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Raising Cello Bridge Height


Brad Dorsey

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Lowering a cello (or violin or viola) bridge height is easy -- file the strings grooves deeper, and, when the string heights are correct, remove the excess material from the top of the bridge.  Raising a cello bridge seems to be much more of a challenge.

The only way I can think of to do it would be to glue shims to the bottoms of the feet.  The shims would have to be thin enough to bend to conform to the top arching.  If the shims were thin, multiple shims would be required to build up enough thickness to raise the bridge height significantly.  Both feet would need to be shimmed the same amount, because neither foot would fit the top if just one foot were shimmed.

Alternatively, a thicker non-flexible shim could be glued to the bottom of each foot, and then the feet could be re-fit to the top.  Since it would be impossible to add just the right thickness of shim, the shims would need to be made too thick, and the top of the bridge would then have to be reduced to just the right height.  And the grain of the shims would have to be oriented to prevent tear-out while re-fitting the feet.

Shimming the bridge feet would introduce so many compromises that it would be silly to attempt it on a good cello.  But I'm looking for a quick way to raise a bridge on a cheap cello as an alternative to fitting a new bridge.  Does anyone have any tricks or ideas?

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I'd also like to find an acceptable answer to this. Brad and I live in an area where summer and winter temps can be 100 degrees apart and humidity differences of 80% are normal. Some cellos will have string height changes of a centimeter between the extremes. While making a new bridge is certainly the best answer explaining to clients that the $500 bridge they bought last summer needs to be replaced six months later (as I will be doing on Monday) is not fun. On instruments with no local deformation at the bridge feet a cross grain shim 1-3 mm thick can be employed and makes surprisingly little difference in sound but on older, higher arched  instruments, which are the most likely to be affected by the weather, the depressions under the bridge feet make this less viable. Summer and winter bridges are some times the answer but the clients perception that "there must be something you can do!" remains a public relations problem. Keeping humidity levels within narrow parameters certainly helps but requires some serious effort from clients in our world of 200 year old wood framed houses and woodstoves for heat.

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In Chicago the Beckers have done this for a very long time, based, I think, on the theory of keeping "magical" bridges on instruments. They do it to posts, too! So, because we can point at them :-) we do also, in emergencies and on rentals.

Basically you fit a couple of blocks of wood to the bottom of the feet, glue them on, and refit the bridge. It's not incredibly difficult, but I think, not usually believing in magic bridges, that it's a waste of time, and will cut a new bridge ASAP except on the rentals. I have used different woods for this, with the grain running the long way of the foot, and I don't think the wood matters--you can consider it either an extension of the top upwards if you use spruce, or the extention of the feet down, if you use a hardwood.

If it's just a quick seasonal adjustment (string height goes down in winter), and the cellist really needs two bridges, one for summer and one for winter, one light spot of yellow glue will hold the shoe on well enough, then later you can pop it off and use that as the second bridge after you cut another taller one for winter. Because of that, I try to adjust the string height from the bottom by fitting the feet rather than by fitting high feet and filing some off the top of the bridge to adjust string height.

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2 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Seems to me that Staufer should have invented his patent adjustable neck in America rather than Austria (I described it in detail here and the subsequent posts) https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/346698-alois-engleder-budae-1847/&do=findComment&comment=902037

Beat me to it! This is not fair off from some bass necks I've seen.

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I made a Staufer (one f in 1829) guitar last year. I can't see why it wouldn't work on a cello. I might give it a go on the one I have started. Like Joseph Curtin's adjustable neck, you keep the bridge constant, and move the neck. His are more high tech! Fully adjustable. The Staufer pivots on a ledge, and the screw holds it tight. Shims could be used to adjust, and then bolt back down.

Mine hasn't moved, so I haven't tested it. I did have to adjust it after setup because it did move some with string tension. Since then it's been good.

The guitar pivots at the octave, I made a neck for the cello, I'm not sure, but I don't think a cello neck mounts at the octave, so that part would be different. You have to do some math to know how much to shim.

Like most guitars, it has a "button" that isn't part of the back. It might look better like that, than to have a space between the neck and the button on the back.

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@Brad DorseyShims are an option for minimal adjustments, maybe up to 1mm. You don’t need to glue them, just some colophany on the surface will hold it in place. I cut shims from 0.5 softwood veneer so that the flexible direction goes cross grain. Eventually several layers can be used. Pressure of the feet will sandwich it tightly on the surface, even if the surface is not really flat.
 

However, @nathan slobodkinsaid that in your region cello necks projection can move as much as 1cm. That’s a lot. Actually I’d think too much difference to adjust with material under the bridge feet. on such a cello I’d look for other ways to block the neck movement. Reinforcing the linings on the upper bouts on the top side can help. I have done this successfully only on violas , so I can’t say how effective it is for cellos. I would estimate that on a cello linings must be made very thick, maybe up to 1cm by glueing multiple layers of normal linings together. 
 
In any case, customers should know that such a cello needs at least two bridges, one for summer, one for winter. I’d probably give such a client some rebate on the second bridge.

 

 

 

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7 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

Seems to me that Staufer should have invented his patent adjustable neck in America rather than Austria (I described it in detail here and the subsequent posts) https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/346698-alois-engleder-budae-1847/&do=findComment&comment=902037

I guess I missed this the first time. I thought this was a good idea until we got a cello with one of these devices. Before we sold it I had a lot of fun messing with setups. The main thing I discovered was that there was a huge change in the sound of the cello at a particular point, and that was when I cranked the adjustment down all the way tightly so that it was as solidly in the instrument as possible. That last quarter turn made a lot of difference. And this wouldn't be nearly as secure as if it had been properly glued in without the gizmo.

I had already noticed this type of sound change when regluing necks that were well fit but had dry joints that came apart--before, with a loose neck they sounded one way, not great; gluing the neck back with exactly the same setup the sound was MUCH better. I would have liked to have replaced the neck on that cello, but didn't have the opportunity before someone bought it (it was a lofty enough cello that set up poorly it still was better than many.) Would have loved to have heard it at its best.

Anyway, bottom line is I think it's a rotten idea.

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59 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:


Reinforcing the linings on the upper bouts on the top side can help. I have done this successfully only on violas , so I can’t say how effective it is for cellos. I would estimate that on a cello linings must be made very thick, maybe up to 1cm by glueing multiple layers of normal linings together. 
 

Based on a lot of experience with cellos and weather, I don't think that's what happening. I think the top is shrinking across it's width and lowering the arch. My evidence for this is a consistent problem with cello posts getting tight at the same time as bridge problems, as the lowering top both tightens the post and lowers the bridge.

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Update:  I discovered the perfect solution for the cello that prompted me to start this discussion:  I found the winter bridge in the case and put it on.  Problem solved.

Thank you for all the suggestions and observations.  As Nathan mentioned, in New Hampshire I experience seasonal changes in cello fingerboard projection of around a centimeter.  For some reason it never occurred to me to make the shims with grain running parallel with the strings.  I experimented with this idea and found that it has promise, so I will try it next time.

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6 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

 The main thing I discovered was that there was a huge change in the sound of the cello at a particular point, and that was when I cranked the adjustment down all the way tightly so that it was as solidly in the instrument as possible.

That is exactly what I've been thinking could be the case, glad (or actually sad) to see that confirmed. It is the only logical explanation for the fact that it hasn't caught on. So many cellos have the projection drop, and it would be a great solution if it would just sound as good as a more traditional neck construction.
 

But I've been wondering. The Stauffer system has the neck pivot around the fingerboard end of the neck root, so that only there the neck root makes contact, unless completely screwed on. What if one were to place a movable piece of wood under the button end of the neck root also, so that the neck would effectively be screwed tight onto two ends of the neck root ? That may just give the whole thing enough rigidity to sound good. Have you tried that, Michael?

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19 hours ago, donbarzino said:

I have added shims below bass bridge feet many times. Over the years I have discovered that the

wood type and grain direction of the shims don't matter. I have also found that it is not even

necessary to glue the shims to the bridge feet since the large surface area prevents slippage.

On cellos, I used to see players do this using  pieces cut from a wooden tongue depressor as the shims.

11 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

Based on a lot of experience with cellos and weather, I don't think that's what happening. I think the top is shrinking across it's width and lowering the arch. My evidence for this is a consistent problem with cello posts getting tight at the same time as bridge problems, as the lowering top both tightens the post and lowers the bridge.

That's my conclusion as well, for the repeating seasonal variations.

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11 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

I guess I missed this the first time. I thought this was a good idea until we got a cello with one of these devices. Before we sold it I had a lot of fun messing with setups. The main thing I discovered was that there was a huge change in the sound of the cello at a particular point, and that was when I cranked the adjustment down all the way tightly so that it was as solidly in the instrument as possible. That last quarter turn made a lot of difference. And this wouldn't be nearly as secure as if it had been properly glued in without the gizmo.

I had already noticed this type of sound change when regluing necks that were well fit but had dry joints that came apart--before, with a loose neck they sounded one way, not great; gluing the neck back with exactly the same setup the sound was MUCH better. I would have liked to have replaced the neck on that cello, but didn't have the opportunity before someone bought it (it was a lofty enough cello that set up poorly it still was better than many.) Would have loved to have heard it at its best.

Anyway, bottom line is I think it's a rotten idea.

I was the same opinion as I first came to Vienna, have long since changed my mind though

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  • 11 months later...
On 2/10/2022 at 10:13 PM, donbarzino said:

https://www.amazon.com/height-adjustable-cello-bridge-MAPLE/dp/B00XNEHJDQ

This type of height adjustment mechanism is very popular among double bassists.

 

I was just going to suggest something like this. You can buy bass bridge adjusters, or id they are too big, some smaller ones could be made up.

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