The Purpose of the Pegs

Violin Tuning Peg

Violin Tuning Peg

The pegs on a violin are the pieces of wood (usually black) that stick out from the pegbox at the top of the instrument. The pegs are held in the pegbox by a pressure fit (friction), and the tops of the strings are wound around them. The peg tensions the string as it turns, changing the pitch of the string. The typical tuning process involves using the tuning pegs to change the pitch of the string in large increments, then using the screws on the tailpiece to change the pitch in small increments. The small screws located in an instrument’s tailpiece are called fine tuners.

When to Use the Pegs

You should use the tuning pegs (instead of the fine tuners) if the pitch of the string needs major adjustment. This is common if you’ve just purchased a new instrument or strings, or if you haven’t played your instrument in a while. A string can also go loose if a tuning peg slips. Obviously, if your instrument has no fine tuners, you’re always going to use the pegs for tuning. The good news is that it’s fairly easy to add fine tuners to your existing tailpiece, or to install a new tailpiece with integrated fine tuners. The latter is preferred because it better preserves the sound of your instrument.

Peg and String Anatomy

If you hold your violin so the top is facing you, this is how the pegs correspond to the strings: lower left peg = G string; upper left peg =  D string; upper right peg = A string; lower right peg = E string. As you move clockwise around the pegs, the strings get smaller and their pitch goes up.

Violin Tuning

How To Tune a Violin with the Pegs

  1. Grasp the neck of the violin with your right hand (if you’re tuning pegs on the left side of the pegbox) or your left hand (if you’re tuning pegs on the right side).
  2. With your free hand, grasp the peg of the string you need to tune your violin.
  3. Holding the instrument tightly, turn the peg toward you to loosen the string. You don’t want the string to completely unwind or be floppy, but most of the tension should be relieved.
  4. Now turn the peg away from you to tension the string again. While you turn, put a little pressure on the peg to push it into the pegbox.
  5. As you turn the peg, simultaneously pluck the string with the thumb on the hand holding the neck. This lets you hear the pitch of the string and get it close to the right pitch.
  6. With an electronic tuner, get the string as close to the correct pitch as you reasonably can. It’s usually best to tune the string just a bit flat (low) and take it the rest of the way up with the fine tuner. (Tip: There are lots of free tuner apps you can download for your smartphone. Our favorite is called IMS Tuner Lite.)
  7. Lastly, use the fine tuners to get the pitch exactly right.

Troubleshooting

Pegs are slipping and not staying put

This is often caused by pegs that aren’t fitting tightly enough. Try putting more pressure inward on the peg to push it further into the pegbox. The primary cause for slipping pegs is that over time, the pegs can become polished by the frequent rubbing on the pegbox. To fix this, buy some 000 (triple zero) steel wool, and use it to buff the smooth, glassy areas on the peg back to a dull finish. This will restore the friction and reduce slipping.

If that doesn’t work, you can try a product called “peg dope”. It’s a liquid that you apply to the pegs that keeps them from slipping.

Pegs are hard to turn, or don’t turn smoothly

Don’t push in so hard as you turn the peg; it’s probably jammed too far into the pegbox. You may even need to pull the peg out slightly as you turn it. If that doesn’t fix the problem, you have two options. First, try pulling the peg all the way out then use a pencil to apply some graphite to the spot on the peg where it contacts the pegbox. You can also buy commercial peg lubricant products that accomplish the same thing.

The fine tuner won’t tighten or loosen any more

When a fine tuner is out of travel, it’s time to re-center it and retune. Start by setting the fine tuner to near the center of its adjustment range (or cheat it out from the center a few turns). Tune the string with the corresponding tuning peg, then use the fine tuner again.


I can’t get the string in-tune with the peg, and I don’t have a fine tuner

Tuning with pegs can be tricky. It usually works best to tune up to the desired pitch instead of down. Try loosening the peg slightly, then tighten it up to the desired pitch. You may have to do this several times, down then back up again, until you achieve the correct tuning. Like anything, tuning with pegs takes some practice to master.

With this advice, your pegs should always turn freely and stay put!

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19 replies
  1. Celia Levy
    Celia Levy says:

    When I first had my own violin I was so afraid to tune my violin thinking I would snap a string or break a tuning peg but I got used to doing it with the correct info from my teacher and using other things so they don’t stick and swell so much during the summer or slip too much during the winter. You never ever want to force a tuning peg luckily I have never damaged my baby. My rule is “if you’re good it it, it’ll be good to you.”

  2. Sophia Chan
    Sophia Chan says:

    I’m always getting frustrated at slipping pegs! It always takes me 5 minutes of tuning just because the pegs keep slipping. Now I know I need to rough them up a bit.

  3. Will
    Will says:

    If you have problems with sticky pegs, the Hill’s peg lube that Michael sells is great for that. Use it sparingly though and the little tube will last a lifetime.

  4. Nicholas Guess
    Nicholas Guess says:

    I am always scared to use the peg to tune my e string because I’ve snapped it several times over the years, but I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable tuning with pegs now!

  5. Mark Woodyatt
    Mark Woodyatt says:

    When all else fails, get a master luthier to recut the pegs to fit your violin perfectly. Good call on the pencil graphite for sticking pegs. I never knew about the steel wool! I was shown for slipping pegs, apply a little classroom chalk to the contact area on the the pegs where they contact the pegbox.

  6. Mariko
    Mariko says:

    Thanks for this article. I was wondering if it’s OK to tune the violin while holding it on my lap. I see professional violinists do it while they’re playing. But I can’t do that. I get tuned too but it doesn’t look very professional the way I do it 🙂 Anybody else having the same issue?

  7. Donald Nakano
    Donald Nakano says:

    I instinctively learned to loosen the fine tuners before tuning with the pegs. I tune slightly flat, then use the fine tuners. That way, I can usually go for a long time using only the fine tuners.

  8. Chris Guleff
    Chris Guleff says:

    These are thoughts I always tried to keep in mind and for the most part it became a matter of habit. Sometimes I’d cringe when I had to wind the peg down really tight for an extremely loose string. All I could figure was that I was afraid the violin would pop when actually the worse that could happen was a broken string.

  9. Priscilla Gaskins
    Priscilla Gaskins says:

    very informative article- I used to be terrified to touch the pegs because of breaking a string! I had fine tuners for all strings- my new violin has only one- for the E string and I have gotten more comfortable using the pegs

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