Caring for your violin correctly will ensure it stays in top condition, continues to sound as it should and keeps its value. Here are our top tips for looking after your violin, viola or cello.
In our violin shop, we regularly get asked by enthusiasts if we have any advice on looking after violins and other stringed instruments. Therefore, we have compiled some of our top violin care tips into this article.
How should you store a violin correctly?
It is advisable to keep your violin in a hard case. Many accidents happen when they are left on a chair – just to answer the phone, or make a coffee, etc. Get in the habit of putting it away each time you stop playing. Likewise in a rehearsal always put it away during breaks. This may seem fussy but so many repairs come from instruments being knocked over in rehearsal breaks that we strongly advise it.
Try to keep it where the temperature and humidity are stable. Do not place it next to radiators or store it in the garage.
How often should I get my violin serviced?
This very much depends on how much it is used and how well looked after, here are a few tips.
- Wipe off any rosin that accumulates near the bridge with a soft, lint free, dry cloth each time you practise. Do not use violin varnish cleaner unless you have been shown how to do this by your violin repairer. It may seem a simple thing but considerable damage can be caused by doing it incorrectly. Don’t use too much rosin!
- Always loosen the bow hair after playing – just enough so the hairs touch the stick.
- Don’t overtighten the bow; it should always keep a downward curve.
Ask your violin repairer to show you how to adjust the bridge to keep the back face at right angles to the plane of the belly. If you are not confident about making an adjustment and it seems to be leaning excessively take it to your repairer to check all is ok. Allowing your bridge to keep bending more and more without correction will eventually mean you will need a new bridge.
Try not to tune your strings above their intended pitch, this causes them to become slack and work less well, they can also break quite easily. Tuning carefully will extend their life.
It is worth taking your violin to be serviced once a year. Your repairer can check your pegs, sound post, bridge, look for open seams etc., and perhaps stop minor problems before they become expensive repairs. We provide this service free of charge a year after we sell an instrument and follow-ups can be at a nominal cost if no new work is required.
How often do I need to change my violin strings?
This depends on the level at which you are playing and the type of strings you use.
If you are an early grade player practising 4 or 5 times a week for 10 minutes using metal strings they may last for a year or two. At the other extreme we have known professional players working as soloists, playing 7 or 8 hours every day changing covered gut strings every 3 or 4 weeks.
Make sure the endnut and the bridge are lubricated with soft pencil in the channels where the strings pass over them, many strings break at one of these pinch points. String production is generally of a very high consistency and ‘bad’ strings are extremely unusual. If you are breaking strings it is probably due either to over tuning or to the string catching at one of these points.
How to clean your violin
In general don’t do it, just wipe it with a soft, lint free, dry cloth. It is easy to cause significant damage. If it is something you really want to do, go to your repairer and ask her/him to show you the safe way.
How to clean your violin strings
Just wipe your strings with a soft, lint free, dry cloth each time you play, both above and under the strings. Your repairer will carry out any other cleaning required in the annual service. If you have a large build-up of rosin then wiping above and below the string with a dry cloth will help – better still use less rosin! Using alcohol as suggested by many online websites is unwise. Firstly it runs the risk of varnish damage in inexperienced hands, secondly it can damage certain strings, and thirdly it often happens – unless the strings are absolutely cleaned of all rosin – that the rosin simply resolidifies making the strings even worse.
Travelling with your violin
Keep it with you at all times in a case with a hydrometer and place a humidifier in your instrument when not in use. If busking keep your case close at hand in case it starts to rain! Remember, extreme temperature/humidity changes are not good.
In a car
Use a case with a hydrometer and place a humidifier in your instrument. Place the case flat in the boot and ensure nothing placed on it is of sufficient weight to press it down.
On a train
Use a case with a hydrometer and place a humidifier in your instrument. Place the case flat in the luggage area or rack and ensure nothing placed on it is of sufficient weight to press it down. Sit as close as you can to your instrument and keep it in view at all times.
On an aeroplane
Use a case with a hydrometer and place a humidifier in your instrument. Make sure you have suitable comprehensive insurance valid for the countries of travel, also make sure you have any paperwork required. This could be anything from a purchase invoice to show you are the owner, to CITES documentation if required. If you have confirmed by email that the airline is happy to carry the instrument then print this off, the person on the ground may have other ideas.
Low cost airlines are generally more restrictive so make doubly sure. If possible try to get a direct flight and use quieter flights – more space for hand luggage. Do not put your instrument in the hold – if necessary buy it a separate ticket. Check the dimensions and weight of your case to ensure it complies with the airline’s policy.
If you can, board early and claim the best luggage space. Lay your case flat, ideally in a place where nothing else will be placed on top.
Keep your instrument in view and close at hand at all times and avoid the temptation to have a look at it mid flight! If customs/air officials demand to see inside the case make sure they are informed about safe handling of your instrument and bow.
Customs officials vary enormously country to country and day to day. In Paris I was asked to unscrew and take off every one of 10 frogs on a collection of bows I was bringing in, in Milan I was asked to play something to prove I was a player (on the plus side I was then taken to the front of the queue and allowed to board first). Be prepared for anything!
So there you have it, our top tips on caring for your instrument from our in-house violin repair and restoration experts. If you follow these tips, your violin, viola, cello or double bass will have a long life.
We offer a violin repair & restoration service
Although caring for your violin using the above methods will help keep your instrument in great condition, sometimes accidents do happen. You may have inherited or bought an instrument which needs extensive restoration work. Well, at Tim Toft Violins, we have you covered.
Our purpose-built violin repair workshop was completed in 2011 and we employ full-time, highly qualified professionals who have a range of specialist tools at their disposal. We pride ourselves on the high standard of the repair and restoration service we provide for all instruments and bows, whether they require a minor adjustment or a full restoration. Full more information, please click here.