicker synthetic or gut-cored strings. The G and D strings are more "floppy" than the A and E, so more fingerboard clearance is necessary. The bridge should therefore be contoured to match the contour of the fingerboard appropriately. If the bridge is cut down to bring the strings closer to the fingerboard the tone will tend to be quieter - this is because the bridge is an integral part of the vibrating structure that is the violin (it isn’t a passive component).
Ideally, if you want to retain the tonal quality from the current bridge and soundpost setup AND reduce the clearance between the strings and the fingerboard, then the fingerboard should be raised towards the strings. This is done by placing an accurately shaped slim wedge between the fingerboard and the neck. This is a relatively expensive option, and wouldn’t normally be considered by most players.
Another important thing that may need to be looked at is the depth of the grooves through which the strings pass at the nut end of the fingerboard. If these grooves aren’t deep enough then cutting the bridge down will make hardly any difference to the height of the strings for the first few notes on the fingerboard (consider the geometry of the system), which is where the clearance really matters for comfortable playing.
Finally, if you have an old or well-used fiddle the fingerboard will wear preferentially in certain places, and with low string clearance certain notes can buzz. I had this problem once on my cello - a buzzy E and F on the A -string. The solution is to have the fingerboard planed flat along its length.
All the suggestions I’ve mentioned, if put into effect, should be done by a skilled luthier who should be able to advise you on what’s necessary for your strings and tonal and playing requirements. There is nothing I have mentioned that can, or should, be attempted by the non-specialist.
Trevor

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir/Thanks everyone,

Lots of good analysis and advice. BTW, you can call me mairtin (rather than frozen) as I hope the f-name will no longer apply in May when the snow should finally disappear.

Scott, I checked out that site but couldn’t find the string heights you referred to. Dave, I checked my heights against the standards you gave and mine do not seem to be excessive. I’d have to say that the store fiddles did not come up to your minimums for string height.

Trevor, you seem to be the acknowledged guru and I read your comments carefully. In line with your advice, I will find the best qualified person I can to make the adjustments. I don’t believe we have a luthier here, but we have shops where they do violin repairs, often in conjunction with teaching violin. I should have mentioned that violin is as it was in my father’s time, but playable, and with older steel strings. I think I will replace those with synthetic, unless I hear a chorus of Dont, Dont, Dont. Re your energetic bowing comment, since I’m a beginner and doing everything slowly, it might be hard for me to judge between the present tentative me and the more confident and skilled (I hope) me bowing 1 or 2 or 5 years down the road. If I understand you to be saying that the contours of f/board and bridge should match, I checked this visually and they do not. I do not see much wear to the f/board itself, but I do know the fiddle has been played regularly since 1908 at least. However, I don’t know if dad ever had the f/b planed or replaced. Once again, go raibh maith agaibh.

mairtin, still frozen

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

I have a different theory here. The fiddles you played that didn’t hurt had a lower action - and I’d be willing to bet you were using a different part of your fingers to play. I’d also be willing to bet that the pain is simply part of building calouses, and if you lower the action on your fiddle, shift which part of your finger you’re using… you’ll end up having the same pain a bit down the road. You might just have to work through it until your fingers toughen up.

Posted by .

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Thanks for the advice, Glenn. While I can see that what you say is plausible, I don’t think I’ll go with your conclusion in the final sentence. In other words, I’ll go to the luthier with the idea of lowering the action and probably change strings too. Although, I’ll probably ask her first to take a look and tell me what she thinks. Slan.
mairtin, temp rising at -14 C

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Mairtin, another point that occurs to me - are you trying to press your fingers too hard down onto the fingerboard?
In fact, it isn’t always necessary to have the string itself in contact with the fingerboard. When you press a string down, the finger itself comes into contact with the fingerboard long before the string does; if you continue the pressure the string will then make contact, but the pitch may sharpen slightly. It takes significant effort to get that string-fingerboard contact (so therefore more tiring), and a little extra time (a few milliseconds perhaps, but it mounts up), so fast fingerwork will be just that bit harder. The change in tone quality when the string contacts the fingerboard is generally insignificant, especially in a session or group situation.
Of course, this advice isn’t mandatory for all occasions! For instance, if you’re playing a long note with a bit of emphasis you may want to get that full contact, so go for it.
Trevor

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

Thanks again, Trevor. There’s no doubt I am pressing the string to the f/board, and I hadn’t thought through the mechanics of finger vs string to the board. Although my father never succeeded in teaching me the fiddle (maybe I never learned from him is more correct), I do remember him stressing the importance of pressing the string down all the way. (That, and no more than the weight of the bow on the string are about all I can remember well). So, this is news to me, and I’ll certainly try it and observe outcomes. Slan go foill.
mairtin

Re: FIDDLERS GREEN

I have found that the clearance of the strings to the f/board is to ones own preference. I have made some special fiddles for freinds that barely had any space, other have had alot. It is easier to play for longer periods when the gaps are closer. The less space can also improove the speed of the fingers for faster tunes (jigs@reels). Check my web page, i can answer any questions on line or by snail mail or phone
russ