Rookie's Guide to Taking Care of Your String Instrument
String instruments like violins, violas, and cellos can last for hundreds of years, but that is only with good care. Maintaining your instrument can help maintain its tone, stability, and ultimately its value.
Sometimes we are not taught important information about our instrument, we forget some very important things, or we get lazy with taking care of our violin. Here are some expert tips to take better care of your instrument and bow to keep them in good repair.
We will use violin as an example, but the same rule applies to violas and cellos.
1. Put it away
Always put your violin away when you are not playing. Never leave it on a chair or table, or even hanging from your music stand. When your violin is not in its case, it can be easily knocked over, sat on, or stepped upon.
You must also store your case properly. Don’t store your case where your violin can get wet or be tipped over. Always store your case face-up, or on its side. Never let your violin rest on its bridge, even when it’s in its case; the added pressure combined with the high tension of the strings can cause the wood to crack.
Stringed instruments are made principally of wood, which expands in the humid summer months and contracts in the winter. Expansion and contraction can cause minor inconveniences such as buzzing or open seams or major problems such as cracks. You can minimize humidity related problems by doing the following:
Humidify your home during the dry winter months. Most homes require supplementary humidification from a cool mist, steam humidifier, or evaporative wick humidifier.
Maintain a relatively constant humidity year-round. Dehumidification or A/C helps in the summer.
Do not subject your instrument to extreme temperatures. Never leave your instrument in your car.
Again, because your violin is crafted from organic materials, it can absorb liquids and small particles. Keeping it clean will help prevent damages.
After each playing session, gently wipe down your instrument and strings with a dry cloth to remove rosin dust and body oils. Lint-free cloths used for glasses and cameras work wonderfully, and they are small enough to fit inside most hard case compartments for easy access.
Any rosin left over on the body of your violin can cling to the instrument and become dirty. This will ruin the finish of your instrument, and you will eventually have to get it re-varnished if you do not clean it properly.
Never use a furniture polish, water, or wood cleaner on your violin. These items can weaken the glue, or ruin the acoustics of your instrument.
Never use alcohol or other solvents to clean your instrument; they can strip your violin of its varnish. Even hot water can hurt your violin.
4. Bow Maintenance
It is very important to always loosen the hair on your bow after each and every use. Otherwise, a bow left at tension over time is prone to warp and lose camber. Whenever you handle your violin bow, try not to touch the bow hairs with your fingers or hand. The natural oils on your skin will impact the ability of the bow to grip the string.
Tighten your violin bow before playing by gently turning the tension screw. Avoid making the bow hairs too taut---the separation between the bow stick and hair should be about the width of a pencil.
Any Other Questions? Ask Musifai!
Just like you take yourself or your family in to the doctor for a check-up, you should take your instrument into a violin maker or luthier to be maintained. Don’t ignore minor problems; many major problems like cracks can start out very small.
Moreover, especially if you are a beginner, you will often not have the expertise or know-how to take care of problems with your violin. Also, there are many specialised tools that you cannot access yourself.
As a general rule, if you are unsure of something with your instrument, consult an expert at Musifai to avoid making mistakes. Feel free to ask us any questions anytime!