Posted on

Violin Setups, Part Two

Violin Setups, Part Two

by Michael Darnton

from his 1990 GAL Convention lecture

Originally published in American Lutherie #37, 1994 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004

See also,
Violin Setups, Part One by Michael Darnton


When fitting a bridge, the first thing to determine is the proper placement. Ideally the bridge is exactly centered between the inner nicks on the f-holes. This assumes that the holes are centrally located on the violin, which is not always the case, and that the fingerboard is pointed at that position, which it commonly isn’t. The most important aspect of bridge placement is that the string path should be in a straight line. That is, the bridge should be directly between the nut and the end button. In this centering I would expect a maximum total deviation of about .5MM, and I would try to compromise this adjustment the least, assuming that the strings remained pretty much over the center of the fingerboard. If the neck was pointed really wrong I might consider resetting it. Also, I always check to be sure of the position of the end button, and I’ll move it if necessary. In some instances this can be an easy method of correcting for a slightly-wrong neck set. If the f-holes were really off center on an old instrument and I had the time and money, I’d consider resetting the neck and end button off center to match, possibly replacing the neck so that the heel would still point (although crookedly) at the button at the top of the back, minimizing changes to the button.

Anyway, with an understanding of the problem and the possibilities, find a good place for the bridge to sit in the “east-west” dimension, then determine the proper “north-south” location. Ideally, the length of the neck from the nut to the edge of the top next to the neck on the E-string side should be 130MM, and from that point to the middle of the bridge 195MM; a ratio of 2:3. Consistency in this ratio keeps the positions of the player’s fingers relatively the same compared to the edge of the body, no matter what the total string length — an important factor in finding notes in the upper positions. If the length on the neck is off, the position of the bridge should be altered to compensate. For instance, if the neck length is 128MM, the distance to the bridge (the “stop”) would be (128/2)×3=192MM. This is the theory, at least, but I should also warn you that like most things in the violin world this is a subject of controversy, because some people believe that the total length of the string is the most important thing and would deal with the 128MM neck by making the stop 197MM instead. These people maintain two things. Firstly, that the player will quickly adjust to the new ratio. This is true — just ask a viola player. Violas are notoriously nonstandard. Secondly, they assert that the proper string length is important for the tone of the instrument. This is possibly but not necessarily true. Now you know the logic; the decision is yours.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.