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By Joel Kennedy
After a brief perusal of the Internet, I found a disturbing amount of misinformation about the problem of slipping violin pegs. This is a pressing problem that we hear about everyday at Kennedy Violins. Unfortunately, the vast array of videos and articles available to the unsuspecting public, will ensure that slipping violin pegs will continue to plague violinists for years into the future. Since slipping violin pegs are mostly caused by improperly installed strings, addressing the problem of slipping violin pegs will have the added benefit of demonstrating how to properly install violin strings as well.
Violin pegs slip for two basic reasons: Unfavorable humidity conditions and improperly installed strings. Properly installed violin strings will compensate for most normal fluctuations in humidity and will enable your violin pegs to not slip. I am a professional violist and my pegs may begin to to slip about once or twice a year at most. My viola is rarely out of tune and when it is, it is usually just a little bit flat because of constantly stretching strings. I have observed many professional players in the groups I perform with, struggle with slipping violin pegs, so this problem is not specific to amateur players. There are many very good professional players, instructors and even violin makers, who never learned how to properly install strings and have struggled with their violins for many years as a result. Most of the information you will see and hear, will tell you to use “peg dope” or “peg drops”. Using these products is like taking Tylenol for a headache that is caused by you banging your head against a brick wall. The Tylenol may offer a temporary fix for your headache (slipping pegs), but the best course of action, is to deal with the root of the problem and stop banging your head against the wall! In other words, install your strings correctly, and you will rarely have to deal with slipping pegs.
There are two forces at work that prevent pegs from slipping. The most commonly known, is the friction that is caused by pushing your pegs into the peg holes while you turn the pegs. Since violin pegs are smaller at one end and bigger on the other, a “wedge effect” is created by pushing the pegs further in the hole and this creates a friction that will assist in preventing peg slippage. The second and most important force, is created by winding your violin strings against the sides of the scroll box and this creates an additional wedge effect. When done properly, this will make your pegs as tight as you want them. You can make your pegs so tight that the pegs will not want to turn unless a tremendous force is applied. Of course this is not ideal, but I mention it to demonstrate the power of this second force when applied effectively. If you rely solely on the method of pushing your pegs in while you turn them, you will assuredly diminish the life of your violin, because you will eventually enlarge the peg holes and will have to have them filled and re-drilled, or you’ll have to purchase oversized pegs and have them custom fitted to your violin. You can avoid all of these circumstances by simply following the 4 steps below.
1. Insert the ball end of the string in the fine tuner or hole in the tailpiece and insert the other end in the peg string hole.
2. While keeping a small amount of tension on the string with one hand (to prevent the ball from coming out of its place on the tailpiece) turn the peg with the other hand to wind the string.
3. This is the most important step. The hand that is keeping tension on the string, should also gently pull the string over towards the peg, so you are directing the string to wind against the side of the scroll box.
4. As the string winds on the peg, it will begin to tighten against the sides of the scroll box. The more you turn the peg, the more the string is tightened. Because the string is being tightened, it pushes against the side of the scroll box and makes the peg very tight. If you gently push the peg in while you turn it, you can control the tightness of the peg in the hole. The more you push the peg in, the tighter the peg gets and it will not push back out of the hole because the tightened string is preventing the peg from moving.
Eventually, the portion of the string that is squeezed in between where it’s inserted in the peg and the side of the scroll box will begin to relax and the peg may begin to slip. If this occurs, all you have to do is rewind the offending string and your problem is solved. Generally, your peg should remain tight for quite some time. However, if humidity conditions change for the worse, you may have to rewind your string, but it only takes about 20 seconds to do so and this is a much better alternative than the continued struggle with chemicals and other various magic potions that have been devised over the years.
The reason why dry humidity conditions effect violin pegs so much, is because when the air gets drier, the pegs will contract and the holes they fit into, will expand. This problem primarily occurs in the winter season in areas that get especially cold. People usually keep their home furnaces on almost all of the time in the winter and this dries the air out. Once the air gets overly dry, violin pegs begin to slip. The easiest and least expensive way to compensate for the dry air, is to use a humidifier tube . This simple device is basically an elongated sponge. You can soak it water every 1 or 2 days and insert it in your violins f-hole. The sponge releases small amounts of water in the air and this is generally enough to compensate for just about any dry area that you would normally subject a violin to.
At Kennedy Violins, we string up thousands of violins every year for our customers and because they live in a variety of differing climates, some customers pegs will be very tight when they receive their instruments and some may even be a little looser than is ideal. However, any string can be rewound in a matter of seconds, so it doesn’t matter where a person lives, anyone can experience the joys of a violin that is peg slip free!