6/26/2013 Got It Pegged – Solving Tuning Instability
My blog entry today is about slipping pegs. I have been discussing a bit more philosophical subjects of late like how to have greater success as a string musician or how to help and encourage your children as they learn to play. But it is difficult to be successful as a musician if you can’t keep your silly violin in tune!
The tapered tuning peg that is just held by friction is a system that has been used for many hundreds of years. It is efficient, simple and pragmatic but it does sometimes go awry. Actually, I would say that over 90% of all the maintenance issues that I see with bowed instruments concern tuning problems. If you have a problem with a slipping peg the first thing to do is to inspect the string and make sure that it is wound correctly. The top part of your neck where the strings wrap around the pegs is called the peg box. The strings pass over a little ebony piece with grooves called the nut and then into the peg box. If you are holding your violin and looking straight at the finger board and the peg box the strings should continue on straight and parallel to the sides of the peg box and wrap around the pegs. They might even barely touch the side of the peg box. If a string goes off at a weird angle after it passes over the nut it is a prime candidate for tuning instability because tension on the string is actually trying to pull the peg loose. You should loosen that peg and rewind the string so that it is running straight and parallel to the neck and peg box.
You should be aware that one of the greatest contributing factors to tuning instability is a change in humidity, especially if the weather begins to get dryer. Dry weather will cause the pegs to contract ever so slightly but enough that you may open your violin case one day and find that one or more of the strings have come undone. This is not the fault of the violin and is very common. Rewind the string and GENTLY push the peg into the peg box until it reseats. If it still slips lower the tension back down and repeat the process while pushing the peg towards the peg box. Don’t rapidly loosen and tighten the peg several times while trying to screw it into the peg box. This is a common way of breaking strings. It is a good idea to put your free hand on the opposite side of the peg box as a brace so that you are not pushing on the neck with no support. If you really reef on the peg and cram in into the peg box with great force you run the risk of splitting the peg box. Not a good thing. If you have a well used or older violin it is a good idea to wiggle the peg when it is pushed into the peg box and make sure that it is seated correctly and isn’t wiggling back and forth. It is very common for older violins to have worn out pegs and peg boxes. Take the violin or cello to a competent luthier to have the pegs replaced or the peg box rebushed if that is the issue.
If the pegs are seated properly and the string is wound straight but you are still having instability issues there are several products on the market that can make life much easier. One is called peg dope or sometimes peg compound. This looks like a lipstick holder and the compound is reddish brown. It has also been used for hundreds of years. The only tricky thing is that it requires you to unwind and remove the string from the peg. You then remove the peg from the peg box and apply the peg dope to the shiny bands on the peg where it contacts the peg box. You draw a little bit of peg dope on the peg like a crayon and then reassemble everything. The great thing about peg dope is that it does two seemingly opposite things – it lubricated the peg to make it move smoothly but it also makes it sticky so that it doesn’t slip. Another product is called peg drops (or sometimes also called peg compound). You won’t confuse this with peg dope because this is a liquid and not a crayon like solid. You don’t have to completely remove the peg or string but you do have to loosen it enough to pull it out an 1/8th of an inch. Just put a drop in the gap between the peg and the peg box hole once the peg is loose. Then turn the peg back and forth a couple times slowly to get it applied evenly. DON’T PUT ON TOO MUCH or it can act almost like glue and make the peg difficult to turn. I prefer the peg dope but, again, it is a little harder to apply. At the bottom of this post is a link to a video that shows some of the things I have been discussing. I have found that occasionally there is a real issue with the pegs and peg box on a new violin but the vast majority of the time the remedies I’ve mentioned will take care of the problem.