V.com weekend vote: Is Your Instrument Overdue for Maintenance?

August 28, 2020, 3:37 PM · With the pandemic days stretching on in endless Groundhog-Day succession, I find that issues of violin maintenance are sneaking up on me.

changing strings

For example, when was the last time I changed my strings? When was the last time I had my bow re-haired? It's hard to remember in this haze of samey-same days, but I think it was two months ago. That is, two months before lockdown. Wait, that's more than a half-year!

I also have to pay attention to my students' instruments - for example, they keep growing and thus needing larger instruments! And have any of them changed their strings in all this time?

For my students who have needed larger violins, some have purchased them online (thank you Shar!), while others have had to make special appointments with the local violin shop to trade in their instrument for a larger one (and thank you Metzler!). Several went for quite a long while with a much-too-small violin, just because the logistics were so difficult.

When it comes to strings, I still have the index card in my case, which says when I last changed them. Yes, it's now time, but without as much orchestra playing, I probably can push the date. Same story with my bow - it is certainly around that time, but when does it get urgent enough for me to figure out the new logistics?

When it comes to my own strings, it's easy enough. I can just order the strings online and put them on when they arrive. It's more difficult with students. For example, it's a little harder for me to tell, over a Zoom lesson, if a certain string is beginning to go false. A few students (or their parents) can change their own strings. For the others, they have it done at the music store, or I do it for them.

I have helped students with violin maintenance during this pandemic - they drop the instrument at my door, then I text when it's ready, and they come get it.

And then sometimes there are wacky things that go wrong. One student's chin rest fell off. After a long attempt to put it back on, involving coaching from me over Zoom, finding household items to use as tools and getting a parent involved, we realized it was actually broken, in a subtle but terminal way. With most local music stores closed at the time, it took a while to find the chin rest online, get it ordered, and have it delivered. Thank goodness it came with the tool to put it on, and the student and his parents got the job done.

How is your instrument doing? Is it due for some maintenance? Do you need new strings? A bow rehair? Is something broken, and needs fixing? Please pick the answer that reflects your instrument's most urgent need (if it has one), and then tell us about it in the comments. You are also welcome to tell us about any adventures you've had during this time, when it comes to getting repairs and maintenance.

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August 29, 2020 at 02:33 AM · I am playing on an affordable violin and bow I bought while in college. The bow is nicer than the instrument, but now that I've been working a while and am very stable I've saved to upgrade both substantially.

Getting antsy to get my hands on some instruments to try!

August 29, 2020 at 05:13 AM · Both my primary and backup viola bows are badly in need of rehairing. As far as I know, the nearest shop I can confirm is open is an hour and a half away, though admittedly it's been a while since I last checked on local shops.

Earlier in the pandemic, I switched to violin for two months while recovering from a shoulder injury, and discovered that my violin needs a checkup, and most likely a soundpost adjustment, due to a wolf note being heard across three strings. But it was in need of attention before the pandemic; the case had been opened only two or three times since 2014, and the violin had last been seen by a luthier in 2010.

August 29, 2020 at 12:00 PM · Neither my violin nor my bow ever go overdue on maintenance, 'cause I do it all myself. Perks!

August 29, 2020 at 12:03 PM · Andrew have you tried cleaning your bow hair?

August 29, 2020 at 03:47 PM · My violin had a repair done a few years ago, the luthier promised me they'd try to keep the bass bar intact or if they couldn't, tune it to the rest of the front. In fact the part of the front where they did the repair sounds, on tapping, sharper than the back, and the bass bar area, if anything, even more so, whereas the other 70% or so of the front sounds over a semitone flatter. The higher G-string tone has lost the beauty it had (in fact above 440 it begins to sound quite dire to my ears - The Brahms D-minor slow movement used to sound so BEAUTIFUL), and I wonder whether another luthier can improve the situation. I intend to sound out Michael Shakespeare. If he improves it substantially, I shall name the luthier who will have been proved to have let me down.

August 29, 2020 at 05:00 PM · I voted "new strings." Three fiddles in tip-top shape, but one of them needs new strings soon. I had a few spare A's on hand to replace the A that failed recently; but it's about time for a new set anyway, and I prefer to replace all four strings on an instrument in one session. I play each instrument daily, rather than play only one and leave the others packed for a few weeks. Keeping all instruments actively played gives me fewer string breakages and failures -- and less need for retuning.

One instrument had parts replaced 8 years ago -- end-button, pegs, tailpiece. At that time, I had all its peg holes re-bushed. Everything's been great since then.

The pandemic shutdowns didn't affect my routine, since I order strings and accessories online these days and ship out any instruments or bows that need a luthier's attention.

August 29, 2020 at 08:01 PM · I thankfully got my viola bow rehaired one week before lockdown started in the UK, I saw it coming and it was well timed.

My violin is a temperamental instrument and has not faired well in the humidity the UK has seen this year. There is almost certainly an open seam, and something just doesn’t sound quite right at the moment. My local violin shop opens next month, my violin is going in. In the mean time, I’m playing my junk fiddle (and quite enjoying).

I also wouldn’t say I need a new instrument, but I would very much like a new viola... but that is a shopping trip for my 25th/graduation Present to myself, next June.

August 29, 2020 at 08:57 PM · My instrument is faring well. I don't play as much as the professionals and it never leaves the house so maintenance is pretty standard and I've been trained to do a lot of basic maintenance so it gets a quick once-over every time I play. It also gets a wipe-down after each time being played and that keeps the strings clean as well as preventing rosin collecting on the surface.

I did change the strings recently - that was overdue and it sounds a lot better and I'm paying close attention to my bridge as the new strings settle down. Only one slight adjustment so far.

My bows are in excellent shape and I alternate usage between them. Each one has it's own personality and brings out different colors of the sound.

I have trained my students to wipe down their instruments and watch out for leaning bridges and so-far their instruments look pretty good on the video link.

August 29, 2020 at 10:25 PM · Paul, it's not a matter of cleaning this time. The bow hair is stretched out.

I was planning to have both of my viola bows rehaired the week that California locked down. My primary bow has now gone more than a year since last being rehaired.

August 30, 2020 at 12:57 AM · I voted twice because I need new strings AND a bow re-hair!

August 30, 2020 at 05:39 AM · Laurie, I'm in about the same spot as you. I last had my boss rehaired back in December '19so it's a little overdue as I typically get a default every 6 months, same with my strings. Less orchestra, but the other hand more practice!

Strings are never a problem, I buy online and learned young to replace them as I learned I the days of gut strings. I always get a spare e and my next set when O do a replacement for convenience and spares, so I recently replaced my e string as it was sounding dill and that refreshed my whole sound.

My bow though is lacking that crispness and I think I'll need to call the Luthier (Benning's in my case) and get that rehair done. So my vote was for the rehair.

August 30, 2020 at 09:10 AM · Those in the US can use this top-notch mail-in rehair service:


August 30, 2020 at 11:25 AM · David, thanks for info -- will check them out.

August 30, 2020 at 03:02 PM · I just saw my luthier twice last week after being short a spare string for almost a year. Obviously the first trip was for the string. That same day I rented a larger viola and within a few days decided to get a dedicated SR for it. So back to my luthier. She (Joan Balter in Berkeley) is in a relaxed mood these days so we got in some interesting chats.

August 31, 2020 at 04:20 PM · Last year, after many years delay, I took 3 violins and a viola in for maintenance. My preferred Luthier is two hours away. Nobody local. I spent enough money to buy a student grade violin. One violin had multiple unglued spots. For bow rehairing, there is no one local. I usually just buy another cheap bow. I only use the better bows for performance, and when the hair gets old I switch to cello grade rosin. I know that all sounds crude, even unprofessional, but I am mainly just a Mariachi fiddler.

September 1, 2020 at 06:55 PM · My violin was due for a check up in March but I ended up waiting until July due to the virus. Turns out the fingerboard needed to be glued but other than that she was just fine. I usually change my strings myself but I went ahead and paid the shop to do it for the extra business.

September 1, 2020 at 10:04 PM · Whenever I get new strings I keep the old ones in the new packaging so I'll have spares in case a string breaks. (This has saved me a few times.) I write the date on the package so I can see when I last changed strings (way too long ago, usually).

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