Maintenance of the instrument

July 28, 2006 at 05:26 AM · I'm very bad at this maintenance issue... more of knowing what to do than doing it. I know the basic stuff- such as cleaning the rosin residue with a cloth after each practice, if there's any rosin on the bow wood, wipe that also... but everything else? such as, cleaning the strings (other than wiping off the rosin after each practice also) with alcohol? or taking my violin to a shop to get it checked to see if there's anything wrong with the bridge/soundpost/tailpiece, etc? and how about cracks? is there a more definite way to check for cracks other than just looking (my college dorm has a super heater in winters and just crazy humidity/weather situation)? is there anything else I should/could be checking for the well being of my instrument?

And really quickly, my pegs are really hard to move, I only have an E string fine tuner, which is also really stubborn and wouldn't move (though it's not fully tightened)... about a week ago I used some peg drops and all the pegs were fine then. But now, already, my D & G pegs aren't working smoothly again. How often should I be applying peg drops (is this normal? I mean, the peg going so "sticky" again so soon) and is there a different solution to this?

thank you!

Replies (15)

July 28, 2006 at 06:12 AM · I always try to clean the rosin off of my violin and strings after practice, and I usually adjust my bridge every 2 weeks to keep it straight. It's amazing how many people let their bridges warp, even big named pros!

July 29, 2006 at 05:12 AM · Lauren,

No one else has responded, so I'll try to help, though I'm an amateur violinist, not an instrument repair specialist.

When I bought an instrument from James Warren in Chicago and asked him the same question (what to do in maintenance), he replied: "Well, be sure not to drop it."

Beyond that, my 5-8 minute routine at the end of each day's practice involves using two very soft cleaning cloths (I use old cotton diapers from my children that have been washed 100+ times - that's about as soft as you can get).

Cloth #1: this is my direct-exposure-to-rosin cloth. I carefully wipe excess rosin off the bow stick, being careful not to brush against the bow hairs. Then I turn the violin upside down, so the rosin falls away from the violin, and lightly brush excess rosin off the strings between the bridge and fingerboard.

Cloth #2: for use on varnished violin surfaces; always be gentle, never touch varnished surfaces with fingers if it can be avoided. Use a cloth thin enough so you can get between the strings and fingerboard, then the end of the fingerboard, and under it, as well as a light brush of all surfaces to remove any rosin dust or other debris.

Sure, this takes a few minutes every day, but if done faithfully your instrument will always look like you never have played it.

I can't imagine using alcohol on strings or risk getting it close to an instrument. I certainly see no need for it. If the above daily cleaning procedures still leave too much rosin buildup, you're probably using too much rosin.

Another maintenance item is bridge alignment. My understanding is that the bridge needs to be 90 degrees to the violin on the tailpiece side of the bridge. Check this every practice, especially after changing strings. If the bridge is not straight, straighten it carefully yourself by putting a thumb on each side of the bottom (tailpiece side), and then gently and carefully aligning the top with your index fingers.

The soundpost should generally stay put without any maintenance, but having it checked annually (or if you detect a change in the sound of your instrument) is good policy.

As for detecting seam separation, in old instruments this is considered routine maintenance (I don't know the age of yours). A good luthier can run a very thin knife around the seams and pick them up; not all will be easily visible to the naked eye. Regluing should be done as soon as possible after detection; it is fast (a few hours) and not very costly, and preserves your investment in your instrument. It also will usually result in an improvement in sound. Cracks other than seam separation are much more serious; you need a luthier for that.

Pegs: I liberally apply a peg lubricant I have in a stick (like Chapstick), it is over 50 years old. Works like a charm, lasts for weeks or longer. I don't know the brand though. Reapply every time you change strings. Remember that only the peg surfaces that contact the neck require lubrication. Things will always get sticker in hot and humid weather. If your e-string tuner won't move, it's caput (they should turn really easily). Do yourself a favor and buy a new one (has to be done every once in a while); they're cheap.

I know there are experienced luthiers on who can add expert recommendations to my amateur knowledge.

July 29, 2006 at 03:02 PM · Lauren,

Alcohol? Absolutely not!

The finish on your violin is entirely different than most finishes on other things- alcohol of any kind will wear the finish away very fast- sadly I thought it would clean my violin also and ran into the problem of ruining the finish + colouration. The only thing you need for cleaning your violin is a soft cotton cloth and some good polish. Köhr is a good polish.


July 30, 2006 at 01:08 AM · Pegs drops are to make the pegs stick more. Peg DOPE is for making them turn smoother and looser. I usually use denatured alcohol to wipe off my STRINGS, not my violin, because it has no water to damage them. I then wipe my strings off again with a dry cloth.

July 30, 2006 at 01:55 AM · Heck yes, alcohol on the strings. The players in our major world class orchestra here clued me into those medical pads the techs used to wipe your arm before a shot. Turn the instrument upside down, just to be safe, and wipe the strings. A cloth will not get all the rosin off the strings. You can get them at any pharmacy and they're cheap.

July 30, 2006 at 05:31 AM · Alcohol is best for cleaning rosin off strings , i usually apply some to a cloth very sparingly and immedietly close the bottle and move it far away not to get anything near the varnish. its also good under the strings at the end of the fingerboard. For the rest of the instrument it depends on the finish you have and quality of instrument.

If its spirit varnish very little polish it will re soften the varnish , if its oil which most are ant polish will due. Its good to wipe your instrument after your done playing it.

Too much rosin on the strings interferes with the sound.Its true the bridge must be straight but its tough when your not a luthier. You have to set it to the proper scale which doesnt exactly fall into place when its straight.

Alarmingly ive actually heard socalled experts say they never heard of the post wearing out.It does another words it gets short and you loose high end. I change posts on violins once a year if being played profesionally .Longer on cello and bass. It also depends on the quality of wood used. More then likley its the dowel stuff which

is junk in my opinion.

Hope this was somewhat helpfull.

July 30, 2006 at 07:57 AM · For rosin on the body of the violin,a drop of olive oil does the job without doing any harm unlike alcohol which flakes the varnish.


July 30, 2006 at 06:28 PM · It's really best not to put anything on the violin at all if possible. Polishes commonly contain all sorts of things which can cause problems, and oils of any kind can get into the wood and cause problems for later regluing of cracks you didn't notice. Yes if you've got a brand new instrument with a bowling-ball finish you may not do any harm which a luthier can't easily fix, but why pit your judgment against the better luthiers who commonly say 'nothing is best'?

July 31, 2006 at 06:45 AM · Bowling ball. Nice.

July 31, 2006 at 02:57 PM · I don't know about you all, but when my pegs stick I just loosen them and rub the tip of a pencil around where they sit in the hole. The graphite makes them a little more slick, but not so slick that they're unmanageable.

August 2, 2006 at 05:31 PM · I agree with Andres Sender that it's best not to put anything on the instrument.

Regarding some of the other things that have come up:

There's a high probability that alcohol will damage ANY varnish, oil or spirit. If you MUST use it to clean strings, I like the advice given about holding the instrument upside down so nothing can possibly drip on the varnish.

And be very careful what you do with that cloth or "wipe" after cleaning. I once worked on a Strad with an area of varnish missing on the back from having set the instrument down on the alcohol rag.

Peg dope? I'm not fond of anything containing abrasives, and that would include pencil lead.

Abrasives lead to accelerated wear.

I use ivory soap and rosin; soap to increase turning ease, rosin to decrease.

Regarding the angle of the bridge, there is no uniform specification. Have a luthier position it properly and give you the measurement between bridge and fingerboard. Use this measurement down the road to determine if it's "straight".

If you possibly can, control the humidity in your instrument's environment.

Hope that helps.

David Burgess

August 5, 2006 at 03:00 AM · I've never used any stuff on my pegs - if they're slipping, I rewind the strings to fit snugly against the side of the peg box. If they're sticking, I rewind the strings so that they're not so snug against the side. Works for my instrument.

Be careful with polish - I used some Shar polish on my viola and some of the color started to come off!

August 5, 2006 at 03:53 AM · Are q-tips any good for cleaning, or are they too harsh?

August 5, 2006 at 04:07 AM · I just take mine into the shower with me...

August 5, 2006 at 04:43 AM · I clean my strings with alchohol pads that you use for cleaning your skin before an injection. I just put a cloth between my strings and the violin as it drys, even though there isn't enough alchohol on these pads to drip on the violin. I do this once or twice a week- you can tell when your sound is affected by rosin build-up.

Do not wipe your strings off with the cloth you use to clean your violin. This puts the grease and such you just cleaned off your violin onto your strings.

Do not put a knife in your violin to check the seams. If you hear a buzzing or suspect one is open you can usually just look at it. If you can't see an opening you should tap the violin at the edge along the top and the bottom. If it is open you'll hear a "clunk" when you tap that particular spot. Bring it to a luthier if your seam is open.

If I think my violin has a crack I just take it to my luthier. He usually puts a tiny drop of water on the suspected crack and can tell from some refraction or something if it's open, assuming it's not visibly open.

I prefer to jump in a pool with my violin as opposed to taking it in the shower. The chlorine really helps.

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