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Stringed Instrument Care and Maintenance, Part 1

Stringed Instrument Care and Maintenance, Part 1

Article By Marisa Kobilan

You’ve made the decision to begin playing a stringed instrument. Or, perhaps your child has begun taking music lessons on a stringed instrument. In order for you to enjoy years of trouble-free use from your instrument, it is a good idea to follow a basic program of care and routine maintenance. This will ensure that your instrument is always functioning in top condition, and will help you avoid costly repairs.

Temperature & Humidity: Always take care that your instrument never becomes too hot or cold. Excessive heat can damage the delicate varnish, and can also melt the special glue that is used to hold the instrument together. Extreme cold, as well as dryness or rapid climate change of any kind can cause terrible cracks in the instrument. A rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you’d be comfortable in whatever environment you’re thinking of leaving your instrument.

One common mistake is to leave a stringed instrument in a parked vehicle in the sun. Temperatures inside these vehicles can easily reach over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in less than ten minutes.  Another weather-related concern is low humidity which is often experienced in areas of the country with dryer climates year round and also during the winter in any part of the country. Heaters used during the winter are very good at drying out the air even if there is plenty of humidity outdoors. It is an excellent idea to use some type of humidification device, such as an instrument humidifier, if the violin is being constantly exposed to low humidity. This will keep your instrument from getting too dry and developing cracks or open seams.

Storage: It is a good idea to keep your instrument and bow inside its case when not in use. This is especially important if you have small children or unruly pets in your house. However, many people do feel that they tend to practice more when the instrument is left out where they can just pick it up and play it. Exceptions to the “always store in the case when not in use” rule can be made if you are certain that the instrument is in a very safe place, such as on an instrument stand, in a place that it is out of harm’s way.

Finish: Use a soft, clean cloth to remove the rosin dust from your instrument after every practice session or performance. You will need to carefully clean the top plate, fingerboard, bridge, and bow stick. If this is not done, rosin dust can build up over time, and become more difficult to remove.

Bow: Never over tighten the bow hair! The stick of the bow is supposed to have a curve in it at all times. Over tightening will severely damage the bow and may render it unplayable. Always loosen the bow hair after playing and before storage. Avoid handling the hair on the bow with your fingers. Natural oils from your skin will transfer to the hairs and will shorten their useful life. Also avoid applying too much rosin to your bow.

General Handling: Great care should be taken in handling your instrument and bow. They should be treated as the highly crafted pieces of fine workmanship that they are. Never throw or toss your instrument or bow and be very careful that they are never dropped. Chairs and sofas are dangerous places to leave instruments and bows. They can easily be sat upon and tragically damaged at a moment’s notice.

If you ever have and questions about the care of your instrument, or if you're wondering whether something needs to be adjusted, err on the side of caution, and be sure to consult a qualified luthier. The Kennedy Violins staff are always happy to answer all questions concerning repair needs and instrument care.

For Part 2 click here!