The fingerboard, like the nut, is often overlooked. It is one of the most important parts for playing ease and left hand technique. A warn fingerboard with deep grooves or a poorly cut one will add challenges to playing and probably cause unwanted sounds when played on.
A perfectly shaped fingerboard is a geometric nightmare to cut! Perhaps 1:10 violin makers gets it right. Even those who do get it right, sometimes, have to rough it up again, after final polish, to remove unseen working irregularities.
It is a ‘constant’ lateral radial arc from the nut to the end with a parabolic concave camber cut throughout the length that is offset by roughly 1mm to the lower register strings. The reason for less camber needed under the high register, and more needed under the lower register, is that the amplitude of the lower register sine wave is greater.
The above is very hard to achieve, especially because it is done by hand and eye, with a conglomerate of working obstacles. These being, tool preparation, tool use and technical ability, material challenges, new and past fitting *lines being uneven, working damage avoidance and spring boarding past the neck joint.
*Lines, refer to the lines that define the shape. There will be the base line which is seen at the bottom of the fingerboard, The lines on either side that are at the top of the sides – between the bottom and top. And, there is a hard to see (infinite) set of changing lines over the top of the fingerboard that defines the camber, along both the X and Y axis (along the length and from side to side, respectively).
It works very closely in relation to the nut and bridge. There are a host of problems that may occur if the cut of the fingerboard is poorly executed .
- If the fingerboard is flat or ‘wavy’ from nut to the end then the strings will likely vibrate onto it, causing a buzz when playing, unless the nut and bridge are cut extra high to prevent this from happening. This is often seen on factory instruments that have a camber up until the end of the neck and flattens out for the remainder to the end of the fingerboard. Sometimes a visible convex curve can be seen after the neck. That will increase the buzz likelihood between 3rd to 5th position.
- If there are dips along the length of the fingerboard it will buzz at the higher points. This can be overcome by cutting the bridge too high for comfort to aid string clearance at potential buzz points.
- If there are grooves on the fingerboard under each string from frequent use (groovy that you play a lot) this can make playing uncomfortable and, again, cause a buzz.
- When the fingerboard is too flat from G to E then it becomes likely that the curve of the bridge will cause the height of the two centre strings to feel high.
Because of how a violin is held, the natural motion of tool in hand and the spring board action past the neck. When working on the fingerboard the potentials for error makes it hard to achieve an even cross cut cambered arc that is constant.
A poorly fitted and or adjusted fingerboard is terrible to have to overcome for any new player, it means that other adjustments must be overcompensated to make it work. This in turn will compromise technique and sound.