Your violin (viola, cello), carefully made with
special woods and tools by a skilled craftsman, needs special care to keep it
in good playing condition. Given proper treatment, violin family
instruments should outlive their owners. Indeed, instruments from the 18th
Century are still played on a regular basis. However, owners must guard
against hazards. Always remember that others need to use these instruments
after we are done with them.
· Seek properly
made instruments from a reliable source. These have good setup so you will
avoid problems with tuning, playing, and sound. Instruments require regular
maintenance, so choose a local shop that you are comfortable with. Avoid
internet items which cannot be checked prior to purchase, often are poorly
adjusted, are difficult or impossible to return, and have poor resale
value. Read more here.
· The single best
thing you can do to get the best sound from your instrument is to use good
strings. The next thing is to have a
good bow. Of course, the services of
a skilled teacher are required to get the most out of your music making.
· Not all
instruments can, or should be, made playable. Some are simply too low quality to ever
please a player. We can help you
make this judgment if you own an older instrument that you are unsure of.
· Violin and viola
are sized according to arm length, not age or height. So it is important to start with getting
a reliable measurement with the help of a professional shop or
teacher. It is best to play the
smaller size if there is any question about being on the boundary between
· Look for a shop
that will accept trade-ins when the time comes to move up to the next size,
or to better quality as you become a more advanced player.
Handle with Care!
· Preserve the
appearance of the fragile softwood top because it has a lot to do with an
instrument’s value. It must be
guarded from scratches, dents, and heavy rosin buildup.
· Instruments and
bows are delicate and must not be handled roughly or dropped.
· Avoid placing an
instrument or bow on a chair or leaning it against something. Do not temporarily lay a tensioned bow
on a music stand rack because it will easily fall and the bow’s head will
break off. The safest places are
cases and instrument stands.
· Handle an
instrument by the neck and chinrest areas rather than by the fragile
scroll, and avoid touching varnished surfaces with fingers. This will help
to prevent fingerprints on the varnish, as well as cracks caused by too
much finger pressure, especially near the fragile ff-hole wings.
· Do not let
non-musicians or unsupervised children play your violin. Untrained hands
might easily drop the violin or bow.
· Where possible,
keep instruments in the open. Place them on an instrument stand, table,
wall rack, or piano, or keep in an open case. Make them easily available
for playing! However, keep them away
from direct sunlight, air vents, and heat ducts.
· Remember that
cases are mainly for transporting instruments, rather than long-term
storage. Instruments left in cases for long periods are subjected to mold
growth, metal tarnish, and other problems related to high humidity and lack
of air circulation.
· Please do not
affix adhesive strips, decals, or moleskin-type products to varnished
surfaces. Removing them often strips
off the varnish.
Transportation and Storage Hints
· Invest in a
well-padded case that fits your instrument properly. Older cases provide poor protection and
in some cases cause damage.
· Use a blanket in
a violin/viola case to protect the top of the instrument from sharp metal
edges on the bow's frog. Avoid
storing loose shoulder rests, spare
strings, or other items touching the instrument, as this may cause
· Avoid leaving instruments in cars, because they can easily get too
cold or hot, or be stolen by breaking a window.
· Store violins in
living quarters, not in the attic, basement, or garage.
· For long-term
storage, loosen fingerpegs slightly (1/2 to one
turn), retaining enough force to hold the bridge and soundpost firmly in place.
· Store bows in
open air, because beetles may feed on bow hair in closed cases.
· Change strings every six months for daily players, or yearly for
occasional players. Change them if
they show much tarnish or dirt buildup.
· Change strings one at a time, to avoid upsetting the bridge and
· New strings always stretch and may need an hour or two of
"playing-in" time before they will hold their tune.
· Violin, viola, or cello strings should rarely break. If your string breaks
repeatedly, it means that the string is being tuned too high or else a
sharp edge or friction spot needs to be corrected somewhere on the tuning
pegs, nut, bridge, or fine tuner.
· The type of
strings used on your instrument may affect the instrument's health as well
as tone. Inexpensive steel-core strings exert high tension whereas
synthetic (perlon-core) strings are low
tension. I think steel core strings
are a main cause for warped and broken bridges, open seams, cracks, and
sunken necks. Older instruments were designed for gut strings and are often
damaged by the use of high-tension steel strings. Many people think perlon-core (Dominant, Pro Arte, or equivalent) strings
have a warmer and deeper sound than steel-core strings, besides causing
less damage and being easier to tune.
Cleaning and Polish
· A good rule is to
"clean often, polish little,” and leave difficult cleaning jobs and
polishing to the violin shop. Avoid
getting rosin or fingerprints on varnished surfaces; lift the instrument by
neck or base.
· Rosin is your
fiddle's enemy because it sticks to the strings, fingerboard, and varnish,
where it deadens tone and eventually turns gummy and black. Keep a soft cotton flannel or microfiber
cloth in the case for gently cleaning rosin from the violin and bow stick
after playing. If you need to remove rosin or dirt build-up from the
instrument’s top surface, use only water on a soft cloth.
· Avoid oil- or
alcohol-based polishes that enter cracks and seams and make future repairs
difficult. Milky white wax-type violin polishes are preferred, although
even these can build up into a gummy coating that is opaque and difficult
to remove. Never apply any product,
including furniture polish, that was not
formulated for polishing violins. Always clean before applying polish or
the polish will just sit on top of dirt.
Temperature and Humidity Troubles
· Most cracks and
open seams are caused by dryness or large changes in temperature. A good rule to prevent damage is to treat
a musical instrument like you would a living thing like a plant, a pet, or
instruments should be kept at room temperature at 55% humidity.
· Invest in a
digital humidity gauge (hygrometer) so you know when a dryness problem
exists (most dial-type hygrometers are inaccurate).
· If room humidity
falls below 35% (the greatest danger is in winter), there is a risk of the
wood shrinking, causing cracks and open seams. Either protect
the instrument from drying by putting it in a plastic bag, or take steps to
introduce moisture. Case humidifiers
or room humidifiers are preferred to “dampit”
tubes, which leak water and cause mold and other damage inside the
· Tighten the bow
stick enough so that the stick does not scrape along the metal string or
else bow hairs will break, pinched between wood and metal. Do not overtighten,
as it risks damage or breakage and does not help sound.
· Avoid using too much rosin. You don’t need to apply it every time you
play. Too much rosin causes a harsh
sound and just falls off creating a cleaning problem.
· Bow hair needs to be replaced if it becomes
old, dirty, or worn, does not hold rosin, does not produce a strong tone
easily, or no longer fills the full width at the silver part of the frog.
Bows used every day should be rehaired every six
months, or yearly for bows used less often.
touching bow hair because skin oil prevents rosin from adhering to the
loosen bow hair when finished playing or the hair might warp or break the
stick, especially if heat or dryness causes the hair to shorten.
· Cut off broken
hairs with a blade rather than yanking hairs out of the bow with your
hand. Fewer strands in the knot will
cause the knot to loosen, releasing all the hair.
· Don’t let a
carbon fiber bow get hot (in a closed car on a hot sunny day). The stick will soften, change shape, and
· Avoid dropping
the bow when it is tightened, or the tip and (or) head may break off! Where possible, play above carpeted
floors rather than hard flooring.
· Replace a cracked
bone tip because it provides protection for the bow head.
· Align the feet of
the bridge with the inner notches cut in the ff-holes.
· Your bridge
should appear to tilt slightly towards the tailpiece. However, as strings
are tightened during tuning, the bridge may need to be pulled back because
it is pulled slightly forward to a position where it may warp or fall. After
tuning, and especially after changing strings, check the bridge position to
maintain a slight backwards tilt. The bridge feet should stand flat on the
top, without gaps.
string notches with pencil graphite helps the strings to slide over the
wood, reducing problems with bridge position.
· If the bridge has
a parchment protecting the smallest string notch, you can remove the small
tube that comes with new strings.
· Seek out properly made instruments with professional setup from a
real violin shop. This, more than anything else, will reduce problems with
repairs and adjustments.
only trained, seasoned, skilled repair people to handle your instrument's
needs. This means professional
violin shops, not general music stores.
is a good idea to get a check up once per year to check adjustment and help
to small problems from becoming worse with time. Instruments should be checked for cracks
or open seams, and tuning pegs and fine tuner screws need frequent
listen for buzzes and rattles while playing and have them corrected.
· If the soundpost or bridge falls down, the fingerboard has come
loose, or a crack or open seam is found, always loosen the strings
immediately and insert paper towels under the tailpiece so fine tuner arms
do not scratch the soft spruce top.
and other damage are easier to repair if they are found early, and if all
pieces are preserved. If an
instrument or bow breaks, do not allow anyone to
apply household adhesives to cracks (it is unlikely to help, and it makes
the problem more difficult and costly to repair properly). Please collect all pieces, including tiny slivers, and take them to repair