By Laurence Vittes
So you’ve fallen in love with the violin, but do you know how to take care of it? After you start to develop a relationship with your violin, there is one rule all musicians follow: Treat your instrument with respect, love, care and protect it from harm.
7 Ways to Care for Your Violin
- Keep it clean. Clean your instrument often with a microfiber cloth or duster. Make sure the duster is regularly changed or cleaned, otherwise you will rub old dirt and rosin onto the instrument instead of cleaning it. Only use cleaners and polishes made specifically for the violin and viola.
- Choose a case. A protective case goes a long way! Perhaps consider carbon fiber cases for their strength, level of protection and they are light weight. Be mindful of the latches on the case. The latches on BAM’s Hightech cases, for example, are known for their reliability and combination lock system. Stay away from latches without locks on them because they can very easily pop open and endanger your instrument. If you go with a BAM case, you can get a third snap-lock buckle installed on you case near the tailpiece/chin-rest end.
- Protect your instrument inside the case. Wrap your instrument in a silk handkerchief or perhaps a leather cover to help protect it against changes of weather and humidity inside the case. String players are known for keeping trinkets and sentimental belongings inside their violin cases, so this can also protect the instrument from other accessories inside the case. Some players use lettuce or spinach leaves to combat extremely dry environments. Otherwise two external case Dampit humidifiers during winter or dry climates should to the trick to protect against cracking and pitch drift.
- Slacken the bow hair before storing your bow. If the screw on your bow won’t tighten, never force it. The eyelet threads may have become stripped and it should be replaced by a luthier. Keeping your bow in tip-top shape is just an important as maintaining your instrument!
- Be gentle with your pegs. Consider investing in a digital chromatic tuner. It will get you in tune much more quickly and to the point where you are hearing the relative fifths and tuning yourself. Never force your pegs during tuning or you may end up breaking a string.
- Be careful changing strings. When putting on a new set of strings, only take one string off at a time. Having all of the strings off simultaneously can move the bridge and change the placement of the sound post. This will almost guarantee you’ll need a visit with you nearest luthier ASAP.
- Start with lighter rosin. Use lighter rosins because they tend to be harder and more dense, which makes them a good fit for violins. Score the surface of a new rosin cake gently to releases the rosin, then stroke from the frog pianissimo. Rotate the cake each time you use it so you won’t leave grooves. And remember: Never touch the horsehair on your bow because oils from your skin will damage the hair and take away its ability to grab the strings.
How to Travel with Your Violin
It’s no secret that using overhead luggage racks in trains and planes can be a stressful experience. Be sure to not place anything heavy on top of your case once it’s in the luggage rack. A good way to keep others from placing something on top of your instrument is to put your own jacket or sweater on top of the case. Or place your case “upright” along the back wall of the luggage compartment and then put your carry-on bag sideways in front of it. Whatever you do, no matter how jet-lagged you may be, don’t forget to grab your instrument as you disembark!
How Often Should You Change the Strings on a Violin?
Even when they are not visibly worn or even frayed, strings wear out over time from being played and also from humidity and pollutants in the air. This can cause them to lose their sound quality. It’s time to change your violin strings when they start to require more frequent tunings or when they lose their brilliance and warmth. If your violin strings stop speaking as well as they should or if the whole violin stops ringing and reverberating as it should it’s also time to consider replacing them. This all happens gradually over time, so if you find yourself playing your instrument seven times a day every day, you’ll want to change your strings every 9-12 months or so.
When to Take Your Violin to a Shop
In addition to sales, service, repair and restoration, taking your instrument to a luthier for a regular check-up and even to put on a new set of strings, can be like getting an oil change. In addition to re-stringing your instrument, the luthier can apply peg compound, clean under the strings, lubricate the nut with graphite, and perform other important health and maintenance on your violin that you may not have the time or experience to do properly yourself.