Magazine article Strings

Understanding the Role of the Bridge

Magazine article Strings

Understanding the Role of the Bridge

Article excerpt

Ever really think about that thin strip of maple holding up your strings?

"Is my bridge straight?" If there is any single question that repairers hear most frequently, that would be it. And it's asked hesitantly, with a note of apology - it's always embarrassing not to know something about your own instrument. But don't feel bad. Because of the way the bridge is shaped, it takes some training to know if it's straight or not. And of all the questions you could ask, it's the most important, because if your bridge isn't straight, it can easily warp, or even break.

The reason for that is simple: the bridge on your instrument has to be thick enough to withstand the pressure on it, but thin enough to be flexible. And the pressure is considerable - violin strings exert about 45 pounds on the bridge, while on a cello it can be close to 70 pounds, with modern forte strings. All of that weight comes down on a piece of maple only a few millimeters thick. It works fine as long as the load is perfectly balanced, but when those stresses get out of line, the bridge will quickly give way. The true miracle is that they hold their shape at all.

Why make something so prone to failure?

It would be easy enough to leave the bridge thicker - the raw blank that it's carved from has plenty of extra wood. But the challenge - and the reward - of making a violin is finding that point of balance between the acoustic and the structural. And from an acoustic point of view, what's under your chin making all that sound is not a violin with strings on it - rather, it's a set of strings with a resonator attached, and the bridge is the primary transmitter of the vibrations of the strings, which are otherwise inaudible. …

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