You searched hard to find the best starter cello for your child, that exquisite, handcrafted violin from Europe, the best basses for your orchestra students, your favorite viola for the next concert…., so why not make it last as long as possible?
Maintaining any string instrument is just as important as learning how to play it. Here are some simple tips to keep yours sounding and looking as vibrant as the day you purchased it:
Your instrument is made mostly of wood, and unfortunately wood is extremely sensitive to temperature changes. It will slightly expand in the heat and contract in the cold, a difference not noticeable by eye, but definitely apparent in sound. This back and forth shift between shrinkage and expansion can take a toll on the body, neck, bridge, and scroll and causes the strings to loosen, tighten, and go out of tune. It’s also bad for the seams of your instrument and can result in the glue or wood cracking.
To avoid trouble, never leave your instrument near a heater or air conditioner, out in the sun, or in a hot car. Always keep it in an environment at room temperature. For those of you doing outdoor performances, be sure to play under an overhang or tent when inclement weather is on the horizon to avert detrimental water damage.
You can also place a humidifier inside your instrument when not in use to prevent excessive moisture from soaking into the wood.
Body, Neck, Fingerboard, and Scroll
Each time you play, a buildup of rosin will form on the body underneath and around the area you bow. When left to accumulate, this can become tacky and hard to remove. To avoid a sticky situation, pour a few drops of a liquid cleaner onto a soft, non-scratch cloth and brush away the rosin. You can slip the cloth underneath the strings (starting near the bridge) to remove all the rosin from the fingerboard as well. The same cleaning method can be used to clear off oily fingerprints, dirt, and dust. Flip to a clean part of the cloth, put a little bit of polish on it, and rub it into the instrument to protect and revitalize its finish. Most cloths are washable for reuse.
Strings and Pegs
A small amount of liquid string cleaner on the cloth will remove rosin from the strings. Never try to scratch off the rosin with your nails as this may cause permanent damage.
How often you need to replace your strings depends upon how often you play. Though it’s always good to have a backup set in case a string breaks prematurely, you can extend the life of your strings by tuning them slowly and without excessive force. Once your instrument is no longer sustaining its tonality or pitch stability, or if you see the strings starting to wear or fray, it’s time to replace them.
When replacing strings, or tuning in general, never jam the tuning pegs too far into the instrument, else you may not be able to get them back out. You should also avoid turning the fine tuners to their maximum tightness when possible, and never keep them completely loose so they don’t fall out when you move the instrument. Always replace one string at a time to prevent your bridge from cracking or slipping out of place.
If your tuning pegs won’t stay put, applying a little peg dope will stop the strings from slipping. Vice versa, if you’re using all your muscles to turn the pegs and they still won’t budge, a few peg drops will loosen them up so you can get back to tuning.
Just like the body, the bridge is made of wood and is susceptible to warping. In the event a bridge warps, it will no longer sit the right way on the body, and the pressure from the strings can cause it to crack. The same thing can happen if you readjust the bridge incorrectly, shifting the pressure points.
When replacing a bridge, be sure to loosen the strings first. Center the bridge in line with the f hole notches (as seen above). The part facing the fine tuners should be at a 90-degree angle to the body, with the part facing the fingerboard at a slight angle to the body (as shown right). When tightening the strings, do this in rotation, little by little so the bridge doesn’t slip. (Don’t fully tune one string and then move on to the next; tighten all four strings a little one by one, go back and tighten each string a bit more, and then finish tuning.)
If your bow is made of wood, it’s also prone to warping and should be kept in room temperature conditions with the instrument. When twisting the screw on any bow (regardless of material), be sure not to make it too loose, or the hairs will fall out. On the other extreme, do not over tighten it to the point that it’s straight, or this will induce warping and make it easier for the hairs to break. When a hair does break, always cut it off with a pair of scissors. Do not yank it out, or you may loosen surrounding hairs. Your bow should be tightened moderately so that it “smiles” at you while playing, and be loosened up a bit when you’re done.
Once a bow looses too much hair, you can re-hair it or have it re-haired at one of our local shops. (See more details below.)
If you choose to display your instrument when it’s not in use, or need somewhere to place it on the stage mid-performance, make sure to choose a sturdy stand or hanger to support it. We have several wall hangers and adjustable, folding, and stationary stands to choose from for all string instruments.
A sturdy case will protect your instrument when you’re not playing and while on the road. Most are cushioned and contoured to the shape of the instrument, with an allocated spot for one or two bows. Many have accessory pockets on the interior or exterior for your rosin, polishing cloth, music folder/folio, lesson books, and other small items. If you’re in need of new one, browse through our assortment of violin, viola, cello, and bass cases.
At Sam Ash, we’re always happy to help. For assistance in finding the proper maintenance item, feel free to speak with one of our store associates. If you need an instrument repaired, a bow re-haired, or a part replaced, check out our local Sam Ash store locations and click on “store details”, then “instrument repair” to see which locations near you offer the repairs/refurbishments you need.