VIolin / Fiddle Setup

Fiddle and Violin Setup at Gianna’s

Bowed strings coming from a supplier or constructed in our shop require substantial setup before they are ready for play. This process is quite extensive.  For an extended read, see Michael Darnton’s fine guide.

We go far beyond what the usual setup involves.  We also distinguish violin and fiddle setup.  See below for your choice of fiddle setup.

The basic steps we go through are:

  1. Fit tuning pegs to move smoothly.  We relieve the area around the string hole to prevent damage to the strings, stain and then polish the pegs.
  2. Plane the fingerboard.  Few violins arrive with even fingerboards. They are often too thick, have irregular sanded contours, have too much relief or scoop, have an inappropriate radius, and may have other faults.  This is unacceptable in our shop.  Few instruments leave without having the board planed, scraped, sanded to a very fine grade, and polished.  This is one of the areas we may vary between fiddle and violin.
  3. Fit, groove and shape the nut.  The shaping of the nut has to be done in a systematic and careful fashion.  The grooves for the strings must meet certain specifications and set the action of the strings above the fingerboard.  This is one of the areas where we may vary the setup between fiddle and violin.
  4. Shape the neck.  Few shops bother to carefully shape the neck on a relatively inexpensive violin.  The usual faults are clubby necks, or necks that swell at the ends.  We measure and set the overall thickness, shape to an appropriate ellipse using a template for guidance, assure there are no lumps or hollows, bring the curve.  We use files, scrapers, knives, and abrasive paper to a very fine grade.  Finally, we stain and then finish the neck with a special long-lasting treatment designed to protect the wood without creating the drag inherent with a varnished neck.
  5. Refit or replace the soundpost.  The post is the soul of the instrument. Its fit and placement are crucial.  We check the fit of every instrument and ensure that it is in good contact, essential for proper function.  We may vary the location depending on whether we are going for fiddle or violin voicing
  6. Fit the endpin.  We often find endpins that are either too loose or have been forced in.  We replace or refit as required.
  7. Bridge.  The bridge is absolutely essential for proper playability and sound.  The bridge acts as a filter and can generate dull strings or dead spots in response if done incorrectly.  On instruments provided with bridges, we always find them too heavy and roughly cut.  Much of our setup effort goes into the bridges.  We use Despiau bridges on our completely unset instruments and repairs.  Other brands available upon request.
  8. Acoustic blueprinting.  [link] We do at least a basic blueprinting on every violin family instrument, including setting B0, balancing the neck, bass bar work, basic F hole work, and tone quality regulation, as well as working on the bridge.

Differences between classical and fiddle setup

Classical setup:  

  • Action at 3.2 / 5.5 mm
  • Perlon strings, usually Tonica
  • Single fine tuner on the E string
  • Relief in the fingerboard
  • Voicing for a neutral, singing tone
  • We can set for a lower action and somewhat sweeter “folk” violin

Fiddle Setup

  • Action slightly to substantially lower than for classical setup
  • Steel strings, usually Helicore heavy or Prim
  • Wittner fine-tuner composite tailpiece
  • Voice for a balanced, even, somewhat metallic dark tone with lots of grit and punch
  • Provide a relatively "stiff" feel with minimum action height
  • Our standard contest fiddle bridge radius is 52 mm.  We can do anything from a standard 42 mm classical bridge to a 60 mm flat old time setup, on request.