The function of the tailpiece is to anchor the strings, so it must be strong enough to withstand their combined tension. Tailpieces of the violin family of instruments, as well as acoustic basses, are suspended with a "tailgut" looped around the end pin or end button. Originally made of animal gut and adjusted with difficulty by means of a knot, tailguts are now usually made of wire or nylon monofilament, and more easily adjusted with threaded collars, usually made of brass, on the ends.
The tailpiece itself may be made of wood, usually ebony, rosewood, boxwood, or rarely pernambuco. Other materials include cast light metal, and composites including plastic. Choice of material may have more than just cosmetic effect; a well-made instrument is sensitive to tailpiece weight, mass distribution, and tailgut placement on the saddle.
Tailpieces may be seen in various shapes, resembling a tulip, a goblet, or the Hill style, which has a central longitudinal ridge, giving it a faceted appearance. Decorative features such as shell inlays, as well as ornate stylized or figurative carvings, may occasionally be seen.
Devices called "fine-tuners" are sometimes used to assist in the tuning of the instrument; they may either be affixed to the tailpiece or built into its design. Most modern violinists, regardless of what other strings they use, play an E with a solid steel core, which may be overly touchy to tune with the traditional tuning pegs. For convenience in tuning, the added mass of a single fine tuner is a tolerable trade-off. Four fine tuners are advantageous when tuning a set of metal-core strings.
An instrument from the violin family which has been well set up will have a tuned afterlength; string length on the tailpiece side of the bridge will be 1/6 the playing length, or length between nut and bridge, sounding two octaves and a fifth above the open note of the playing length.