Violin/Viola Maintenance Checklist for Mid-Pandemic Instrument Health
With music-related routines disrupted this year, you might have missed some of your normal cues for maintaining your instrument. Nonetheless, you need to take care of your fiddle!
I've compiled a checklist to help you make sure your instrument is getting the maintenance it needs. I've also included links to stories that go more in-depth, to help with any specific maintenance issues that may come up:
- Strings: Are any strings unraveling or going false? If it's been nine months since you've changed your strings, it's likely time to do so. With heavy use, once every six months is a good measure. Here is a video tutorial on how to change your violin strings.
- Pegs: Are they slipping? Sticking? You may need to apply some "peg dope" or adjust the way your strings are wound. The best time to do this is when you are changing your strings. (See the string-changing tutorial, as well as this article on peg maintenance.)
- Humidity: It's winter, and that can mean dry indoor environments when the heat goes on. When the wood of the violin gets too dry, you may have peg slippage and even cracks begin to develop in the fiddle, in extreme cases. So prevention is key! If you have a humidity tube in your case or a dampit, when is the last time you filled it with water? Do it now! You can also simply turn on a humidifier in the room where you keep your instrument. (Here is more on humidifying your instrument.)
- Instrument Size: If you are a teacher or parent, has your student had any growth spurts recently and outgrown his or her instrument? It may be time to measure; here is a guide for measuring your child for a fractional-size violin.
- Bow Hair: Depending on how much you are playing, you should change the hair on your bow every six months to a year. Is it time? Make an appointment! (If you have a fractional-size student violin bow that really needs new hair, you might consider simply buying a new bow, as this might cost the same as re-hairing.)
- Bow Leather: It looks like a permanent part of the bow, but the leather on the "grip" of the bow does wear out over time. My thumb usually munches a big dent in it every few years, and I get it replaced. I also indulge in a longer piece of leather for my bow. In some cases (like student violins) the leather can come unglued and unwound from the stick. If the leather is worn out or coming off, you can have your luthier replace the leather at the same time as you get your bow re-haired.
- Bridge: Is your bridge tilting? Over time the bridge can start tilting, which can cause the bridge to warp or even fall down. Have a look and make sure it is upright. If you have to adjust it, do so with caution. Here is an excellent video by luthier Terry Borman that shows in detail how to carefully adjust a bridge.
- Fingerboard and Chinrest: When is the last time you cleaned your fingerboard or chinrest? Eewww! Of course, the best thing to do is to wipe down the fingerboard every time you play your violin. But if it's been a long time, you can use a pre-soaked alcohol wipe to clean and disinfect your fingerboard and chinrest. Just don't let it touch the varnish of the body of the violin!
- Rosin: Here's a simple one: have you been remembering to rosin your bow? This can make a big difference in your sound! Also, if you are using a crumbly, old, broken shard of rosin for your bow, this may be a good time to treat yourself to a nice new cake of rosin.
- Varnish/Polish: Don't touch it, unless you are an expert. If it needs any kind of cleaning or polish beyond wiping it off with a cloth, have a luthier do that!
- Violin Case: How dusty is your violin case? Vacuum it! Is your violin blanket disintegrating and falling apart? Get (or make) a new one! (Santa, you can send me one of these...) If you have issues like broken zippers, damaged latches, or a handle that is falling off, then it's really time for a new case. The case is not offering adequate protection if it can fall open or drop from your grasp at any time.
- Music Stand: Is your stand swaying all over the place? Is the music falling forward? Tighten the screws on the stand. Do you have a folding stand that is simply inadequate for holding the weight or volume of your music? Consider getting a sturdier stand. Having a functional stand can really make a difference in your attitude about practice.
I hope this check-list helps you maintain the health of your instrument, as well as your own sense of well-being, in regard to your instrument and your playing.
If you have other suggestions for violin or viola maintenance, please share in the comments section.
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