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Violin/How to choose a violin bridge

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Question
I have been want to learn to play the violin for a couple of years, but couldn't afford the prices. I recently found a used on for $20 with a case, so I figured I couldn't go wrong. The one I bought has a label that says it's a Lark made in Shanghai, China. From what I have been able to find, this is not a real quality brand. Never-the-less, I would like to make it playable just for my own use. I measured it from end to end and came up with about 22 1/2 inches. Again, according to what I have found on the 'net, this is probably a 22 5/8", 7/8 size violin. It needs a bridge. I can't seem to find a source of bridges that fit a 7/8 violin. Any suggestions?  Also, I'd like to spend as little money as possible to fix this up, but I also want parts that are going to perform adequately without breaking. I have found bridges for other size violins from as little as $0.39 to over $20. Do you know what the big difference might be in these bridges. What makes on bridge superior to (and more expensive than) another? If you need any additional information about the violin, please let me know. Thanks for you help.

Answer
Hi Rick

It is common to use a 4/4 bridge on a 7/8 violin, but you can't just buy one and stick it on the instrument.  Bridges come as rough blanks and need to be fit to the violin to work. The feet are too thick and not shaped to the instruments top as every instruments curve is different. Putting on one that doesn't fit the tops surface can cause the bridge to break or even cause a crack in the instrument.  Also because all instruments vary, the neck will not always be at the same angle both up and down and also it's tilt. So the bridges top curve must be adjusted to be correct for the specific instrument and the proper height above the fingerboard. The E is lower than the G side.  The bridge also comes about 20-30% thicker than appropriate when finished. Here is a web site that talks a little more about bridge fitting, although still very simplified - http://fiddlerman.com/2011/11/install-a-new-bridge-on-a-violin-by-kevin-m-healy/

The different prices you see are for different qualities of wood and how well the blank is cut. The quality that most violin shops use are in the $5-25 range. Cheap bridges are soft and tend to warp easily. The most expensive bridges are the hardest and have grain that allows for more sound transmission. Then there is all the labor which can easily take an hour by someone experienced.  This is why, to get a bridge properly cut and fit at a violin shop, it will cost from $40-100 or so.

So if your a little handy, it may be fun to give it a try since you have an inexpensive violin.  

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David Lashof

Expertise

I can answer questions on violin, viola, cello and bass making, repair and maintenance as well as supply general violin value ranges and information on instrument makers’ assuming the instrument's as labeled. I don't give values for modern makers as many of these modern makers are yet unknown to me. I can only give you feedback based on what information you give me, and no authority on the instrument can know every maker's work that ever lived. I have access to many books on makers and auction prices on over 25,000 makers, as well as having 36 years of experience with selling and appraising violins. Without having the instrument in hand, any estimate over the internet is just a guess as the label inside an instrument is more often wrong than right, so just having that information is not very useful. Pictures can sometimes be helpful but only so much, as the "feel" of the instrument along with small clues in workmanship and varnish cannot be seen in pictures. Any pictures should be high quality close-ups of the top and back. Additional photos of the front and treble side of the neck are also useful. It is always best to have an instrument seen in person at a violin shop that does appraisals. I can also provide advice on bows, rosin, strings and other string instrument accessories. As I am now retired, I have no bias towards selling anything; I only wish to share my knowledge and experience by providing information for those that may be getting confused by misinformation, misdirection or conflicting statements. (While I have seen many thousands of instruments and have performed numerous appraisals; if I have not evaluated an instrument in person, any information I set forth in an opinion is just that, an opinion based solely on what you have provided. Thusly, no financial decision should be based on that opinion, but rather, further investigation should be performed by having the instrument examined in person.)

Experience

I am a retired violin maker and repairman with 35 years experience having worked in Chicago and Maryland at 5 different violin shops and music stores including the first violin repairman at William Harris Lee in Chicago, the head repairman at Weavers Violins in Maryland, and in my own shop of 25 years. I have made 160 instruments and have restored countless professional level and student grade instruments. I am an accomplished violinist having performed with semi-professional as well as amateur groups although I haven't played for years and mostly stay away from questions about playing. I have taught violin making and restoration to about 20 students; three of which have gone on professionally and now have their own shops. I know violins from playing, selling, repairing, making and teaching.

Organizations
Violin Society of America (VSA). American String Teachers Association (ASTA)

Education/Credentials
I graduated from the prestigious 4 year Chicago School of Violin Making in 1981 under Master Violin Maker Tschu Ho Lee. I also studied with violin maker Willis M. Gault in Washington DC from 1973-75, who was the former owner of the oldest known example of an instrument from the modern violin family, an Andreas Amati Viola.

Awards and Honors
2008 Chester Petranek Award for service to the music community. ASTA award for service. Top All Expert in Violin for 2014 and 2015.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked with many professional musicians from DC area Symphonies as well as players from all over the US. Here are just a few, Leonard Slatkin - Former conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. Doris Gazda - Nationally renowned string specialist and composer. Bernard Greenhouse, Tanya Anisimova - Internationally renowned Solo Cellists. Jody Gatwood, Mark Pfannschmidt, Lori Barnet, Doug Dubé, Judy Silverman - National Philharmonic Orchestra. Robert Blatt, David Hardy, Glen Garlick - National Symphony Orchestra. Eddie Stubbs, Brendan Mulvahill, Nate Leath - Professional Fiddle Players. David Basche, Pat Braunlich, John Knudson, Romano Solano, Ed Ferris, Fred Lieder - freelance musicians.

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