Five things that effect violin string height making your violin easier or more difficult to play…
1. Bridge Height
The bridge plays an important roll in the playability of a violin. Here are a few things to note when examining the bridge. Is it warped? When looking at a bridge from the side, it should be straight. If it’s warped at all, that will not only affect the string height, but also the sound of the instrument. The wood should be hard. If you can dent it with your fingernail, you’re probably in for a replacement in the near future. The strings should be evenly spaced in a uniformed fashion. Make sure that your bridge is initially set by a professional luthier to ensure it is adjusted to fit that individual instrument.
2. Nut Height
The height of the nut should be ½ the thickness of the string. Example: if the string is 2mm thick, the point where the string makes contact with the nut should be 1mm from the fingerboard. Some players and luthiers differ on this philosophy, but this is a good rule of thumb. Keep in mind, it is common for the strings to cut into the nut over time. If your strings are too close to begin with, you’ll be in the shop within a few months needing costly adjustments.
3. Fingerboard Scoop
Every fingerboard has a “scoop” much like a skateboard ramp. One way to check this scoop is to put the edge of a ruler against the fingerboard or hold down the string at the nut and end of the board. Look to see that the curve is smooth and even throughout the whole fingerboard. Also check that there is the same amount of scoop for the bass and treble strings. It should be around .5mm at the center of the board.
4. Fingerboard Smoothness
Smoothing a fingerboard is a tedious process, challenging for even an experienced luthier. When you put your eye over the scroll of the instrument and peer down the board, it should be shiny like a black mirror and free of bumps and divots.
5. The Height of the Strings
Finally, you can simply measure the strings. On a violin the treble side should be around 3.5mm and the bass side should be around 5.5. A viola should be approx. 4mm treble and 6mm bass side. Cellos around 5.5 mm treble side and 8.5-9 mm bass side.
All five of these factors combine to determine how far the string is from the fingerboard for any given note. Too close, and the string will buzz when played; too far, and the strings will be difficult to push down. The ultimate test of any instrument is to play it. Try playing any and all levels of instruments and you’ll quickly start to see, feel and hear the difference. There is a reason some instruments sell for $95 and some sell for $95,000. Regardless of the cost or sound of your fiddle, take it to a skilled luthier for examination. Many times a few minor adjustments can make it feel like a new instrument.