Quite as important as the excellence of the instrument is its care.
—Carl Flesch, from The Art of Violin Playing
With careful maintenance, many instruments can last and even improve for many years. A well-tended instrument can outlive many generations of players as evidenced by the Stradivarius instruments still played despite their extreme age. While your Instrument might not have cost as much as a Stradivarius, there's no reason why you shouldn't treat it like one! We've included a list of tips and hints below.
Before you Play -
- Make sure your hands are clean. Avoid eating food before playing, particularly greasy food like crisps. Any grease or dirt will be transferred onto the strings and fingerboard which will impair the life of the strings and make it harder to play.
- Rosin the bow. Without a rosined bow it's nearly impossible to make a pleasing sound. See this handy Step By Step Guide (including a video) if you're unsure.
- Clean the instrument periodically. A damp cloth soaked in warm soapy water will be fine, and you may wish to follow up the washing with sparing use of furniture polish.
- Make sure any collected Rosin Dust is removed when cleaning. If left for long enough, it will fuse with the varnish and become impossible to remove without damage.
- Clean the strings. Cleaning the rosin off strings can make a striking difference to the sound. A common wine cork serves admirably, quietly scrubbing off the crust of rosin without damaging the winding of the string. A dry microfibre cloth is often recommended; it retains the dust well but makes a penetrating squeaking noise. In extreme cases (if the instrument has been unplayed for a long time or the strings are particularly soiled) a cloth with a little rubbing alcohol is best used, if care is taken to protect the top of the body from the slightest chance of stray droplets of alcohol touching the varnish. The use of alcohol is generally avoided, as it easily damages violin varnish in ways which may be difficult or impossible to restore.
- From time to time some players use ordinary chalk on their pegs, which helps to stop the tuning pegs from slipping. This is worth considering when changing your strings and the pegs can be removed.
- Replace the Strings. Depending on how often you play, they should need replacing around every 2-3 months to keep it sounding it's best. Old, tired strings will sound old and tired and may even sound 'false' becoming unreliable in pitch. They also run the risk of snapping.
- Many players keep the instrument in their cases, but you can also utilise a bespoke instrument stand. Some are only built for short term usage (ie a concert) but many can allow your instrument to remain on display.
- If storing for long periods, tune it down about 1/2 a step - this helps to keep the tension on the neck but will prevent any unnecessary stress. Also relax the taughtness of the hair on the bow - this will stop the bow from warping out of shape (rendering it unusable) and will prolong the life of the hair.
- If at all possible, don't store the instrument in a changeable environment like an attic where the temperature and humidity may fluctuate. Also avoid direct sunlight - in essence, don't put the instrument anywhere you yourself wouldn't want to sit!