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bridge selection for beginners
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jethro
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2022 10:20 pm    Post subject: bridge selection for beginners Reply with quote

Hello all---- I have been away from making for 5 or 6 years. I have moved to a new state (TN) and I would like to resume the process of making and learning. When I last left off---- I was trying to figure out tap tones , general setup and the "hidden" secrets of cutting a bridge for optimal sound control.

I sold my first instrument--- and my 2-nd one has been done for several years.
I want to re-bridge it as I dont think I ever got the bridge correct. I found more info on bridge adjustment on the web- so I thought I would order some inexpensive bridge blanks and attempt some of the suggestions for optimal cutting. I have noticed that there are 3 or 4 bridge brands and prices range from about 3 $ to over 20$ for bridge blanks. Some have the ebony e string insert---
If I am going to kind of experiment with them---- are the cheapest one just fine for that purpose ? ( on the idea that at the skill point I am at-- the cut may be more important than the wood being top quality--- ) maybe I should cut cheap ones first --- get literate cutting cheap ones before I ruin a 15 or 25 $ one.........

Is there much difference between the french or german style ? I cant see a lot of difference in the geometry.....

Thanks for any and every tip on this question......

Tim B.
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Michael Darnton
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2022 9:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cheap bridges are fine for practice. Don't get ones with the ebony insert. After some practice, spend more. Most violin bridges are on similar models. I personally don't like the ones with a high round arch between the feet. . . I would rather have a lot of wood to start. If they cut it off you can't put it back.
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Fri May 31, 2024 6:59 am    Post subject: bridges Reply with quote

The problem about bridges is finding a way to describe alterations without calling it Tuning . You can tune a car engine and you don`t need a tuning fork .
How about Fettling ? Is that a word used in the USA ?
Apart from having the grain straight and the dimensions following the accepted standard ,what is the best running order to work through the alterations that you think might improve the end product . End Product vaguely avoids a nasty ,horrible word like Tuning . Semantic nicities don`t help with bridges all that much . Or is the choice between a few basic bridge models all we need ? German or French --take your pick . Plus hard or soft . I nearly forgot that .
If you have the Strad poster for the Guarneri Plowden model you will notice the bridge from the side view and the top edge but --that`s all you get .No straight on view to give us a clue . The side edges are chamfered or tapered .Not much help there . A photo of the Plowden bridge might be on the net somewhere . I hope so .
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Michael Darnton
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PostPosted: Fri May 31, 2024 8:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

First, separate in your mind the concepts of art vs function, and know that when you look at a bridge you are often looking at some, or a lot, of both. . .
or none. Add to that the idea of regional tastes in tone and aesthetics. Also consider that the person who made any specific bridge may be talented in one and a bum in the other. Or great or a bum in both. I've seen some very ugly bridges on functioning, expensive violins.

I can tell you what flys in Chicago, but I doubt that it would do equally well in London or Beijing.

When I make a bridge I cut it with my aesthetic parameters in mind, and for tone I'm thinking of the results of all the bridges I have cut on their specific violins for clues as to what will work on the violin in hand, with the customer I think I have.

The short of it: I can comment somewhat on the aesthetics of what you might do, but I can't know how well it actually works on the violin you have. That's a job for experience and a lot of testing, accumulating the knowledge over time.

And still, though I can often make guesses based on what I hear from a violin that's already set up, still I will need to hear my new bridge on a violin to know what to do next.

That said, pay a lot of attention as you experiment to what you do regarding weight around the top three edges of the bridge (top and sides; feet matter somewhat less), and to the thickness in the center. It doesn't hurt to start thick and plane to taste, and cutouts near the side edges can be further used to tune the weight around the edge.
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 01, 2024 8:29 am    Post subject: bridges Reply with quote

There is a valuable page on Maestronet where I wrote down 18 tips for cutting bridges . Nothing was said about what a good bridge (ie expensive ) was . I am guessing that refers to harder maple .
What always confused me was the advice about having the maker`s stamp away from the player . (scroll side ).Then an explanation telling us the opposite . That said the Back of the bridge (Closest to the player) should be Flat. But if not really flat it had to be sanded flat. Oh there goes the stamp !
The writer mentions that there is disagreement on that topic .
I sent for some Chinese bridges .Two sets of 5 . No maker stamp on them . Closely examining the edges showed 5 were "straight" up and down if you see the fine grain lines. I am not sure if I should call those grain lines. The instructions I mentioned before referred to medullary lines but that`s another source of confusion. The medullaries (I think) are those attractive patterns in the wood .
In a straight up and down bridge those medullaries would not show so clearly on the flat surface nearest the player . They would (might) pop out on the "away" face to use a football (Saccer/Soccer ) phrase . More semantic niceties to confuse us .
So what about the other 5 bridges that were not straight up and down ? Mostly they had the thick short grains at the edges slanted at 45 degrees . The finer lines which ought to be vertical were also slanted at right angle to the thicker grains. In a test for sound posts these would be failures . Even used as practice pieces the grain directions would get you into trouble or bad habits.
Measuring bridges in detail these all looked the same style but each one had slight variations ,side to side which could change the sound .
I need to sort out the technical terms for grain lines and medullaries to remove so much of my instability in this topic .
One good thing about Chinese bridges without any stamps. It makes you work it all out for yourself .
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 01, 2024 8:44 am    Post subject: bridges Reply with quote

I had to look up the grain types and here we have
Face Grain
End Grain
Edge grain.
Sort that out . Medullary patterns must be where you slice across the Face grain.
In a Chinese factory it would be expensive to stop and look at every bit of wood pushed through the machine . Splitting might be better than sawing with machines .
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 01, 2024 10:00 am    Post subject: bridges Reply with quote

In the Australian violin site (nice chap ) the bridge position is stated as Exactly between the inner nicks. So in that case it is placed with the Middle of the bridge edge between the inner nicks. Exactly.
A different interpretation of this is in the Edgar Russ video where he hold a thin ruler against the back of the bridge and the inner nicks align with the Back Edge of the bridge .
So two more sources of confusion . Main point here is the relation between the bridge and the soundpost. The bridge is not rigidly bound to be in one fixed position relative to the inner nicks. But always remember where the soundpost is .
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Michael Darnton
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 02, 2024 9:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You might consider whether a page with a bunch of people giving answers which don't agree with each other can be termed "valuable". Perhaps the proper conclusion to come to is that they don't know much. That's pretty much Maestronet in a nutshell. Nearly all of the posters there are either amateurs or professionals who do NOT do a lot of succeed-or-die shop work on varying types of instruments for a variety of types of players. One of the fundamental rules of setup and adjusting that I've noticed is that only really great instruments respond succinctly to adjustments; on lesser and most new instruments you're left wondering exactly what effect if any what you just did might have had. That's not a way to develop an clear understanding of cause>effect, which is why the forum has so many different answers for the same question. It's much easier to learn on a steady diet of great instruments in the hands of great players who can tell you what just happened than it is to learn from a thousand students and amateurs with $15000 violins who aren't able to much tell the difference when you do something.*

The medullary rays are the dark stripes that appear on one face of the bridge, but viewed from the side they usually present as fine white lines. Grain lines are the dark lines running across the bridge face, and present the same on the sides. Medullary rays run exactly perpendicular to the grain lines, so whatever face is square the the grain lines on the edge will be the one to show the medullaries.

There's some debate about whether for anti-warping strengty the medullaries should appear on the face towards the board, the face towards the tailpiece, or somewhere up the center. In reality, it probably doesn't matter because the most important factor in that is facing the bridge properly and getting the right angle of the bridge to the top--actual mechanical things. If you get those wrong, "right" rays can't help you. I've seen NO evidence that a properly cut bridge with the "wrong" ray direction is doomed to failure.

Be wary of quality judgements based on "the most of. . . ". The *hardest* wood is no better an indicator of quality than the *most* salt on your food is. The hardness of the wood is probably best matched to the desired tonal results, if there's something to be considered in that regard.

Regarding bridge position, there are a couple of way to consider it. One is tonal (that's how I decide). The other involves the proper relative positions for the fingers on the string and relative to the upper edge of the top where the hand stops. Nicks may or may not be in the right place for either of those. Choosing some absolute position relative to the nicks and using it every time is small thinking. Many people would choose either string length (usually 328mm) or proportions (nut to body edge, ideally 130mm; then body edge to bridge center, ideally 195mm) as their preferred placement. In many cases the two correspond, but not always; then decisions have to be made based on practical considerations. When they haven't noticed a problem, not every owner wants to pay a $3000 repair bill just to put the nut in the right theoretical place relative to the edge of the top to satisfy some zealot with a tape measure, for instance.


*The reason great players prefer things like Strads is because they respond more to varied input from the player, where lesser violins don't. That same variability is also available to the adjuster for manipulation by adjustment, to pick and choose what to stress among infinite possibilities. Conversely, most common instruments don't do much and their players aren't able to develop such understanding from an instrument that doesn't respond. Which would you rather adjust/adjust for to learn something?
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 02, 2024 1:46 pm    Post subject: bridges Reply with quote

The valuable suggestions about bridges were quotations from well established violin experts. They may not be registered on Maestronet. They formed a collection of effects connected to shaping different parts of the bridges . What they sound like if too thick and also too thin .Anyone buying a bridge has to do something to it before fitting it .
The quotations would help a newcomer to the activity .I thought it best to always remember where the soundpost was when adjusting the bridge position . Most beginners would be able to hear some improvements .
Half of the Chinese (sets of 5 ) bridges had pretty straight grains and medullaries. The other half were about 45 degrees offline (compared to vertical) . So that could be useful to know . I have no idea what those would sound like .
Most tips included ways to avoid harshness, too much nasal quality or dullness . What I valued was all valid information for beginners .
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 03, 2024 5:29 am    Post subject: Re: bridges Reply with quote

[quote="John Cadd"]The valuable suggestions about bridges were quotations from well established violin experts. They may not be registered on Maestronet. They formed a collection of effects connected to shaping different parts of the bridges . What they sound like if too thick and also too thin .Anyone buying a bridge has to do something to it before fitting it .
The quotations would help a newcomer to the activity .I thought it best to always remember where the soundpost was when adjusting the bridge position . Most beginners would be able to hear some improvements .
Half of the Chinese (sets of 5 ) bridges had pretty straight grains and medullaries. The other half were about 45 degrees offline (compared to vertical) . So that could be useful to know . I have no idea what those would sound like .
Most tips included ways to avoid harshness, too much nasal quality or dullness . What I valued was all valid information for beginners .[/quote]
If you have a new violin without it being tested first you are at a disadvantage as you don`t know what needs changing .So just start with a neutral basic design . Most times the alterations will be separated into 2 parts . 1) Getting rid of negatives
2) Adding positives .
Average violins might not respond so much with the positives .
One question I have is Why they call the violin the King of instruments ? If you see your long list of sound features that help to analyse violin sounds , the list includes a huge number of unpleasant sound features . Quite a battle to overcome all those .
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2024 9:17 am    Post subject: bridges Reply with quote

Bridge alterations are so closely connected with soundpost positioning . Practising the shaping of the post ends and placing exactly where you want it to be becomes part of the complicated procedure . The alteration of bridge cutouts is not something I ever got involved with . It`s a fascinating exercise if you can discover something that works for you . But previous to that should be adjusting the post for balance across the strings which is side to side movement. North /South adjustment is another aspect to consider . All part of the running order to work out .
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 10, 2024 7:23 am    Post subject: bridges Reply with quote

Davide Sora is a luthier in Cremona and he has 30 videos showing the work on bridges from start to finish . The written commentary is in Italian and there are no subtitles . Thankfully there are no Japanese subtitles either .
All measurements are shown as he uses the calipers ,and diagrams show the measurements clearly . By contrast the Maestronet site had a diagram showing the same bridge parts measured and sketched in pencil . Comparing the Maestronet diagram and the Davide Sora diagrams it would be hard to tell them apart . The Sora kidneys have a larger cutout but not so big that the connecting branches between heart and kidneys are reduced . It all looks perfectly normal .
For a beginner it is just as valid to use one diagram from Maestronet or the other from Cremona . Just get a phrasebook or learn the language properly to colour it all in .
Neither will tell you exactly what the changes or alterations are doing specifically. To understand something like this you could try limiting each stage from a standard bridge and testing each change on a violin with separate bridges . To quote Nabokov "Make copious notes in shorthand. Sell them to your friends and give me three copies".
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 11, 2024 7:13 am    Post subject: bridges Reply with quote

One of the violins I am working on is a French Medio Fino .It was very scruffy with a fingerboard dented with fingernail marks and grooves in between abalone dots .The nut needed replacement but the bridge had nicely shaped kidneys .A more open cut than usual . I weighed it on a small modern electronic machine . The recommended minimum weight (from the Cremona video ) is 1.8 grams .
This bridge was a tad heavier . Just 2 square inches of thin notepaper made the difference. This bridge must have come with the violin when I bought it. I would not have ,by chance , been able to get the weight so exact . It`s a good bridge .It brings out the sound without any fuss . I should write a number on it .
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 14, 2024 7:56 am    Post subject: bridges Reply with quote

So far not much of a discussion . The phrase Small Thinking about placement of the bridge relative to the inner nicks remains a mystery . That sounded very odd . I wondered if that included every maker who ever made nicks in sound holes. Not Edgar Russ surely.
Yesterday another video with this one deciding the middle of the bridge foot should line up with the inner nicks . So there are two schools of thought going on with small thinking .Maybe paying any attention to the nicks is a mistake . Maybe nicks anywhere is a mistake . One article derided the idea that nicks were purely for decoration .That would be big thinking perhaps .Pull the other one,it`s got bells on it . You pays your money and you takes your choice .
I bought two sets of Chinese bridges.5 per set. Not knowing what the ideal blank bridge was I guessed and divided them into two sets.One set Bad and one set Good. Straighter grain lines ,more vertical were the Good ones .
For the first experiment I chose from the Bad selection .When slicing the thickness with a wide japanese chisel you could detect the grain tilted at an angle . Laid flat the grain slanted up from right to left. If you tried to cut the wrong direction the fibres tried to lift .
Videos showing the bridge being planed across the bridge look very optimistic. Japanese planes might work a lot better than western metal planes. But a Japanese (very sharp) chisel can let you see the shaving coming off as you cut .Like those medical films where they take a slice of human brain . As thin as that . A plane will conceal the damage too late once the plane is moved away .
I tried to combine the Cremona video measurements but the Chinese planes already had some cutouts wider than the Cremona ones . But I kept as close to the specs as I could . The weight came down as I adjusted the bridge height and edge thickness . That bridge was a distinct improvement on the previous bridge .The weight on my pocket electronic weighing machine was 2.07 grams.
Just to keep to the measurements I had extended the kidney top on the G string side . I avoided changing the arm width running down so it was obviously going to be my ugly bridge . A tiny disaster that might help beginners was the small piece poking into the kidney. That snapped off when the back of the blade was accidentally pressing on it.
Superglue to the rescue and a quite untidy renovation using some brass tweezers . The glue was more interested in sticking the tweezer points together. But the nicked off bit was restored after a fashion .
But this Bad boy was a good bridge. The G string was quicker to respond . The D string even more resonant than before.Was it the lopsided kidney?
I had made sure the ankles were the right thickness . My question remains.What thickness is Right ? If I take the previous bridge and trim those ankles maybe that will be a better way to make decisions about what the heck to change . Looking at bridge fitting or thinning becomes a game where strategies and running orders and cutting techniques all form a useful pattern of work .
But what about symmetry. One kidney larger than the other? Not even a smooth geometrical curve. More questions than I started with already .
But what makes a Quality bridge blank ?Who knows
When I have mentioned the Cremona bridge fitter I refer to Davide Sora . It`s good if you are learning Italian but he builds in small signals and points at things instead of speaking . It was amusing to see him fitting an E string and sliding the plastic tube off and throwing it . I wonder why he did that .


Last edited by John Cadd on Tue Jun 18, 2024 6:10 am; edited 1 time in total
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John Cadd
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 14, 2024 10:20 am    Post subject: bridges Reply with quote

Another good question about bridges is where to position the bassbar foot .Keeping the bridge central to the centre seam (assuming That`s in the middle ) work out ecactly where the bassbar sits beneath the bridge foot. On the soundpost side the post is often a little more to one side of the bridge foot. Not directly in line with the centre of the foot.There is a gap north south between the bridge and the post .Assume we all accept that for now .
But does the bassbar foot have to be directly on top of the bassbar ? If it does it`s better to position the ankles in the bridge accordingly .Then try to keep the bridge symmetrical ,although there may not be any logical engineering reason for symmetry .Those "rules" applied more in the Stradivari era .
Simple measurement will show where the bassbar is placed so in the bridge cutting we have another thing to check rather than just the gap between the ankles . That figure has to be relative to the bassbar .
Bridges are more expensive when they have been "seasoned " for about 8 years. Less expensive for 3 years . It depends who you believe of course .Closer grain and harder wood are also mentioned . Again ,who do you believe .
One mentioned the grain being straight across the bridge which in the case of my first attempted bridge was not so . So easier to cut cleanly gets a better price . A short thinning cut in both directions left and right will be a good indicator of what the wood is doing /or did when it was a tree .
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