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String height Clearance from Fingerboard & String
Topic Rating: 4.9Topic Rating: 4.9Topic Rating: 4.9Topic Rating: 4.9Topic Rating: 4.9 Topic Rating: 4.9 (9 votes) 
Alex
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December 12, 2012 - 6:11 pm
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I've noticed my new violin requires more pressure to play compared to my old one. Intrigued I did some research into string height clearance on the violin.  I measured the height between the G string and the end of the fingerboard with a ruler and it came out to be about 6 millimeters.  The E string came out to be about 4 millimeters.  From what I've googled that is a little bit high.  I'm not sure what the standard is but I hope someone more experienced could give some insight on this topic or post their string height clearance.

 

The violin is playable but the action is definitely higher and it requires more finger pressure compared to my old one which measured out around 4MM on the G string and 2.5MM on the E.  I'm just wondering if the bridge or nut is too high, and if I should get it adjusted or just return said violin.   

RosinedUp
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December 12, 2012 - 9:52 pm
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Web search for "Average Measurements of the Violin in millimeters".  As I understand it, the measurement is made from the top of the fingerboard to the bottom of the string.

LindaK
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December 12, 2012 - 10:25 pm
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The answer to this question will be great knowledge for us all. I'm so glad you posted this question!

The most beautiful things in life cannot be touched or seen. They must be felt with the heart. ~Helen Keller~
DanielB
December 13, 2012 - 3:17 am
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Web search for "Average Measurements of the Violin in millimeters".

I agree with RosinedUp, but I would stress the word "average". Some people like their action a bit high, because otherwise it feels sloppy to them (and the string can buzz against the fingerboard if the action is too low). Other folks like it as low as they can get it, without buzzing. It is a matter of what feels good to your hands and works well for you with the style of music you want to play.
If the strings feel like they take more pressure than you like to finger notes in "position one", then the nut is probably too high.
If playing feels like going from comfy in position one to "cheese slicer" when you play notes up over the body, then the bridge is probably a bit high.
Lowering the hight of the nut, by filing some of it off, will make the largest difference in how the action feels. Taking a mm off the bridge height only changes the string height over the section of the fingerboard that is over the actual neck by a fraction of what taking a mm off the nut does.
If you've never messed with such things and are thinking of doing it yourself, you might want to buy a few nut blanks and bridge blanks. They don't cost much, and while it's pretty easy to sand, file or cut them down, obviously you can't very well add back what you have taken off if you decide you went maybe too low.
If you get a couple of both nut blanks and a couple bridge blanks (uncut bridge), then you could actually take off the ones you have now, put on the new ones and see if you can get what you like best. And if you mess up, you can go right back to what you have now.
If you are thinking of having a pro do it, then just explain what you want, or maybe they'll have some violins in the shop where you can try fingering a few notes and and say "I'd like it more like on this one, please."
If you like the violin other than the action, I wouldn't return it just over that. It can be adjusted, and there is some variance in what sort of action feel different players will want, so it has to be a pretty commonplace adjustment.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

ftufc
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December 13, 2012 - 3:45 pm
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This is just one of many stringed instrument critical measurement guides, but I've found this one to be a great resource -

http://www.lashofviolins.com/m......Heights  (hope this link works)

Alex
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December 13, 2012 - 6:14 pm
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Thanks for the great reply. amuse I don't mind the higher action, it just takes a bit getting used to.  I have thought about filing the G string nut a little bit so the action on that particular string is lower but I'm comfortable with the other three strings and how the instrument sounds.  Think I'll work on the nut this weekend and see how it goes.

 

The website does work!

Kevin M.
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December 13, 2012 - 7:20 pm
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violinviola-sizes.jpg

 

Be careful on trimming the nut. The G string vibrates a lot and you don't want it hitting the fingerboard.

 

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Fiddlestix
Michigan, USA
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December 13, 2012 - 10:29 pm
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Please don't start by filing the nut groove's. I have to say that by shaving some off the bridge height and putting the string's at the correct height at the bridge end of the fingerboard is where to start. What the distance is depend's on who you ask and where your research lead's you.  Starting at the nut will only increase the angle of the string from the nut to the bridge. Example: You are loading a U-Haul truck using a ramp, you have the lowest end of the ramp 12" off the ground, now take the the 12" riser from under the ramp and set it directely on the ground. All you have done here is to change the distance between the ground and the bottom of the ramp for a short distance.

Lowering the ramp at the truck end will change the height the whole length of the ramp, thus decreasing your angle of attack, making it easier to climb the ramp. There's not as much angle. The same goes with the violin string's. Less effort to climb the ramp / depress the string's.

Lowering the bridge height will change the string height the full distance of the fingerboard all the way back to the nut. The change in string height may not be measurable near the nut, but when fingering, it make's a world of difference that can be felt in the action. You don't need to buy extra bridge's and blank nut's to fix your problem.

Also check the scoop on the fingerboard. Laying a 12" straight edge on the fingerboard from nut to the end of the fingerboard you should see daylight half way. That is called "scoop", it's there for string vibration. The fingerboard should be concave, not convex, lower in the center with a gradual slope toward either end.

Another point being, the steeper the angle from bridge to nut will change the amount of pressure that is put on the bridge. The steeper the angle will have a tendency to put more pressure pulling down and forward on the bridge. It also change's the tone of the note being played the higher up the neck you play because by having to press down on the string more you are changing string length, so comparing your old to your new violin when played, the fingering will be different the closer you get to the bridge. The two will play completely different.

Another example: I have three violin's, before I bought the third one, I would play a song on one violin, pick up the other violin and play the same song, the finger placement was completely different. I checked the position of the bridge on each violin, they were in the same place, in line with the inner nitche's in the F hole's, right ?,,, wrong, the F hole nitche's weren't in the same location on both instrument's. I then got wise, I checked the distance from the nut to the bridge, set both bridge's at 328 mm and Bingo,, they played the same.

 

This probably didn't help, but it works/worked for me.   Good luck.    crossedfingers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ratvn
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December 13, 2012 - 11:46 pm
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Thank you, Fiddlestix, for sharing your knowledge and good points about action/pressure. I was wondering about that "scoop" for a while, and now it's all clear.

Thanks again.

thumbs-up

 

ratvn
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December 14, 2012 - 12:09 am
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@Alex: you got a lot of good advise there. Hopefully it will work out for you. I got one like yours, and after lowering its bridge it's better but not quite comfortably fingering yet.

@DanielB: is it hard to replace the nut, Daniel? My luthier charged me $35.00 a while back to fix it. If I can do it myself now then it's great.

@Kelvin M: thank you for the chart. It's very detailed MENC specs. One thing I noticed is that the string length is 330 mm, nominal? There are other 327, 328 mm as well and I wonder if you know why is the difference.

Thank you.

 

RosinedUp
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December 14, 2012 - 6:11 am
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One thing to notice about the string action is that if it is too high, it is going to cause you trouble in bowing. 

Think about what happens when the strings are high and you are bowing the A string.  If you play that string open, you may have no problem.  But suppose you want to play D on the A string.  You press the string down to the fingerboard so that the string takes a V shape, with the bottom of the V at your fingertip and the tops of the V at the nut and bridge.  Now at the point at which you are bowing the string, the string moves downward as it takes on the V shape.  That will make it lower relative to the neighboring strings, so it will be harder to bow the A string without bowing the E string or the D string.  The higher the string action, the more a string will move downward at the point of bowing when you finger the string. The problem is worse when you are fingering nearer the bridge.

Fiddlestix
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December 14, 2012 - 6:25 am
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RosinedUp said
One thing to notice about the string action is that if it is too high, it is going to cause you trouble in bowing. 

Good point, RU.

Another affect will be, at too much string angle from nut to bridge it will be more troublesome to keep the bow between the bridge and the fingerboard. The bow will have a tendency to want to slide toward the nut.

DanielB
December 14, 2012 - 7:34 am
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@ratvn:  Disclaimer first.  I have never replaced a nut on a violin.  Many other stringed instruments though, I have done it.  Been doing it on guitars since I first broke one in about 1978.  Some people here will probably yell about this, but I'll tell you how I'd go about it with *my* violin if I had to.  I will also mention here that I wouldn't hesitate to go ahead and do it myself if I felt it was needed.  Bear in mind though, I'm pretty sure some folks would think I belong in a loony bin for some of the things I'll do with instrument repair and mods.

First off, ebony nuts are not expensive.  Stew Mac has them for about 99 cents apiece.  So I *would* buy several, just in case.  May as well, if you're paying the shipping for one.  I personally would also buy some extra bridge blanks so I could tinker with those a bit while keeping one that def works that I could go back to.  Other folks might not feel that is necessary, which is fine.  I won't debate it, just sayin' it is what I would do.

To take off the old nut, first take some blue painter's masking tape.  It will protect the wood you want to keep, and it doesn't leave gunk on it, if it's just on for a little while.  First I'd wrap tape around the neck and fingerboard near the nut.  Then I'd tape the pegbox with a couple of wraps.  That is to help discourage the wood from splintering and protect it while you're working.

Then put down some padding, like a thick towel or something to the violin's finish doesn't get messed up while you work on it.  Take a thin knife like an x-acto or a razor blade.  *CAREFULLY* score the glue line where the nut meets the fingerboard, neck and pegbox.  Let me explain "carefully".  Plan your cuts to be away from your fingers and away from any parts of the wood you want to keep pretty.  Accidents happen.  Always expect them to happen and plan for them as well as you can.  Remember you can turn the violin over, move it around, etc to get a good angle to cut from to be cutting away from your fingers and the pretty wood you want to keep.

After you get the glue line scored, lay the violin on it's back and take something like a wood dowel or a flathead screwdriver and lay it on the taped fingerboard so it is against the nut.  Give it a little tap with a small hammer or maybe the handle of another scewdriver if you don't have a small hammer like a tack hammer around.  If the nut doesn't pop right off, then give it a little harder tap.  If that doesn't do it, score it again.  Repeat the process until it does come off.  It will.  But don't try to cut deep any of the times you are scoring or give it a real hard rap.  Be firm but patient with this step, because it is the one most likely for damage or injury to happen while you are doing it.

Ok, once the nut is off, check the wood where it was.  Clean up any remaining glue with your little blade or a bit of sandpaper if necessary.  If a bit of the wood from the pegbox came off with the nut, then you'll need to fix that, if it necessary.  Just a little splinter or so isn't enough to worry about, since the new nut and glue will cover it.

Once that is clean and square, I'd personally pre-shape the new nut.  File or cut away on it until it is shaped nice (look up detail pics of some expensive violin to see how it should be shaped and how it should look) But leave at least a mm more wood on the top than you think you may need.  Keep stopping and checking it by fitting it where it will go on the instrument to see and feel if you are doing it right.  

When you have it down to the shape and size you want, Mix up a little bit of hide glue.  Don't cook it, just let the powder or crystals dissolve in about enough warm tap water to cover them for a half hour or so.  You do NOT want real strong glue on this join because you want it to pop off fairly easy if you need to replace it again later.  Sooner or later, if not you, then someone will have to.  Nuts do not last forever, just a very long time if nothing happens to damage them.   

The nut doesn't need glued down like it has to survive a zombie apocalypse or anything.  The strings will mostly hold it in place almost enough just on their own.  So just a little glue, and mix if cold rather than heating it to get really powerful hide glue. 

Ok, then check the fit one more time, and if you're sure it is how you want it, glue it into place. 

Then I'd use the strings as a "clamp" to hold it in place to dry overnight.

After it has had overnight to dry, then tune up the violin with just letting the strings sit on the nut with no grooves cut yet.  If they were put on the pegs right, they'll sit in at least almost the right spots even without any grooves.  Play it a little and see if it is close enough for you or if you want to file a little more off.  Put some painter's tape on the fingerboard and pegbox again for filing, and cover the violin with at least paper towels, because ebony dust gets all over the instrument pretty easy.  When you have it down to where you like how it feels, hen you are ready to mark and cut the grooves.  If you take it down too far, then go back to the step for removing the nut, take another blank and make a new one.

When you get the height to just about where you like it, measure and mark the grooves for the strings.  If that was good on the old nut you took off, copy it from that.  If not, look them up.  I really don't like deep grooves/slots.  I like them only as deep as they have to be to keep the string in place with hard playing.  So I just mark them with single light cuts with an x-acto or razor and a steel straightedge or ruler.  Now they need shaped a little.  They make files for that, but I've never actually owned a set.  For the plain strings, I use the back of the exacto blade and press it against the wood of those marks.  it only takes a little scratch dent.  For the wound strings, I use a couple inches of an old wound guitar G string that is superglued to the edge of a popsicle stick.  Don't do much.  If you can see the groove, it is probably deep enough.  Put the strings in the grooves and tune up and try plucking the strings or strumming them like a ukelele to see if they come out of the grooves.  If they don't, you're fine.

If the buzz against the fingerboard when you bow hard, you went too low.  Take another blank and start over.

But if it is all good, then you can check for any little bits of glue you may have missed and carefully (see definition of "careful" above) scrape the glue off with your little blade.  

Then loosen the strings just enough to move them slightly out of the grooves and put a little graphite in the grooves.  just coloring the grooves in black with a sharp pencil will do.  

Put the strings back in place, tune her back up, and you're ready to go.  Pat yourself on the back and call yourself a genius and "let the party and the sounds rock on".

jimi-hendrix

I probably left some stuff out of all that or didn't explain some steps so well.  Feel free to ask, if any of it is unclear to you.

 

Now, I am sure some folks here know better ways, and can spot at least a hundred spots where I was an idiot and gave poor advice.  Cool.  They can type up their thousand or so word version of step by step instructions that are better.  That'll be great.  Honest.  I'm always looking to learn new tricks.

But this was how I would go about it, and I would expect it to work for a violin the same as it has for many instruments over the years I've worked on.  I *did* trim and groove the nut for my old Mendini, and has been fine with stings staying in place and tuning up just fine and nice low action.  It doesn't buzz either.  I will admit I haven't done a full replacement of a violin nut yet.  But I definitely would, as soon as I feel it necessary.   

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

Kevin M.
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December 14, 2012 - 9:35 am
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@Kelvin M: thank you for the chart. It's very detailed MENC specs. One thing I noticed is that the string length is 330 mm, nominal? There are other 327, 328 mm as well and I wonder if you know why is the difference. Thank you.  

 

The 300mm string length is because strings are made of different materials and it has to do with the wavelength of those materials.  You will notice that gut strings require more height from the fingerboard. This is because the amplitude is greater in gut that in steel. This being said Gut strings are longer than steel and perlon are in the middle at about 328.  You may notice on some strings the length is given.

ftufc
SoCal
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December 14, 2012 - 1:20 pm
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Kevin, that's a great explanation, but here's the question that first comes to my mind; the strings are varying lengths because of the vibratory qualities of the materials, however, the distance between the nut and the tailpiece is constant for each instrument, so the varying string lengths is irrelevant isn't it???? 

I'm probably unnecessarily confused, lol.

Kevin M.
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December 14, 2012 - 2:04 pm
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The string length is from the nut to the bridge.

ftufc
SoCal
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December 14, 2012 - 5:50 pm
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Thanks Kevin, that makes more sense; I thought you were saying that the overall length of the strings was different; you mean the distance of the bridge to the nut is different depending on the type of string material.  I get it now. Thanks!

ratvn
Kent, Washington USA
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December 14, 2012 - 10:24 pm
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Gentlemen, thank you all.

@DanielB: thank you for such detail instruction and the time for writing. It gave me confidence to file down the violin nut. If I broke it then there's your instruction to remove/replace, or I could just put a wooden spacer/thin piece under the nut to raise it up. 

So, I went ahead and did it. E-string lower from both sides, almost 1 mm from the nut and 1.5 mm from the bridge, A-string about 1.5 mm from the bridge.

It works beautifully now with low action and no buzz. Thanks again.

@Kevin M: that is a great explanation. I know there exists some different lengths but never thought that those associate with string materials, and haven't even seen it mentioned in so many other sites I browsed. You made so clear.

Thank you again, gentlemen.

thumbs-up

 

RosinedUp
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December 15, 2012 - 2:21 am
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I have never heard of changing the string length depending on the type of string, and I have not been able to find mention of that practice elsewhere on the web.  

Suppose the distance from nut to bridge is changed from 325 to 330, and consider fingering E on the D string.  The finger position for that note would change nearly 5 mm.

Can anyone provide an outside reference to that?

cdennyb
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December 15, 2012 - 3:08 am
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Here's a very detailed and probably too complex explanation but it will answer all of your questions regarding string length, vibratory pitch measurements, material composition, etc. as it relates to the violin as well as some references to guitar.

 

 

And this small write up about neck length and string length and proportions thereof

http://www.maestronet.com/m_li.....431210.pdf

 

"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein
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