I bought my first fiddle back about nine months ago, and I remember reading all about caring for it because I wanted to keep it perfect. I was determined to keep it looking it’s best and maintaining it so it would always sound great, my playing ability not withstanding! Well, nine months later, and other than wiping it down a couple of times a week, I really haven’t done much. So, with the arrival of my new Fiddlerman Artist violin, I have decided it was time to revisit the care and maintenance of a new fiddle, and decided to make this post for easy reference. This post will not go into every little detail, but will be an outline of best practices.
So, how do I take care of my violin and bow the correct way, to make them last forever, or at least a very long time?
Cleaning the Violin
First, to keep the violin looking it’s best, it is important to wipe the rosin residue off of the violin with a soft cloth after each use, something I often forget to do. Violin polish can also be used, but is usually is not necessary unless you neglect to wipe of your violin after each time you play. Avoid touching the violin with oily or sweaty hands. I bought a bottle of W.E. Hill & Sons Varnish Polish & Cleaner a few months back. This is a quality instrument polish and cleaner recommended by Fiddlerman and other major violin dealers. Here is a good tutorial from Kennedy Violins on how to clean your violin at home.
A good Polishing cloth, like the ones sold at online and brick and mortar violin shops, is much better than just any soft cloth or rag you may have in your home. They are made specifically for musical instruments and can be cleaned when they get soiled. In fact, these special cleaning cloths actually improve after washing.
Cleaning the Strings
Wipe excess rosin off your strings after each use. A little rosin buildup won’t do much to affect the sound but will become difficult to remove if left unremoved for a period of time.
Once again, you can use a polishing cloth or any soft cloth for this, but I use and highly recommend The String Cleaner. I have been using this for months. This little tool does an excellent job of cleaning the strings (360 degrees) in just a few seconds, and like a polishing cloth, it can be washed when rosin begins to build up on it. Read my review of The String Cleaner.
Changing the Strings
How often should you change the strings? Many experts say that you should change your violin strings every 6 months if you use them frequently. One should not wait more than a year, that’s maximum. But as a beginner you can sometimes use them longer. When the strings look frayed or when they loose their quality of sound and/or power, it is time. Make sure when changing the strings that you change them one at a time to keep tension on the sound post to avoid having it fall.
Fiddlerman has a good tutorial that demonstrates how to change the strings on a violin quickly and efficiently. See how he locks the string on the peg hole. Check consistently between each string change that the bridge is not moving forward when tuning up.
Aligning the Bridge
Make sure to always check the bridge so the feet are flat against the top of the violin, and aligned with the notches of the f-hole. Over time, the top of the bridge can get pulled forward. This can make the bridge warp and even fall down. You can carefully adjust the bridge yourself so it stands straight, but loosen the strings a bit beforehand. I made the mistake early on of not loosening the strings a bit when I had to adjust the bridge on my Concert violin. As a result, I put a scratch in the varnish. My bad! Here is another Fiddlerman video showing how to properly align the bridge when it is needed:
Cleaning and Rehairing the Bow
Avoid touching the hair to keep foreign objects and oils from sticking. After you are done playing, loosen the hair. The hair shouldn’t be too tight when you aren’t using the bow. Otherwise the stick might warp or the hair might stretch. Wipe off the stick with a soft cloth to remove rosin dust and polish it when you polish your violin.
How often should you rehair your bow? Well, this depends on how much you play and how much hair you have lost. A soloist might do it as often as every month. Others might rehair their bow once a year. Let’s put it this way: If the bow sounds good, the hair is in good shape and it’s full, there is no need for rehairing.
Storing the Violin
Many experts advise against leaving the violin out in plain sight, when not being used, mainly because it can be easily damaged. However, if you leave your instrument out, you get reminded to practice and have easy access to it. Just keep it in a safe place. I have a display cabinet for my Artist and a hook for my Concert on the side of a bookcase right near where I practice.
Most musicians keep their instrument in their case when not being used. If you live in a dry climate, you might want to invest in a humidifier for your case. Otherwise the wood can become brittle and crack. One simple, inexpensive and effective humidifier is the Dampit. Read my review of the Dampit.
If you keep your instruments out, consider purchasing a room humidifier. I recently purchased an evaporative humidifier called the Venta Airwasher. I did have an ultrasonic humidifier, but these type of humidifiers are notorious for leaving a white dust on everything. An evaporative humidifier eliminates that problem, and Ventas are quality made in Germany and available in different sizes whether you need it for a single room or a good portion of your house.
One final bit of advice: Never leave your violin in a car. In the winter it gets too cold and in the summer the glue can melt.
These are the basics. More in-depth articles on the care and maintenance are available on the internet. The website at Corilon Violins has a more in-depth tutorial which covers:
- How to store a violin
- How to clean a violin
- How to take care of the violin’s varnish
- When to restring the instrument
- How to change strings
- How to choose the right strings
- How to tune a violin
- What to do about stiff or slipping pegs
- How to position the violin bridge
- When to replace the violin bridge
- How to install fine tuners
- How to take care of the fingerboard
- How to improve the violin’s sound
Have any other tips or know of a good tutorial on caring for your fiddle? Let us know in the comment section before.
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