Parts of the Violin

Knowing the different parts of your instrument helps in care and maintenance, and goes a long way to keep your violin out of the repair shop for years to come!

The scroll and neck is made from a single piece of maple. The scroll consists of a decorative head and a peg box. Neck is the part of the instrument that you have the most contact with. The thickness, rounding and finish must be exactly right, otherwise its like having a stone in your shoe – most irritating and uncomfortable. Neck heel is the part of the neck that is joint to the body. Volute or ear is a decorative spiral.

Violin pegs are posts on which the strings are wound, and are usually made from ebony – a black, hard wood. (other woods used are Rosewood and Boxwood) Ebony comes from (Diospyros ebenum) Africa, India, Srilanka and Indonesia. Shaped to have precisely the same taper as the peg hole, the pegs should turn and hold without applying too much pressure.

Stiff or slipping pegs are common problems. The three main reasons behind peg problems are:

  • Seasonal humidity variations
  • Improperly wound strings
  • Poor peg fit

Slipping pegs are common during the winter because pegs shrink when conditions are dry. In most cases, rewinding a string in the optimal manner is all that is required. If pegs continue to slip or turn unevenly poor peg fit is likely the cause. Stiff pegs are often caused by expansion due to high humidity or a lack of peg lubricant (peg compound). Lubricating the peg and/or re-positioning the peg further from the peg box wall will help.

 

Should we use chalk to prevent pegs from slipping?

Only in an emergency. Chalk usually will stop the peg from slipping by filling in the gaps between the peg and the peg hole. But chalk powder can also jam the peg in when the wood in the peg box contracts due to weather change and any attempt to tune the string can easily cause the peg to break or worse, cause the peg box to crack! Always better to treat the cause of the problem rather than the symptom.

Peg holes are the four holes in which the pegs fit. Over a long period of time and usage, the peg holes may enlarge and require to be bushed – filling in the holes with wood and then reaming new holes.

Nut is an ebony piece at the upper end of the finger board that supports the strings. The angle of the grooves that hold the strings is very important: if too steep, the strings will break; if too flat, they will sound flat. The height of the nut is very important to the playing comfort and ease of playing. Too high, and the player finds it difficult to press down on the strings; too low may cause buzzing.

 

The fingerboard is also made from ebony and is glued on to the flat side of the neck. Its surface is arched to match the arch of the bridge. Though hard and smooth, the fingerboard tends to develop grooves and ridges over a period of time, due to the pressure and movement of fingers constantly pressing and moving on the strings. Proper dressing of a fingerboard improves playability to a large extent. Occasionally, very worn or warped fingerboards need to be replaced. Having a new fingerboard installed on your instrument when the old one has worn too thin, will not affect its value but it can improve intonation and playability.

The thickness of the fingerboard is crucial to the playability of the instrument. Before fitting a new fingerboard, it has to be shaped so that the radius of its curvature is maintained at both ends. A slight scoop towards the center of the fingerboard is given. This helps in providing additional clearance to the strings and prevents buzzing.

 

Bridge is carved from maple and serves to hold the strings at the correct height and distance from each other and transmits the sound energy from the strings to the body of the instrument. The bridge has feet (the treble foot has the thin strings over it while the bass feet has the thicker strings), that must be shaped to the arch of the violin, and once fitted is held in place by the pressure of the strings.

The bridge has a decided effect on the sound and response of the instrument. It must neither be too thin or too thick. A thick bridge will not vibrate and hence cause the sound to be muted. If too thin, the bridge becomes weak and may bend or snap. The height of the bridge determines how high the strings pass over the fingerboard. The ideal height taken in relation to the end of the fingerboard and the string) is fixed at 5.5mm for the G string and 3mm for the E string. However, many Indian Classical violinists prefer an even shape of the bridge so that all the strings have the same height over the fingerboard.

While tuning the instrument, the bridge tends to lean forward. This must be corrected or the bridge may bend or even break. The position of the bridge is important to the sound and playability of the instrument.

Tail piece is what the strings are attached to at the lower end. Usually made of ebony but can be of any wood to match the pegs. Tail pieces of metal or plastic are also fitted – though not recommended as there are several distinct things about the tailpiece that affect the sound.

Tail gut is a gut or cable that attaches the tailpiece to the endpin of the violin. The tail gut can be adjusted for optimum resonance. A thin tailpiece may break while a thick tailgut will inhibit vibrations. Under no circumstance should metal wire be used to secure the tailpiece.

Fine tuners or adjusters attach strings to the tailpiece and are used to fine tune the strings. Guard against tuners touching the top of the instrument. Fully-extended fine tuners can seriously damage the wood or varnish. If the tuner becomes loose it can also rattle.

Top plate or belly is carved from spruce (pine). Spruce is lighter, softer wood that has a different acoustical pattern than the maple. The top plate is graduated to around 2.5mm thick. Together with the side ribs (maple) and the back plate (maple), it forms the body of the violin. Since early times hide glue has always been used to stick the parts together. It is a traditional glue, made from animal connective tissue. It has certain characteristics that make it ideal for musical instruments: hide glue is strong but reversible. All it needs to come undone is heat and water or moist conditions – the reason why violins in hot and humid surroundings can open up at the seams, or cause the neck to separate from the body.

There are two f-holes on the top plate that are the sound holes of the violin. The place and cut of the f-holes are crucial to the sound of the instrument. There are two notches cut at the center of the f-holes. The distance from the top edge, next to the neck to the notches determine the string length and is called the F-stop. The ratio from the nut to neck heel to f-stop is 2:3.

 

Purfling is the thin decorative strip that runs around the perimeter of the violin. Almost always inlaid, the purfling serves two purposes: aesthetically it forms a frame, while functionally it acts as a binder that prevents cracks from developing and traveling along the grain. Purfling that has come loose is a common cause of buzzing.

 

Sound post is a narrow (5.5mm) stick of spruce that is wedged in place inside the instrument just behind the treble foot of the bridge. It supports the top plate and transmits sound waves to the back. The soundpost also ‘tunes’ the top plate. Moving the sound post will alter the balance, response and focus of the sound. The sound post is referred to as the ‘soul’ of the instrument, same as the Italian word for soul,’ l’anima’. Try playing a violin without a soundpost and the reason will be quite apparent to you!

 

Bass bar is a strip of spruce shaped and fitted inside the violin’s top, under the bass foot of the bridge. The bass bar supports the top and enhances the vibrations at the lower register frequency. Because most of the sound produced by the lower strings comes from the vibration of the top plate, it is of upmost importance that the bass bar is correctly shaped and positioned. Its shape and fitting are critical to the response and power of the violin.

While every violin has a fundamental voice that cannot be changed, the soundpost and bass bar have a decided effect on the balance and timbre of the sound.

Bass bar repairs are not common but happen mostly due to the bass bar coming unglued at either end. When this happens, the violin can start buzzing at certain notes and also sound a bit flat. In this case the top plate has to be removed and the bass bar reglued.

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