Basic string instrument maintenance

Basic String Instrument Maintenance: Some tips on caring for your instrument.

Protection from the elements

Extremes of temperature can damage your instrument.  Avoid storing it in excessively hot or cold temperatures as this can cause warping of the wood.  Heat can melt the glue that holds it together.  Heat can also melt the varnish- if this happens while it is stored in a plush case you can end up with fluff stuck to the varnish.  Avoiding heat also means not leaving it in your car on hot days.  Also avoid direct sunlight on the instrument or the case.  

Wood also doesn’t like extremes of humidity.  When in a dry climate, use a humidifier to reduce the risk of cracking.  In humid climates, dehumidifying with air conditioning can help.  For more valuable instruments investing in a good case will provide extra protection from extremes of temperature and humidity.

Rosin buildup on the belly of the violin (under the strings) can make the varnish dull and also can impair the quality of its sound.  Gently clean the rosin off before you put the violin away using a soft cotton or microfiber cloth.

A few times a year you can use a cleaning and polishing solution such as Viol.  You only need to use a small amount of Viol on a corner of your cleaning cloth.  A bottle of Viol will last a long time and it has a very pleasant fragrance.

Avoid getting your instrument wet and don’t use water to clean it.  The glue used to construct the instrument is water soluble and water can cause a seam to open.

Don’t forget to also clean the strings.  This is to cut down on rosin buildup next to the bridge and also to remove corrosive sweat.  Clean strings last longer and sound better for longer.  For more tips on looking after strings:

If your instrument is valuable, professional cleaning may be the safest option.

Things to check and do if the sound of your instrument deteriorates.

Make sure that the bridge is positioned correctly.  This makes sure that the bridge is suitably located in relation to the sound post and the bass bar for optimal sound transmission.

The bridge should be in line with the small notches in the centre of the f holes.  Also after tuning make sure that the tailpiece side of the bridge is perpendicular with the belly.  You can check this measurement with a card with square edges.  This is how a correctly fitted bridge should be positioned- the feet will lie flush to the top plate.  If the bridge is not correctly positioned it is likely to warp under the pressure of the strings.

The bridge needs to be straightened periodically using both hands so that the tailpiece side is 90 degrees to the belly.  This requires using both hands to carefully pull the bridge back into position (it is done with the strings on).  If you don’t feel comfortable doing this an experienced player, your teacher or our staff can help.

If there is a buzzing sound.  Make sure that the fine tuners are not too loose.  Make sure that the chin rest is fastened tightly enough as a loose chin rest will buzz. Don’t make it too tight though as this can distort and damage the ribs.  If you have a more fragile violin, it can be better to use a chin rest that fixes centrally.

Also check that the chin rest is not touching the tailpiece as this can mute the sound (and also push the strings out of tune).

Often there is a tiny little tube on the E string protecting the bridge.  If this tube slips off the bridge, it can vibrate resulting in buzz.

Rosin collecting in the narrow points of the f hole can also cause a buzz.  This is easily remedied by pushing a business card through the gap.  Another possibility is that varnish is connecting the edges of an f hole at a narrow point.  This can be fixed by your luthier.  Buzzing can be due to more complex problems such as an open seam and this will need to be repaired by a luthier.

Whatever concerns you may have about your instrument,  please feel free to phone us or bring it in so that we can advise on the best course of action.