Violin Care and Maintenance

It doesn’t take a lot to keep your violin functioning at its highest level. While most of what you can do is preventive, there are some parts that you can take an active part in violin care. (Tips may apply to other instruments of violin family as well)

Cleaning

Regularly wipe excess rosin dust away from the body and strings of your violin with a dry cloth. Rosin build-up can mar some varnishes and can make strings sound poor.

Always hold a violin by cradling it with both hands rather than holding its body with one hand. Some old violins are so delicate that any extra pressure on its body has the potential of causing new cracks or extending existing cracks.

Humidity and your violin

Wood 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 using an instrument or case humidifier when humidity drops below the normal range. These can be purchased at a violin shop. A hygrometer installed in your violin case is useful in telling you the humidity.

Do not subject your instrument to extreme temperatures. Never leave your instrument in your car.

Dry conditions can cause seams to open, which may generate unwanted buzzes or sounds. Traditional violin maker’s glue is used to close seams. Several hours or overnight drying time is required before instruments can be taken home. Other glues must never be used for any repairs on your instrument.

Cracks should be repaired immediately so that they do not lengthen or collect dirt. In most cases quickly repaired cracks are stable and virtually invisible. Serious cracks may require special attention and techniques that use interior cleats or patches.

Polish is rarely needed, and when necessary, only a commercial violin polish should be used. Cleaning the violin with furniture polish or water could damage the varnish and acoustics of the violin (water could also cause the violin seams to open).

Make sure you have securely closed your instrument case with any zippers and latches before picking up your instrument case.

When you are not using your violin and bow, always place them in your case. They can easily fall and become damaged if you leave them on a chair or another surface, even temporarily.

If you open your violin case and notice that many of your violin bow hairs are falling off and look like they have been cut, you might have bow bugs. The easiest way to avoid bow bugs is to play your violin often. If you know you won’t be playing your violin for an extended period of time, another way to avoid bow bugs is to periodically open your violin case and expose your violin bow and case to indirect sunlight for brief periods of time.

An indication that something is not quite right with your violin is usually to do with the sound. A buzzing sound indicates that something is loose. It could be a sleeve on the string that’s vibrating, a fine tuner that is not tight, the end of a tailgut touching the top plate, ornaments on the pegs, loose purfling,  a fingerboard coming undone, open seam on the top or bottom plate, a crack, or the bass bar getting unglued inside the violin. Its best to immediately get to the source of the buzz and not ignore changes in sound. If left unattended, it might lead to your instrument going to the luthier for a much bigger and costlier repair job.

A common issue with violins in India and other tropical places is the neck coming down thus increasing the gap between the strings and the fingerboard. As a precautionary measure when this happens, is to detune the violin and get the neck reglued with your luthier. To continue playing on a violin with the neck gradually coming down is risky because the high tension of the strings may suddenly bring the neck completely down and damage the top plate.

Important note: Never reglue parts that are coming off using a synthetic glue, epoxy glue or cyanoacrylate (super glue). Hide glue is the water based and reversible glue that must be used. The logic is simple – the glue used must never be stronger than the wood.

Pegs should turn easily without needing to be pressed into the peg box. Applying too much pressure on the peg while tuning could result in crack the peg box resulting in expensive repair. Pegs are cut with a taper that should exactly match the holes in the peg box. Peg compounds are used to allow smooth movement of pegs. They also stop squeaks. Being made of different woods, pegs and peg boxes have a different coefficient of linear expansion. This results in pegs sometimes being loose or too tight. Taking your violin from room temperature to an air conditioned room usually has an effect of slipping pegs. The solution is to allow enough time for the instrument to acclimatize to changes in temperature before jumping to a conclusion that you need new pegs.

Should we use chalk to prevent pegs from slipping?

Only in an emergency! Chalk usually will stop the peg from slipping by filling in the gaps between the peg and the peg hole. But chalk powder can also jam the peg in when the wood in the peg box contracts due to weather change and any attempt to tune the string can easily cause the peg to break or worse, cause the peg box to crack! Always better to treat the cause rather than the symptom.

While tuning the instrument, the bridge tends to lean forward. This must be corrected or the bridge may bend or even break. If the bridge snaps in two suddenly or even just tilts over and falls hard on the top plate, the results could be very damaging. Remember, if you try pulling a leaning bridge back without proper support, it might fall down. The tail piece will then slam into the top plate, possibly cracking it.

The position of the bridge is important to the sound and playability of the instrument. The feet of the bridge must sit flush in the top plate to ensure maximum contact and transfer of vibration from bridge to the body.

Sometimes the ‘E’ string may dig into the bridge. This can be rectified or stopped if it is noticed in the initial stages by using a parchment or sleeve at the point of contact between the string and the bridge. However, if the cut is too deep, the bridge will have to be replaced.

Applying pencil lead (graphite) on the groves of the nut and bridge where the string rests is a good way of lubricating that contact area. This is a simple and effective way of ensuring longer string life.

One Response to “Violin Care and Maintenance

  • ARUL SANTHOSH D
    6 months ago

    Dear Sir,
    I want to service my violin. Can you pls share me your contact number and address.

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