Rosin & String Cleaning

December 1, 2016 at 07:28 PM · I've searched through past discussion threads and it seems like the suggested approach to cleaning rosin from strings is to simply use a dry cloth, which is what I've been doing.

I'm using a dark rosin (Pirastro Oliv/Evah) on Evah Pirazzi strings. I've noticed that even after a pretty thorough wiping with a clean dry cloth, there's a thin build up of rosin still. Its not always noticeable, but can be lifted with a bit of scraping. Up until now I've been gently running my finger/thumb nail along the string and it loosens up the remaining rosin, after which a second application of the cloth seems to get most of it. But I'm concerned that my scraping may be damaging the strings. I've read often that using alcohol on a cloth wasn't advisable, yet many people seem to be doing it and some people claim very positive results.

Just what should I be doing, and does scraping the strings damage them or shorten their life?

Replies (23)

December 1, 2016 at 10:36 PM · Hi Leif,

I just wipe my strings off after each hour of practice many times a day. Some rosins have coated my strings with like a fused crust which must be scraped with my fingernail or a cork and I have avoided using the brands that do this. I even look through a 12 power loupe occasionally to see that there is no build up starting in the winding grooves.

You could try a different rosin or maybe a clean wine cork rubbed over the bowing area might give you desirable results. When I did have a small rosin build up on the strings I didn't notice that it hurt the sound or string life any but it is probably better and easier to avoid it.

December 1, 2016 at 10:38 PM · I always wipe them off with a cotton cloth before I put away my fiddle, but in dire situations, I get out my collection of alcohol wipes from the drug store and wipe off the strings (and you can use these for the fingerboard, too, just don't get any on the body of the instrument). The alcohol wipes are nice because they are small and individually packaged (you can just put a few in your case) and they don't drip the alcohol on your instrument. I mostly use those for the fingerboard, though, only occasionally the strings.

December 2, 2016 at 12:02 AM · I really like this Nomad Cleaning tool from Shar: . It is very handy for removing rosin from the fingerboard (under the strings) and the brush is good for cleaning rosin off under the bowing area.

I have one in my practice space beside my chair and use it for violin, viola, and cello string, fingerboard and surface cleaning. I use nylon "scrubbies" (check out ebay) for harsh cleaning of my strings and cotton or microfiber cloths as well - whichever comes to hand and carry these things in my cases as well.

The late violin coach of our community college orchestra for many years, Charles Meacham, who was previously principal 2nd violin of the San Francisco Symphony for 20 years and and concertmaster emeritus of our local regional orchestra (Marin Symphony) 50 years after he started that organization, used his thumbnail to clean rosin off his strings.

I also have used the method Laurie describes above for at least 15 years, and started using alcohol for string cleaning 40 years ago - and did once get some alcohol dripped on my violin's surface - but never again - if that happens, whatever you do, don't wipe it! Always hold the instrument vertically, whatever method you use to apply alcohol to the strings.

December 2, 2016 at 06:47 AM · The great violin maker Carl Becker recommended 0000 grade steel wool (the finest grade) to clean rosin off strings. I've followed his advice for years, it works very well... no damage to the strings or the instrument and the rosin is completely removed.

December 2, 2016 at 08:02 AM ·

December 2, 2016 at 08:59 AM · Strings may be cleaned by alcohol instantly and effectively. But the problem of any solvent is, that it doesn’t only removes the rosin from the string surface, but also the solution (thinned rosin in fact) comes inside, into the string structure through the winding gaps. It will not destroy the string, but it may change its sound quality.

I usually clean the excessive and resistant rosin build-up simply by nails, or by any plastic object edge (credit card e.g.) Plastic or nail is harder than a rosin build-up, but softer than metal windings.

Using a high quality rosin and dosing it rather more frequently in smaller amount can limit the cleaning demand.

December 2, 2016 at 10:15 PM · I wipe my violin and strings down after every session, but I just took some of the advise on this thread. It's possible I could just be imagining it, but after cleaning my strings with alcohol wipes and thoroughly cleaning my bow hair I believe I noticed a great improvement in tone and stability. If nothing else, at least I potentially prolonged the life of my strings.

December 2, 2016 at 10:28 PM · Rosin is not removed from strings by simple "dusting". The real culprit on strings is a condensed rosin slurry which dissolves with alcohol (unfortunately).

Actually, simply wiping the strings probably does remove loose rosin but it is the slurry that ruins tone.

PROTECT your violin if you use alcohol !!

December 3, 2016 at 04:07 AM · Or, A good way to remove lost of the slurry is to individually scrub each string after a wipe, by either using a cork, or by:

Using your cleaning cloth, envelope the string at the fingerboard end of the bowing area and pull it clean towards the bridge.

Works on synthetics and (pure) gut, and I have not noticed any decrease in string life or tone as a result. :)

December 3, 2016 at 11:30 AM · Scraping by any plastic edge (credit card e.g.) removes "slurry" buildup except of very thin coating (unlike alcohol, that cleans the rosin completely of course). But you need to scrape the sides of the string where there is a biggest amount of build-up (not the real bow contact point in fact).

There is no much sense to clean the string completely (by alcohol e.g.) very often, since a thin rosin coating is applied by the first bow stroke just afterwards. In fact, only the excessive rosin build-up affects tone and especially response, not the common thin coating. As for the cork, I don't recommend using it.

December 3, 2016 at 12:55 PM · And I have been studiously stock-piling a large wine cork collection. What now should I do with them if not on violin strings? Sell them to viola players?

The only time I have seen the build-up is on cello when I was trying Finkle's method of using so much rosin that cloud would appear. As soon as I stopped that method, so did my problem.

December 3, 2016 at 06:08 PM · If Mr.Warchal says no cork I will throw out my cork although I seldom use it. I switch back and forth between three rosin brands and I have not had any caking or crusting on the strings in a long time and I tend to use rosin liberally,but I do wipe my strings quite often with a cloth.

December 3, 2016 at 06:38 PM · I use the alcohol wipes, for the occasional rosin build-up clean...but always hold my violin upside down while doing so. And it stays upside down until I wipe it with a microfiber cloth. If there's a drip, and sometimes those pad can drip, it'll hit the floor...;)

December 4, 2016 at 12:10 AM · If you use plain gut strings you'll find that rosin seems to get embedded in the string after a while. Sure, you can wipe some off, as you should do after playing, but there is a residue you can't shift. As far as I am concerned, big no-no's for plain gut are scraping the rosin off, or using alcohol wipes - unless I want to replace the string rather sooner than I expected ):

December 4, 2016 at 03:31 AM · A slight experiment I did over almost a full year now:

1. I would wipe the strings and fingerboard with isopropanol alcohol, after playing.

I didn't notice noticeable degradation of sound any different from constant cleaning or not cleaning. I did however notice that on some of the strings, the winding became worn from constant wiping, the bow started slipping on them.

2. Every 8 weeks, I would wipe the strings and fingerboard with only one drop of most high grade cooking grade olive oil.

There would be a slight improvement in sound(the dry-edgyness from worn goes away) for up to 1 month. Also, shifting becomes very smooth and easy for up to 4 weeks.

I kept this up for sets of:

Warchal Brilliant Vintage(very positive effect), Warchal Amber(stayed neutral throughout its lifetime), Obligato(Sound quality dropped after the first month, without olive oil, and never 'recovered' to full sound form then on), Infeld Red(winding wore down rather quickly, also the sound quality dropped after the first 2 weeks ,and never fully recovered) and will be trying on Dominants.

I also learned to treat the worn-winding with very small drop of water application to contact points with bow prior to playing, so the rosin gets stuck for the duration of practice.

December 4, 2016 at 09:11 AM · Thank you everyone! I really appreciate all of the knowledgeable comments and experiences.

Since it sounds as though using my nails to gently scrape off any caked on rosin shouldn't negatively impact the strings, I think I'll keep doing that. It seems to be effective. As Bohdan Warchal mentioned, I've noticed that the rosin seems to mainly cake onto the edges of the strings rather than the top bowing surface. A plastic card might be a great idea to better get in between the strings.

December 4, 2016 at 11:36 AM · A medium guitar pick works well, also.

And Steven J. I would be very interested in hearing more of your trials. Could you start a thread please?

December 4, 2016 at 01:43 PM · @Bob - I use corks to clean the rosin off my strings. Works fine.

December 4, 2016 at 07:50 PM · Thank you Tom.

Three people in this violin music business have my respect. Mr. Burgess, Pierre Holstein(Fiddlerman) and Mr. Warchal. Mr. Warchal said he doesn't recommend using cork. I don't ask why. His saying it is good enough for me.

December 4, 2016 at 08:07 PM · I would be interested in knowing why.

@Mr. Warchal - what is the problem with using a cork?

December 4, 2016 at 09:28 PM · Nothing serious. There is no reason to ban it in case you feel it works for you :-)

However, according to my experience, it is not effective. Cork is softer than the rosin, there is no any sharp edge. You can just iron the rosin buildup similarly to ironing your ski after applying wax. The ironed buildup may be less visible, but it could be hardly removed.

Cork has quite a big grip (friction coefficient). By trying to remove the buildup properly, you may move the string winding that always a bit "open" on the tensioned string.

December 4, 2016 at 09:49 PM · I also was wondering why Mr. Warchal said he did not recommend a cork for rubbing rosin off of strings. I never would have thought that it could hurt a steel string and so many people for so long have said to do it. This is such a wonderful site for learning and spreading knowlege because the best people in their fields are on it. And I am a big fan of Warchal strings on my violin for the last two years.

December 5, 2016 at 09:03 PM · @Bohdan Warchal - thanks for the explanation.

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