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Straightening a warped violin bridge?


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#1 richardz

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Posted 27 May 2007 - 01:14 PM

I have a violin with a bridge that is warping. The top is tilting backwards. I'm guessing a new set up is in order, but this bridge (from a previous owner) was made in one of the best NYC shops. Is it possible to straighten this bridge? How?

Thank you for any suggestions/input.

#2 Jeffrey Holmes

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Posted 27 May 2007 - 01:41 PM

Yes. Steam it, then clamp to a flat surface and let dry (completely).

It may not be as reliable as it once was (once a bridge warps, it may do so again), but if it was made correctly, you can get significant life out of it yet.

#3 Allan Speers

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Posted 27 May 2007 - 01:55 PM

Richardz,



Jeffrey may cringe, but I'll tell you what worked for me with a
warping, wafer-thin bridge:



Boil it (better than steaming) for a few minutes, then clamp it
straight and let it fully dry.



next, fill the bottom of a large paper cup with Minwax Wood
Hardener.  Soak the bridge in this for 5-10 minutes.



Wipe it off and let dry.  Good idea to clamp it again while it
dries.



When dry, give it a very light sanding to remove the residue.



THis not only saved a badly flexing bridge, it actually improved
the tone of that particular violin.



YMMV.



A lot.

---------



FWIW,  I was recently at the shop of one of NYC's best
repairmen.  I had brought that particular violin for a neck
lift and full set-up, so I mentioned in to him,  passing, my
little experiment.  He just smiled and pointed to the shelf:
 Yup, several cans of Minwax wood hardener.



When I picked up my violin the next week, sure enough the new (also
very thin) bridge was soaked in the stuff.  Sounds amazing.
 

#4 Fiddlestick

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Posted 27 May 2007 - 04:29 PM

Try wrapping it in a wet cotton cloth and pressing it with a hot iron.

#5 richardz

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Posted 27 May 2007 - 04:51 PM

Thank you Jeffrey. Because of who made it, I have always thought of this bridge as a sculpture and memento as well as being a beautiful bridge. I'm very happy to hear it is salvageable.

Allan, thank you also for some more excellent advice and additional details. This gives me a lot to play with.

Would either of you venture an estimate of drying-out time after steaming/boiling? I've never done this type of thing before. My guess would be overnight, say 8 hours? Would that be correct?

#6 Guest__*

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Posted 28 May 2007 - 12:43 PM

Having never tried the Minwax method, a couple of questions:

Does it do anything to the feet to encourage any kind of slippage ?
Or given a light sanding, is this a non-issue ?



A helpful tip though!





E.

#7 Bacon

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Posted 28 May 2007 - 01:45 PM

As we do a large amount of school repair on a limited budget one way we have resolved this problem is with a microwave. We set the concave section of the bridge face down on a damp rag and microwave from 3o seconds to one minute on high. It differs with different machines. Too much microwave too long will burn the bridge from the inside-out. This usually does the trick for violin and cello bridges , bass bridges take a few times.
Stephen

#8 GMM22

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Posted 28 May 2007 - 03:27 PM

For those who pay attention to such things, it is worth noting that Minwax Wood Hardener is quite hazardous. The MSDS health rating is 3, which stands for "Serious". Use with caution. Personally, if I needed a stiffer bridge that badly, I would make one of ebony.
If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it. AE

#9 Collin

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Posted 28 May 2007 - 05:41 PM

If we're going to go into bridge hardening, I might as well
mention my method - borax. It may not be considered traditional,
although it was allegedly used in violins as an insect
repellent in 18th century Cremona.



Anyway, here's how I do it:



1. Boil the wood in plain water until it sinks

2. Add borax until it is saturated (or almost)

3. Let it simmer for 20 minutes or so. don't boil it for too long,
though. the borax will then become saturated in the wood (if you
are concerned about this, use a more conservative mixture)



The borax works by cross-linking the polymers in the wood, so there
is a happy medium between having too much and too little borax.



I don't want to sidetrack the discussion, but this has worked very
well for me.


Twentieth-century art may start with nothing, but it flourishes by virtue of its belief in itself, in the possibility of control over what seems essentially uncontrollable, in the coherence of the inchoate, and in its ability to create its own values.
-T. S. Eliot

#10 Jeffrey Holmes

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Posted 28 May 2007 - 09:07 PM

quote:


Originally posted by: richardz
Thank you Jeffrey. Because of who made it, I have always thought of this bridge as a sculpture and memento as well as being a beautiful bridge. I'm very happy to hear it is salvageable.

Allan, thank you also for some more excellent advice and additional details. This gives me a lot to play with.

Would either of you venture an estimate of drying-out time after steaming/boiling? I've never done this type of thing before. My guess would be overnight, say 8 hours? Would that be correct?


My advice is simply; if you like the bridge, try steaming or boiling (as long as the water is already boiling when you put the bridge in. it's about the same thing.

If the bridge is so weak you need to add stuff to make it stiff, maybe it's time to have another bridge installed.

I let bridges dry for about 8 to 10 hours after steaming.

Good luck!

#11 David Burgess

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Posted 29 May 2007 - 12:32 PM

A quickie way of straightening is to moisten the concave side and warm the other side, like over a hot plate or bending iron. The moisture differential will warp the bridge in the other direction, and the heat will let it bend more easily and help it take a set.

quote:


Originally posted by: Collin
If we're going to go into bridge hardening, I might as well
mention my method - borax. It may not be considered traditional,
although it was allegedly used in violins as an insect
repellent in 18th century Cremona.
Anyway, here's how I do it:
1. Boil the wood in plain water until it sinks
2. Add borax until it is saturated (or almost)
3. Let it simmer for 20 minutes or so. don't boil it for too long,
though. the borax will then become saturated in the wood (if you
are concerned about this, use a more conservative mixture)
The borax works by cross-linking the polymers in the wood, so there
is a happy medium between having too much and too little borax.
I don't want to sidetrack the discussion, but this has worked very
well for me.</p>


Could you share your evidence that
(a) borax hardens the wood
(:) that it cross-links the polymenrs
© that hardening a bridge is advantageous

Thanks.

Before you criticize a man you should walk a mile in his shoes.

That way when you criticize him you will be a mile away and you will have his
shoes.

Burgess Instruments
Oberlin Restoration Workshops

The sooner you fall behind, the more time you'll have to catch up.


#12 Collin

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Posted 29 May 2007 - 05:46 PM

quote:


Originally posted by: David Burgess[/iCould you share
your evidence that

(a) borax hardens the wood

(:) that it cross-links the polymenrs

© that hardening a bridge is advantageous

Thanks.




Sure.



(a) the drop tone goes way up, and it becomes very apparent when
carving



(:) In one of Nagyvary's interviews, he mentioned using borax in
varnishes, saying that "[borax] is commonly used as an
insecticide, but in this mixture it acts as a cross-linker, weaving
the chains of sugar molecules into a sort of web."



© For an overly warm/dark/muffled instrument, one would generaly
want a very light bridge so that very little of the upper spectrum
(as in an FFT) is lost - with a hardened bridge, one can go
thinner without structural problems. Even with an instrument that
does not require the bridge to be treated thus, one will get a much
clearer, more open sound - whether the bridge is left thick or thin
(within reason).



If the powers that be want me to move this to a new thread, let me
know.
Twentieth-century art may start with nothing, but it flourishes by virtue of its belief in itself, in the possibility of control over what seems essentially uncontrollable, in the coherence of the inchoate, and in its ability to create its own values.
-T. S. Eliot

#13 Oded Kishony

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Posted 29 May 2007 - 06:08 PM

I sometimes strengthen a warped bridge, after I've straightened it, by soaking it in a glue solution.(usually yellow glue & water) Or by applying extra thin CA Glue to the end grain, especially on cello bridges. But Minwax hardener is a good choice because it does not add much mass. I don't know if a stiffer bridge in necessarily better, but I do know that a warped bridge is bad, so if the straightened, hardened bridge doesn't work out, not much is lost.

~OK
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#14 Collin

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Posted 29 May 2007 - 10:35 PM

Minwax hardener (or glue) works by putting the solution in between
the fibers, whereas borax strengthens the fibers themselves. I
could measure the mass difference sometime - but for the time being
I don't have time for that. I would assume that borax adds less
mass then Minwax or glue. I was taught that the harder the blank
the better(within reason, of course) - measured primarily by drop
tone.
Twentieth-century art may start with nothing, but it flourishes by virtue of its belief in itself, in the possibility of control over what seems essentially uncontrollable, in the coherence of the inchoate, and in its ability to create its own values.
-T. S. Eliot

#15 Jeffrey Holmes

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Posted 29 May 2007 - 11:16 PM

quote:


Originally posted by: David Burgess
A quickie way of straightening is to moisten the concave side and warm the other side, like over a hot plate or bending iron. The moisture differential will warp the bridge in the other direction, and the heat will let it bend more easily and help it take a set.


Yup... Works pretty well. I did find that the brdge tends to stay straight better (for me) when I really do the steam/dry thing though. Don't know why. Maybe I wasn't waiting long enough when wetting one side and heating the other (still damp)?? Don't know.

Anyway, concerning Borax, hardners, and all... I think I've had the best luck with untreated bridges... although I have some treated ones I like as well. I do heat the outside (temper) them... and like the results in terms of wood color as much as tone (in other words, if there was no noticable tonal change I'd do it anyway). Not sure how much of the tonal change remains anyway... but if some does, I'm happy.

If there was a treatment that actually "improves" a bridge tonally and structurally... I'd imagine it's something to consider using when cutting a new one, right? Doesn't make sense to me to treat a warped bridge that's simply too weak or badly cut (or bother straightening it for that matter). Seems like all you'd end up with is a stronger, but just as poor, bridge? Why not cut a new one?

#16 Collin

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Posted 29 May 2007 - 11:37 PM

quote:


Originally posted by: Jeffrey Holmes[/iIf there was a
treatment that actually "improves" a bridge tonally and
structurally... I'd imagine it's something to consider using when
cutting a new one, right? Doesn't make sense to me to treat a
warped bridge that's simply too weak or badly cut (or bother
straightening it for that matter). Seems like all you'd end up with
is a stronger, but just as poor, bridge? Why not cut a new one?




I agree completely. Personally, ever since I have discovered the
effects of borax, there has not been one bridge that I have cut
that I end up treating immediately thereafter. The tone quality
always improves. Always. (I try them out fully strung before and
after treatment). FWIW, I tend to use untreated bridges, as well,
and then treat them with borax. The treatment that is usually used
on treated blanks interferes with the borax treatment.
Twentieth-century art may start with nothing, but it flourishes by virtue of its belief in itself, in the possibility of control over what seems essentially uncontrollable, in the coherence of the inchoate, and in its ability to create its own values.
-T. S. Eliot

#17 richardz

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Posted 30 May 2007 - 12:18 AM

Thank you all for the input....Now results:

I ended up steaming the bridge for about 10 minutes in a vegetable steamer. I was amazed to see it straightened out after about 3 minutes. I clamped and dried it for about 10 hours overnight and put it back on the violin. It sounded better than the warped bridge obviously. I checked it later in the day and noticed a very minute warping happening again so I figured there was nothing to lose by doing the Minwax hardener treatment. I treated it, clamped and dried it and reinstalled it yesterday. I played it for a couple of hours after work today and it has maintained its shape with no further warping so i think it works in a structural sense. It's possible it is now a little louder. In that way the steaming and hardening is a great success.

The next part is interesting but a little bit anticlimactic. I think the violin might be louder now and have more punch. The anticlimactic part is the violin had tonal issues before and that hasn't cleared up. It may in fact be more noticeable (which I don't necessarily think is a bad thing). It might be projecting more vibration through the violin accentuating whatever problems it had before. Basically it has a very bright loud clear e string but the ADG strings are loud and woofy(?) without a clear core sound to them so they don't cut or project much, but they do seem louder. As Jeffrey said, if the bridge has a weakness you probably need a new one anyway. It is probably true in this case. It probably needs a whole new set-up. I'm experimenting with different string combinations with some interesting but not excellent results. I think it probably needs some expert attention in the end.

An interesting side note: as I was examining the bridge before treament I noticed a gloss on the lower portion which gave way to bare wood above the waist height, leading me to think the bridge was perhaps initially treated by the excellent NYC shop and then possibly the top half carved down by someone else (for whatever purpose) and this led to the weakness in the top portion of the bridge and possibly not the fault of the original maker.

This was an enjoyable interesting process which also brought up for me, the concept of string tension and how it effects the violin. If the bridge is warped you are lowering the bridge height/string tension/distance of the strings above the fingerboard/and distorting the pathways the sound/energy passes through the bridge. When you straighten the bridge you are effecting all these variables....very interesting.

Thank you all again for all the input.

#18 David Burgess

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Posted 30 May 2007 - 08:46 AM

quote:


Originally posted by: Jeffrey Holmes


Yup... Works pretty well. I did find that the brdge tends to stay straight better (for me) when I really do the steam/dry thing though. Don't know why. Maybe I wasn't waiting long enough when wetting one side and heating the other (still damp)?? Don't know.

Not saying it works as well as steaming. You need to over-bend a bit......it's a judgment call and doesn't always come out right the first time.
It's just one more thing to have in ones arsenal in case the customer is picking up the instrument in a half hour.

Before you criticize a man you should walk a mile in his shoes.

That way when you criticize him you will be a mile away and you will have his
shoes.

Burgess Instruments
Oberlin Restoration Workshops

The sooner you fall behind, the more time you'll have to catch up.


#19 GMM22

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Posted 30 May 2007 - 10:38 AM

It is helpful to overbend slightly to allow for some inevitable recovery. I use a three point clamping system with shims (one at the waist and the other two on the other side at the peripheries). I have found that much better reliability is attained if the bridge stays in the clamp for at least a few days. A solid piece of wood that has been wetted will not give up all excessive moisture overnight.
If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it. AE

#20 Jeffrey Holmes

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Posted 30 May 2007 - 10:59 AM

quote:


Originally posted by: David Burgess
It's just one more thing to have in ones arsenal in case the customer is picking up the instrument in a half hour. [/IMG]


I know that one! The repair persons nightmare. "Umm... You ay you'll be here in half an hour? Sure, it'll be ready for you... (now what was I doing to that fiddle??)" [img]i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif




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