Troubleshooting Guide for Dealing with Violin Pegs and Fine Tuners

By Katharine Rapoport

No matter how much you baby your violin, it still goes out of tune. And sometimes the pegs and fine tuners stubbornly refuse to do their job. Here are some of the most common problems you face, as well as the solutions.

Peg problems

Sometimes pegs are hard to turn or don’t stay firmly in place. Pegs are typically made from harder wood than the main body of the violin, so the pegs expand and contract at different rates with natural heat and humidity changes. Before you peg out, here are the common problems violinists have with pegs and some handy suggestions for overcoming them:

  • The peg won’t stay in place when you reach the pitch. Solution: As you near the desired pitch, hold firmly around the neck of the violin, and then push the peg in toward the pegbox as you turn — like putting a cork back in a bottle!

    Pushing the peg in place.

    Pushing the peg in place.
  • The peg won’t move. Solution: Gently pull the peg outward (as though you’re unscrewing it) from the pegbox as you turn. The peg usually loosens. Loosening the tension of the string usually releases the friction before you tune up again.

    Turning and pulling a stubborn peg.

    Turning and pulling a stubborn peg.
  • The peg is generally hard to turn. Solution: Commercial compounds are available that coat pegs with a smooth substance. The compound is commonly sold in a small stick, like a tube of lipstick, and it used to be labeled “Peg Dope” before too many shipments got held up in customs! (But many violinists still call it peg dope anyway.) You can apply the compound to the two circular tracks on the peg where it comes into contact with the peg hole, and the peg will then turn smoothly.

    You need to undo the string and then remove the peg completely to apply the compound. Try turning the peg a few times in the peg holes before restringing the violin to be sure that you’re happy with the feel. If you don’t have peg dope, scribbling on the peg at the same circular tracks with a soft pencil also helps it turn more smoothly.

    Applying peg dope. [Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk]

    Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk
    Applying peg dope.

If a peg is really stuck, don’t force it. Take your violin to a professional repairperson. Forcing a peg into the peg hole can damage the scroll or break the peg. Also, if your violin gets a small crack or needs any repair, don’t get Uncle Arthur’s crazy glue out of the garage. Take your violin to a reputable shop or repair specialist, where a qualified violin doctor can take care of your instrument and restore it to health.

Fine tuner problems

Fine tuners are generally easier to deal with than pegs because they’re mechanical devices made of metal, fixed into their grooves and not subject to such variations in weather as are wooden pegs. You can overcome fine tuner problems more easily than peg problems:

  • The fine tuner is stiff to turn. Solution: Apply a little graphite by scribbling with a soft pencil across the threads of the screw. You can also apply a little dry soap (as in an old cake of soap that’s never seen water) to the threads of the screw. This solution works well unless the thread of the screw is stripped, in which case you may need to take the violin to the shop to have the fine tuner replaced (fortunately, not an expensive endeavor!).

    Using a soft pencil to help the fine tuners turn smoothly. [Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchy

    Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk
    Using a soft pencil to help the fine tuners turn smoothly.
  • The fine tuner is turned so far down that the end of the screw is scratching the violin. Solution: Unscrew the fine tuner as far as it will go (without falling out and rolling under the baseboards!), and then use the peg to tune the string close to its pitch.

    Checking on the condition of the fine tuners once a week, making sure they aren’t screwed down too far, is good for preventing any gouges to the top of your violin. Also, you can keep the fine tuners in the middle of their turning range so that you don’t get them stuck.

  • The fine tuner is unscrewed so far that it falls out of its groove. Solution: Find the little rascal on the floor and then put it back in gently, keeping the screw as upright as possible to avoid cross‐graining the mechanism.