Keeping your instrument and bow in good shape is essential. Wear and tear will occur, depending on how often you play, where they are stored, and what steps you take to look after them.
Read on for some good tips!
When you’re not playing…
Keep your instrument and bow stored in their case or bag when they’re not in your hands – don’t leave them on a chair where they can be sat on!
And don’t just close the lid but leave the catches or zips undone - you don’t want to pick up the case, and have the instrument fall out!
Keep the case or bag somewhere it won’t get tripped over. Make sure it’s away from the sun, but not in a damp corner or cupboard.
Never leave your instrument in the car – it can get very hot and the heat can do terrible things!
When putting your instrument and bow away:
- Loosen the bow hair.
- Wipe off rosin dust.
- Remove the shoulder rest or sponge from violins and violas.
- If your cello is stored in a soft bag, put the bow in last. And take it out first, when opening the bag.
- Minimise padding on TOP of an instrument. Too many cloths and blankets can put pressure on the bridge when the case lid is closed.
Check your bridge...
A well-fitted bridge should last decades, if you take care of it. But if the bridge gets pulled forward or back, and stays that way for too long, it will warp.
You can often tell if your bridge is leaning forward or backwards – there will be a tell-tale gap between the feet and the belly on one side.
Another easy way to check is to look at your bridge from the side. There should be a right angle (90 degrees) at the BACK of the bridge, between the lower half of the bridge and the belly.
If you think your bridge has moved or is warping, take the instrument to your violin repairer for an adjustment and a check-up.
Here’s a checklist of things that could make the bridge shift position, warp, or fall over.
- Over-tight cases or bags that press on, or pull at the bridge.
- String grooves that become too tight, or get too sticky with rosin dust. If the grooves grip the strings, the strings will pull the bridge forward or backwards when you tune.
- Cases that are too loose. Wrap your instrument in a thin scarf – this will stop it bumping about inside.
Note: A silk scarf or bag will also insulate your instrument against sudden humidity or temperature shock, which can cause splits in the belly, like this one.
Your instrument’s varnish will be affected by rosin, sweat, and general dust/grime.
If you don’t wipe your violin often, it can end up looking like this – the new rosin dust is lying on top of older, darker layers of rosin that have hardened and stuck to the varnish:
Cleaning is an important part of maintenance, but it’s very easy to damage the varnish if you don’t know what you are doing! Most varnish is made from tree gums. Rosin is also made from tree gums. So using something that dissolves rosin can easily dissolve varnish too!
What you can do:
Wipe the instrument down after each time you play. This gets rid of your worst enemy, rosin dust, which can harden onto the varnish if it’s left in place. Wiping also gets rid of sweat. Sweat contains acids, which can eat away at your strings and your fingerboard.
Use a soft, clean cloth, and keep it in your case, so it’s close to hand.
Some rosin and other dirt can still accumulate. If you feel your instrument needs more than a wipe, take it to your violin repairer.
What you mustn’t do:
- DO NOT USE ALCOHOL
Cath has this story: “When I was a kid, someone once told me to clean my fingerboard with perfume – but perfume contains alcohol too. If I had spilt any on the varnish, it would have made a big mess!
- Do not use commercial furniture polishes.
- Do not use any oil-based product.
- Do not use walnut juice – it’s oily and the oil can get into old cracks and make them hard to maintain.
Commercial violin polishes often claim to clean your violin too. We think they mostly just make the dirt look shiny!
Tuning is an essential part of playing. The last thing you want to stress about is slipping pegs and clunky tuning. For advanced students and professional players, doing all your tuning with the pegs is the norm, so you need your pegs to be in top condition.
Pegs are subject to a lot of friction, and will wear in time, causing them to slip or get stuck. The wood can also shrink unevenly over time, making the pegs oval, instead of round. This will make them grip, then release, then grip again, as you turn them.
You’ll end up with unstable tuning, broken strings and even a pegbox crack if you leave a poorly fitted peg for too long.
We can fit a tailpiece like the Wittner one below while you wait – just book a time in advance. They will really take a lot of stress out of tuning.
But even with a Wittner fitted, your pegs need to be really secure. No one wants them to slip just before you’re heading on stage for your next recital.
Some people’s instruments have separate metal adjusters fitted onto a wooden tailpiece.
Separate tuners are bad for tone. The ideal string length between the tailpiece and the bridge is one sixth of the playing string length – the distance from the nut to the bridge. If this is too short, the sound becomes thin and harsh.
These metal adjusters can also cut into the string windings, or pull the ball ends off.
If you can learn to tune with pegs, a wooden tailpiece with only an E string tuner gives you the best tone.
And it will give you access to better quality instruments. In our showroom, these are always fitted with ebony tailpieces with only an E string adjuster.
The stress-free way to make this transition is to start learning how to tune with your pegs while you still have your Wittner tailpiece fitted. That way, you have a safety net if you get your self into trouble! There are tricks to how to do it, too – feel free to come into the workshop and ask Cath to show them to you.