The violin family is steeped in history and tradition and seems glacially slow at adapting to changes if not down right recalcitrant! That doesn’t mean that there are not developments and products that come along that make these versatile instruments even more versatile. Chin rests and shoulder rests have pretty much become standard on violins and violas as have adjustable endpins on cello. At our shop though, we try to stay ahead of the curve by putting new products to the test and carefully deciding whether they are useful or not. Below is a list and description of some of our favorite and most popular modern accessories for bowed strings.
- Geared pegs – Geared tuning has been in use on fretted string instruments for more than one hundred years, and similar products were developed for the violin family which mounted to the side of the peg box like you see on upright basses today. However, those type have been eschewed by the bowed string community for a variety of reasons, but mostly because those kind require irreversible modifications which often lead to damage. Today though, inventors have been able to fit fine gears into a smaller package and have created geared pegs which fit into existing peg holes, look more or less like traditional pegs, and do not make the peg box feel heavy. You can read about the two types in the recently updated review on geared pegs here.
- Tailpieces – The tailpieces of today have gone far beyond the basic wooden versions of yesteryear. Options are available with built in fine tuners, made out of a variety of composite materials with varying claims of advantages, as well as in a variety of shapes and styles. Basic composite tailpieces with built-in fine tuners such as those available from Wittner and Glasser have become the norm on student level instruments as they are an affordable option and allow students to make minor adjustments to the pitch without having to use the pegs. At our shop we always recommend this option over adding the metal fine tuners to a traditional tailpiece. These metal tuners are more trouble than they are worth, often resulting in damage to the top over time as well as negatively impacting the tone. There are also wood tailpiece options with built-in fine tuners under the brand name Pusch. Though costing quite a bit more than the basic composite ones, they are more attractive and also come in different weight options which sometimes can allow our luthier to adjust the tone. Then there is the new frontier of tailpieces from companies such as ZMT and Frirsz whose inventors have tinkered with the design of the tailpiece to help optimize the tone by changing the shape of the tailpiece. We see all the tailpiece options as tools in the tool box that we can employ depending on the needs of the musician and the instrument.
- Carbon Fiber Endpins – Believe it or not, the material out of which an endpin on a cello or bass is made can make a big difference to how well that instrument vibrates. We were early adopters of carbon fiber endpins and continue to recommend their use. While lower cost options are available from us, we prefer the quality of the endpins produced by New Harmony Music in New Mexico. They are a basic, high quality, dependable design which has not changed since their introduction.
- Pickups – To our ears there is no better sounding electric violin (or viola, or cello) than an acoustic violin with a pickup. That is not to diminish the value of a purely electric violin, they definitely have their place, but for those who need both acoustic and electric it is nice to have the option to use the same instrument. There are many pick up systems out there, but we recommend either the L.R. Baggs bridge, or the Realist Soundclip. The L.R. Baggs is a more permanent solution where the pickup is installed in either a pre-made bridge which gets professionally fit, or can be installed into the bridge of your choice. There is a wire coming off the bridge connecting to a carpenter jack which clamps to the edge of the instrument much like a chin rest. The new kid on the block is the Soundclip which is a small pickup that clamps to the f-hole and has a more compact carpenter jack which clamps to the edge. Both of these pick up options is capable of transmitting a very clean acoustic tone, but both are better with a quality preamp – whether a stand alone like the Para DI, or something built into a quality amplifier such as the Genzler Array Pro.