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I almost never see violins with a fine-tuner on any but the E string.

Is there any drawback to placing and using fine tuners on lower strings? (Other than the need to use strings with loop ends.)

4 Answers 4

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There are a couple of drawbacks to using add-on attached fine tuners.

The violin tailpiece should be set up so there is a specific distance from the bridge to the contact point of the tailpiece to facilitate a resonant response in the strings. The average recommended distance is 57mm, although some Luthiers will set the distance by tuning the strings with tail-gut adjustments for best tone. Using the extended arm fine tuners will make the distance from string end to bridge too short, affecting the instrument's tone.

Adding mass to the tailpiece may also have an affect on tone as well. I haven't personally tested this.

Using the screw down clip-on style fine tuners (the tuner pushes a screw against the string to deflect it and make it tighter) can cause early wear-out of your strings, as well as shorting the distance to the bridge.

For students, the ease of tuning (especially considering the peg setup of student quality instruments) usually outweighs the loss of tone.

Integrated fine tuner tailpieces alleviate the problem of shortening the string tail length, and most are made to accept ball end strings, so as said in the comments there isn't any reason to not use one.

Fine tuners don't work as well with low tension or gut strings because of the amount of motion needed to change the pitch of the stretchier strings, but they work fine with modern Nylon based and steel type strings.

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Sometimes there's confusion, because the merits of fine tuners will be different for different groups.

FOR THE BEGINNER:

Fine tuners can be very nice to have because they just make the job of tuning the instrument simpler. Tuning with friction pegs is a learned skill and takes a bit of getting used to; and if the fit of the peg is imperfect or it needs lubrication, it can be frustrating. Getting this right isn't optional—you have to have working pegs—but being able to use the fine tuners when you're already "close" just removes one more thing to worry about.

Also, many beginners are children using partial-size violins. These use smaller-gauge strings, so they need fine tuners all the more. One of the reasons that even adult professionals use a fine tuner on the E is because it's so hard to do without it. The E is typically made of solid steel and has a very thin diameter, so even a small turn of the peg makes a big difference in pitch. On children's partial-size violins, even the lower strings are thinner gauge and have the same issue.

Also, fine tuners on all four strings are popular among fiddle players, and fiddlers also often prefer steel-core strings, while modern classical players usually choose a core of a synthetic fiber, somewhat mimicking the original gut strings. Steel strings are less prone to stretching, so the fiddler might have less adjustment to make each time. Very small (or cheap) children's instruments are also often sold with steel strings.

FOR THE EXPERIENCED (classical) player:

The perspective is the opposite. The beginner asks "why can't I put fine tuners on all the strings," but many professionals have only one, on the E, when they'd prefer to have none if they could. Some of the reasons have been touched on in other answers:

  • They could have an impact on tone. Yes, people put a lot of thought into what goes on "behind the bridge"—the ideal distance from bridge to nut, the proper thickness of the tailgut, the mass of the tailpiece, etc. But frankly, the practical impact of these considerations will be minimal for all but the finest instruments and finest players. It's like worrying about the aerodynamic impact of the hood ornament on a minivan. If you're flying a supersonic jet, then yes, these things matter, but otherwise it's probably the least of your concerns.
  • More practically, fine tuners are terribly prone to buzzing and rattling. There are a lot of moving parts—a threaded pin, a little washer, an arm, the casing that hold the arm, etc. Anything loose can rattle annoyingly at the resonant frequency of a given note.
  • They can also be prone to mechanical failure. Thin screws can bend and warp, sometimes winding up jammed against the arm rather than pushing on it. This is one reason not to choose a tailpiece with integrated fine tuners: when something goes wrong you have to replace the whole thing. I've often seen these fail even more often than individual fine tuners.
  • Yes, they can cause wear on the strings. They can also mar the belly of the instrument. A careless user might screw the fine tuner in so far that the arm rubs against the wood. Aside from this, though, several accidents could cause the tailpiece to strike the belly: the bridge can fall or break; the tailgut could snap; or there could be more serious and systemic trauma like a broken neck. In many of these cases, if you simply have metal balls on the underside of the tailpiece, you might escape the gouges that would be caused by metal fine tuners.
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It's a bit pointless with non-steel strings since the precision of a smooth-moving peg is quite adequate and their range is required since non-steel-core strings hold pitch worse and react to length changes quite less. When moving a fine-tuner too far, you'll damage the violin's top (depending on tail piece and fine tuner construction), so reserving fine-tuners for just the string(s) where they are by far most useful is a good compromise. Also they used to be a noticeable expense.

That being said, I've seen enough violins/tailpieces that apparently came with (identical) fine tuners from the start.

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    Fine tuners haven't been expensive since... I dunno, more than 40 or 50 years ago? Compare to the cost of a decent tailpiece, let alone a decent bridge or bow. That said, the new generation of tailpieces with built-in tuners get rid of almost all "buzz" risk. Keep in mind that you can always leave the fine tuners at "null" and tune with the pegs. Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 12:55
  • Even 40 years ago, I had a violin with fine tuners on all 4 strings. Can't remember how much I used them, though... My current electric violin has steel strings, so has 4 fine tuners, and I use them every time I pick it up
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 18:46
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    Carl said it. There's no good reason not to use a tailpiece with built-in fine tuners, although most professional violinists would scoff at them because of tradition. Just make sure you get a good one- the cheap ones with plastic parts don't last long and they don't sound quite as good, as they damp the strings a bit. Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 18:46
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There's more than one type of fine tuner. All the discussion so far here has assumed that the tuners are the micro adjusters fitted to the tail piece.

No-one's mentioned fine tuner pegs: (google for "fine tune violin peg")

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