Violin maintenance

March 3, 2010 at 04:08 AM ·

I am blessed to have a violin and bow that I absolutely love.  I want to ensure that they remain in great condition as long as I live and long after. Besides changing the strings and re-hairing the bow, what maintenance is required ?  I'd like to get feedback from experienced players as well as luthiers regarding recommended maintenance and the frequency they should be performed. I don't want to restrict your feedback, but here are a few questions that come to mind.

1.  How often should a violin/bow be professionally cleaned to remove rosin and dirt?

2.  I've read that the sound post should be adjusted periodically, but I keep the humidity between 40-60% and my fiddle always sounds great.  Should I still have the post adjusted?

3.  Is there any maintenance required for the bridge?  How long does a bridge last anyway? 

4.  Do the pegs require any maintenance?  I apply peg dope each time I change the strings (about every 2-3 months).

5.  Does the chin rest require any maintenance such as tightening or special cleaning?  Can the cleaning be done at home, or should it be done by a professional?

6. How often should one re-hair the bow?  Last time I had my bow re-haired, it did not make a lot of difference.  How can you tell when it's time to re-hair?

7.  Does the bow require maintenance where the fingers come in contact with it?

8.  Is there any maintenance required for the fingerboard?  I've heard that after years of playing, the fingerboard can get worn in spots.  Does it ever need to be changed or re-shaped?

9.  Are there any other maintenance tasks that I have not listed?

Replies (34)

March 3, 2010 at 12:56 PM ·

Smiley.......calm down and enjoy Laura

1- any luthier worth his/her salt will clean and polish as part of rehairing process

2-leave it be...if it aint broke, don't fix it

3- just be sure it is perpendicular and not leaning forward...both of my good fiddles still have original bridge (no problems) 1947 and 1895

5- it should be fine, tighten so it is stable  but do not overly tighten

6- approx 120 hours of play

7- loosen hair totally; a bit of soap w/warm water on a soft cloth will loosen any dirt where fingers make contact near the frog...easy does it. You'll get it rehaired before that is needed usually

 

March 3, 2010 at 01:54 PM ·

Sam has pretty much summed it up for ## 1-7, although some of the luthiers on this site might see some of this a bit differently.

8.  At some point, the fingerboard will probably need to be smoothed.  But that should not be often.  I have had it done once in about 20 years.  Depends on how much you play.

9.  I do not think so, but ask your luthier.  The best bet is to just let the luthier take a quick look at the violin it when you get your bow rehaired.  If your violin has cracks, that may also require additional care/maintenance.

thanks for posting these questions.  Everyone can benefit from the answers. 

 

March 3, 2010 at 03:57 PM ·

Good answers so far. I'll just add a couple of things.

On cleaning (and polishing):  If you wash your hands before playing, and wipe rosin and perspiration off when you're though, you can go for a very long time without this needing professional attention. Polishing of violins is more and more frowned on these days. Don't forget to wash your cleaning cloth frequently. The idea is to use the cloth to remove stuff, not just redistribute it. ;-)

Applying peg compound doesn't need to be a routine. Just use it when you need it. I'm sure you already know about applying graphite to the bridge and upper nut grooves when replacing strings.

It's useful to take a measurement between the top of the bridge and the fingerboard when the bridge is angled correctly (as when this has just been checked by the luthier) , and use this measurement for future checks. You could also make a gauge that fits in this spot. A lot of pro players use these. It's a lot more accurate that "eyeballing" it, or using some "rule of thumb" for the proper angle. Not all bridges are made to be at the same angle.

In general, one should only tighten the chinrest enough so that it doesn't move around in use.

If the fiddle sounds good, and the post fits properly, don't mess with it. And don't let some well-meaning luthier mess with it because it doesn't look straight or something (unless you're pretty sure it moved for some reason). When a post is in the best position, it won't necessarily look straight.

Even if everything looks OK, it doesn't hurt to have things professionally looked over one per year or so. They may be able to catch problems, or impending problems which you might miss.

 

March 3, 2010 at 04:09 PM ·

I clean off my chinrest about once a week, very carefully, with one of those pre-soaked alcohol pads.  I don't clean the violin, except for regular dry dusting.  I let the shop people do anything else that needs to be done.

March 3, 2010 at 07:34 PM ·

Anne, I would suggest wrapping a cloth under chinrest first...it may seem like overkill, but what if the pad or a drop met the varnish!!!!!!!!!!

March 5, 2010 at 04:19 AM ·

Thank you all for the responses.  So I guess when it comes to violin/bow maintenance, less is more.  Sam recommended a bow re-hair every 120 hours or so.  That sounds pretty often -- about every 4 months if you play an hour a day, or every 2 months if you play 2 hours a day.  I don't even change my strings that often.  Are there any other thoughts on this? 

 

March 5, 2010 at 04:47 AM ·

 

found this on Google

 

Q  How often should my bow be rehaired?

A
  It depends on how much you play. For a beginning student, once a year is probably sufficient. If you're playing an hour a day or more, twice a year, in mid- or late spring and in the fall, is fine. If you're more advanced and can afford it, rehair the bow whenever the hair gets worn out and doesn't grab the string (typically you'll feel you have to use rosin constantly), if you've lost a lot of hairs, if the hair has gotten very long, or if you have an important concert or audition coming up in the next few weeks. The hair is at its best when you break it in with several hours of playing after rehairing; from then on, it deteriorates slowly, so you must decide when you're having to work too hard to get the results you need.
 

March 5, 2010 at 07:29 AM ·

Cleaning varnish. I know instances where folk in violin shops have succeeded in rubbing off vast areas varnish in an attampt to do the owner a favour. This happened to Sivori, Paganini's pupil, who took the Vuillaume copy of the Paganini "Cannon" in for a service ! This can happen so easily especially with newish instruments.

Bow rehair. Some violins will "play" brilliantly with half a dozen greasy bow hairs but these are very rare. I knew one orchestral leader who went for years without getting a rehair. But usually, 3-4 weeks in the full-time orchestra was enough to send me off to the violin shop, just over 100 hours.

Bridge. As already stated, this should last for many, many years without warping provided that it is regularly checked for tilting forwards and drawn back into position. Also, with newish instruments, the bridge sometimes sticks to the varnish. This requires cautious removal and French Chalk underneath.

 

March 5, 2010 at 01:47 PM ·

"Clingfilm anybody?"

Not a bad idea. We sometimes put adhesive plastic film on one of the highest wear areas, the upper treble shoulder.

But were you suggesting putting cling film on the violin, or on the lady?  Either might work. LOL   We could poke a couple of hole near her nostrils so she can breathe.....

March 5, 2010 at 05:43 PM ·

David --

"We could poke a couple of holes near her nostrils so she can breathe..."

Mighty thoughtful of you!!  :)  How about just wrapping a snorkel in with the rest of her?

March 5, 2010 at 06:06 PM ·

Mr. Burgess,

I have a question on using the bridge guage you mentioned - is it meant to go between the D and A strings?  Carl Becker Jr. set me up with one of those when I bought my violin through his shop in Chicago, but I didn't pay enough attention to between which strings it was supposed to go, and of course it measures differently when it is between the A and E strings, for instance!

While I'm at it, in college I got to play one of your violins for a day when I temporarily "swapped" a fellow violinist with mine from Carl Becker Jr.; but I wasn't discerning enough of ear at the time to really pin-point the differences between the makers, other than to be able to tell they were both (my opinion) very nice violins.  What would you say are the main few characteristics of your instruments, and then of Carl Becker's (I'm trying to get at what is the difference) - or is that not at all a fair question because each instrument has its own individual voice anyway when you're dealing with top makers?  :-)

Incidentally, I'm another one who's a big advocate of buying a modern fiddle over spending the same amount of money for an old Italian - love the "dirty fiddle" anecdote on your website!  It's obvious some of you top-tier makers put in the time and effort to really find the voice in your instruments, and I can see that you would be doing it for love of the instrument, not to get rich on what afterall would not translate into an excessively high hourly wage!  Thanks for what you folks do!

Lynae

March 5, 2010 at 06:36 PM ·

Marsha, the snorkel sounds like an outstanding idea!

Lynae, most of the gages are meant to be placed at the midpoint between the A and D string. If you want to know for sure about yours, it would be best to call the Becker shop.

I'd rather not get into comparisons between different makers. Hope you understand.

March 5, 2010 at 06:48 PM ·

I'll let David deal with the differences between his instruments and Carl Becker Jrs... boy are you tough on a guy!

The bridge gauge you (and David) mentioned usually fits between the center two strings (fingerboard to bridge).  A number of my clients have pet names for them...  One calls it the "idiot stick", another the "dip stick", and a third recently dubbed it the "panic paddle"...  Guess the last player hates to move the top of their bridge!

EDIT: David was faster on the keyboard than I.  Looks like you got a double answer...

March 5, 2010 at 08:12 PM ·

Thank you both for your help with the bridge guage, and sorry about the other question - maybe one of these years I'll learn a bit better PR!!  Oops!  Thanks for not calling for my immediate resignation from the V.com forums, anyway!  (Smile)

Lynae

August 17, 2011 at 12:37 AM ·

I'm curious about the bridge gauge. Is it something I can make myself or should I ask my luthier to make one for my violin? I have never seen one before. So if someone can post a picture and describe in detail how to make one (if it's not something that should only be done by an expert), that would be great! Thanks!

August 17, 2011 at 08:07 AM ·

 re:- 8.

I have now owned one of my violins for 17 years during which time it was used regularly in a Symphony Orchestra. It went in to have the fingerboard "shot" for the first time last week. The bridge is the same one as was fitted when I got the instrument.

I used to think that any new instrument should be newly set up periodically as it settled down - however that violin has not had the soundposted shifted, nor have I had the slightest urge to have the post re-set.

The one time I had to have the soundpost of a new violin tinkered with was when I bought a violin back from Italy in July this year. The airline wouldn't allow transportation in the overhead lockers. It had to go in the hold ! As a precaution all fittings and soundpost were removed before the journey and the violin case placed in a large hold-all surrounded by dirty washing ! Moral - don't combine violin purchase abroad with a Thomson holiday :)

August 17, 2011 at 10:58 PM ·

Hi Lyndon;

Proper soundpost fit doesn't rely on the angle of the post. The ends can be made to fit, and make good contact, at a variety of soundpost angles.

What I was trying to warn against are luthiers who say something like, "The post looks crooked. It needs to be set straight".  If it fits well in the off-kilter position, it may be that way for a reason, like that's what made the violin sound best. A crooked-looking post which fits properly does no harm.

In summary, there is no sound rule or reason necessitating that a soundpost appear straight. It's a common practice to fit them that way initially, but that's about as far as it goes.

August 17, 2011 at 11:14 PM ·

 Just to answer the original question (as I am too tired at the moment to read the whole discussion about this): Never. 

  This is for one reason. I can't afford it. My violin and bow have never been looked at properly unfortunately, simply down to the money. I can't even afford a proper case for my violin, let alone get a bow or violin that would be worth being looked at by a luthier properly. 

August 17, 2011 at 11:15 PM ·

 May I just add that this will hopefully change very soon when I go to my new school, depending on whether they will loan me a violin and bow that are much nicer!! Then I am sure they will be checked regularly!!!

 

My bad... I've seemed to have completely misunderstood the nature of the question. This shows how silly I am replying to a topic without reading everything at 00:17!!!

August 18, 2011 at 02:56 AM ·

May I be permitted to ask a question on top of Smiley's.

Sinking fingerboard is not a problem in temperate countries, but it is quite a nuisance in tropical Singapore. When my luthier examined the fingerboard of my violin, he took some measurements without telling me what he was looking for.

Can someone tell me what are the measurements done by the luthier, and what are their expected values? It would be nice if I could take these measurements myself from time to time. 

August 18, 2011 at 10:24 AM ·

Tong, it sounds like you are asking about what we normally call the "neck projection"  or fingerboard height. If you place a straightedge along the center of the fingerboard so that the end touches the fingerboard side of the bridge, and then measure the distance between that point and the top,  a normal value is around 27mm. Generally, it's not a problem until it falls below 23, and even that can be OK as long as you don't have problems with the bow hitting the C bouts, and the instrument is sounding OK.

There are luthiers who are eager to correct this before it falls that low, and the usual argument is that the violin will sound much better once it's raised. However, I've been the program director for the Violin Society of America/ Oberlin College setup and restoration workshops for about ten years, where we've experimented with such things a bit over the years, as well as acquiring feedback from participants, and the impact on the sound of returning it to "standard" values is mixed. Sometimes, correcting it can even make the sound worse. Violins can be quite "happy" within  a range between 23 and 29mm, although it can take some skill at sound adjustment to get them working well at the extremes.

That advice is intended to apply to instruments which one already owns. If purchasing a violin, I would look for measurements which are pretty close to standard. Neck projection will fall faster in a humid climate, but it happens everywhere, so starting with something close to a normal value allows more time before corrective action needs to be taken.

To expand on all this a bit more, most luthiers come away from their training with a set of "rules", because that's the simplest thing to communicate during training, and the easiest thing to learn. Ideally, this is isn't considered full training,  just a starting point for lifelong learning. I've been a full-time professional for 40 years, and I'm still learning.

August 18, 2011 at 02:02 PM ·

120 hours* at which a bow needs rehairing!  I boggled, and my DFA would have something to say on the matter if I rehaired at that rate. My bows play literally for years before they get rehaired. I almost never break hairs and I apply rosin minimally (about once a week or 10 days).

* 120 hours - perhaps strings were meant? Even there, the figure can vary enormously, depending on the type of string (steel/synthetic/wound gut/plain gut) and how it is played, both fingering and bowing. 

August 18, 2011 at 03:27 PM ·

 I recall many orchestral players complaining, as I did, that after about 120 hours the hair "lost grip".

Since quitting that warzone, I'm more like Trevor; my bows go for years without re-hairing. Presumably fresh hair gives orchestral players the sensation that "something's happening" under the ear. I hardly ever break hairs now, either.

August 23, 2011 at 11:20 PM ·

I asked my luthier about the bridge gauge, and he has no idea what it is.  Would the luthiers here please shed some light on what it is and how it works? Thanks!

August 30, 2011 at 01:24 PM ·

I take my violin in once every two weeks and have it completely stripped down and reglued and my bow rehaired once a week, and I change strings every day, and I never have trouble with the bridge. I threw the soundpost out as it got to be a nuisance rattling around inside the instrument.

(Just kidding).

P.S. I notice some cellists do go years without a bow rehair ... maybe after buying strings they can't afford rehairs!!

August 30, 2011 at 05:09 PM ·

My Technique Tutor has just advised me that you should get your Bow re-haired every 6 months.

August 30, 2011 at 07:11 PM ·

Madi

It depends on how much playing you do and under what conditions. In a professional orchestra it would be more like 3 months and for some conditions maybe even two months.

August 30, 2011 at 11:22 PM ·

Some posts have taken off in the direction of internet wisdom, so I'll mention that a correct angle for the bridge has less to do with a particular set of rules, and more to do with the way the person who made the bridge designed the angle. If you want to know the correct angle, ask the person who made the bridge.

I've rarely made a bridge where the back surface is 90 degrees to the top. Yet, if you do a lot of internet reading, 90 degrees might seem to be the appropriate thing.

This site is vastly better than so many others in terms of low levels of BS (otherwise I wouldn't hang out here), but some of it goes on everywhere.

August 31, 2011 at 07:51 AM ·

One particular soloist was discussing backstage after a performance that she re-hairs her bow every 3 weeks.   That's right, every 3 weeks.  Then again, she plays a lot everyday and has a very busy touring career.    I felt so insignificant in her presence thinking I hadn't re-haired my bow for at least 15 years (of course, it would have been so embarrassing had I mentioned this to her) :-D

August 31, 2011 at 08:39 AM ·

Maybe his/her management pays the rehair. Same with orchestra players.

I think rehairing depends much on your playstyle. I know people who lose at least a hair during a concert or practice session. I never lose one. To me it happens once or twice a year... and I don't play without some force... don't ask me why! I once thought it was because of my bow, but then I changed bow with someone in orchestra and he ripped 2 hairs out of my bow in 5 minutes: that is a year of work for me! ;)

I let my violin be checked if I feel something is wrong with it. Usually my fingerboard wears up or something else in the setup isn't right. I don't think moving the soundpost too much is a good idea because one position has to settle sometimes. checking the bridge should be regularly. String changing at least every 3 months if you want good sound

August 31, 2011 at 02:17 PM ·

To find out if the back of my bridge is vertical, I use a 15cm long aluminium ruler with perfect 90- degree angles at the 0 cm end.  I stand the ruler vertically on its end  just behind the bridge. Looking from top down, I can immediately see if the back of the bridge is as vertical as the vertical ruler.

September 1, 2011 at 01:32 AM ·

 I'm always happy to see people in my shop, and I know that the same applies to previous shops I've worked at. I encourage my customers to come in about every 6 months, and I'll look over their baby and see if it needs anything. I don't charge for this quick examination, and most violins don't need anything, either. Better safe than sorry.

I don't do bows, but a lot of it has to do with how you wear your hair. Some players never break hair, and don't need hair very often. Some break it a lot, and all on one side. When this happens, the bow tightens to a curve (uneven stress on either side of the ferrule) and it's time for a rehair. Keep your fingers off it and it won't get dirty. Bow hair doesn't "wear out"--your strings never touch the hair at all, just the rosin. Generally a lean hairing feels tighter, lots of hair feels loose; wide ribbons sound warmer, narrow ones brighter. When one of these parameters changes from what you like, it's time for a rehair, whether it's still symmetrical or not.

September 1, 2011 at 02:42 AM ·

#2. SOUNDPOST   One of the reasons for having the soundpost checked/adjusted is because wood changes shape over time. At the very least id have it checked once a year and you can always keep an eye on the belly and back where the sound post meets, watch for bumps or cracks.

September 1, 2011 at 02:56 AM ·

 I have many professional customers who sense, on their own, that something is wrong in the spring when the summer moisture comes (the post loosens as the plates expand with humidity), and in the fall, when the heaters go on (and things tighten back down). Consequently, I do a lot of touch-ups at those times of the year to keep their instruments in pace with the humidity. It's not a big deal and only takes a couple of minutes. I don't charge for this service--my shop policy on work is that if I don't cut or glue, I don't charge. I also have a couple of players in the orchestra who come in when they're playing important chamber music and need a slightly different type of response. Once one gets to know the players and their instruments, the changes are pretty direct.

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