A fine stringed instrument is designed to last for hundreds of years
A fine stringed instrument is designed to last for hundreds of years. There are a number of fine violins, violas and cellos that were made in the early 1600's that are still in daily use by professional musicians. At the same time, some instruments and bows have a relatively short life span because of carelessness and neglect on the part of their owners. Of the estimated 1,200 instruments made by Antonio Stradivari, only about 600 are still in existence. To keep your investment in the best possible condition, we have put together this guide to assist you in maintaining your instrument and bow.
Always wipe off your violin and the strings with a soft, clean lint free cloth after each practice session. This is necessary because rosin dust collects on the body of the instrument under the strings, and if it builds up, will be difficult to get off. If you see the white rosin dust building up while you are playing, you should wipe it off occasionally during a playing session. If you do this consistently, it shouldn't be necessary to use a violin cleaner/polish. If you do use a polish, choose one formulated only for violins, such as the Hill or Supersensitive brands. Never use a furniture polish on your violin as they contain oils that build up on the varnish. If rosin and dirt have built up very heavily, you may need to bring it to us for a complete cleaning.
Protection From Damage
The only place for your violin, viola, cello or bow when you are not playing is in a closed case. Some of the most serious damage we have had to repair has happened because an instrument was left on a chair, in an open case (with a shoulder rest on), or worst of all, hanging on a music stand. Always be aware of what is going on around you. Serious damage can happen because a music stand hits part of an instrument. Especially vulnerable is the soft spruce top. The edges can chip and break with more ease than the harder maple back.
The varnish on your instrument does a great deal more than add beauty to the bare white wood. It protects it and adds to the sound. If bare wood is exposed, either because of wear or damage, it is important to have an experienced violin repairperson add color and varnish to those areas.
Always keep your instrument away from extremes of temperature and humidity. Keep it out of direct sunlight and away from heaters. Avoid putting it in the trunk of a car or in a closed, unoccupied car. Heat can damage the varnish and cause serious cracks among other things.
Cracks can develop, especially in the spruce top, usually as a result of damage or temperature extremes. If they occur, they should be repaired as soon as possible. If not, the problem may well become worse, and more expensive, to fix.
A high quality case is an excellent investment and will go a long way towards protecting the instrument. We have seen too many instruments damaged because they were in an old, poorly padded case. The best protection is provided by a 'suspension' style case.
The bridge should be individually cut and fitted to your instrument so that the feet fit the top exactly and the strings are at the correct height above the fingerboard. The correct positioning and fit of the bridge is very important to give the optimum sound to your individual instrument. Over time the bridge will have a tendency to pull forward towards the fingerboard as the strings are tuned. When this happens the bridge may warp and eventually break. Examine the bridge from the side. If the bridge has pulled forward, very gently pull it back with the thumb and forefinger at the top of either side of the bridge. When viewing the bridge from the side, the back (facing the tailpiece) should be perpendicular to the top. The front of the bridge will have a slight slope. If the bridge falls, loosen the strings and place a soft cloth under the tailpiece to protect the top from the tuners. The feet of the bridge should be equidistant between the inner notches of the f-holes. A well maintained bridge should last many years and it shouldn't be necessary to replace it as long as it fits correctly. If it is necessary to replace the bridge it must be done by an expert.
Properly fit pegs should be easy to tune and shouldn't slip or stick. If pegs are difficult to turn and stick, apply some 'peg dope' (we carry and recommend the Hill brand) to the areas of the peg where they come in contact with the peg box. If the pegs slip the problem is a bit more complicated. Bring the instrument in for an examination. It may be necessary to replace the pegs because they no longer fit the peg holes correctly.
Buzzes, Unusual Sounds, Etc.
Occasionally your violin may develop a buzz or lose volume and quality of sound. There can be a number of causes for this, but the most common is an open seam. The glue that holds the violin together can dry out. Gluing a seam together is not a difficult repair for an experienced violin repairperson. Buzzes can also be caused by a loose tuner, something metallic touching the instrument, or a fingerboard that needs resurfacing, among many other things. In unusual instances, the linings, bass bar or interior blocks can come loose. In that case the top of the instrument must be taken off in order to do the repairs.
The soundpost is fitted inside the violin just behind the foot of the bridge on the 'E' string side. Its correct placement is critical to giving your instrument the best possible sound and its adjustment should only be done by an expert. If the post falls down, loosen the strings immediately. Then bring the violin in to have the post set up properly.
Always use good quality strings. Cheap strings can make even a Stradivarius sound terrible. Even if they don't break strings should be replaced after about six months of use, as they lose responsiveness and quality of sound. When you replace a set of strings don't take all of the strings off at once. Replace them one at a time, keeping some tension on the top. For more information on string choices see our String Guide
Like the violin, the bow is fragile and must be maintained properly. Most importantly, always loosen the hair of the bow when it is not in use, so that the stick is touching the hair. Do not over tighten the hair. It should only be tight enough while playing so that the stick doesn't touch the hair. Over-tightening the stick can cause the bow to lose its curve or 'camber' and may even cause the stick to break.
If you play your instrument every day, the bow should be rehaired every 6-8 months. As it gets older the hair stretches and may become too long to tighten properly. When this happens, attempting to tighten the bow may seriously damage the stick. Other signs that it is time for a rehair is the use of more and more rosin to make the hair grip the strings, and breaking of hair, especially on the playing side.
Be very careful how you handle the bow. Never tap the stick on a music stand. If it fails there is good chance that the head will break. This can sometimes be repaired, but the bow loses most of its value, and the break may open up again.
Like the violin, never leave the bow in direct sunlight and keep it away from heat and cold.
Never allow anybody to repair or adjust your instrument or bow who isn't a qualified and well trained string instrument repairperson. Someone who also repairs trumpets, flutes and guitars probably doesn't have the training and experience to do the quality of work necessary and could do more harm than good.
Keeping your violin, viola or cello properly adjusted will allow it to produce the best sound of which is capable. In addition, it will be easier to play and more responsive, so that the music making is more rewarding and enjoyable.