What you need to know about your violin tailpiece, tail-gut and fine tuners.

Violin tailpiece, tail-gut and fine tuners.

The tailpiece serves as an anchor for the strings as well as a spacer for each one. The main factors to consider in tailpiece selection are; material, size & shape, weight and proper placement. Common materials used are ebony, boxwood, rosewood, pernambuco, aluminum and  plastic synthetics.  Denser woods like ebony tend to brighten and focus an instruments tone, where softer woods can deepen and warm up the sound.  Sometimes, the wrong tailpiece can magnify wolf tones.  A good luthier will try multiple tailpieces to find one whose characteristics compliment that of the instrument.

The tail-gut secures the tailpiece a specific length from the bridge.  They are typically made from braided steel, nylon or kevlar.  Actual gut is rare and not used commonly by most modern luthiers.  Set-up is particularly important when it comes to a violin’s tailgut.  The after-length has a very specific ideal length from the back of the bridge.  The excess gut should also be trimmed to prevent buzzing.  Make sure your luthier takes the time to complete these important and often overlooked adjustments.

Fine-tuners can actually damage the strings and instrument.  Many classroom teachers prefer fine-tuners on all four strings, which is understandable.  Keep in mind that unless you’re using a light-weight tailpiece with intergrated tuners, (ei. Wittner Ultra or similar) four adjusters will add a considerable amount of weight to a violin or viola.  As soon as the player can tune his or her own instrument, we suggest moving to a single fine-tuner on the high string for violins and violas.  Cellos typically maintain four adjusters.  Hinge tuners, seen on the right, can actually gouge the top of your violin, especially if the bridge should fall.  They also alter the after-length, which can alter the instrument’s tone and even cause wolf tones to appear.  The Suzuki tuners, on bottom left, can easily damage the string as they adjust the string by bending it, much like an arrow bends the string on a bow.  We advocate the english style adjuster, seen in the top left.  At Beau Vinci, we even take the time to file off the sharp corners of the adjusters, in the event the bridge falls.

Make sure you have a luthier that takes the time to find a tailpiece that compliments the instrument, measures and trims the tailgut properly and uses fine-tuners that won’t damage the wood or strings.  These may seem like minor details, but a stringed instrument is the sum of it’s details.