Before we get to the problems, let's first talk about what the bridge actually does. The bridge has three basic functions:
- Holding the strings up in such a way that the distance between each string and the fingerboard is optimal.
- Creating a curve that raises the middle two strings in relation to the outside ones in such a way that it is easy to play only one string at a time, but also allows quick string crossings.
- Transferring the vibrational energy from the strings to the body. This a complex process where certain desirable frequencies can be enhanced and undesirable frequencies filtered out.
Now, every violin is unique – even mass-produced factory violins have small differences between them. Therefore, looking at the functions of a bridge it should be clear that a bridge must be specifically cut to fit a given violin. There is no such thing as 'one-size-fits-all' when it comes to violin bridges. And this is where the problem often starts – the basic music store does not know this and just puts any unfitted bridge blank on any violin.
So how do you know if your violin has a properly fitted bridge? Here are a few pointsers:
- Measure the distance between the E string and the fingerboard at the end of the fingerboard. This should be between 3 and 4 mm (4/32 '' – 5/32 '').
- Do the same for the G string – it should be between 5 and 6 mm (6/32 '' – 8/32 '').
- Look at the top of the bridge from the side. Is the two middle strings raised equally in relation to the outside strings?
- Look at the feet of the bridge – they should fit exactly to the top of the violin with no gaps. If there are any gaps and your bridge is standing upright (see next point) you need to go and see your friendly local violin repair person. A violin with poorly fitted bridge feet will never sound well.
- While looking from the side, make sure that the bridge is standing upright. It will often lean slightly back (towards the tailpiece) – that is ok. However, if it is leaning towards the fingerboard, it must be dropped carefully to the correct position.
- If you have more broken strings than your fellow players, the problem might be the string grooves at the top of the bridge. If the strings have cut into bridge more than half their own thickness, it may explain your broken strings.
It is possible to write volumes on the violin bridge, but I hope these few pointers will help you to enjoy your instrument and get the best out of it.