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All About Pegs

Posted by admin on September 1, 2011

Many string players struggle with stuck or slipping pegs.  I thought a quick physics lesson would explain how pegs work, and what can be done to fix them.  However, physics should never be rushed!  This article ended up longer than intended, so I broke it down into three parts for easier reading.  I hope you find it of interest.

The Peg

Violins, violas, and cellos have all used friction tuning pegs since the first violins were made by Andrea Amati in the 1500s.  This was not an original idea; viols and guitars often used pegs back then.  Today, friction pegs can also be found in dulcimers, banjos, and flamenco guitars.

A friction peg is quite simple in design.  The peg is composed of a head for the player to grasp while tuning and an evenly tapered, round shaft.  The peg is fitted to a hole in the peg box that matches the taper of the shaft.  (Technically, there are two holes, one on each side of the pegbox.)

To fit the pegs, a violinmaker uses two extremely precise tools: a reamer and a shaper.  The reamer is best compared to a hand turned, tapered drill bit.  Some reamers have a straight cutting edge while others have a counter-clockwise spiral for smoother cutting.  The shaper works similar to a pencil sharpener.  As the peg is turned in the shaper's hole, a fixed blade removes a thin shaving from the shaft until the correct diameter and taper is achieved.  A good violinmaker will make minute adjustments to the shaper as he fits the pegs, to match the taper of the pegs exactly to the taper of the reamed hole.  He will also burnish the wood of both the hole and the peg to minimize any compression of the wood over time.

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In the next two sections, I will cover the forces at work on the peg and peg problems and repairs.

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