Thursday, August 20, 2020

Oh $#&%! my bridge fell down!

“My bridge fell off!!”


This exclamation could be heard from nearly any beginning string player from coast to coast. It’s usually accompanied with a tone of sheer terror: the student is convinced that they have irreparably damaged the very valuable instrument that they have been told several times is “very expensive!”

Turns out, this really is not that big a deal. It often happens when a student has loosened all four of the strings on their instrument, and discover that in fact, the bridge is NOT glued on! As long as the bridge is intact: no cracks or chips, no missing parts, it can usually be stood back up with very few problems.

First take a close look at the bridge: There is usually printing on one side, and this lettering should be visible to the player when the instrument is held in playing position. You should notice that the curvature of the bridge is not symmetrical: the right-hand side is much lower than the left-hand side. This will help in the orientation of the bridge: the thin “E” string is on the lower side, while the thickest “G” string is on the highest. If the bridge is damaged or cracked, STOP. It is time to head to your repair shop for a proper repair.

Second, take a close look at the instrument. The soundpost inside the instrument should still be standing. It sometimes falls, because the release of all of the string tension will allow the top and back to expand, and the post will fall. If the soundpost is down, STOP. Head to your repair shop!

Continuing with the instrument, take a close look at the top. Are there any cracks or warps that may have caused the bridge to slip and fall? If so, STOP. Off to the shop you go!

Assuming that everything is A-OK to this point, look at the two “F” holes in the top of the instrument. Notice the two small “notches” in each hole. These are directly across from each other and create the line that the bridge will rest on. There may also be small marks in the finish that will also show you where the bridge should go.

So, loosen the strings (but do not remove them!) so that you have enough room to stand the bridge up. Holding the bridge with one hand, turn the pegs so that there is enough tension to hold the bridge in place without it falling. Don’t worry about the exact position of the bridge just yet. Now apply tension to the other three strings.

By this point, the bridge should be standing unassisted. Take a moment to make sure that it is oriented properly: printing facing the player, and the low side on the right when viewed from the chinrest end of the instrument. Now, gently move the bridge into the correct position: centered on the instrument, and between the notches in the F-holes. Make sure the feet are standing flush on the top of the instrument with NO gaps. Once you have the bridge in the correct position, make sure that each string is seated in the notch designed for it. Now you may tune the instrument to pitch.

If, during the tuning process, the bridge slips and falls, you may reset it and try again. There is tremendous pressure on the feet of the bridge, so it MUST be flush to the top. If it continually slips out, there may be another issue that a luthier will need to adjust. Take it to a reputable shop to have a new bridge cut and fit to the instrument.

A final note: you CANNOT buy a ready-to-play bridge from a music store. Each bridge must be custom fit to the unique curves of your instrument. It is not a hard or costly job, but it is something that only a trained luthier can accomplish. A new bridge is NOT a DIY opportunity!

Now that you are all set…go practice!

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