I became interested in an instrument's neck/body alignment when I had a violin played in tune in higher positions no matter how badly I played it! Of course that is an exaggeration but this violin really was easy to find your way around the fingerboard without making those micro finger adjustments you usually need to bring the thing into tune. This particular violin was made by Warren Bailey who used to work with me and he is the most accurate maker I've known. So this violin was the most perfectly aligned instrument I'd ever played.
Unfortunately not all instrument makers are so accurate and mis-alignment can be created in the construction process as well as in repairs. In fact more than half of the violins we see are mis-aligned due to a compromise that has been made somewhere resulting in the button (that the tailpiece attaches to near the chin rest) or the neck root being off centre.
Our friends at Oxford Violins came up with this clever device for quickly assessing the alignment of a violin. By looking down the two lines within minutes we have a clear visual guide as to where the neck, the body, the neck joint and endpin are in line.
If these elements are not in line, the string tensions become imbalanced which makes tuning difficult in high positions because the fingering needs to be different on each string. Position shifting then needs to be a conscious operation and this makes playing difficult in challenging situations, for example sight reading new pieces or exams.
When the violin is aligned properly, position shifting becomes an unconscious operation because you do not need to adjust your fingering for each note when you move into higher positions.
We now use this to assess every instrument that comes into the workshop and we let players know if we find a mis-alignment.
To correct a mis-alignment we re-position the neck but there is no need to open the body.
This violin has the neck joint and neck slightly out towards the bass side.
Of course the same principle applies to violas and cellos. For years I've been wanting to find a similar way to assess a cello's alignment.
The solution came to me in the middle of the night and now I use a laser beam projected over a carefully positioned hanging cello (see below).
If you love your instrument but find playing in high positions in tune difficult please talk to us as we might be able to help.
The solution can sometimes be as simple as re-siting the button.