Tuning Your Fiddle in Winter

Jan 08, 2017

Hi! Welcome to my vlog. Today I wanted to discuss a couple of things about fiddle maintenance. We are in the beginning part of January and in Southwest Louisiana we have a lot of cold fronts that come through but it gets hot then cold, hot and cold, and recently a lot of my students have been having trouble with their pegs. So that was what I wanted to talk about today- how to deal with your pegs when either they won’t hold the string, they keep on unwinding or they get stuck and they’re so hard to move that you’re afraid to move them and maybe break a string.

So let’s start first with a peg that won’t hold the strings. So first thing is, this thing here, the pegbox, it is very thin. You can see the walls of it and it actually changes throughout the year depending on the moisture, the heat, the cold. So if it shrinks, of course, it will change the way the pegs are being held and stuff like that. If there’s a lot of moisture it will swell up. So anyway I find recently, this past week, we’ve had a lot of rain come through but it also got cold. So a lot of people’s pegs just weren’t holding the strings anymore, it was driving people crazy. And of course, the first thing I always say is that what you have to do is loosen the peg, bring the string all the way down to where it barely has a pitch. Then, you know, you’re always plucking the string to monitor the pitch. Always have a tuner with you. I use my iPhone but have a tuner with you that you can monitor the pitch, and with the hand you’re not turning the peg with, pluck the string constantly so you’re monitoring. And as you’re bringing it up, you want to push in…you’re using this hand to push, to give leverage so you can push the peg in as you’re turning it. So you have to do that at the same time. So this usually works. What you’re doing is you’re just having to push the peg a little further in than you did maybe the last time you tuned it.

So if this doesn’t work, I’m not a big fan of buying these potions that, you know, keep your peg locked in or whatever. I think if your pegs were made for the fiddle that you’re playing, they should fit without anything. You just have to figure out how much to push them in. If you have an old fiddle or just a funky fiddle where the pegs look different from each other, they’re mismatched, then you might need some of that stuff. But really, what I would do, I still wouldn’t buy that stuff. I would go to a luthier and I would get them to get my pegs to fit in the pegbox right. Because really you shouldn’t need that stuff, you should just be able to either push your peg in, or if the peg is rammed in too much and you can barely turn it, try to manage it out and then retune it and don’t push it in as much. So that’s basically how it all works. But if for some reason you still can’t get it in, it still won’t hold, what you do is you take your peg out, so you have to take the string out and take your peg out, get you just your cake of rosin…I know this is crazy but you get just a regular cake of rosin and then what you do is you lay your peg in that little groove there and turn it. And so you’re just trying to get rosin dust on your peg because it’s sticky. So you do that a little bit, okay? Then, get your peg back in there, you have to put your string back on, so that’s not fun. But this does work. I have used it and I have used it with students' fiddles and it does work. And then, try bringing your peg back up and you’ll notice how it’s going to hold because it has that rosin dust on there. Again that’s not my favorite way…that’s not my first method. I really try to get the peg just to hold on its own. But recently this has been happening to a lot of my students, they have been calling me on the phone saying if they could come over, they’ve been freaking out.

The last thing you want to do is try to push it out with a screwdriver or something like that. I have a buddy, got a screwdriver here, he hit it with a little hammer, and then the base bar fell. So you don’t want to do that. If your peg…so that’s the other thing…if your peg is in there so tight where you just can’t move it, you’ve got to be careful with that too because if you just really force it you can break the peg in there or you can even break the pegbox. So what I would do is I would…the first thing I would do is just try to very gently kind of wiggle it a little bit and you’re pulling out the same time. So you’re trying to wiggle it until you get the peg to come out. Now there’s a string attached to it so we can come out totally like that but when you would feel it start to give then that’s a good thing. If you can’t get it out at all and you’re just trying everything you can my advice would be either bring it to a luthier, you can do that, or you can wait until the next cold front comes through. And what it will do, it will dry…you can even crank your heater up or whatever…it will really dry up your house and then try to do it again because that’s what happens is the moisture swells the pegbox up.

So these are all things that I’ve been through that I’ve tried and they’ve worked and also friends of mine who are luthiers have told me these little tricks so I’m just passing one to you. But you want to be careful with the pegbox because it’s thin and they can crack and the pegs can also break. That’s the thing too with pegs is if you don’t have ebony pegs then you run more of a risk of having these problems. Ebony is the wood that’s usually used for pegs and the fingerboard and it’s a really dense wood and it doesn’t react as much to weather as rosewoods and these other kinds of woods that are sometimes used for pegs.

So anyway I just wanted to pass on a little bit of tips about that because like I said a lot of people have been frustrated lately and so I hope this helped. Check out my website mitchreedmusiclessons.com. I have tunes that I write down there and this vlog really is just to put free information out there about what I’m doing and what I’m about and yeah good luck. The fiddle always needs a lot of maintenance, a lot of love you know, both the bow and the fiddle. So be patient, it’s well worth it, it’s such a great instrument, and just stay inspired. If you do get frustrated though definitely find a luthier where you live or a music store and try to get your problems fixed because you may want to put it away just because of these little problems that I’ve been talking about. So good luck, stay fiddling, and have a wonderful new year and I’ll see you out there again. Thank you.

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