In the Museum’s Conservation Department, Tim Morris and Bronwen Griffin have been taking apart an unusual tuning peg mechanism for a viola.
The viola was made by John Devereux in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia in 1869. John Devereux was one of the earliest professional makers of violin family instruments (violins, violas, cellos and double basses) in Australia. He was known for using Australian timbers and made special adaptations to his instruments to suit the heat and humidity of the Australian climate.
A quote from the Argus Newspaper, Melbourne talks about the tuning mechanism. It’s part of a slightly longer account of a visit and presentation of a violin by Devereux to HRH Prince Alfred, The Duke of Edinburgh in 1868 which resulted in him getting a royal appointment which appears on his labels after this point:
His Royal Highness expressed himself much pleased with his present and listened attentively to Mr Devereux’s instructions relative to the pegs of the instruments, an invention of the maker. These are ingeniously constructed so as to prevent the slips which pegs of the old fashioned pattern were liable to. (The Argus, Melbourne, 15/1/1868, p.5 col.b.)
Normally, a viola (or violin or cello) tuning peg is wooden with a finger grip at one end and a tapered wooden pin, which fits through holes in the instrument’s peg box, below the scroll. The string is pushed through a hole in the shaft and wound around several times by turning the peg until the correct pitch is reached. The peg is held in place by string tension and by push-fitting the taper into the peg box. This is a simple method, which usually works, but can be affected by changes in humidity. Pegs can become too loose and slip, causing the instrument to go out of tune, or too stiff to move, also making the instrument impossible to tune.
Devereux’s invention was to replace the tapered section of the wooden pin with a straight metal rod to which the string was attached as above. This rod passes through the holes in the peg box and extends to a threaded section, over which a wooden finger grip is secured with a metal ferrule. This assembly encompasses a flange on either side of one wall of the peg box, which squeezes against the timber when the ferrule is tightened, creating a clutch mechanism. The tuning peg looks and acts pretty much like an ordinary wooden one, but is less susceptible to changes in the weather.
For more information on other Devereux instruments in the Powerhouse collection, see here.
Bronwen Griffin, Mixed Media Conservator and Tim Morris, Metals Conservator