Violin Bridges – 6 things to look for

Violin Bridge Blank vs Fitted Bridge

Violin bridge blank & fitted bridge

Violin bridges should be individually tailored. Bridges come from the supplier partially finished and it is a common misconception that a bridge “blank” can be installed directly on an instrument without modification. This could not be farther from the truth! Bridges serve the vital function of transmitting the strings’ vibrations to the body of the instrument and therefore must be fitted to each individual instrument. Otherwise, the sound and play-ability will be compromised. Here’s how to tell if a bridge has been fit correctly:

 

 

The notch on the f-hole should point to the center of the bridge's foot.

The notch on the f-hole should point to the center of the bridge’s foot.

It’s in the right spot. You know how the f-holes have those graceful little notches on each side? Well, there is an actual purpose to those beside just looking attractive. They are handy indicators of where the bridge should go. If you extended a line across the middle of the instrument from one notch to the other, that line would go straight through the middle of the bridge.

The bridge should also straddle the center line that runs lengthwise along the instrument’s top. To ascertain if this is true, you can sight down the fingerboard towards the bridge. A bridge that is centered on the fingerboard is likely centered on the instrument. Of course, this assumes that the neck of the instrument (to which the fingerboard attaches) has been properly set– just one more reason the Beau Vinci approach, starting with rigorous examination, is so important.

 

Centered violin bridge vs off-center bridge

Centered violin bridge vs off-center bridge

The feet fit perfectly. Examine closely the part of the bridge that contacts the top of the instrument (we call these the “feet”). There should be no gaps. A skilled luthier will use a very sharp tool to remove wood from the bridge feet until they conform exactly to the arching on the top of the instrument. Not only will ill-fitting feet be poor conveyors of the energy generated by the bow stroking the strings, they can also damage the wood of the instrument’s top.

You can imagine how much sound will be lost by the bridges on the left.

You can imagine how much sound will be lost by the bridges on the left.

 

The base of the bridge is 90° to the top of the violin. It takes away slightly at the top.

The base of the bridge is 90° to the top of the violin. It takes away slightly at the top.

The back of the bridge is at a 90 degree angle to the top of the instrument. The unstamped side of the bridge which faces the player, should be at roughly 90 degrees to the top of the instrument when viewed from the side. If it’s tilted too far in either direction, this increases the risk of the bridge falling down and damaging the top of the instrument. The back of the bridge should also appear flat, rather than cupped, which indicates that it has started to warp. Note that we actually remove a small amount of wood from the upper part of the back of the bridge to strengthen the bridge and counteract its tendency for warping.

The bridge is not flat. Picture a cathedral and think about the shape of the buttresses that have to support tons of heavy stone. Are they straight or curved? Architects have known for a long time that an arched shape is far stronger than a perfectly flat one. So why would you want the piece of your musical equipment that has to withstand all that downward pressure from the strings to be flat and risk having a warped bridge? At Beau Vinci we strengthen each bridge with gentle arching on the front, as well as a slightly relieved back. At the same time, we reduce our bridges to an appropriate thickness, instead of leaving them overly thick.

 

 

The tapered structure creates increased support.

The tapered structure creates increased support.

The strings are in their happy places. Does your bow inadvertently hit the other strings when you want to play only on one string? This can be a sign that the curve of the top of the bridge may be too flat. Conversely, if this shape is too round, playing double stops will be much harder than it needs to be. Also, if the strings are either too high or too low in respect to the playing surface of the fingerboard, this could indicate that the bridge may need adjustment. (it may also mean that your neck angle is incorrect.)

It’s pretty. A bridge is a luthier’s signature and chance to showcase their fancy knife skills. When we carve out the internal shapes on each bridge we’re not only removing the unnecessary material that would otherwise dampen the vibrations of the bridge, we are also creating tiny works of art, akin to the manner in which a high-end chef takes great care in the presentation of food on a plate. The shapes should be crisply cut to appear fluid and beautiful. When you see this level of work, you know that other less visible steps have been executed with the same level of fastidiousness.

BridgeArt

If your bridge does not measure up with regards to the above criteria, or if you have any concerns whatsoever about this crucial part of your instrument, it may be time to bring it in for examination and possible replacement.