How to maintain string instruments (bowed instruments)

String Instrument Maintenance

string instrument maintenance

String instruments, especially the violin, require meticulous care as their main material is wood this is why string instrument maintenance is very important.

String instrument maintenance guide.

  • Avoid Impact: Like anything else, be sure to avoid pressing or striking the instrument. Impact can result in breakage, fractures, or detachment of adhesive parts.
  • Temperature and Humidity: Maintain an appropriate temperature between 18-25 degrees Celsius. Humidity levels of 46-60% are ideal. Use a humidifier in damp conditions and dampit when it’s dry. During summer, it’s better to store the instrument in a cool, well-ventilated, and safe place.
  • Adjust the Pegs: Pegs are wedge-shaped, so loosen them slightly during the rainy season and tighten them a bit more during dry periods. Be cautious when adjusting to avoid breakage or damage to the nut.
  • String Management: Strings are directly touched by fingers, and rosin applied to the bow can accumulate on them, causing noise and reducing their lifespan. To manage the strings, use a cloth or soft gauze with alcohol (disinfectant) once a week, ensuring the alcohol doesn’t touch the instrument to prevent varnish damage.
  • Bridge Maintenance: The bridge is a critical part for sound transmission. Keep it straight to avoid complications in sound and usability. When adjusting, loosen the strings, set it up, and make sure the bottom part is accurately attached. If the bridge is too high or low, it can cause numerous issues, so professional assistance is recommended.
  • Fingerboard Management: The fingerboard, usually made of hard ebony, may wear down over time. It should be either leveled or replaced if too thin.
  • Soundpost (Resonance Post) Management: The soundpost is crucial for transmitting sound. Experimenting with its thickness, material, length, and position can be beneficial. If the soundpost falls, loosen the strings, set it up again. Avoid playing with a fallen soundpost, as it can not only affect the sound but also risk damaging the front plate of the instrument.
  • Bass Bar: The bass bar supports the low tones and, at the same time, plays a crucial role in protecting the instrument body. It is a very important component and, over time, may lose its elasticity, requiring replacement. It has strong tension and may come off if exposed to humidity. Therefore, although not visible from the outside, it should be inspected occasionally. If it comes off, it can lead to the instrument’s front plate breaking and create noise in the sound. In such cases, releasing the strings quickly can minimize instrument damage. When repairing it, it’s advisable to have a professional remove the front plate.
  • Tailpiece: The tailpiece is responsible for securing the strings. Despite its simplicity, it significantly influences the instrument’s sound and string tension. Vibrations may occur at the connection points, so careful inspection is necessary. Especially, excessive tightening of adjusters can damage the instrument, so they should be tightened just enough towards the instrument side.
  • Chin Rest: The chin rest does not directly affect the sound, but it must be comfortable to use. Users should choose one that fits well on the body. However, since it involves pressing against the chin, complete comfort may be challenging to achieve.
  • Polish: The instrument’s gloss is a vital element in protecting the varnish. Users should wipe off dust and rosin carefully. However, using alcohol or volatile substances to protect the instrument varnish should be avoided, and such tasks are best left to professionals.
  • Noise: Noise in the instrument can have various causes, such as sounds from screws, strings closing due to a low bridge, resonances from body varnish, or noise from a detached bass bar. Careful examination is necessary to identify the root cause.
  • Rosin: Apply rosin in moderation, and if rough sounds occur during playing, it’s often because rosin has adhered to the strings. Always remove excess rosin, and use a soft cloth to wipe away rosin powder falling on the instrument. Be cautious not to apply too much pressure, as it could damage the varnish. Avoid using synthetic fiber rosin, as it can generate heat during wiping, potentially damaging the varnish.

  • Cleaning: Cleaning is the 1st thing to do proper string instrument maintenance.  When cleaning the instrument, avoid doing so in a humid room. There are various cleaning agents available, but it’s advisable to use them sparingly. Cleaning with a clean cloth or chamois is recommended. While alcohol can be used to remove rosin from the fingerboard, it should be applied with caution, using a small amount on a well-wrung cloth to prevent varnish damage.
  • Regular String Instrument Maintenance : Regular maintenance is something everyone knows, but accidents that result in breakage or damage can happen unexpectedly. Therefore, the best practice is always to store the instrument in a sturdy case when not in use to prevent such mishaps.

These days, many people use lightweight Styrofoam cases because of their portability. While they are convenient to use due to their lightness, it’s essential to handle them with care as they may not be as robust as other cases. Storing the instrument in a secure and protective case when not in use is the safest way to avoid unfortunate surprises.

Instrument owners should treat their instruments with care, just as they would care for their own bodies

Winter (dry weather) and String Instrument maintenance.

The optimal conditions for string instruments are a consistent temperature of 15°C to 21°C (59°F to 70°F) and a relative humidity of 35-50%, including the current water vapor content and the maximum water vapor content air can hold. Maintaining these temperature and humidity levels is ideal for instrument preservation. Even during the cold winter, if the storage place has temperature control, it is possible to maintain these conditions without inconvenience. Unfortunately, achieving these ideal conditions becomes challenging when instruments are exposed to fluctuating temperatures and humidity during external rehearsals, school activities, concerts, or transportation, especially during the transition from autumn to winter.

Instrument makers warn that cold weather can lead to problems such as cracks, damage to edge decorations, fissures, and changes in the instrument’s neck movement. The reason behind this lies in the fact that wood is a material that absorbs moisture from the air we breathe. Instruments expand with moisture and contract when dry. Different types of wood used for different parts of the instrument, along with varying wood vulnerabilities, lead to uneven expansion and contraction rates. For example, sudden weather changes can cause misalignment between the instrument’s handle (tailpiece) and holes.- String instrument maintenance tips from the violin makers

To use instruments properly, the wood components, such as the handle and the tailpiece, must fit accurately. However, if the wood of the handle and tailpiece warps due to rapid temperature changes, they may no longer fit together correctly. Although it may seem minor visually, hardwood and softwood, which are used in instrument construction, expand or contract at different rates under the instrument’s pressure.

Instruments often contain hide glue, which is used as an adhesive during manufacturing. This glue is strong but becomes weaker than wood once it cracks. Cracks in glue joints are relatively easy to repair, but cracks in the wood that cannot be easily repaired pose more significant problems. Wood absorbs moisture, and if it becomes too dry, cracks may eventually form.

Instruments with cleats (small wooden pieces to prevent cracks), patches (larger wooden pieces similar to cleats), or soundpost (a post inside the instrument between the front and back plates) installed around the soundpost area are more sensitive to humidity changes. If an instrument has undergone significant repairs, attention should be given to protecting the repaired areas.

Wood undergoes changes with humidity, but most instruments can handle seasonal variations without major issues. The best approach is to prevent sudden changes in temperature, humidity, and drastic variations. While perfection cannot be guaranteed, there are ways to help your instrument withstand the winter chill: (string instrument maintenance regarding the humidity)

D’Addario Accessories Hygrometer Humidity And Temperature Sensor

D’Addario Accessories Small Instrument Humidifier

D’Addario Accessories Humidifier System – Humidipak Maintain Kit

  1. Use a hygrometer to monitor humidity accurately. Digital hygrometers from reputable brands like Radio Shack are known for their precision.
  2. If the humidity in your home or practice room drops below 20%, consider using a humidifier in the room. This is feasible when using the instrument only in that room.
  3. Keep the case closed. The case is a fundamental way to protect the instrument. Close the case as much as possible, as it helps gradually change the internal humidity and temperature. A soft case cover is more effective.
  4. Humidifier cases designed to maintain internal humidity are beneficial. However, some instrument makers do not recommend them, as they only work effectively when used correctly, and users may forget to fill them with water.
  5. Avoid excessive humidity, as it can be worse than low humidity. Violin maker Tom Spark recommends covering the instrument with silk to reduce humidity changes.
  6. Acclimate the instrument to new environments. Before playing, open the instrument case and let it adapt to the surrounding environment slowly.

string instrument maintenance

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