How to Tell If Your Violin's Bridge is Straight
Did you just buy a violin? Are thinking about buying a used instrument and need to know what qualities to check for? Have you been playing violin for awhile, and maybe you're wondering if your violin bridge should be leaning like that?
What the Bridge Does for Your Violin
In order to check the bridge, it can be helpful to understand what the bridge itself is supposed to do.
Basically, the bridge's job is to conduct vibrations (and thus, sound) from the strings to the soundbox (also known as the body) of the instrument.
If the bridge wasn't there, the violin strings would lay flat on the fingerboard and be of no use to anyone! So, the bridge holds the strings away from the fingerboard at just the right height.
The bridge also keeps the strings the correct amount of space from each other. It comes with notches specifically for each string. These notches have to be a specific depth and should not be carved deeper! Some of the higher-sounding strings (like the "E" string) come with a small piece of plastic that can slide up and down the string before the string is put on the violin. This piece of plastic should be put where the "E" string goes across the bridge. It protects the wood of the bridge from having deep notches cut into it where the thin strings sit.
Bridges are originally made with a generic curve under their "feet":
This curve is usually individually adjusted for the violin the bridge is being installed on. Some bridges are taller than others; that's just the way that they're made. To find out more about how bridges are installed, go to our violin bridge installation page (coming soon!).
Identifying if the Bridge is the Correct Height
If the height of the bridge is incorrect, then that can cause a few different problems. Let's look at them:
Problem: If the strings are too far off of the fingerboard, the strings cut into the player's fingertips too much (ouch!). Believe me, this is NO fun. What should be a pleasurable activity is turned into something where every note hurts. This also affects the sound of the instrument, causing it to sound more harsh than it should.
Solution: Either the bridge needs to be sanded carefully and skillfully down (from the bottom up, generally), or the bridge should be replaced.
Note: This can also be a problem because the nut (which is the part of the fingerboard that is closest to the pegs) is too high. This problem must be fixed by an experienced luthier and should not be attempted at home.
Problem: If the strings are not far enough off of the fingerboard, then this can cause the strings to buzz at odd points on the fingerboard. Sometimes this buzz occurs all of the time, but most of the time it only happens when the player hits certain notes. Also, having a too-low bridge can make the sound of the instrument softer. While have a low bridge can spare the tender fingertips of a beginner player, it can cause bad habits to form and the sound of the instrument suffers.
Solution: Probably a new bridge is needed. Generally, getting a new bridge fitted can cost from about $50 to about $150. It depends on how much is needed to fit the bridge to the top of the instruent. Sometimes the buzzing can coming from a warped fingerboard or neck, which require professional repair.
Checking to See If the Bridge is Straight
In order to check if the bridge is straight, you need to first look at the instrument straight on:
The bridge should be evenly centered squarely between the two tiny notches in the f-holes. In the image above, the bridge appears to be slightly twisted clockwise, which would need to be fixed..
Then, you need to check the bridge from the side:
Generally, the bridge should be as straight up and down as possible.
If you are putting on new strings, or if your instrument has not been
tuned in awhile, you may notice that the bridge starts leaning towards
the fingerboard because of the strings pulling upwards as you tighten
them. This can be somewhat avoided by leaning the bridge slightly the other way before tightening the strings.
In the image above, notice that from the side view, the bridge is perfectly straight up and down. This is the ideal position for the bridge.
In the image above, notice that the violin bridge is leaning the wrong way - towards the fingerboard. Also note that the bottom of the bridge is not where it should be; it's to far towards the tailpiece of the instrument. Finally, notice that the strings are closer to the fingerboard, which can cause problems with sound production and buzzing noises.
And finally, notice in this image that the bridge is leaning slightly back towards the tailpiece. You can adjust the bridge to be like this when you will be tightening the strings significantly, especially if you notice problems with the bridge ending up leaning too much the other way after the violin is tuned.
How to Straighten a Violin Bridge
Here we come to the heart of the matter! This is how you actually straighten your bridge.
1. First, loosen all the strings somewhat.
The strings should still be taut enough that they hold down the bridge, even if you tilt the violin or turn it upside down. If you loosen the stirngs too much, the bridge will fall off and there's a good chance that the sound post inside of the violin will become unwedged from its place and start rattling around. If that happens, you get to make a trip to the repair shop.
2. Move the bridge (the stirngs will move with it) to the desired location in small, careful movements.
Since you're shifting a part of the delicate system that is your violin, be cautious and work in small movements. If it's too difficult to move the bridge, loosen the strings a bit more. Constantly check from the side as well as from the front that the bridge is becoming more straight and is not in danger of leaning too much one way or another.
The bridge, as stated above, should be evenly centered squarely between the two tiny notches in the f-holes:
Once the bridge is properly centered, then you can retune the violin. Be aware, while you are tuning, that the bridge may start leaning towards the fingerboard again! Make all adjustments in small, careful movements.
Why Can't You Glue your Bridge?
I had a student whose father decided that this violin business was getting on his nerves. The violin was a horrible quality violin and the children had a tendency to play with it instead of on it. Because the kids kept playing roughly with it (against my orders, his orders, and everyone elses' orders), the bridge fell off. Somehow (I don't know how, because they decided they didn't want lessons right thereafter), they managed to get the strings and the bridge back on.
During this process, the father had the bright idea of gluing the bridge to the violin. There is a very good reason why violin makers throughout the ages have not done this.
If the bridge is not able to properly vibrate, it can't conduct sound well from the vibrating strings to the soundbox. The kids' violin, which had once sounded like a violin (albeit a really horrible one), now could barely make a sound at all. It had taken on approximately the tonal quality of Lily Tomlin's operator lady, only much quieter.
Do you have any questions or stories about putting on a violin bridge or dealing with a crooked bridge? Click here to ask!