It is a given that every musician wants his instrument in top shape: fewer problems equals more time dedicated to music. Therefore I wrote these recommendations.
How to take care of your instrument:
- 1) Should be re-haired when it's missing hair on the playing side.
Eventually, the absence of equal tension will cause the stick to warp. Correcting warping can be expensive and risky.
- 2) New hair is needed when the hair is worn-out, stretched-out, yellowing (aged) or getting brittle.
- 3) If the bow feels "soggy" after re-hairing, too much hair has been added. Using tweezers, pluck out equal amounts of hair from the left, right and center of the hair ribbon, one hair at a time.
Stop. Play for a while. Pause for 20-30 minutes, or till your next practice, to give yourself time to notice the changes. Repeat as needed until the bow feels balanced, and strokes are sharp and cantilena is rich.Remember that every bow needs a certain amount of hair. No more, and no less.
- 1) Should be cleaned after each practice/performance session.
- 2) The bridge should be kept in the exact position determined by a trusted Luthier.
My advice is to measure the distance between the top of the bridge and the upper nut (string length) and keep it constant*.
The grooves under the strings on the bridge and upper nut should be lubricated with pencil lead (graphite).
- 3) The bridge should not be too thin in the center: too thin a bridge will have lateral vibration, which wastes a lot of energy. The energy you put into your instrument is wasted in unnecessary shaking. Imagine if your car tires rotated to the side as well as forward and backward. You'd hear a lot of noise. Some individuals may believe this creates a powerful sound, but actually it lessens the outward projection of the instrument. A big portion of the sound remains around your head and under your nose instead of projecting into the gallery.
- 4) If your instrument has bare wood inside, it’s not protected from the elements. Humidity in the summer and dryness in the winter causes the wood to expand and contract if it’s less than 50 years old (this will not happen to my violins) **. You may need a new bridge and sound post at least twice a year to maintain optimal sound. With older instruments this effect is lessened by lower elasticity of the wood.
- 5) Your Luthier should adjust the sound when the sound post and bridge are replaced. All seam openings and small cracks should be taken care of promptly, before small problems became big ones.
- 6) Summer humidity and winter dryness will affect your pegs.
When humidity starts, carefully pull out your pegs one by one, and gently push them in. If they are dirty, clean them with rubbing alcohol and lubricate them with peg compound.
In winter they contract. Gently push them in.
Keep air conditioning running in the humid summer weather, and a humidifier in winter. This will not only save you money on repairs, but a humidifier will also lower your risk of upper respiratory tract infection in winter.
- 7) Even the best strings will stretch, weaken and lose their cylindrical shape over time.
String life depends on hours of play: the more hours you play, the faster the deterioration of the string. If you play one hour a day you could play on the same strings for 5-6 months, but if you play 5-6 hours a day, you should change your strings every 1/1.5 months.
Some soloists change strings a few days before every performance.
- 8) If you need to change all the strings on a violin, change them one by one in this order: A, D, G, E.
For viola and cello: D, G, C, A.
If you notice rosin build up on the string, clean it with alcohol. Hold the violin string side down, to avoid alcohol dripping on the varnish.
You'll know your adjustment is correct when you have:
- 1) Effortless pianissimo and gradual and proportional transition to Fortissimo.
- 2) Even volume and timbre on all strings.
- 3) Resonant sounding notes in upper positions on G, D and A strings (not too different from notes in lower positions).
- 4) Absence of noises in light spiccatto and sautille (quick response).
- *Just imagine what happens when the top of your bridge travels even a short distance forward towards the fingerboard: if it moves just .5 mm, you need less tension on the strings to achieve the same 440 for A string. You'll have to compensate with more pressure with your right (and left) hands.
With the bridge tilting more then 1.5 mm the feet of the bridge start to lose full contact with the belly of the instrument and the bridge starts to bend.
Over long periods of time the need for extra pressure causes professional diseases of the neck and spine.
- **The base coat or ground layer was developed many centuries ago in order to fill the pores of the wood and protect it from quickly reacting to changes in atmospheric humidity. Similar coatings can be seen on antique Italian furniture and church woodwork, it’s also a very effective conservant against woodworm and fungus