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old-time mechanical violin pegs


Ken Pollard

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On a fiddle forum, we've had a couple threads that include photos of violins with mechanical pegs, smaller but similar to those on basses.

I'm not interested in defending their use or not. I personally don't like them, but do run across folks that do. They are typically found on lower-end instruments, many with integral bassbars, e.g.,

http://www.usd.edu/smm/CivilWarViolin.html

But I, and others, have believed that these pegs were late 19th-century inventions. Of course, the USD Civil-War violin's pegs could have been added later, but there are some photos that seem to push the invention date back a bit further. For example,

http://www.flickr.com/photos/piedmont_foss...intagemusicians

Note the fiddle held by the shorter girl.

Certainly not of earth-shaking importance, but does anyone know when this style of mechanical peg assembly was invented?

Thanks,

Ken

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According to some research I did earlier this year to help date someone's violin, mechanical pegs were most popular in European trade instruments made between the 1890s and the late teens (1910s). Obviously, the pegs had been invented and were in use before then--and they remained on many cheaper fiddles through the 20s and into the 30s--but that was their heyday.

I was advised to look at the quality of the tuning mechanisms to get a sense of their age, with better quality tuners generally being used earlier on. Dunno if that's completely accurate, as I've seen at least one 1920s violin with nice mother of pearl tuner heads and pretty nice gears.

Personally, I don't think they're particularly evil, but everyone I know hates them. It sure helps to have a guitar speed crank handy when putting on new strings.

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According to some research I did earlier this year to help date someone's violin, mechanical pegs were most popular in European trade instruments made between the 1890s and the late teens (1910s). Obviously, the pegs had been invented and were in use before then--and they remained on many cheaper fiddles through the 20s and into the 30s--but that was their heyday.

Thanks, cjstuff. Do you remember any source locations? I have tried a few internet searches and don't seem to find much in the way of useful information, besides 'late 1800s'. As the one photo showed, they were on a child's instrument ca. 1875. Could they have been around for 20 years by that time? Or brand new? Given the mechanical sophistication of the early to mid 1800s, they were certainly possible in that earlier time period.

Anyway, if you have any sources, I'd appreciate knowing about them. As I said, it's not earth-shaking, but thought I'd give it a try.

And you're right on stringing up those things -- they take a long time by hand. I had one come into the shop several years ago -- a full-length guitar string for the G-string. Now that was one patient fiddler!

Thanks,

Ken

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Thanks, cjstuff. Do you remember any source locations? I have tried a few internet searches and don't seem to find much in the way of useful information, besides 'late 1800s'. As the one photo showed, they were on a child's instrument ca. 1875. Could they have been around for 20 years by that time? Or brand new? Given the mechanical sophistication of the early to mid 1800s, they were certainly possible in that earlier time period.

Anyway, if you have any sources, I'd appreciate knowing about them. As I said, it's not earth-shaking, but thought I'd give it a try.

And you're right on stringing up those things -- they take a long time by hand. I had one come into the shop several years ago -- a full-length guitar string for the G-string. Now that was one patient fiddler!

Thanks,

Ken

Mechanical tuners were common on guitars in the early Nineteenth Century. Lot's of examples on Panormo romantic guitars around 1820. One of the producers that stamped his brass tuners was Nance. I don't know when someone got around to putting them on a violin but since guitars at least were fitted with both mechanical and friction tuners during this period, I would assume that someone had put them on a fiddle by then. The tuners that I have seen on Panormo guitars are quite well made and sophisticated. the rollers were bone or ivory coverings over brass stems I think. Easily adapted to violins with a scroll shaped plate.

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"Cotton-Eyed Joe" played on a Strad! That's just awesome on every level, especially if it offends any aristocratic sensibilities.

It sounded like the Strad was rejecting the player.

I wonder if Tommy Jarrel ever elaborated on what the ideal violin should sound like. Maybe the copper was a quick fix on a wore out fingerboard.

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It sounded like the Strad was rejecting the player.

I wonder if Tommy Jarrel ever elaborated on what the ideal violin should sound like. Maybe the copper was a quick fix on a wore out fingerboard.

That was my assumption about the metal cover on the fingerboard. I've seen plenty of trade fiddles from the turn of the 20th century that have ebonized soft wood fingerboards instead of true ebony fingerboards. Those will get torn up in no time. I bet a bunch of American fiddle makers didn't have easy access to ebony, either--nor for that matter, good hickory, which seems hard enough that it could serve as a pretty good fingerboard.

It was hard to hear nuances through a YouTube clip, but I bet that fiddle had quite the old timey sound. Or something sort of like an odd marriage between a fiddle and a pedal steel.

I loved hearing Cotton Eyed Joe on the Strad, though it set off a huge cognitive dissonance in my head. I bet it would have sounded better on the Guarnerius.

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Interesting that mechanical pegs never really caught on for violins; I suppose they were used at some point on violas and cellos too, right? And for the sake of discussion, planetary pegs don't count. :)

It sounded like the Strad was rejecting the player.

It wasn't, inanimate objects aren't capable of discerning various individuals or musical genres. Instead, it was just some old country boy playing what he likes.

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I've seen plenty of violins and cellos with the screw holes where the plates were, mostly 1850 era German. Probably a new craze to improve violins with technology. I did find a nice old cello at a house sale with the machines, they still worked so well I cleaned and oiled them and left them in. I did recut the neck shape, very blocky and uncomfortable, and rebult the body. I found a nice home for it with a young student who thought the machines were cool. I initally thought it could have been a church bass but it lacked the hole in the back for the carrying peg. Mostly the machines wear out and start to rattle and slip.

Reese Williams

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Oh yes, I forgot. the utube video reminded me of a visit to the Museum of Appalachia Driving through Tenn. area. They have a huge barn filled with farm stuff but also a large collection of violins/fiddles and other instruments -made from tin cans, old boxes and who knows what, The violin from the video looked like it could have come right out of that display. They did have some of the instruments from the greats of bluegrass there too.

Reese

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I think that there are two reasons why these pegs never caught on; the first being that depending on the size of the players left hand, the G peg would sometimes strike the back of the hand (the ones I had did anyway), and perhaps more importantly, the fit of a violin into it's case is akward with them (both reasons why the Perfections are catching on).

I do like the look of the geared pegs shown above that come normally out of the peg holes. Taking a closer look at the peg hole area, these seem like they may have at one time been commercially available rather then custom made. Anyone know?

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  • 9 years later...

FYI:  All of the links in this thread to instrument photos in the National Music Museum redirect to the Museum's homepage.  Here are new links to the relevant photos.

On 1/14/2009 at 1:50 AM, Busker said:

See views of Pegbox on vln by Salzard workshop, Paris or Mirecourt, ca. 1840-1875.

http://www.usd.edu/smm/Violins/1800-1849/Salzard.html  

NEW LINK: http://collections.nmmusd.org/Violins/1800-1849/Salzard.html

For the CIVIL WAR VIOLIN photo in the first post in this thread, the NEW LINK is: http://collections.nmmusd.org/CivilWarViolin.html

 

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On 1/9/2009 at 3:13 PM, Ken Pollard said:

 

Note the fiddle held by the shorter girl.

Ken

Actually, the fiddle held by the taller girl also has geared pegs--it's not immediately obvious because the peg heads are perpendicular to the scroll, as normal pegs are.  The color of the pegs is the give-away--two are ebony and two are ivory, and these pegs exactly match a set of geared pegs on a violin that is in our shop now for repair.  I'm glad you posted the link to this photo!  

Joseph Shuffield

info@violinshop.com

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  • 5 years later...

This violin was made in 1729 and is absolutely exceptional! It may answer your question! It's possible that these pegs could have been added to my antique violin at a later date, but my theory is that this was original!  Look at the varnish too! I love how it turned black and how it's worn in all the places it was touched the most! The first owners name appears to be etched on the back: "Wilhelmj."  Now that I am the owner, "Wilhelmj" is the new official name I've given this violin in honor of the violinist who etched his name on its back.  Playing it is like living in a simpler time and place!  It literally transports you through history!17042900501397001614422010011758.thumb.jpg.86d53a7342a9dce0edca5915a8de1f9d.jpg  Please shoot me any questions! I love talking about this!

17042901866137713851466219390489.jpg

17042905020826724250043414896790.jpg

17042905396546274956008588496610.jpg

17042905573674001519442180797025.jpg

17042905762578741364444096750382.jpg

17042905935681676792080614172670.jpg

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3 hours ago, thelightedtorch said:

This violin was made in 1729 and is absolutely exceptional! It may answer your question! It's possible that these pegs could have been added to my antique violin at a later date, but my theory is that this was original!  Look at the varnish too! I love how it turned black and how it's worn in all the places it was touched the most! The first owners name appears to be etched on the back: "Wilhelmj."  Now that I am the owner, "Wilhelmj" is the new official name I've given this violin in honor of the violinist who etched his name on its back.  Playing it is like living in a simpler time and place!  It literally transports you through history!17042900501397001614422010011758.thumb.jpg.86d53a7342a9dce0edca5915a8de1f9d.jpg  Please shoot me any questions! I love talking about this!

17042901866137713851466219390489.jpg

17042905020826724250043414896790.jpg

17042905396546274956008588496610.jpg

17042905573674001519442180797025.jpg

17042905762578741364444096750382.jpg

17042905935681676792080614172670.jpg

Hate to disappoint you with the 0bvious, but that violin was made sometime circa 1900 in Germany near Markneukirchen. You'll find plenty like it in the mail order catalogs of the time. The pegs are called Champion pegs, also introduced sometime around 1900. Not very popular any more.

 

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6 hours ago, thelightedtorch said:

This violin was made in 1729 and is absolutely exceptional! It may answer your question! It's possible that these pegs could have been added to my antique violin at a later date, but my theory is that this was original!  Look at the varnish too! I love how it turned black and how it's worn in all the places it was touched the most! The first owners name appears to be etched on the back: "Wilhelmj."  Now that I am the owner, "Wilhelmj" is the new official name I've given this violin in honor of the violinist who etched his name on its back.  Playing it is like living in a simpler time and place!  It literally transports you through history! 
Please shoot me any questions! I love talking about this!

OK, a couple of questions:
Why does this sound so much like an Ebay ad?

Perchance, is the G string wound on the peg backwards? If so, why would anyone believe that you have the even the slightest clue what you are talking about?

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3 hours ago, Michael Richwine said:

Hate to disappoint you with the 0bvious, but that violin was made sometime circa 1900 in Germany near Markneukirchen. You'll find plenty like it in the mail order catalogs of the time. The pegs are called Champion pegs, also introduced sometime around 1900. Not very popular any more.

 

Ditto to that!!! Hope you didn't buy it based on the misinformation that you've told to us.

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