The Art of Maintaining Your String Instrument
In this article, we look at how to best care for and maintain your string instrument.
Caring for your instrument...
Make sure your bridge is always straight and upright (leaning a few millimetres towards the tailpiece is ok). With normal use and regular tuning, the bridge will gradually lean forward. If the bridge is left like this it will eventually warp and need replacement. To extend the life of your bridge, check it regularly and straighten it so the back of the bridge is perpendicular to the top (belly) of the violin. If you are not comfortable doing this yourself, as a teacher or your luthier to help you.
Strings should be checked regularly for signs of wear such as unravelling of the winding, corrosion, and unevenness. Strings gradually lose their tonal quality and need to be changed every 6-12 months for optimum sound and performance. Strings should be changed one at a time to avoid the bridge and sound post moving or falling over. Take care not to over tune your strings as they may break. Always wipe down your strings to remove hand sweat and rosin build-up, using a solution such a Petz Rosin Remover may help with particularly thick build-up.
Never subject your instrument to extreme weather conditions. Never leave your instrument in the car or near air conditioners as the changes in temperature and humidity can have adverse effects on the joins and grains of the timber. As stringed instruments are made of wood they expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity levels. This could cause your instrument to go out of tune, open at the seams, crack and even damage the varnish. Changes in humidity may also affect the pegs. If your pegs constantly slip or stick, consider using a peg compound to make turning easier. With consistently slipping pegs you may want to consider placing an in-case humidifier inside the case and in extreme circumstances, have your pegs refitted by a trained luthier.
Always clean your instrument with a soft dry cloth after playing. The build-up of dirt, oil, and rosin on your instrument will damage the varnish. For basic cleaning, a varnish oil may be used to rejuvenate and bring back an instruments lustre. Rosin build-up is best removed from the varnish by using a special cleaning preparation. Never use any solvents, alcohols or household cleaners on your instrument as it could remove the varnish from your instrument.
Caring for your bow...
Take care not to over-tighten your bow. You should just be able to fit a pencil between the hair and the middle of the stick once you have tightened it and always make sure there is plenty of camber, or curve, in the bow stick.
Rosin your bow with long strokes back and forward across the entire length of the hair. If you will be able to tell there isn’t enough rosin on the bow if the hair will not grip the strings and the sound will be patchy and uneven. If there is too much rosin on the bow hair excess powder will coat your instrument and the tone will become scratchy and dull. As a general rule, if you can see white powder on the instrument then there is too much rosin on the bow. Bows generally only need rosining about once a week and should only be rosined when the player feels a lack of grip in the strings. Good quality rosin should be as pure as possible and will produce a clear sound.
Always loosen your bow after playing. If you don’t take the tension off the stick it can lead to warping, a loss of camber, stretching the hair or popped wedges.
Avoid touching the hair of your bow. The oils from your skin will be absorbed by the hair which will make it harder for rosin to adhere and result in a loss of tonal quality and will shorten the life of your hair.
Bows need re-hairing every 6 to 12 months (depending on use and seasonal changes). Hair stretches and becomes brittle with use. Hair will shorten in dry conditions and length in humid conditions.
Do not subject your bow to any undue stress i.e. dropping, hold it by the tip, tapping it on your music stand or push the tip into the floor or your shoe.