Mechanical pegs are picking up traction in professional circles. Both classical players and fiddlers are warming up to them, as the technology improves and the stigma of heavy klunky ineffective contraptions gives way to a new generation of sleek mechanical pegs.
So, first, I’ll do my best to describe what is available to you, and then I’ll share my saga….hopefully it will help you to make an informed decision whether to go that route, and at least WHERE to start.
Mechanical pegs are a godsend for arthritic or aging hands that only have so much strength. Often, by the time a person is finished tuning, their hands are toasted….throbbing, before even the first note is played. This is unacceptable.
There are 3 solutions to save your hands and make it possible to tune properly and accurately. (Let’s agree to call “tradition” pegs “FRICTION” pegs, which is the industry term for them because friction is what holds them in place.)
Option #1: Properly Fitted Friction Pegs
Get quality pegs professionally installed on your violin that are custom fit for your instrument. Often, pegs on student violins were never custom fit for the violin, and if the size and angle are ill-fitting, they do not function properly and it’s a constant fight…..even for a seasoned player. The drawback of this option is that traditional pegs still require some strength and more importantly, SKILL to use. So this is not a silver bullet solution.
Option #2: Tailpiece Fine Tuners
Install fine tuners for each string on the tailpiece. This is a simple solution you can install yourself and costs under $10. If you don’t like it, simply remove them and try another option. The only real drawback But fine tuners on all 4 strings can be unsightly, or for classical players, it can hurt our pride or mark us as an amateur, in the same was that finger tapes signals that a player is still a beginner.
Are there any REAL reasons (besides vanity) not to just use fine tuners instead of mechanical pegs?
If you want to talk “luthier-ese” for a minute, then yes, it can make a VERY SMALL DIFFERENCE in your tone. Fine tuners on each string will alter your violin’s optimal tone by adding a small interruption in the transference of vibrations from string to tailpiece thereby reducing the total amount of vibration contributing to your tone. Fine tuners also change the length of the string BEHIND the bridge which also mucks of some sort of mathematical calculation for vibration. But the difference will be slight.
Option #3: Mechanical Pegs
The new generation of mechanical pegs are wonderful. They have a “gear ratio” where you turn your peg but it only alters the pitch slightly, making them in essence, “fine tuners”. There are 2 main brands that dominate the market today, and I’ll discuss them below. But first, let’s discuss the pros and cons of mechanical pegs in general.
Pros of mechanical pegs:
- They are aesthetically pleasing
- they are indistinguishable from friction pegs, so your pride can remain intact
- They require as little skill to use as “behind the bridge” fine tuners
- They are wonderful on the hands because they do not require that you “push in” as you turn. Simply turn.
The cons of these pegs are many:
- They are pricey
- They have to be professionally installed, and therefore if they malfunction, you likely need a luthier to fix it
- Installing these pegs requires that your peg holes be enlarged, and then the pegs are super-glued in place. (It’s ok….it can be done safely…but I still consider it a con)
- The pegs are heavy, but you probably won’t notice the difference
- Finally, if your string loses all tension or if you are installing new strings….you have to turn and turn and turn and turn and turn the peg to get it up to tension. This is horrible. (some people use a DRILL to turn the pegs faster!!!)
So, after considering option 1, 2, or 3…..to be honest, I recommend that you start with option 2 and go from there.
Now for my personal story:
First I decided to try them on my old fiddle….as a guinea pig before doing my main violin. I had WITTNER brand pegs installed. But I could never get it to truly sit on a perfect 5th. There are little “bearings” in the peg, and you can feel it as you turn…..and the perfect 5th was NEVER int he groove between 2 bearings…it was always on a “hump”…..so when the peg settled into the groove, the 5th was no longer perfect.
THEN, the pegs started slipping…..so the string would lose tension. This was due to FAULTY INSTALLATION. So make sure a TRUE PROFESSIONAL installs your pegs.
So part of the problem with the Wittners was faulty install, and part was those stupid bearings that interfered with perfect tuning.
After my disaster with the old fiddle, I did some research and learned about PEGHEADS brand…..that brand is now being marketed as KNILLING PERFECTION PLANETARY PEGS…..so your two main choices are Knilling or Wittner.
The Knilling pegs are AWESOME because they act exactly like a natural peg. No bearings, and if you push the peg in on the peg box, you get greater resistance. If you pull it out of the pegbox, you get less resistance….just like a natural friction peg. But even those pegs started “slipping” and would not hold the tension on my strings. It was AWFUL because I can fix most things on my violin, so I”m never left stranded no matter what goes wrong. But these pegs left me stranded. I could not tune my violin until I took it to a luthier and had the pegs removed.
I can only guess that this was a faulty installation, because the luthier had to download the instructions….and obviously was unfamiliar with the pegs. And since that time, I have learned that experienced Knilling Perfection owners keep a tube of glue handy JUST IN CASE a peg decides to slip.
So if I had to recommend a peg brand, I would 100% recommend the Knilling Perfection, not the Wittners.
I just have bad luck I suppose, because plenty of people have the pegs and like them.
But if I am speaking from experience, mechanical pegs are awful.
If you decide to get them installed, please share your experience here!