Fingerboard Dropping?


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Hi all! 

 

I feel a bit paranoid, but I'm afraid for my instrument. I got sick this past week and thought my violin sounded different due to 'sick ears' but I've suddenly noticed that my fingerboard seems noticeably lower (however, I'm not entirely certain this isn't due to sudden onset paranoia caused by the 'sick ears' and I started to wonder if perhaps it's always been this way and I just never noticed, particularly since the violin was not too far out of tune when I took it out). I waited a day to see if maybe it was just my fevered imagination, but the lowered fingerboard actually appears worse this morning. 

 

While I was sick I changed the temp in the house a few times due to a bad fever and chills. While my violin has never reacted negatively to temperature or humidity changes in the past (going from the west coast of Canada in winter to Hawaii with no problems at all and even maintaining tuning). The only incident I can recall regarding this sort of thing is when the violin was first moved from Utah to Hawaii my violin teacher took a foam pad of some sort and wedged it beneath the fingerboard to prevent it from dropping due to the climate change. 

 

If anyone here has any advice or any opinions I'd love to hear it all. Thanks a bunch! 

I've also posted this on violinist.com so if anyone uses both sites please feel free to ignore one of my two posts :) 

 

 

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Look at the button.  If you see a gap appearing between the edge of the back there, and the edge of the neck heel, take the tension off your strings immediately, and get your fiddle to a good luthier soonest.  :)

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 Yes indeed.

 

A low fingerboard is fairly indicative of one particular thing.

Ok - perhaps more than one thing  - but neither thing is good. Take the tension off, as soon as you can, and see your luthier. 

 

There is no other advice that you should have other than this. Or, at least, none that I can think of.

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Thank you for your expertise! The low fingerboard has progressed to the point where I can definitely tell it is not me being paranoid (very sad as I was pretty hopeful it would turn out just to be me and not the violin). I have taken out the tension in the strings but left enough to properly support the bridge (it now sounds a bit like a guitar). Well, it's 15 years old now and it's been a stellar and hardy/non-finicky instrument the entire time - I guess it was due for something. 

 

Violadamore - Thank you for your suggestion! I looked under a strong light really closely at the button and there was a very small gap showing! I then looked at the top of the button for comparison and saw that there was no gap - I'm guessing this is an indicator of too much tension being placed on something? The construction of the seams are okay though.

 

Craig - If it's not too much trouble could you tell me what the particular things you suspect are? I'm planning on taking it to a local luthier and I don't want to get taken for a ride. I've only gone to one other luthier in this area and he commented that my violin had several mistakes in it's construction - the most notable being his criticism of the bridge (I'm still using the one that was carved by the original luthier). However, I checked out a number of luthiery books from the library and did a bunch of research online and found out his criticism was entirely wrong! 

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You have gotten good advice from two folks who know.  The only thing I want to add is not to panic.  All is not lost.  You clearly are attached to the instrument.  So, go in to your luthier prepared to make an investment -- no one here would think of giving you even a range of what to expect because it is impossible to know without seeing the instrument what structural issues may be behind what you are seeing.  And go in with your ears and eyes open.  If they are someone with whom you have worked before, that helps.  But either way, ask as many questions as you need to in order to be comfortable that you understand what they propose to do and how.  If the estimate is a big number, that will help the pill go down.  And it preserves your status as a non-rube in the transaction.

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Everyone is jumping to conclusions without all the info.  You are all assuming the neck is coming out, but fingerboards do drop when the humidity rises.  At this time of year it is pretty common.

 

Robinbird, is there any way you could tell us how much it has dropped? Where are you located and has the humidity gone up recently?

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Look at the button.  If you see a gap appearing between the edge of the back there, and the edge of the neck heel, take the tension off your strings immediately, and get your fiddle to a good luthier soonest.  :)

 

 

Everyone is jumping to conclusions without all the info.  You are all assuming the neck is coming out, but fingerboards do drop when the humidity rises.  At this time of year it is pretty common.

 

Robinbird, is there any way you could tell us how much it has dropped? Where are you located and has the humidity gone up recently?

 

I would assume that if a player sees a gap between button and neck root, you would want to do what Viola is advising, whether the fingerboard has dropped or not.  Correct me if I'm wrong.

 

Just in case Robin doesn't see a gap, she can give us some string clearance measurements.

 

Robin,

You want to measure the clearance the G string has over the surface of the fingerboard at the bridge end of  the fingerboard.  If you have a metric ruler, place it upright (perpendicular to board) next to the G string, so that the scaled part of the ruler is resting on the board at the very end of the fingerboard at the bridge end of fingerboard.   Most of the ruler, the part without the metric ticks, will be out over the end of the fingerboard.  That's ok.  That's what you want. You should be able to see where the G string crosses the measuring ticks on the ruler.  Record where you think the G string lies in relation to the measuring ticks.  (Note: If the end of the ruler doesn't start at 0 mm, ie, if you have some ruler material between the end of the ruler and where 0 is, you're going to have to allow for that in your measurement. Do whatever you have to do to make an accurate measurement between the string and the top surface of the fingerboard directly under the string at the bridge end of the board.)

 

Usually, in a standard setup, the G string would cross those ticks between the 5 and 6 millimeter marks, ie, the center (not the bottom) of the G string is about 5.5 millimeters above the surface of the fingerboard at the very end of the fingerboard at the bridge end of the fingerboard.

 

Do the same thing with the E string.  The clearance there should be about 3.5 millimeters.

 

Let us know the measurements.

 

If you get measurements much larger than 5.5 and 3.5, respectively, say, 1 mm larger, something is not right.  Either your fingerboard is dropping or your setup is unusual. Just in case the fingerboard is dropping because the neck attachment is loose, take tension off the strings as advised above.

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I shouldn't say anything about this stuff but

from experience with a fiddle a few years back

if the instrument is otherwise sound and the neck has moved but stabilized 

you may be able to get away with a new fingerboard

or a thin wedge between neck and board

without having to reset the neck?

Is this correct ladies & gentlemen?

Anyway best to wait till robinbird reports back.

An urgent trip to a shop seems the best bet regardless.

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Thank you so much, everyone!

 

I'm not sure how much it's dropped, unfortunately, I have pictures of pretty much every part of my violin except a profile shot to compare it to! It's one of the reasons that I thought I may be going a touch batty at first and just fretting over something that's always been that way. 

 

Matthew - I don't think the humidity has shifted enormously here, at least not general climate wise (I just checked on a local weather site and relative humidity seems to have held about the same for the past 3 months). Unfortunately, my instrument has been so hardy and good to me in the past that I never bought a good hygrometer and still I have the same 10 year old case and the 10 year old built in humidity reader that came with it (I know the needle moves, but not how reliable it is). Also, because I was sick this past week (right before 'the drop') I messed about quite a bit with the thermostat and turned it up quite a bit higher than the usual temp I keep it at - I'm not sure what effect this would have on the relative humidity.

 

skiingfiddler -  Thanks so much for the highly handy info - I will keep it in mind. Unfortunately, I don't have anything to measure with at hand! 

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Everyone is jumping to conclusions without all the info.  You are all assuming the neck is coming out, but fingerboards do drop when the humidity rises.  At this time of year it is pretty common.

 

Robinbird, is there any way you could tell us how much it has dropped? Where are you located and has the humidity gone up recently?

 

I agree with Matthew...  We don't know enough... Could be a number of things.  Top distortion occurs in all instruments over time and is especially common during seasonal shifts... so that's possible.  Since the perception of the owner is that the change was rather sudden, I'd look at the bond between the top plate and the upper block (if that lets go on the interior the neck can go wonky; especially if the plate is a bit thin in that area) as well as the joint of the neck to the body... if the neck/board is weak, it can warp over time...  so many options.  so little time.   :)

 

What the OP described seeing at the button (gap near the rib?) sounds like more like a fault in construction than the cause of the problem.  

 

Robinbird:  The photo below is of a viola which suffered a fall along with it's owner on the ice a couple months ago.  It is more drastic than what would occur due to a simple joint failure, but it should give you an idea of what the other members were describing.  The gap would be greatest at the top of the button if the neck moved downward.

 

post-17-0-25452200-1429273238_thumb.jpg

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The photo Jeffrey posted (Thank you!  :) ) shows exactly what I was describing.  In my very modest experience, it's a sign of one of either of two failure modes.  If the neck is separating cleanly from the block that is one, but it's comparatively a breeze to fix.  If the block itself has come loose from the back, the violin must be opened, and the block removed, scrupulously cleaned (along with the back, top, and rib areas of contact), and reseated.  I find it happening with older violins with previous repairs in this area where the block has been previously popped back in with an application of new glue over the old (an invitation to eventual disaster).  I'm describing this for the benefit of my fellow amateurs who might face the problem.

 

When the top plate only has separated from the block, you can get a situation where the fingerboard drops more or less suddenly, but the button area still looks sound.  If you can gently pull back on the scroll and the neck moves with the back and ribs as a unit, this has likely occurred.

 

IMHO, for anyone who plays but doesn't fix, any of these is time to release the string tension and go find someone who does.  :)

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 Unfortunately, I don't have anything to measure with at hand! 

 

If you're worried about a fingerboard rising and falling, it would be a good idea to have a good quality metric ruler, probably metal, handy to measure string clearances as described above. Any of the business supply stores, Staples, Office Max, etc, would have one.  That way you can confirm, objectively, your impressions about what's happening to the fingerboard.

 

After visiting a repairer and getting confirmation that everything's ok, including the string clearances, you can take measurements to establish baseline numbers for comparison with subsequent measurements when you feel fingerboard height might have changed.  At the very least that might lessen your concerns about what's happening.

 

For me as a player, a 1/2 mm change, up or down, in the clearances of the G or E strings would result in a very different, unpleasant feel of the strings under the fingers.  I live in a very stable, dry climate.  So, a larger change, a change of 1 mm, would cause concern that there's a structural problem.  Talk it over with your repairer as to what the normal range of variation might be without indicating structural problems for your fiddle.

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I would assume that if a player sees a gap between button and neck root, you would want to do what Viola is advising, whether the fingerboard has dropped or not. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Robin's 2nd post didn't show when I made my post for some reason. Maybe because of new members having their posts reviewed? Now that I'm reading the thread again I see it. The only thing I saw before I posted was everyone talking about the neck coming out with the OP only saying her fingerboard had dropped. It wouldn't have been the first time I've seen people jump to conclusions.

I do still feel we don't have enough info and it would be good for her to take it somewhere.

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Robin's 2nd post didn't show when I made my post for some reason. Maybe because of new members having their posts reviewed? Now that I'm reading the thread again I see it. The only thing I saw before I posted was everyone talking about the neck coming out with the OP only saying her fingerboard had dropped. It wouldn't have been the first time I've seen people jump to conclusions.

I do still feel we don't have enough info and it would be good for her to take it somewhere.

 

I didn't see Robin's 2nd post either when I posted, and seeing it would have changed my post, too.  The timing on posts from new posters can be somewhat confusing because of delays.  Going to a competent repairer would definitely be best.  In between visits to a repairer, having some kind of objective measuring system, like string clearance, might help Robin decide what's normal in terms of changes caused by seasons and weather and what isn't normal.

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Thank you everyone! I am overwhelmed by your kindness and willingness to share your experience and knowledge with me! 

 

I took my violin to a nearby luthier this morning and had him give it a look over. He said that while the fingerboard does look low and the action is high he says that nothing seems to be out of order - I even specifically asked if he saw any signs of seams or anything coming loose or the neck coming up and voiced my concerns (after I gave him a chance to look it over and make his own assumptions of course - I didn't want to jump in right away and end up influencing what he concluded).

 

He says that though it isn't ideal he thinks it's within the okay/acceptable range and that it would be alright if I wanted to see if sticking a humidifier in the case might solve the problem and if it doesn't to get it reevaluated/repaired.

 

He mentioned making a new bridge to suit the lower angle of the fingerboard if it doesn't move back into position. However, after doing my own reading I'm uncertain this would be the best use of money to fix the problem as some people seem to mention that making a new bridge is more of a patch for symptoms that may result in a less-than-stellar sound (not that this could impact my income like it would a professional, but I'd like to do right by my instrument) rather than a true fix (such as a neck pull up). I may be mistaken on this though? 

 

 

And sorry again for the delay in postings - they all need(ed) to be approved by the moderator.

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OK...Do it

I thought I just did. :lol:

 

As Jeffrey mentioned, higher humidity will generally increase the distance between the strings and the fingerboard, so increasing the moisture will take her in the opposite direction from where she wants to go. Unless the luthier was suggesting that she add moisture to increase the flexibility of the wood, remove the string tension, and leave it alone for a period of months.

 

Two things going on that take it in the opposite direction: The top expands with increased moisture content, and since it is constrained at the edges, the expansion manifests as an increase in arching height.

The back gets slightly longer, which causes the neck to pivot to a lower projection.

 

An additional concern is that if the change she has noticed is partly due to distortion from sustained string pressure, higher moisture will accelerate the process by making the wood more flexible, and increasing the "creep" rate..

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I thought I just did. :lol:

 

As Jeffrey mentioned, higher humidity will generally increase the distance between the strings and the fingerboard, so increasing the moisture will take her in the opposite direction from where she wants to go. Unless the luthier was suggesting that she add moisture to increase the flexibility of the wood, remove the string tension, and leave it alone for a period of months.

 

Two things going on that take it in the opposite direction: The top expands with increased moisture content, and since it is constrained at the edges, the expansion manifests as an increase in arching height.

The back gets slightly longer, which causes the neck to pivot to a lower projection.

 

An additional concern is that if the change she has noticed is partly due to distortion from sustained string pressure, higher moisture will accelerate the process by making the wood more flexible, and increasing the "creep" rate..

Brilliant!

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Two things going on that take it in the opposite direction: The top expands with increased moisture content, and since it is constrained at the edges, the expansion manifests as an increase in arching height.

The back gets slightly longer, which causes the neck to pivot to a lower projection.

 

 

 

David,

 

If I understand correctly, both top and back want to expand when increased moisture is present, but the top is constrained from going beyond its outline (with expansion going into the arching instead) while the back is not under that constraint.  Why isn't the back constrained like the top is?  Is it the difference between maple and spruce?  Is it that backs are thicker than tops, and backs can overpower the constraints of the rib garland while tops can't?

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David,

 

If I understand correctly, both top and back want to expand when increased moisture is present, but the top is constrained from going beyond its outline (with expansion going into the arching) while the back is not under that constraint.  Why isn't the back constrained like the top is?  Is it the difference between maple and spruce?  Is it that backs are thicker than tops?

 

The top is constrained by the pressure from the neck and the pressure from the tail-gut.

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...Two things going on that take it in the opposite direction: The top expands with increased moisture content, and since it is constrained at the edges, the expansion manifests as an increase in arching height.

The back gets slightly longer, which causes the neck to pivot to a lower projection.

 

An additional concern is that if the change she has noticed is partly due to distortion from sustained string pressure, higher moisture will accelerate the process by making the wood more flexible, and increasing the "creep" rate..

 

I think there's a third thing that could be going on -- deformation of the top arch as the result of string tension.  This deformation will be greater with higher humidity.  The top arch bulges higher which allows the fingerboard to sink.

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