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The bridge holds the strings in the correct location above the instrument top and above the fingerboard. Since the shape of the top and the neck alignment vary between instruments, a bridge has to be specially prepared for each one. The other function of the bridge is to transfer the vibrations from the strings to the violin body where they will be amplified. The location of the bridge on the violin top and the angle at which it stands are critical in maximising the transfer of vibrations. The bridge also acts as a filter, blocking higher frequency vibrations from the strings. By correctly cutting the bridge, the violinmaker can use this filtering to control the tone of the instrument.
Materials: violin makers buy "blanks", bridges cut well oversized to be adapted to a particular instrument. The blank is made of dense maple and graded for its strength and hardness. Better quality blanks allow more possibilities when tuning the bridge, and they cut better for cleaner work. Several bridge companies "treat" their blanks to give the wood the color of age. This is OK in moderation, but too much treatment can make the wood soft and functionally impaired. I've been very happy with the blanks that are manufactured by Despiau of France, a relative new comer to the business, who have thought carefully about their designs and manufacturing processes.