1133469.jpg

Caring for your Stringed Instrument

IMG_1140 - J Tam.JPG.jpg

Johnson Tam

February 12th, 2021

So, you have rented your first stringed instrument for yourself or a child in the family, and together, you are staring at it with pride.  Everyone is waiting with anticipation for the first class with the scheduled teacher, and together, you have even tried to make a few squeaks on your instrument following Youtube videos.  What now?

Not all music or classroom teachers may dive into the nitty-gritty talk of instrument care and maintenance.  Maybe they have too much on their plate, maybe they are teaching too many students, or different instruments.  But it is crucial to not forego the importance of instrument care.  

Of course, not all stringed instruments are the same, and the amount of care may not be necessary for (example) a violin that is a few hundred dollars in comparison to another that’s a few thousand.  On the other hand, both you and a young beginner may save a lot of time and hassle developing basic routines to care for both your violin and your bow.  This will guarantee that when the time comes that you stand on stage, your instrument will play at its finest quality that it may under your finger’s guidance, and last longer than the other violin your friend’s neighbour has, due to the lack of care and patience.  

Let’s go with the basic rules that should be applied even to the beginner-friendly stringed instruments, as they deserve to be clean as much as the individuals playing it.  

Wipe, wipe, wipe!

Wipe after each use, with a dust collecting towel, to capture all skin oil and rosin on the strings.  This also means to include and capture the rosin beneath the string in the playing area and under the fingerboard.  With another cloth, remember to wipe the oils off the fingerboard, the chin rest, and the neck of the violin.  

Rosin is a tough one.  It’s sticky.  It dries, varnishes, and decolours your instrument (and the stickiness never comes off).  Excess rosin on your string causes your sound to buzz inappropriately.  If necessary, purchase violin cleaning liquids from your local music store to wipe on stubborn areas to try to salvage and maintain your instrument. 

wipe.JPG

I’m dying in the sun…  OR It is so cold I feel sleepy...  

Never store the instrument  outside freezing temperatures or burning hot weather (especially inside the trunk of a car while your family is out for lunch).  Avoid direct sunlight, and try to keep at a relative humidity of 40% for quality instruments.  If it’s unavoidable, keep your instrument in the car for a maximum of 40 minutes.

This may easily alter the shape of the instrument if ignored, causing riffs, cracks, change of pitch, loosening of the pegs, etc. due to the shift of its structure from the temperature change or humidity.  Larger instruments, such as the cello are even more sensitive to these factors.  Humidifiers are purchased by professional musicians to alter if necessary.  Be mindful of these issues even if you choose to play as you go.  

OH SNAP!  My string broke!

Consider getting guided on how to tune in the beginning, to avoid the snapping of the strings while adjusting pegs.  If the tuners are resisting, consider whether you are screwing too much in one direction, or consider getting peg lubricants if necessary.  This applies to the fine tuners (screws at the bottom of the instrument) as well.  

Another common reason why strings can break is wear and tear - after some time the string can unwind and fray usually near scroll and first position areas. Pay attention to those areas every now and then. 

 

As teachers, we have been approached countless times about how a family has experienced something traumatic when the strings have buckled and snapped.  First, we get it, it happens, even to the best of us.  Half the time, it is simply from wear and tear, or the low quality of the string.  The other half of the time, it may have simply been because the family have just started on their stringed instrument, expected that they would have been fine to tune the instrument themselves, and unfortunately caused an accident.  Seek advice from your instructor on how you may purchase a tuner, or refine your ear over time to avoid this accident in the beginning.  or click here to see a list of where you can purchase strings and equipment

string break.JPG

Ouch!  My head...My neck...  My body is scratched...

Instruments!  Do not hit it, crash it, bump it, drop it, squish it, etc. etc. etc.  Better yet, store it in the case when you are not using it!

It is always a nightmare when a musician experiences or observes an instrument being mishandled, dropped or broken in front of them.  It is similar to watching someone skid off their bike and come crashing onto the pavement.  Let’s hope the young ones starting on their instruments learn this sooner rather than later before they realize what they have done when the accident actually happens.  Oh dear…

An apple a day, keeps the luthier away.  On a second thought, they can help!

When all else fails or is unknown, ask the instructor for guidance, or take it into the workshop so a luthier may take a look at your instrument.  

Getting a second opinion is always valuable.  Luthiers are professionals dedicated in the construction, maintenance, and repairs of the violin.  Just because most adults know how to drive doesn’t mean they are mechanics, and sometimes, you just need someone more qualified to look after the instruments.  Also, most adults will take their second hand vehicle in to be inspected by a mechanic they trust.  Why shouldn’t your stringed instrument be the same?  Get some feedback, as those who work in the industry will always know better, and most of these quick observations are free, no obligation quotes unless your instrument needs work (to which you may always decide after the quote).  

That’s too tight!  That’s too loose!  Ahhh…  Just right!

pencil width for tension.JPG

Always loosen the bow after playing.  While we are at it, don’t tighten to bow to become a straight horizontal wood, and avoid touching it with your fingers. The general rule is to tighten it to the width of a pencil  

 

The natural curve is a proper shape of the bow.  Really tried to avoid touching it, as the oils on our fingers will damage the hair of the bow.  

 

On the other hand, loosening the hair at the end of that silver end of your bow may seem like you’re breaking the bow apart during that first time, but bows stay in proper shape longer when stored in the case that way, keeping its longevity.  What’s there not to like?  Just make sure you stop turning the screw when the hair starts waving loosely.  

Mind that Rosin!!!

You see that tiny compartment at the end of your case?  Open it and you see this funny block of yellow rock.  Your instructor will introduce rosin to you, and how it is crucial for sound making on your instrument.  Hey, it’s brittle and if you drop it, it breaks like glass.  If so, enjoy purchasing a new one.  Why not treat it with care instead?  

 

Also, excess rosin builds up on your string (as said above), so be mindful to rosin once in a while, but not every time you play.  Keep track of your bow’s wood for excessive rosin dust, and wipe if necessary to keep the bow looking shiny and clean.  

In Conclusion

There is a lot more to stringed instrumental care than all that we have written above, but feel confident that the short checklist you see above is a good start.  As you progress in your development, and your investment in your instrument becomes more valuable, there are still many other ways to keep your musical partner in its longest lasting condition possible.  It is always best to seek more advice from a senior in your instrument, the guide at your local music store, or your neighbourhood’s luthier.  

 

 

 

Of course, those of us at Soundbox Studios are also glad to answer any questions you may have, so do not hesitate to contact us with your own inquiries or questions at info.soundboxstudios@gmail.com.  Enjoy your musical journey!