Chuck Herin first started looking at geared pegs when he saw how double bassists could easily tune their instruments before a performance.
It seemed like a more comfortable solution than the wooden friction models on his cello.
Herin started to wonder if the worm gear design on the double bass could translate to other instruments. If it was possible, musicians could tune their strings with less physical effort and greater accuracy.
Violins, cellos, and violas all rely on friction against the pegbox to keep strings in tune. That’s why they are somewhat unwieldy when adjustments become necessary.
Herin wasn’t the first one with this idea. In the 1970s, Caspari created something similar that rose and fell in popularity quickly.
If geared pegs provide convenience, why does the industry abandon the idea so readily?
Geared Pegs: Why Isn’t Everyone Using Them?
The issue with geared pegs for most stringed instruments involves the outer casing. Since most of them are made with aluminum or plastic, luthiers cannot modify them when the instrument requires adjustment. That’s why musicians with limited mobility or strength typically use them.
Although wooden friction pegs seem like an old-school technology, they really do provide an excellent method of keeping an instrument in tune.
It takes some extra work to make string adjustments, but that issue is a small price to pay for the advantages that come with this traditional design.
When Caspari attempted geared pegs in the 1970s, the instruments needed to have bearings fitted permanently within the pegbox.
As the musician played their violin, cello, or viola, the products would eventually wear out.
That meant the pegs became susceptible to slipping as the instrument aged.
The only way to fix the problem was to have the ordinary friction pegs installed, which meant a hefty conversion bill for the owner.
Herin hopes to change the approach with his company called Pegheds.
His idea to use geared pegs would help aging musicians, those with limited strength, and people with disabilities explore the musical world with less difficulty.
Other companies are also manufacturing geared pegs for instruments, including brands like Knilling and Wittner.
What Does the Inside of a Geared Peg Look Like Today?
If you were to look at a standard geared peg today, you’d find an outer casing made from aluminum or plastic. Some models come with a wooden grip (handle) that contributes to a more traditional visual aesthetic.
The gears can wind strings for the instrument at ratios of 17:2 or 4:1. It depends on the model and how much control the musician needs when tuning their instrument.
When the installation is successful, musicians have more control over their tuning than what is possible with a traditional friction-based peg.
Why is it a better solution for some musicians? When you need to tune the instrument, you’re doing more than turning a peg.
You’re also pulling and pushing, sometimes with lots of force. The human wrist wasn’t built for that motion, which means an increased risk of injury exists.
For older players, the risk of injury with tuning might outweigh the benefits of staying active with their music.
Once you get inside the exterior shell, you’ll see gears that work inside the grip that turns the tuning mechanism.
It’s a process similar to assisted pedaling on a modern bicycle. You’re applying the pressure, but it is the mechanics that let the tuning work happen.
It’s more like twisting a knob than trying to complete the tuning process. If you can turn up the volume on your radio, you could play the violin equipped with geared pegs.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Geared Peg?
If you are thinking about the modified physical action that geared pegs bring to an instrument, here are the different advantages that come with this investment.
|Improved Accuracy:||● The modified action offered by geared pegs makes them much more comfortable to position for an accurate tonal response. |
● It reduces the pressure at the wrist to ensure the musician can personalize their instrument without difficulty.
|Humidity Resistance:||● Geared pegs are made from high-quality plastics or metal, which means musicians don’t need to worry about their environment as much when tuning an instrument. |
● These products are essentially immune to temperature and humidity changes.
|Cost Reduction:||● Although geared pegs cost more than the standard choice, musicians don’t need to visit their luthier each time the seasons change because their instrument seizes. |
● When you look at the lifetime cost of maintaining the instrument, the savings can be substantial.
|Significant Tuning Changes:||● When you use a geared peg, you have predictable action at the pegbox. |
● That means you can easily reduce the pitch by a factor of 4 or 8.5 without exerting much physical force.
● This option allows for additional diversity in the playing choices that musicians have today.
|Traditional Appearance:||● Even though the geared pegs are made with modern materials, the craftsmanship makes it look like it was part of the original instrument. |
● When these items are installed correctly, most versions look like the traditional design that musicians have enjoyed for centuries.
■ Are There Any Disadvantages to Using Geared Pegs?
If you have geared pegs on your instrument, it might not be a simple task to find a luthier.
Although the technology offers several benefits, there is a tendency in the industry to reject a modern solution for a traditional problem.
There is some justification for this approach as a luthier. If an instrument needs an adjustment, it only takes a few minor modifications to a wooden friction peg to create the preferred result.
If a geared peg stops working, the luthier might need an engineering degree to figure out how to fix the problem.
When sizing is an issue with a geared peg, there isn’t as much flexibility to shave off a little length to create a preferred outcome.
The metalwork or plastic modifications could go beyond what a luthier is trained to accomplish with the instrument.
There is also the loyalty factor to consider. String musicians, luthiers, and those who work in this world often stick to what they know works.
That’s why you see them using the same brands and rosin for decades, even if new items come along that might work better.
If your local luthier is someone who wants to create a perfect clone of the traditional Italian instruments, there will be a reluctance to embrace the idea of using geared pegs.
Luthiers also note that geared pegs come with specific dimensions. They come in sets with the particular diameter required for an instrument.
That means the business would need to carry a lot of extra inventory or order them on-demand, and both situations would lead to potential customer service issues.
Could Geared Pegs Reduce Damage to the Pegbox?
One of the hesitations that some musicians have before converting to geared pegs is the risk of bushing out their peg holes.
Although the prospect of instrument alteration through this methodology is enough for anyone to pause, the reality is that peg hole bushing is a common task for luthiers.
Some estimates suggest that only 2% of Stradivaris instruments have not had at least one of them bushed.
It’s also essential to remember that any repairs to a pegbox that get completed with proper execution are not considered damaging. Geared pegs might even prevent problems in this area over time.
The reason why geared pegs have an advantage here involves the wood used for the traditional option.
Most of the older wooden pegs were carved from ebony, rosewood, or boxwood.
These species have a higher density than the maple used for the pegbox. As time passes, the two kinds of wood wear away at each other until a pegbox repair becomes necessary.
This issue virtually disappears when using aluminum or plastic with a geared peg.
Where Does the Luthier Argument Against Geared Pegs Fall Flat?
Although the argument that some luthiers make about geared pegs and inventory seems legitimate, it falls flat when you look at how the industry is structured today.
Most luthiers don’t make their pegs by hand. Their workshops often lack a lathe, which means they are already managing inventory issues when creating or repairing instruments.
They typically purchase these parts from specialist fittings suppliers.
What is the difference between ordering a wooden peg or a geared aluminum one besides personal preference?
You’ll find some clients who believe that the instrument pegs play a significant role on the instrument’s sound, but most musicians don’t notice a difference.
If anything, the cost of the geared pegs is somewhat of an issue. If you’re starting to learn how to play the violin, the average instrument price is around $200.
When you add geared pegs into the conversation, the cost could go up to $300.
When you have a true beginner’s violin made from mass-marketed materials, the geared pegs could cost as much as the instrument.
That’s why it doesn’t make sense to use geared pegs in every situation.
This technology works better on intermediate instruments or those made for experts when the musician has wrist, strength, or mobility concerns to manage.
Best Geared Pegs to Use for Instruments Today
If you’re interested in using geared pegs for your instrument, you should know that only a handful of brands offer this product. It’s even rarer to find inventory available online!
That’s why you’ll want to coordinate with your luthier (if you’re not doing the work yourself) to get these geared pegs ordered.
|Wittner Rosewood Geared Pegs||● When your preference is to have a natural-looking peg for your instrument, this geared design’s beautiful rosewood color will work well on your violin. |
● Once installed, the product won’t move within the pegbox, ensuring that the instrument’s wear-and-tear is significantly reduced.
● This option comes with a 1:30 taper, 6mm or 8mm at the ring, and works for a 3/4 or 4/4 violin.
|Knilling Perfection Planetary Geared Pegs||● If you play the cello, you’ll appreciate the advantages that come when using these geared pegs. |
● They provide improved precision, holding in your preferred position until they get manually moved.
● That makes them a virtually maintenance-free product, and it eliminates the potential risks associated with the use of a fine tuner on the tailpiece.
● The design is available in 13mm, 14mm, and 15mm sizes for convenience.
|Wittner ZW 917 Geared Pegs||● These geared pegs work with 3/4 and 4/4 violins. The diameter at the ring is 7.8mm for your luthier, and each one is made from light alloys and composite materials. |
● If they end up being too slim, you can soften the cut-out edges with sandpaper to get a better fit.
● It won’t deliver a natural look, but you’ll get the convenience you want with an affordable installation.
If you have a student learning how to play the violin or another stringed instrument, geared pegs are a suitable solution that makes tuning much easier to manage.
That way, no one else needs to adjust the instrument besides the musician.
Verdict: Are Geared Pegs Any Good?
In all honesty, I’m more of a traditionalist. Although I can see the advantages of having geared pegs, there is more value in the tonal qualities of a classically designed instrument.
If I had an authentic Stradivarius, the idea of putting in this technology would be almost comparable to blasphemy.
That doesn’t mean geared pegs don’t have a role in our industry. If you play the violin, cello, or viola, some significant benefits are possible with this investment.
It’s especially beneficial for younger students who want to begin learning how to play these stringed instruments.
I can say with certainty that this technology makes it much easier to tune your instrument. You have more playing options because of that advantage, which is why it is worth considering.
You’ll want to verify that a local luthier can work with your instrument if you’re going to upgrade to geared pegs before investing in them.
Once you’ve cleared that hurdle, it’s up to you to decide if you like them or not.