A well-fitted violin chin rest provides stability and comfort to the playing position. The process of finding a good chin rest is often one of trial and error, but knowing the differences between types and what makes a good fit will cut down on the time and effort in this process. To determine which chin rest will fit best, you should consider which style of chin rest you want, the curvature that it should have and whether it will need to accommodate a lift, which is a wedge of boxboard fitted underneath the chin rest.
First, decide whether you need an across-the-tailpiece chin rest or a chin rest that sits to the left of the tailpiece. Younger violinists and those who have unusually short arms or narrow shoulders might benefit from an across-the-tailpiece chin rest. This type of chin rest will position the center of the violin closer to the left shoulder, slightly decreasing the distance the left arm must reach to play the instrument. Most players, however, find that a chin rest to the left of the tailpiece is more comfortable.
Next, consider the curvature of the violin chin rest. Violinists who have bonier jaws require more defined curves, whereas players who have fleshier jaws often fit better with a long, low ridge. The proper curvature will decrease the likelihood of developing pressure points or sores along your jaw.
Lastly, you must determine whether you need a chin rest that will accommodate a lift. Lifts typically are measured in millimeters and are sized from 5-25 millimeters. A 5-millimeter lift will fit under any standard violin chin rest hardware, but longer-necked violinists might find that they require viola hardware to secure their chin rest and lift.
An improperly-fitted chin rest can cause skin sores and muscle strain. Although poor posture or a bad shoulder rest can also contribute to muscle fatigue, having the right chin rest helps ensure that you can hold your violin hands-free with no pain in your back, neck or shoulders. A proper chin rest also will decrease the chances of developing fiddler's neck, a condition in which bacteria or fungus that accumulate on the instrument cause sores on the neck and jaw.
Although the proper fit is by far the most important factor when selecting a violin chin rest, there are a few other things to consider. Chin rests that clamp over the tailpiece instead of over the base of the instrument are less likely to cause damage to the thin maple ribs. If you have sensitive skin, you might need to select a chin rest that has hypoallergenic metal or plastic hardware. Lastly, most chin rests are designed to match the wood or plastic of the fingerboard and tuning pegs of the instrument. These typically are made of ebony in higher-quality instruments, but lighter woods also might be used for a different look.