Set-up of the Violin

All Violins, Violas, Cellos and Double Basses need some special attention to make them properly playable. They are different to stereos, computers or fridges which can be sold right out of the box. If a bowed stringed instrument is not setup properly it is considered unplayable. Very often people say to me “but it is just for a beginner”. My answer to that is always that it is hard enough to learn the violin and specially the beginners, our children, need any help and support to produce a nice tone.       When you press a key on the piano you will usually hear a beautiful tone which as well has the right pitch. This is something which is not given for the violin player. They have to produce a beautiful tone manually with their bow in the right hand and find the right pitch with their left hand.  This is a very hard thing to do.

Looking back on 28 years of experience in serving professionals and beginners, I cannot stress enough that it is essential to play a well setup instrument. Even though it is very beautiful to play a valuable instrument, the quality of the instrument is often not as crucial as the quality of the setup.
A well setup cheaper instrument will serve you better than an expensive one with a bad setup. I have seen many kids give up because they or their parents thought that they were not gifted at the violin. Very often these kids didn’t stand a chance because their instruments were unplayable. A so called “professional” setup is not always good enough (Any person earning money assembling instruments can call it a professional setup whether or not they know what they are doing).That is why I developed the very special “Deluxe Ilja Grawert Setup”. When ever you see “Deluxe Ilja Grawert Setup” you will know all the work has been done here in my Brisbane workshop and because we are in full control of the setup we can guarantee for the highest level of playability and tonal quality.

Every violin needs work on the pegs, nut, fingerboard, bridge, sound post, tail piece, bow and very often the strings need to be upgraded for good sound. In my shop every instrument gets anywhere between ¾ of an hour and 8 hours of setup work done before it is offered for sale.

Refit or new pegs
The pegs on every instrument need to be refitted or replaced. To understand the process involved I will show you some photos.
First the pegs have to be tested weather they fit or not. Usually they do not fit to the holes in the peg box.
The holes in the peg box need to be reamed with a reamer to create a certain taper.
Violin peg hole reaming in brisbane work shopIlja Grawert reaming peg holes in Brisbane, Queensland Violin shop
Now the real peg fitting can start. The tool we use to fit the pegs is called a peg fitter. It looks like an over sized pencil sharpener with three holes. These holes have the same taper as the reamer, but are of three different sizes and the cutting blade has to be much sharper than the one in a pencil sharpener. A well fitting peg fits all the way around in the matching holes on both sides of the peg box.
Violin peg cutting in Brisbane workshopViolin peg fitting in Ilja Grawert's Violin shop Brisbane, Australia
shorten pegs for violin
After all four pegs have been fitted they have to be shortened so the ends are not sticking out of the peg box. we cut the ends of either with a hand saw or some times using a band saw. After they have been shortened the pegs ends need to be rounded first with a file and than with sandpaper (grades:180, 280, 400,600
and 800) after that we polish the pegs with some polishing paste to make them nice and shiny.
We drill the holes in the pegs for the strings usually with a drill stand.The
edges of the holes in the pegs have to be softened with a round file to insure that
the strings are not breaking on sharp edges.
shorten pegIlja Grawert drills a hole in a peg for the string Violin shop
filing peg end in Queensland violin shopPaste peg in Violin shop in Brisbane
After the pegs are fitting perfectly the need to be peg pasted in order to make them turn smooth and still hold the strings in tune. We use different methods for professional players than we do for beginners.
For beginners it is essential that the peg holds the string in tune no matter what happens.They are a little bit harder to tune but do not require as much skill as the professional method. I use the Hill peg paste for them.
For the  professional player I use three different types of paste. First I use a commercial peg paste which is too dry from too much graphite. It makes the pegs stick. I loosen them with a very special 80 year old Sunlight soap which I luckily found in Cologne on a flea market 19 years ago(It is much better than newer soap because it does not moisten the pegs) then I leave the pegs sitting for a while before I finally fine adjust then with a soft white Pelikan chalk from Germany.back to top Plane Fingerboard

Every instruments finger board needs work done to it. A well adjusted finger board can make your playing so much easier than you ever imagined, while a poorly adjusted one will make it harder to play than necessary. I firmly believe that even a beginning student deserves an easy to play instrument. I talk to a lot of players every day who do not know about the importance of a well adjusted fingerboard and are playing on a poor one not knowing it can be better. If you own a bowed stringed instrument and you experience any of the following difficulties you should come and get you instrument checked :
plane violin finger board in Ilja Grawerts Brisbane workshop
1. finding it hard to press strings down
2. having shoulder, arm, hand and neck pains
3. having difficulties playing high up on the middle strings or in thumb positions
4. finding it hard to separate strings
5. have a buzz or noise on a certain tone
6. difficulties to play in tune
7. strings breaking often
You might need to have your finger board adjusted.

checking curve on violin finger board

constant checking of the finger board curve
is very important to get to the right result.

scrapeing violin finger board at Violin makers workshop QLDIlja Grawert sanding violin fingerboard in his Brisbane workshop

The fingerboard needs to have a very particular curve across the strings and has to be very slightly hollow along the strings. Most fingerboards are ether too hollow or too round length wise or are wobbly and usually the curve across is too flat. The only way this can be corrected properly is with a plane to give it the right shape,      after everything is right I work then with a scraper to make it smooth and to polish  it we use sandpaper and oil or a polishing agent.
violin finger board curverequired hollowness of violin fingerboard

After all my work is done I have to check again with the curve template as well as
with the straight edge to make sure everything is in order for easy playability.

The curve of a finger board varies between cellos, violins and violas.
Double basses need special attention, because of so many different styles being played on a bass.

For classic and bowed jazz you need a certain curve
For pizzicato jazz you need a flatter curve to gain plucking speed
and for Rockabilly music an even flatter one is better.
Very often we have to find a compromise to  the best finger board adjustment to suit the special types of music the individual players needs their double bass for. The same applies for folk, jazz, country or bluegrass violin. Please talk to me about these special adjustments.

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Adjust nut
Pictures and text coming soon

New “Ilja Grawert” Bridge
The bridges on new instruments always need to be replaced or at least have to have extensive adjustments done to them.
A bridge is not only there to be beautiful and hold the strings up, it is supposed to be a piece of sound art. With a bridge I can adjust the sound in many ways, not only the choice of wood but also the way I cut the bridge will have a big impact on the sound quality of the finished instrument. Every instrument has to be looked at dynamicly as an individual, like we do with humans. What is good for one instrument must not nessesarily be good for another. By adjusting the way I work perfectly to every instrument I can make sure to have the best possible end result in tone and playability.
checking elevation on violinchecking bridge position on violin
Cutting a new bridge involves many steps. After checking the instrument to find the right matching piece of wood we start fitting the bridge feet to the surface of the round top plate. They have to fit perfectly. The way to see if they are fitting is by placing them only by their own weight on the top plate and then looking at them in a very flat angle so you will see the reflection of a gap on the varnish of the top plate. Following this procedure you make sure the bridge fits perfectly. Fitting the bridge is done with a very sharp carving knife.
bridge foot detailfitting bridge foot
After the feet are fitting I need to determine the height and curve of the bridge. This is done with a template.
I will then cut the bridge down to the right height.
sharpen pencilsharp pencil
bridge heightfiling bridge height
Now the real sound work is starting. Every step from now on is very important for the beautiful sound of your instrument: I have to mark the bridge thickness on top of the bridge and start working on rounding the chest first with a knife and then with a fine file, to finish it of with sandpaper.
sanding violin bridge in Ilja Grawert Violin makers shop in QLD Australiamarking violin bridge top thickness in violin makers brisbane work shopcut violin bridge chest with carving kniveBrisbane Master Violin maker is fileing bridge chest on a Violin bridge
After the chest is done the bridge needs to be shaped for beauty and for optimum acustics for this one particular instrument. Every cut with my knife is well thought through to achieve the best result.
Master violin maker in brisbane is sanding a bridgeBrisbane Master cello makerQLD Master Violin Repairer Ilja Grawert is shaping a violin bridgeBrisbane Master Violin repair man Ilja Grawert is checking the bridgeBrisbane Master Luthier shows one of his masterly crafted Violin bridges

If I am happy with the end result of the bridge
I will put it aside until it is time to assemble the instrument.

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Refit and adjust or new sound post

The Sound Post – Soul of the Violin

A sound post is a small piece of dowel made of well-aged European Spruce. Despite its rather insignificant appearance, a sound post is the soul of a bowed stringed instrument like the violin. Its exact location is critical to ensure perfect sound transmission.

A soundpost hand made in Ilja Grawert Violinmaker Brisbane Workshop A sound post in its location inside the Violin

The sound post stands inside the violin connecting the top-plate and back-plate and is located slightly below the right hand bridge foot. It is standing up only under tension, not glued to the inner surfaces of the plates. It therefore has to  stand under the correct tension; too loose and it will fall over, too tight and it will damage the plates. Its end-grain surfaces have to fit perfectly to the inner surfaces of the plates of the violin.

Tool to measure the inside of a ViolinTools you need to fit and set and adjust a sound post

The sound post has to be at a certain spot behind the right hand foot which is different in every violin but follows a strict set of rules depending on the build, shape and density of the plates.
If the sound post is moved only a tenth of a millimetre away from that place the whole violin will not sound as beautiful any more.

Sound post on a sound post setter It takes years and years of experience to be  able to put the sound post in the right place, fitting to the inner surfaces, under the right tension at the right spot.
Many inexperienced people have tried to move it themselves or fit new one without the right tools and knowledge and have destroyed the inner surfaces of their valuable and irreplaceable Master violins.

Fitting the sound post:
With a special tool I measure the inner distance between top and back and roughly cut a piece of already prepared spruce dowel to the right length.
The end-grain surfaces I cut with a very sharp carving knife to an angle similar to the arching of the plates.

Inserting a sound post through the f holeThe Brisbane Violin Maker Ilja Grawert is inserting Sound post through the f-hole
Sound poust being set inside the ViolinMoving Sound post inside the Violin
Ilja Grawert is moving the soundpost inside the Violin to the right position

Then I stick the sound post to the special tool called a sound post setter and carefully insert it into the violin through the f-hole and stand it up in roughly the correct position.

I then look through the little end-pin hole and check how well it is fitting.

looking through the endpin holelooking through the endpin hole
looking inside the Violin through the endpin hole
In order to be able to see the other side of the sound post I use a little dentist mirror.
This whole procedure is repeated until the sound post fits perfectly in the right spot under the right tension.

After that it can still be moved around to fine tune the instrument.

The finished soundpost in its right location

If the sound post is in the right spot in relation to the violin and to the position of the bridge, the violin will have a beautiful, even, carrying sound and the strings will speak easily when played with the bow.

It truly gives the violin’s sound its soul.

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New high quality strings
Pictures and text coming soon

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Lubricate metal parts
Pictures and text coming soon

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Assemble instrument and tonal adjustment
Pictures and text coming soon

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Final check
Pictures and text coming soon

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Having been born into the tradition of violin making, Ilja decided at 15 to become a Violinmaker. At 18 he began his apprenticeship (1982-1986) at Geigenbau Machold in Bremen, Germany, where he had the opportunity to study under some of Europe’s best violin makers.

After receiving his qualifications, he established his own workshop in Germany, concentrating on newmaking & restoration. He remained an independent artisan after migrating to Brisbane in 1994.

Ilja now has a workshop in Brisbane. Serving beginning students as well as professionals from not only classical education but as well from the jazz and Rockabilly type of music. His main workshop is located above his shop, but during opening hours, he prefers to do the finer work at a workbench in his shop window.

He welcomes the chance to chat with anyone interested in the art of violin making, and is happy for people to watch while he works.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Author: Ilja Grawert – Violinmaker

5 thoughts on “Set-up of the Violin

  1. Hi there! I have two questions for you. 1) I am interested in my violin getting a going over by you, particularly a new bridge, strings and bow. How do we go about doing this? 2) I have a very old violin in disrepair. The label on it reads Nicolenius. I am wondering if you can tell me a little about this violin, and if it is worth repairing, just for the love of it, I think it would take a bit of work, it’s even missing 3 pegs.
    Finally, it occurs to me as I write this that you may have been affected by the recent flooding in Brisbane. I sincerely hope not. So along with my message I send best wishes for you, your family and your business. Sincerely yours, B.K. Thanks.

  2. How much will it cost to get a 4/4 violin set-up?

  3. What a fantastic lot of information about building the wonderful instruments, keep up the joyous work!!!!!!

  4. Hi, where do you get your Hills peg paste in Australia?

    I liked seeing your blog. I especially think the pictures do well to show how precise your work is. Keep up the good work. It is hard to find a good luthier these days – few and far between in the first place. (I’m in Sydney)

    1. Hi Sharron
      I am glad you like my blog.
      You can either order it the Hills peg past through my shop or buy it in any Violin shop in Sydney.

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