Well Made Peg: Not just a Function, but a Beautiful Artistry

Pegs may seem to look not much but opening a box of finely crafted pegs would give you a bit of pleasure much more if it has a matching tailpiece. They are one of the few things found in the violin that doesn’t seem to be noticeable unless they are done beautifully just like the vibrato for example. Only then you will realize that they are vital for creating a rich tone in music. It seems that the peg is simple just like the vibrato, but musicians knew the difficulty of executing a vibrato, completely transforming the sound with no attention drawn to it.

It may also seem to look that all pegs are the same. However, if you look closer into it, you will see the significant amount of elegance you can put in this utilitarian object. Also, you can find lots of different materials and shapes of it in an almost infinite variety. These fittings are traditionally made from big trees such as rosewood, ebony, or boxwood which they call “the big three.” You need to have wood that is extremely dense and stable to avoid compression on the shaft of the peg and to damage or crack the chinrest or tailpiece.

Decades ago a famous dealer and restorer in Los Angeles, Hans Weisshaar, discovered that boxwood had substantially deteriorated its quality. Genuine Turkish boxwood had become very difficult to find. This type of wood is similar to ebony when it comes to hardness. However, the newer varieties that we have are soft even though they look identical. Weisshaar found a good substitute for the Turkish boxwood both in density and in color. It was the mountain mahogany, a local wood growing nearby mountains.

It may seem to look simple, but if you want to really find excellent fittings for your instrument, you need to invest in time and expertise. Although the makers are using machines like lathe and bandsaw, the entire process is not machine made. Each set is painstakingly worked by hand which is individually turned and finished. Compared to those that are sold by the dozen, which is the most useful, pegs that are the finest in the market would cost hundreds of dollars.

When it comes to their difference, worth it, although it’s imperceptible, and when it comes to quality, they’re just as beautiful. There are different varieties of styles you can find available online. They had shapes ranging from ovals that are simple to those that have a profoundly cut heart shape, while you can have a pointed arch or rounded shaped tailpiece. Some pegs are quite ornate such as those that have little knobs at the end and collars in contrasting woods. However, some experts would prefer to have a more straightforward style. For them, it seems that these extra details are just distractions from the beauty of the simple curves found on the best pegs.

It also seems to be so simple to fit pegs – you just ream a hole, shape the peg, lubricate it with a peg dope, and it’s all done! However, you need to match the peg and the taper of the hole perfectly. This should be in zero tolerance to make sure that the pegs would hold and at the same time turn smoothly. The peg shaper’s blade should be as sharp as a surgical blade. This means that it has to cut well to make the peg perfectly straight. A slight deviation will loosen the peg on either of its sides which will cause binding.

Trying the peg in the hole that is fleshly reamed with a similar polished side will make it fit. To get it would require you turn a screwdriver for about a quarter then try if it fits and if it won’t, make another adjustment until you get the right fit. Remember it’s not good enough to be close enough, just like fitting a soundpost, a bass bar, or setting the neck: It needs to be perfect. The task of fitting pegs is one of those that require a lot of skill and patience.

We know that violins could last long for hundreds of years, just like those created by Amati and other luthiers in the 16th century which are still used up to today.  However, though they are used with intense care, parts would eventually wear out. Its fingerboard made from the hardest ebony will soon come to the end of its life. Soon you have to replace the neck because they will also wear out, hoping to graft the new one to its original scroll. The holes will enlarge gradually due to the constant turning of pegs. Though it would take generations to happen, having it bushed soon is a huge possibility. For one last time, the hole is reamed, for a good gluing surface to be prepared and fit in a tampered stick of wood (for added density, the usual material is boxwood). After cutting the excess wood, it’s time to retouch the final shape of the wood to match it with the original varnish. After which, it’s time to bore the new small holes. Often times, you turn down the old pegs and reuse them. Bushing or even grafting of the neck cannot affect the value of your instrument as long as they are correctly done. It is also healthier because there is a small chance that the pegs would crack the peg box due to its smaller holes. You can also tune them very quickly.

Your instrument is a mechanism that produces beauty, not only in sound but also in appearance, giving you a pleasurable view. You may not think about the peg when you are tuning your instrument. But once you begin to look at them, you will realize the great beauty that they have added to your instrument.