The Purpose of the Pegs
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.
How To Tune a Violin with the Pegs
- 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).
- With your free hand, grasp the peg of the string you need to tune your violin.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Lastly, use the fine tuners to get the pitch exactly right.
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!