Basic Violin MaintenanceHow to Keep Your Violin Happy and In Good Working Order
A few simple, daily, habits will go a long way toward keeping your violin in good order. Treat your violin with care, and you'll be making music with it for many years to come.
Annual / Semi-Annual Maintenance
Wash Your Hands
Before handling your violin, wash your hands! Even if you don't care about protecting your varnish; dirt, oils, and especially perspiration can eat through the aluminum winding of your strings, sometimes very rapidly. And, good strings are expensive!
Tighten Your Bow
Beginners are generally told to tighten their bows until the gap between bow and hair is about the width of a child's pinky, or the width of a pencil. The bow should be tight enough so that the stick does not crush the hair when playing.
Tip: For best tone quality, tighten your bow as little as possible. Adjust the tension to the style of piece you happen to be playing; if you don't need a great deal of bounce, you can bring out more warmth and richer overtones by allowing your bow to be a little more flexible.
Rosin Your Bow
Hold the cake of rosin in your left hand. Draw the hair across the rosin, as if you were playing on the strings of the violin. Use long, slow strokes up and down on the rosin cake. For easy, clean articulation and a rich tone, be sure to use only fresh, high quality rosin. If you wish to avoid dulling your fine varnish, avoid rosins with abrasive additives. Avoid using too much rosin. With good, fresh rosin, you'll need no more than 3-5 strokes, up and down, before each session. More will only create clouds of dust that will collect on your bow and fiddle. Using too much rosin will also deaden the tone of your instrument. To learn more about rosin selection, see our Guide to Rosin.
If you have a new, or newly rehaired, bow, it will need a fair amount of rosin to get started. Without any rosin, the hair will simply glide over the strings without a sound. New hair should, ideally, be primed by rubbing crushed rosin onto the hair. Then, the hair should be rosined in the traditional way, with 20-40 strokes, up and down. If you have no crushed rosin, then simply use your regular rosin, in the usual way. But, don't be surprised if the rosin has difficulty adhering to the hair, at first.
Check Your Bridge
Before playing, take a moment to glance at your bridge. This is especially important after installing new strings. As they stretch, strings tend to pull the bridge out of alignment. If the bridge becomes crooked, it must be corrected immediately to avoid warping. (Depending on your strings and the cut of your bridge, this may occur frequently, which is why we recommend checking it daily.) To check it, take just a moment to glance at the bridge. It should be standing straight up and down, perpendicular to the top of the violin, with the bridge feet sitting flat on the surface. If the bridge appears to be crooked, straighten it immediately. The downward pressure of the strings is enormous, and will quickly warp or even snap a bridge in half - which can be alarming if you're playing the violin when it happens!
To straighten the bridge . . . Place the violin on your lap, with the strings upward. Place your hands on either side of the bridge, above the strings. Place your thumbs at the top of the bridge, on either side (above and between the strings). Wrap your fingers under the strings and lift gently upward with your index and middle fingers, to momentarily relieve some of the downward pressure. At the same time, nudge the top of the bridge back into alignment. Note: the bridge is not glued in place, so be careful not to move the feet of the bridge. If you do accidentally move the feet out of position, simply nudge them back again. (If it's not clear from the markings on the top of the violin, the bridge should be placed approx. between the inner notches of the f-holes, and centered on the violin.) Note: this must all be done will some care, as the bridge is relatively fragile. If you're feeling uncertain, ask your teacher or the folks at your local string shop to show you how this is done.
Check Your Sound Post
If the weather is dry, take a moment to glance at the top of the treble f-hole in order to gauge the tightness of the soundpost. In dry conditions, your violin may start to dry out, and the wood start to shrink. If this happens, the soundpost will become tighter, forcing the middle of the top of the violin upward. To check the tightness of the post, examine the top of the treble f-hole (the one on the right, near the E string), at the place where the gap is very narrow and the wood above and below the hole is close to touching. Run your finger over the gap to feel the wood. If the post is too tight, you'll notice that the wood below the gap (toward the tailpiece) is higher than the wood above (toward the scroll). This is due to the wood in the center of the violin top being forced upward by the post. This check takes only a few seconds, and is a relatively good indicator of the tightness of the post. (Note: If your violin was ever stored in a dry location for an extended period of time, the upward pressure of the post could have permanently warped the top of the violin. This would cause the wood to be raised regardless of the current humidity conditions, and make this check impossible on your instrument.)
It is important to keep your violin from becoming dried out. One of the most commonly seen (and most difficult to fix) repairs is the soundpost crack, where the pressure of the post in dry conditions has caused the top of the violin to actually split. In extreme conditions, the violin can literally fall apart at the seams, as the various piece of wood that make up the instrument contract. A multitude of devices for measuring and controlling the humidity of your instrument are available. Most are inexpensive and easy to use. Please see our Humidity Control category or click on Accessories/Humidifiers and/or Accessories/Hygrometers. The simplest solution is often to get a small humidifier for your case, and to keep the violin in the case, with the lid closed, whenever possible, during dry weather.
Wipe the Strings
After playing, it is wise to wipe the strings with a dry, cotton cloth, in order to remove dirt and perspiration. Depending on your body chemistry, your perspiration may cause rapid damage to the strings, or it may not. Some of our customers say that they are unable to make their aluminum-wound strings last for more than a few weeks! (A strings are often aluminum-wound, which is one of the reasons that they tend to break faster than the other strings. Silver-wound strings hold up better.) Most players can do better than a few weeks. But, nevertheless, if you have a problem with strings breaking, we recommend wiping the strings after each session.
Brush Rosin from the Violin
With a dry, cotton cloth, gently brush the accumulated rosin from the surface of your violin. Rosin has a low melting point. Rosin left on the surface of the violin on a hot day can easily become fused with the varnish, leaving a dull, dirty looking surface. It's much easier to simply brush it off at the end of your practice session.
At the same time, take a moment to brush the rosin from the strings. A thick build up of rosin on the strings will deaden the sound of your violin and make for a slower, stickier, response. It is NOT necessary to squeak the strings when doing this. Simply brush over the strings with the cloth to dust them off.
Brush Rosin from the Bow
If you have a bow that you care about, you may wish to give it the same attention that you do the violin - gently wiping the rosin off the shaft of the bow with the same cotton cloth.
Loosen the Bow
Before putting your bow away, take off the tension by loosening the hair. Failing to do this will cause wooden bows to lose their curve (camber). Over time, as you lose camber, you will lose power, and your performance will suffer. Re-cambering a bow is expensive and unpredictable. Most composite bows will not lose camber, even if they are stored with tension. But, the hair will stretch, and will eventually need to be replaced, when it can no longer be tightened enough to play.
Replace the Strings
Over time, your strings will lose their vitality and will start to sound dull and lifeless. Synthetic and gut strings will need to be replaced more frequently than steel. As a general rule, strings should be replaced every six to twelve months, to maintain best tonal quality. Students often go several years on the same set of synthetic strings. Steel strings often last even longer. Professional players, on the other hand, often change their strings much more frequently. For recommendations on string selection, please see our Guide to Strings. For help with changing your strings, please see our Guide to String Installation.
Lubricate Pegs, Nut, Bridge, and Fine Tuner(s)
As you change your strings, take a moment to lubricate the pegs. We recommend Hill Peg Compound. Most peg difficulties - stuck pegs, rough turning, sticking, slipping - can be avoided with some simple lubrication. Also, lubricate the notches of the bridge and nut with graphite from a sharp pencil, in order to allow the string to pass over these notches with the least amount of friction. This is particularly important for the bridge, which can get pulled out of alignment by the strings. Finally, if you have fine tuners installed (or a single fine tuner on your E string) remove the screw(s) and lubricate the threading with a little door hinge grease or other lubricant, to allow them to turn freely and without squeaking.
Rehair or Clean the Hair of Your Bow
There are several schools of thought when it comes to bow rehairing. Some maintain that the hair must be changed at least once every year. Others prefer to clean their bow hair with alcohol when it becomes dirty. Certainly, when the hair stretches to the point where it can no longer be tightened, or when too much hair has been lost for the bow to be functional, a rehair is necessary. We believe that bow hair does lose vitality over time; and, like strings, will start to sound somewhat dull to the discerning ear, when old. But, the difference is subtle, and for many it may be more practical to simply clean the hair, when possible. Click Here for more on bow rehairing.
Polishing Your Violin
Polishing your violin is not necessary. If you feel strongly about removing fingerprints or making your varnish shine, apply only a small amount, and buff with a clean, cotton cloth. Avoid "cleaner" polishes that contain solvents like alcohol. These will dissolve your varnish.