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Wooden Machine Pegs

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Kam, Feb 20, 2006.

  1. Kam


    Feb 12, 2006
    Minneapolis, MN
    I'm somewhat of a newbie at string bass, and I am about to buy my first "real 100% mine gotta love it" carved bass. I'm currently on a week long trial with this German maid, born in roughly 1900. She's been rebuild, apparently somebody let her fall on her bridge, so there's some extensive repair to the top. We've danced in a hall, and I believe I've fallen in love with her sound, despite her wounds.

    I am concerned about her machine pegs, however. They are wooden, and I'm just curious what the general consensus is among the members here on wooden machine pegs? I did a search and a large part of the results were people replacing the wood with brass. Is my fear that the "pegs" are going to snap whilst I increase a moderate amount of tension to be scoffed at, or is it a legitimate concern? What are some telling signs of failure with these organic cylinders? The shop put on new Helicores before I whisked her away, and when I got to the hall and took her out of the case, the A string was completely void of tension. When I tried to bring it back to pitch, it would get to a certain point and snap back to lifelessness again, though I eventually got it back. Is this a symptom of new "stretchy" strings on an old bass, or is it a symptom of soon-to be complete gear failure? Please enlighten me! :hyper:
  2. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Dang, thats a pretty tired maid - way over the hill. I wouldn't have alot of tension if I was 106 either. :p

    Sorry I couldn't pass it up.
  3. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    There is nothing wrong with wooden pegs in principal. It sounds like either they are not properly anchored in their collars, or perhaps the strings are not wound onto the pegs correctly. Are they held into the collar with screws? I suppose wood pegs do wear out and need to be replaced a few times a century, but I prefer them. The reason is that I take out those screws, drill a through hole, and remount them with pins, which can be quickly removed when out of tension. This cuts way down on string change time. Luthiers have told me not to do this, but I don't see why. I have seen one tuner design that incorporates this idea, but I don't know who makes it.
  4. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    I would always advise against the wood pegs. Not because they snap-that's pretty rare, but because they are way prone to making loud noise when you tune. I hate that!
    Robo-I believe it is Rubner that does that with the pegs- pretty cool that. I don't think there is a problem with what you are doing.
  5. uptonbass

    uptonbass Proprietor, Upton Bass String Instrument Co.

    Oct 8, 2002
    Mystic CT
    Founder UptonBass.com
    A little bar soap on the pegs prior to final install keeps things quiet.
  6. A friend of mine with an old German bass of roughly the same age had a wood peg break right before an orchestra gig. Needless to say, the bass was a three string that night... I think wood pegs are probably fine in general, but when they get to be that old, you might want to look into having some new pegs made to fit the old machines. If you have a lathe it'd be a pretty simple project for yourself, even...
  7. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    New strings will stretch out a whole step or two, but they shouldn't fall back and be void of tension. Wood pegs are going to wear quicker than metal pegs... if the tuner needs to be replaced/repaired, address this with the shop before you buy the instrument.
  8. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I had old wooden pegs on my Batchelder Bass when I got it. They were not Ebony but stained black. One of them seemd different and the wood was stofter and almost worn thru and ready to pop. I ordered a set of Rubners with Ebony Pegs and replaced them. It was not as easy as a direct replacement but I know my way around tools. I was going to put the Krutz gears on but I would of had to do a ton of work to get them on. The cheeks of the Peg box are also kind of thin so external Cheeks were on the menu. I stayed with wood. They do make some creeking noises on occassion. Not my favorite tuner.

    Batchelder with old tuners; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/BatchBass/batchBass.htm

    When I brought the Martini here from Italy it too had wooden Pegs but they were new Rubners but not Black Ebony. Either Brownish striped Ebony or Rosewood of a sort that was stained a little. They looked great but again, creek, creek, creek.. The first week I got the Bass I had a Concert. I tuned down to low C on one piece and it was easy due to the Ratio being so small on the turns. Again, I opted to change them but went the whole mile. The cheeks on the Peg box were thin so I made Ebony plates. The previous restorer used 1 1/4" end grain pine to plug the holes before putting in the Rubners.. FUGLY!!!! I fixed that with maple made with a plug cutter for the grain to match the Bass and add strength.

    Martini as I recieved it; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/MartiniBass/martini_bass.htm

    Martini after new gears and a few more final touches for my taste; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/MartiniBass/martini_bass_2.htm

    So, if your Bass is not just the way you want it, weigh out all the costs before making your Purchase. You have to love the Bass to go into the details I did here as well as a few other Basses I have or have had. Do it right or not at all.. That's my policy...
  9. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    My first old bass after the 50s Kay and the '60s hybrid Roth was an cheap blockless wonder from Germany Ca. 1900 with the cheap painted maple tailpiece, fingerboard, and tuner pegs. I had to have another maple peg turned because there were already too many repairs to the many screw holes. I loved the look, though, and when it came time to order my custom bass from Canada, I had him use the Rubner quarter plate tuners with ebony pegs. They look beautiful and work wonderfully without a problem. I especially like the large diameter shaft for the gut strings that I use. It takes a few less turns to get them up to pitch when I change strings. I like the idea of having less mass from the tuners in the scroll.

    When I first saw the Paesold basses at the NAMM show in 2001, it was the Rubner tuners with ebony pegs that first caught my eye. I've seen them on many other basses by other makers too. I always keep a few sets in stock in case a customer wants to change to them from the other quarter plate tuners with brass shaft that Rubner makes. Rubner also makes these tuners with rosewood pegs, but I like the greater durability and black color of the ebony pegs.

    Barrie Kolstein says that he has some tuners with wooden pegs coming in from another source. I'll be interested to see those as well. It's great to have some choices with tuning machines these days!

    Steve Swan
    Retailer for Gill, mastri, Paesold, Shen, Kolstein, etc.


    Aug 26, 2005
    That's right...some common sense!

    When I acquired my old Holmolka bass in '74 (for a cool $100), it had four pegs that did not match. I figured they were changed out one by one as required over the life of the instrument and I see the same mismatched thing often in pics of similar vintage basses. But I soon discovered while changing the strings that 2 of these were about worn through from the string hole out and liable to snap at any time. Not having any bread to speak of at the time, but keen to improve my bass, I approached a friend who was a hobby woodworker with a lathe. I presented him with one of the old pegs and he went to work and machined me 4 new peg blanks out of oak matching the pattern of the original I had given him to work from. We both figured oak would be hard enough to last along time. I stained them a natural color and they lasted and performed flawlessly until about 2000, when I ordered a new set of ebony peg blanks with a mother of pearl dot from Lemur. It took more than a year to back-order them from Europe. Beautiful pegs. I drilled, trimmed and fitted those myself-- and discovered just how hard ebony is. These should last well beyong my time on this earth. As for the look of old pegs and their occasional squeeking, to me its a visual thing. I like their look. I've got alot of antique furniture around my home and I've got squeeking hinges and a noisy old rocker in the living room....but I'm not about to replace any of those treasures with modern furniture because I love old things-- including my nice old 1860 bass.
  11. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Steve, I was told that Ebony Tail pieces are mainly a 20th century for the most part. My Gilkes, Batchelder and Martini still have their original tailpieces and they are all stained Hardwoods. Now an Ebony TP between them. My Mystery Bass also came to me with a stained Tailpiece for 3-strings with 2 other holes drilled around the center one for the 4-string conversion.

    Gilkes TP from 1811; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/GilkesBass/137.jpg

    Martini TP from 1919; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/MartiniBass/183.jpg

    Batchelder TP from 1875; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/BatchBass/thumbnials/frontangle.gif

    Not trying to get too far off topic here but non-Ebony Wood parts were common before 1900. My Gilkes which was made as a scaled-up Strad Cello model for Chamber Music has scars from Cello type pegs as well under the Tuner plates instead of Gears b4 the est. 1870s conversion to a regular Double Bass when the shoulders were also slightly cut. The Top and Back are also scaled-up in thickness as well. When Arnold gets the Top off, we will measure this 'over grown' Cello. Now we have a good idea of why the Gilkes has no Cracks in the top. It's about 2x the normal thickness or the average English Bass!