Properly functioning tuning pegs are crucial to a healthy instrument

by L. Dalton Potter

How do you keep pegs from slipping, and is there a permanent solution?

—Ariel Allen-Macfarlane

Violin expert L. Dalton Potter responds:

One of the first mysteries a string player encounters in the world of instruments and their care is the friction peg. Regardless if you’re a twinkler or a professional on a world stage, string players are always at the mercy of the seemingly endless repertoire of clicks and creaks, indicating an impending “tuning eruption.”

Truthfully, traditional friction pegs work well, provided they were installed correctly and are maintained properly. In our shop, regular maintenance translates into using a bit of peg compound on the pegs as part of the string changing process. This means that every few months the wood of the pegs and the scroll are re-infused with a medium that allows the pegs to both turn smoothly and remain locked in place when they are “pushed home.” Again, the assumption is that the pegs actually fit in the first place, so let’s examine how to go about checking the fit.

After carefully removing a string (remember remove only one string at a time), slide the peg out of the pegbox and hold it up to the light. As you rotate the peg you should be able to see two shiny bands that wrap all the way around the peg without interruption; this where the pegs rub against the pegbox. Continuous contact in this area is a must for the pegs to hold their tuning. These bands are where you apply peg compound. Now, push the peg back into the peghole firmly and turn it back and forth quickly, pull it out and hold it gently against your upper lip. It should feel warm on both of the shiny bands. This means it fits well and you can proceed to apply peg compound and reinstall the string.

If any of the above standards are not met, you should visit your local shop and have them adjust or replace your pegs using professional tools and standards. Another alternative is switching from friction pegs to geared pegs, like those manufactured by Planetary Perfection and Wittner. These pegs should only be installed by a trained luthier.

L. Dalton Potter is the president of the Potter Violin Company is Bethesda, Maryland.

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