Instrument Maintenance

As I mentioned in my video, how you maintain your “equipment” says a lot about your seriousness as a musician and string player. Learning how to play the violin is difficult enough without having to struggle with your instrument! Here are some tips on general upkeep:

  1. For the most accurate tuning of your strings, it is of utmost importance that your pegs work properly. If a peg slips or sticks, and a small amount of peg drops or peg compound does not fix the problem, you should consider having it refitted or replaced. Also, make sure your E string tuner turns smoothly! That is inexpensive to replace.
  2. The surface of the fingerboard should be relatively smooth. If you experience “buzzing” when playing pizzicato, you may need to have the fingerboard planed. Once in a while it is ok to CAREFULLY clean your fingerboard and strings with a little rubbing alcohol, but don’t get any on the varnish!
  3. Bridges can last a long time, but make sure yours is not warped. It should lean a little toward the tailpiece, not the fingerboard! If you feel uncomfortable adjusting it, have your teacher or a luthier do it. Also, check to make sure that the strings are not wearing the grooves down too deeply on the surface of the bridge, and always use a protector of some kind for the E string notch.
  4. Strings should be replaced on a regular basis, but the time interval  depends on the type of string used, and the amount of playing you do. Your teacher can advise you on this. Examine the surface of the string often for unraveling, and replace it if that occurs. If one string goes bad, or becomes false, and the other strings have been on the instrument for a long time, it is better at that point to replace them all.
  5. Check all seams for possible openings. This can also cause your instrument to “buzz”. One good technique is to “rap” around the top and back seams with the middle knuckle of your index finger. It should sound solid. If the seam makes a “clacking” noise at a certain point, it is probably open. Often you can see it with the naked eye. Open seams need to be professionally glued and clamped. One way to avoid seam openings it to make sure your violin is not exposed to extreme temperature conditions, and to properly humidify it in the winter months. Also, be sure to check the top and back for any hairline cracks.
  6. Keep the chinrest tight, but not touching the tailpiece! Chinrest tools are inexpensive.
  7. If the sound post becomes dislodged for any reason, loosen the strings a bit and have it reset as soon as possible by a luthier.
  8. After you finish playing, always wipe the rosin off the top of the instrument with a very soft cloth.
  9. Horsehair should be replaced at regular intervals. Again, this depends on how much playing you do. Certainly, if the hair becomes “thin” due to many broken hairs over time, you need to replace it.
  10. The screw should turn smoothly in the frog, allowing for proper tightening and loosening of the hair. If it does not, either have it lubricated or replaced. If the screw becomes stripped, you will not be able to tighten the bow!
  11. The leather thumb grip (and metal winding) should be replaced when it wears out. That thumb grip contributes greatly to bow control!
  12. Have a luthier check to make sure the bow stick is not warping (loosening the hair before storing the bow will help prevent this), and that the head plate at the tip is not cracked.

Obviously, much of the above fits into the “do not try this at home” category. Have a qualified person work on your instrument. Ask around to see who your teacher or your friends have had a good experience with. If is often cheaper in the long run to drive two or three hours to find a reputable luthier than to trust your violin to a local “music store” repair person who does not have much formal training or experience.