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Pegheds Founder Revolutionized Tuning Cellos and Other Stringed Instruments

Chuck Herin created Pegheds, which make tuning cellos and other instruments many times easier, saving both time and muscle power.

Cellist Chuck Herin’s cello practice – actually, tuning his instrument in order to practice or perform – has been a lot easier for the last 20 years or so, since he invented a unique tuning peg which has made him a living ever since with worldwide sales. He said the idea for what he calls “Pegheds,” first occurred to him when he was only 14 years old and playing with the South Carolina Philharmonic.

“My mother would take me to the rehearsals because I didn’t have a driver’s license at age 14,” he recalled. “And the entire cello section would ask me to tune their instruments for them. There were seven women and me. The wood pegs are tapered and fitted into a tapered hole by friction. And wood….can expand and contract with changes of humidity. And they often get stuck, and it can take quite a lot of strength, like taking a jelly jar lid off. And even before the rehearsal had begun, my hands were sore from having tuned eight cellos, times four strings per cello.

“So I’m sitting here on the back row of the orchestra rubbing my sore hands at the beginning of the rehearsal and I look over my shoulder at the bass section, and I say ‘all those string basses have got gears.’”

Herin decided right then that he was going to look for a solution for the sore hands of all cellists. Over the years he refined his observations, the result of which was his installing tiny gears, which he produces in his home factory in Winnsboro, inside the shaft of the peg. The gears do all the work for the musician, he said.

“Instead of grasping the knob of the peg with your fist, and exerting yourself to overcome the friction of the wood to wood,” said Herin, “with a four-to-one gear reduction, it takes less than one-fourth the effort to tension the string to a given pitch. So a child can tune the instrument with one hand.”

Herin’s friend Ellen Gunst, owner of Columbia cello shop Cellos to Go, has been sold on Pegheds for years, and trumpets their advantages loudly to her customers, old and young. “So you just need two fingers, whether you’ve got arthritis, whether you’re a kid, it doesn’t matter.”

But Pegheds are by no means restricted solely to cellos, Herin said. In fact, he makes 31 unique mechanisms for virtually any bowed or stringed instrument. “I make pegs for the sitar, the steel string guitar, the baroque guitar. If it has strings on it, I make a peg for it. Hurdy gurdy. I tell prospective customers that if I don’t make a mechanism to suit their instrument, I’ll design and build one at my own expense.”

It might surprise some people to learn that Herin’s most popular peg is for ukuleles. A Massachusetts ukulele dealer has bought thousands of pegs over the years, he said, after initially being skeptical of them. “I ran into them at a trade show and said ‘I can make something that’s better than what you’re using,’ and they scoffed. And they’ve been buying from me ever since.”

Herin’s pegs sell themselves, according to Gunst. If a prospective cello buyer questioned whether he should use Pegheds on his cello, she said she would do two things. “I would hand him a cello with Pegheds so he can try it. I would hand him a consignment cello that does not have Pegheds installed, and have him try that. You just put the things in their hands and ask them to tune them. And it becomes so apparent.”

Herin got an unexpected thrill when he was contacted by one of the world’s most famous cellists, the late Lynn Harrell, who had Herin’s pegs on his cello. He tells the story with relish:

“One night I was sound asleep. Phone rings in the middle of the night, about 1 a.m. ‘Hello, is this Chuck Herin?’ ‘Yes it is.’ ‘Well my name is Lynn Harrell, and I’m a cellist.’ ‘Oh yes sir, Mr. Harrell, I know who you are.  Yes sir.’ And I snapped to attention. And I was thinking the worst: ‘oh, no. His pegs broke, and he’s got a concert somewhere and, oh, I’m the goat.’ And he says ‘oh, did I wake you? I’m in Singapore.’ And I said ‘oh, that’s alright. Are you having any problems with your pegs?’ ‘NO, I just called to tell you how much I love ‘em! If I had had these pegs 20 years ago, it would have saved me five years of tuning.’ And I said ‘may I quote you on that?’ And he goes, ‘absolutely.’ So I immediately typed that out, and I use that in the signature of every email that I send.”

Herin doesn’t advertise, but has relied on word of mouth for the last 20-odd years to sell his products. He ships his pegs all over the world, but he still wants to improve his line. He said his lute pegs are too heavy, so he’s working on a solution. Also, he’s thinking of how to break into the vast Suzuki violin market. If that happened, said the cellist-inventor-manufacturer, his one-man company might even have to hire a few more employees.

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