My family is rather musical. I have played the violin for many years and I also have a son and daughter that play woodwind instruments. As a result, I have talked to many instrument repair people over the years. I remember one story I heard from a man who worked in an instrument repair shop in Indianapolis. He said that one student came into his shop with a damaged instrument (I don’t remember what kind of instrument it was, but it was rather large). Some friends would take him to his lesson but the car was too small to hold all the people riding and his instrument. He would ride to the lesson holding the case outside the window. When he arrived at the location, he would drop the case, open the door, pick it up and run in to his lesson. Not the best idea. The wear and tear eventually damaged the instrument to the point he had to have it repaired.
A violin (or any instrument) is an investment. A decent instrument that has been properly maintained will not usually depreciate in value. Some will even increase as time goes on. Even more importantly, it is an investment in your life. It will give you the opportunity to learn to play the music you love. If you are involved in your church musically, you can glorify God for many years to come. You will never outgrow it.
So how do you maintain your violin?
Maintenance You Can Do
- Location – Keep it in a safe place. Don’t leave it on a chair to be sat on, or on the floor to be stepped on. I guarantee Joshua Bell does not leave his 300 year old Stradivarius lying in a chair. You shouldn’t either, even if it is only a student model.
- Case – The safest place for your violin is in a good case. Even then, take care not to drop it as this can cause several undesirable results.
- The jar can cause the sound post to move or detach.
- The tuning pegs can pop out, causing the bridge to come loose. Since pressure from the bridge holds the sound post in place, this also may cause it to loosen.
- It can cause cracks in the body of the violin.
- Stand – Violin stands are handy for easy access if you plan to play often, but beware, you must keep the stand away from foot traffic or it may be kicked causing damage to the instrument.
- Floor stand – A good floor stand will be sturdy with a locking device to keep the instrument safe. It will also have a place to hold the bow.
- Swing stand – these are designed to attach to your music stand. I have never used one, but the concept doesn’t sound safe. Stands can be knocked over, causing damage to the instrument
Car – NEVER leave your instrument in a car – whether it be in a trunk or in the passenger area! Extreme temperatures can cause the varnish to bubble, the wood to crack, or seams to come apart.
- Strings – As expensive as they are, strings must be changed on a regular basis. Old strings will lose their brilliance. If your violin doesn’t sound as nice as it once did, it may be time to change them. Old strings can also break when you are trying to tune them.
- Quality – Use good quality strings. There is considerable difference in sound between cheap strings and good quality strings. I used Dominant strings for many years. They are regarded by professionals as the “reference standard.” More recently, I changed to Pirastro Tonica because I like the warm sound they produce.
- Changing strings.
- Change one string at a time – Do not remove all strings at once. The bridge will come lose and the sound post may move.
- Change in a specific order – This is to make it easier to keep track of which strings have been changed. I usually change in the same order I tune – A, D, G, E. Other people change from low to high, or vice versa. Be consistent.
- Change carefully –
- Thread the ball or loop of the string in your tailpiece or fine tuner and the other end in the hole of the peg.
- With one hand, keep pressure on the string while turning the peg with the other hand.
- Take care not to criss-cross the string on the peg as this can put pressure at those points causing the string to break.
- Bring the string up to pitch slowly so it doesn’t break.
- If a string does break, take note of where the breakage occurs. If it breaks at the nut or bridge, you may have a bad spot where the string makes contact and you will have to have a professional repair it. If it breaks in a random place, you may have a defective string. Some shops may replace such a string if they are sure the break didn’t occur from over tightening.
- Be patient – New strings take time to be broken in. They will stretch and will need to be tuned often. It is not a good idea to put new strings on an instrument the night before a performance.
- Pegs –
- Slipping pegs – Carefully rewinding the string properly will often fix this problem. If it continues to slip you may have a peg that is not properly fitted to the violin. Take it to a violin shop to have it repaired
- Stiff pegs – Stiff pegs can be treated at the same time you change your strings. Purchase some peg dope or compound from your violin shop. I prefer peg dope because it is easy to apply, not messy, and will last for many years, since you only use a little at a time. It looks like a crayon. While the peg is loose, apply the dope to the two dark rings on the peg (this is the place the peg has been rubbing on the violin peg holes).
- Broken pegs – You must have a professional replace those, since they will need to be specially fitted to your violin.
- Bridge – Constant tuning of the violin can move the bridge, since it is not actually attached, but held in place by the pressure of the strings.
- Check – Look at the bridge and be sure the two ends are in line with the notches in the f holes and that the back of the bridge (the side away from the fingerboard) is at a 90 degree angle to the violin.
- Adjust – You can adjust the bridge yourself. Place the violin in your lap and move the bridge by holding it on each side with your hands and apply slow, steady pressure in the direction you want it to move. If you are not sure you can do this, have your teacher or someone at the violin shop do it for you.
- Chin rest – The chin rest shouldn’t need much adjusting. Just be sure that no part of it is touching the tail piece as this can cause a vibrating sound while playing.
- Cleaning – Every time you play, be sure to wipe the rosin off the strings and the top of the violin with a soft, lint-free cloth. Excess rosin on the violin can ruin the varnish and will greatly affect the quality of sound. While talking to a staff member of a local violin shop, he told me he had a mother insist that her son’s violin needed repair because it sounded bad. He took one look at it and asked the son “When was the last time you cleaned the strings?” He replied, “Never.” The staff person took out a cloth and wiped the strings off and asked the boy to try it. The difference was amazing. The mother asked him for one of those “special cloths” so she could clean the strings. He told her it was just a common man’s handkerchief. It would be a good idea to keep one of those “special cloths” in your case and use it regularly. While you are at it, it would be a good idea to insert the cloth between the hair and the wooden part of your bow and wipe the rosin off the wood – be careful you do not touch the hair.
Maintenance A Professional Should Do
- Seams or Cracks – If you have a seam coming apart or a crack in the violin, take it to be repaired right away. The longer you wait, the worse it can get and the more it will cost to have it repaired. Do not try to glue it yourself. A special glue must be used so that if the violin ever needs to be taken apart, it will be possible.
- Bridge – A bridge that needs to be replaced due to breakage or excessive wear must be custom fitted to your violin. Let a professional do this.
- Sound post – It is best to have a professional insert a sound post that has detached, since it needs to be fitted to a precise location to produce the best sound possible.
- Fingerboard – Look for warps or excessive wear. Have your violin shop do the replacement so it can be fitted properly.
- Tailgut (the loop at the end of the tailpiece) – Most modern ones are made of nylon and probably won’t need replacing, however, if you notice fraying on it, have the entire tailpiece replaced. It is best not to do this yourself since it requires removing all strings and that will cause the bridge to come loose and could possibly cause the sound post to move or come out.
- The bow – Always be sure to loosen the bow when finished using it or the stick may warp. This happened to me with my first bow. A friend asked if I would allow her to try out my violin. When she was finished, she put it back in its case and I didn’t check it. Since this was before I actually knew how to play, it was a couple of years before I opened the case. When I did, I discovered, to my dismay, that she did not loosen the bow. It had a very bad warp in it and had to be replaced.
- The stick – if the stick is warped, it is probably best to buy a new bow, unless it is a high quality bow that you would rather keep (high quality bows don’t usually warp). If this is the case, a luthier can straighten it.
- The hair – Bows that are used a great deal (and I hope you do play often) need to have the hair replaced every few years, since it can stretch or lose the ability to grab the strings over time.
- The Eyelet – If the screw in the eyelet is stripped out, have a professional replace it.
- The Tip – If the plastic tip is cracked or broken, it can be replaced by a professional.
Your violin is a beautiful, sensitive instrument. Take care of it and it will give you great enjoyment for many years to come.