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Maintaining Your Violin or other Orchestral Instrument

Other than wiping it down every day and making sure you don’t expose it to extreme temperature/humidity conditions, there isn’t really a lot that you have to do maintain your violin. However, there is one aspect of maintaining your violin that many people miss. What is it? Looking at your bridge every so often to make sure that it is standing up straight! If your violin bridge is standing at an angle, the constant pressure of the strings pushing on the violin bridge, will eventually distort it, so that the shape of the bridge becomes permanently “warped”.

Every once in a while, we’ll get a call at Kennedy Violins about someone who wants to purchase a better violin than their last one because the last one was such “low quality” that the bridge “warped”. The cost quoted to them by the local violin shop to replace the bridge is usually over a hundred dollars.  They often come to the conclusion that it would be more cost effective to just buy another violin that has a better bridge than their last one.

It may be true that the violin bridges you get from Kennedy Violins will be higher quality than most, but they will warp the same as a lower quality bridge if enough time passes in which the bridge is allowed to remain at a tilted angle. The reason why most bridges start to tilt towards the fingerboard is because as strings stretch the pitch lowers, and the result is that the strings produce a pitch that is out of tune and “flat”. The corrective measure that violinist take is to turn the pegs clockwise to increase the tension on the string, therefore raising the pitch. Turning the peg to tighten the string pulls the string towards the scroll box of the violin, which pulls the bridge forward a tiny bit. Over the course of several months, the bridge can start to lean forward quite a lot, depending on how much the violin strings stretch. Solid steel strings tend to stretch less, so it takes longer for the problem to manifest itself in a warped bridge. However, instruments strung with strings that have synthetic cores (Dominants, Evahs, Zyex) will experience a lot more string stretching and the tilting of the bridge can occur much faster.

The corrective measure for straightening your bridge is quite simple but can take a little practice.

The steps to take are:

  1. Tune the violin to the correct pitch and examine the tilt of the bridge. If it is tilting towards the fingerboard, proceed to step 2. The easiest way to tell if it's tilting, is to look at the feet. If there is a tiny gap under the feet closest to the tailpiece, then the bridge is leaning forward.
  2. Firmly grasp the top of the bridge on either side in between your thumb and first finger. It is important that you hold the bridge on both sides and exert equal force to both sides of the bridge.
  3. Tilt the top of the violin bridge back, towards the tailpiece, without moving the position of the feet of the bridge.
  4.  Inspect the bridge and make sure it’s straight. Look at the feet of the bridge and make sure that they are contacting the top of the bridge perfectly. There should not be any gaps under the feet of the bridge. They need to make perfect contact with the top of the violin.

When we set-up your violin at Kennedy Violins, we tilt the bridge slightly back towards the tailpiece of the violin so by the time you get your instrument the stretching strings will have pulled the bridge so it is perfectly straight.  If the shipping time is less than 3 days from us to you, your bridge may still be tilted slightly back. If so, you can straighten it, or simply wait a few days for it to align itself.

I usually examine my bridge every month or two, depending on how much I play.  Having a straight bridge will not only preserve the life of the bridge, but it will also ensure that the feet always maintain proper contact with the top of the violin and therefore transfer sound in the most efficient way, resulting in a great sounding, easy to play violin!