Many violins are damaged by heat during the summer, and by dryness and sudden temperature changes in winter.
Glues holding your instrument together can soften with heat, causing parts to shift. Don’t leave your violin in your car on a sunny day; the temperature inside can build up quickly. Also, avoid other direct sources of heat.
Once the heating season begins, the humidity level in many homes can drop to 10% or less. Ideally, instruments should be kept in an environment of 40 to 50% humidity. If you don’t have a household humidifier, buy a Dampit or similar instrument humidifier and make sure you keep it moist. Otherwise, as the wood dries out cracks can develop.
Sudden temperature changes can also cause cracks, especially in the finish. If your instrument has been out in the cold, let it warm up gradually in the case before taking it out and playing it. This will also prevent moisture from condensing on your instrument.
Strings need to be changed periodically, They will generally have lost their tone long before they break. String life may range from a few weeks to a few months depending on how much you play, the type of strings you use and other factors.
Strings generally are of three types: Steel, Gut and Perlon. Steel strings are just what they say they are. Steel strings are fairly bright sounding. Gut strings were traditionally just gut (from sheep), twisted like fine string. These days, gut strings have a metal wrap, so they don’t look very different from other strings.
Gut strings are more expensive, and are more sensitive to weather and use. Perlon strings are basically a synthetic version of gut strings. They tend to last longer than gut, while giving a similar type of sound. Learn about the strings you have been using. Mixing types on one violin is not often done.
BOWS & ROSIN
Loosen the hair on the bow every time you finish playing. This will lengthen the life of the bow and the hair.
Don’t handle the bow hair with your hands. Oil from your skin will be left behind and the bow won’t grip the string to play properly. Similarly, don’t touch the strings in front of the bridge where the bow is played, and handle rosin by the container or cloth around it.
Fiberglass bows usually have synthetic for hair, but most bows have horsehair. Hair becomes brittle with time and individual hairs will break in the course of playing. Bows will periodically need to be rehaired because the hair is old and doesn’t grip the strings properly, or because there is not enough hair to play. When a strand of hair breaks, don’t pull the hair out of the ends of the bow. You could dislodge the small wooden plugs that hold the rest of the hair in. It is better to carefully clip the broken hair off.
Regarding rosin, one cake should last a long time unless it has been excessively handled or cracked. Most people err in using too much rather than not enough rosin. If rosin is powdering off of your bow onto your violin, you’re either using too much rosin or your rosin is old (or both). Don’t let rosin accumulate on your instrument. Carefully wipe it off with a soft, dry cloth. If you leave the rosin on too long it will attract dirt, harden, and become extremely difficult to remove.
There is a small spruce dowel that fits between inside between the top and back of the violin, just under the bridge. The placement of this soundpost is critical to the structural stability and the sound of your instrument. If the soundpost comes loose (you’ll hear it rolling around inside of the violin), don’t play your instrument. Loosen the strings and bring your violin in to have the soundpost reset. If you continue to play your instrument with a loose soundpost, you risk causing cracks.
The fit of the bridge to the instrument is also very important for good sound and playability. A poorly fit or old bridge can also damage the top of the instrument where the feet of the bridge dig in. Some discover that they need a new bridge when the old one becomes so warped that it won’t stay upright. To help your bridge last it is important for it to stand straight up. If your bridge appears to be leaning, bring it in and we’ll adjust it. If the bridge is allowed to lean too long, you’ll need to a have a new bridge fit to your instrument.
PEGS & FINE TUNERS
If you are having problems tuning your instrument, the pegs may need to be refitted or replaced, which is considered routine maintenance (for the violin and your sanity). While some people think that applying something to the peg itself (“peg dope”) will make the pegs work better, often it makes the situation worse. There is no substitute for good fitting pegs.
Sometimes, changing how the string has been wound onto the peg will help with tuning. Also, when you turn the peg, push in gently and gradually. Don’t push too hard. If you are forcing the peg you risk causing more problems. The solution is to have the pegs (or your technique) checked out.
If you use steel strings, expect to use fine tuners. Otherwise, fine tuners are often only used on the E string. Most players will avoid the use of fine tuners with gut or perlon strings because fine tuners add weight to the bridge, lessening the tone. Gut and perlon strings tune more gradually than steel strings, so they are actually a bit easier to tune without the use of fine tuners. If you use perlon or gut strings and want to use fine tuners, we strongly recommend the use of a tailpiece with the fine tuners built in. Otherwise, you may find your gut/perlon strings breaking more often.
Plastic string packages and other items can damage a the finish, so don’t leave them laying loose in the case.
Also, if you try to store too many things (papers, shoulder rest, etc.) in the case with the violin, you risk damaging your violin. It’s better to carry these items separately.
To clean your instrument just use a soft cloth (such as an old, clean t-shirt), and wipe your instrument carefully. Many polishes leave a residue or are abrasive. You don’t really need them. Do not use furniture polish.
If your instrument is damaged:
First, loosen the strings to reduce the tension on the instrument, so the problem doesn’t get worse. Also, the sooner a repair is done, often the easier (cheaper!) it will be. (And if you try to fix it yourself and fail, it may cost you more….)
It is usual for instruments to need routine repairs and adjustments over the course of their use, but by simply avoiding extremes of temperature and humidity, you can avoid more major damage.