The bridge may be the most important part of the instrument. It is responsible for many functions, including the spacing and height of the strings above the playing surface. The tone is most greatly affected by the cut of the bridge; too thin and the bridge will buckle prematurely; too thick and the tone will be sacrificed.

The most common misconception, even among professionals and educators, is the angle of the bridge. Most people can understand that the feet should fit completely with no gaps, but assume incorrectly that the bridge should sit straight up.  This actually puts excessive pressure on the bridge, and usually causes it to fail prematurely.
Proper angle of the bridge:
bridge angles towards tailpiece
Due to the angle of the strings passing over the bridge, the bridge must actually be adjusted in towards the steeper angle coming off the tailpiece. The bridge may appear to lean towards the tailpiece, but when viewed from the side, the tailpiece side of the bridge should be perpendicular to the top. This angle allows the entire pressure of the strings to be pushed straight into the instrument, improving the tone and projection, while maintaining an even force prevents warpage.

If your bridge already shows signs of warpage, or an incorrect fitting of the feet, it will need to be replaced or at the very least refit soon.  While some bridges seem to defy the laws of physics, a warped bridge is a disaster waiting to happen.  Just ask anyone who has had one break 5 minutes before a concert!  In addition to providing a potentially dangerous situation, an incorrectly fit bridge is robbing your instrument of the tone it is capable of producing.

Check the angle of your bridge frequently, especially after aggressive tuning or changing a string.  If it has moved out of alignment, it can easily be adjusted back into the proper position in seconds.  A few simple rules apply.  Do not attempt to force your bridge back into position by grabbing it and bending, or tapping on it-or it may break!  Instead, one should lay the instrument on a safe, padded surface (on your lap or in the case).  Hold the feet with one hand to keep them from sliding, and gently "pinch" the string against the bridge.  Make very small adjustments, repeating the procedure on each string until the bridge is properly aligned.  It may be necessary to loosen the strings slightly before attempting this adjustment, as is the case for cello and bass bridges.
Making a simple adjustment to the bridge angle:
Bridge adjustment

As always, Nashville Violins is available to inspect your instrument without charge.  If we can assist in the adjustment, we are happy to help.  We carry a good assortment of high quality German and French bridges, should a replacement be deemed necessary.

A properly fit bridge is a work of art.  Masters have been identified solely from the cut of their bridge, unique and beautiful.  A trained luthier can affect the tone with subtle modifications to correct for uneven strings and undesirable tonal variations.  The most important part of a setup, the bridge affects the playability of any instrument.  With proper care, and a little maintenance, your bridge should last a lifetime!

Related articles:
Setup and Inspection
Changing Your Strings

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