There’s no denying that musical instruments (especially those made of wood) can be beautiful but temperamental. Proper maintenance is vitally important to the lifespan of your violin. Learning to correctly care for your violin will help keep it in top condition for longer.
Whether you play the traditional Irish fiddle, the classical violin, or are a master of both, keeping your instrument in its prime is in your best interest. A well cared for violin will continue to produce a beautiful sound for years to come, while poor maintenance can lead to cracks and other damage that can ultimately make your violin unplayable.
So how do you avoid these problems? It’s simple. Take care of your violin and it will take care of you, helping you to create beautiful music together.
I’ve put together this handy blog post filled with violin care tips as a guide to help you learn how to care for your instrument properly – so you too can learn the dos and don’ts of violin maintenance.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s show your violin a little TLC and help improve, and even lengthen, its musical life.
Know Your Instrument
In order to keep your violin in prime working condition, it’s important to learn a little bit about its anatomy.
All the best musicians have a deep knowledge of their instrument, including how it’s built and how it functions. This information can really help you get the most out of your violin. It will also inform you on how best to care for and maintain the instrument.
So, if you don’t know your bridge from your sound post I recommend taking a quick look at my guide to The Anatomy of the Violin. This handy glossary of terms will help you to identify and learn about the most important parts of your instrument, allowing you to become an expert in no time.
It may seem obvious, but correctly storing your violin is the most important thing you can do.
Storing your violin safely will help prevent it from any unwanted knocks or bumps, and help to improve the longevity of your instrument. Remember, a musical instrument is an investment that needs to be nurtured and cared for.
Ensure the violin you invest in comes with a good violin case.
To keep your violin safe, make sure to store it in its case with the lid fastened. Also make sure to remove your shoulder rest before putting your instrument away.
Try to avoid carrying your violin outside of the case – this is just asking for trouble. I’ve encountered more than a few musical instruments that could have avoided their sad demise if their owner had simply carried it in its case.
Where you store your violin is also hugely important. Like most musical instruments (especially those made of wood), violins hate extremes of temperature and humidity.
You don’t want to store an instrument anywhere that will be subject to extreme temperatures – hot or cold. Extremes of temperature, or extreme fluctuations of temperature, may cause the wood to warp, affecting your tuning pegs and the intonation of the strings.
So what’s the ideal temperature for your beloved violin? I recommend storing it in a room with an ambient temperature of at least 18C but no more than 25C.
Wooden instruments react to both temperature and humidity, therefore humidity must also be kept constant – not too high, not too low. Anything under 40% humidity will likely cause your violin to react, affecting the tuning, tone and overall playability.
Dehumidifiers and humidifiers are your friend.
Surprisingly, winter is an important time to keep an eye on the humidity – especially if you live in a climate that experiences dry winters (I’m looking at you, East Coast of America).
If you don’t own a humidifier (which, let’s face it, most of us don’t), you can keep a tray of water near the radiator in the room where you store your instrument to prevent the air from drying out. Just make sure not to spill it!
Keep it Clean
Oils in our hands and fingers can damage the finish of the wood so it’s important to handle your instrument carefully. Always hold the violin at the neck – don’t touch the body.
To prevent a build up of rosin – and remove any oils from the body of the violin – make sure to wipe it down with a dry, microfibre cloth after playing.
Never try to clean your violin using water or cleaning products. If your fingerboard has gathered an excess of rosin, or you notice any stains on the body, make sure to bring your violin to a professional luthier to be cleaned.
While we’re keeping our hands to ourselves, it’s equally important not to touch the horsehair on your violin bow as oils from your skin can also damage the hair, effecting its ability to grab the strings.
As Otis Redding once said, you’ve got to try a little tenderness. Violins are delicate instruments that should be handled with care at all times, both when playing and not.
For example, never force the pegs during tuning or you may end up breaking a string (or even a peg!).
When putting a new set of strings on your violin, make sure to replace just one string at a time.
Removing all of the strings from your violin simultaneously can cause the bridge to move, and can even alter the placement of the sound post.
How Often Should You Change the Strings on a Violin?
Strings will naturally wear out over time, simply from being played. And worn out strings will lose their sound quality.
Old, worn out strings also require more pressure to play which can lead to injuries in your wrist or shoulder. If the strings become too thin they are also in danger of snapping mid-performance.
Strings wear gradually, depending on use, so how frequently you’ll want to change them depends on how frequently you play your instrument.
General advice recommends changing your violin strings every 9 to 12 months or so. Obviously if you’re in the habit of practicing for hours on end each day, you’ll find you need to replace the strings more often than this.
You’ll know it’s time to change your violin strings if they start to require more frequent tuning, or when the tone they produce loses its brilliance or warmth. You’ll also notice a difference in how your instrument responds – worn strings won’t resonate in quite the same way.
Cleaning your violin strings after playing can help extend their lifespan as rosin, dirt, and oils from your fingers builds up over time.
How to Change Violin Strings
NB: Remember to replace your strings one string at a time!
- Remove the old string. Slowly turn the peg to release the tension, while holding the string with the other hand. Once the peg is loose, remove the string.
- Lubricate the tuning peg using peg paste.
- Find the correct replacement string. It may seem obvious but make sure you have the correct string lined up – the same pitch as the one you just removed.
- Thread the string through the peg, and wind enough of the string around the peg so it’s secure, but not too much
- Insert the ball end into the tailpiece.
- Slowly reduce the slack, holding the loose string with one finger, so that it’s tight, ensuring the ball end stays in place. Gently wind the string to further tighten the string until the string is secure.
- Tune the string.
- Check that the bridge is straight. (If your E string has a bridge protector make sure it lands on the groove in the bridge.)
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our instruments can end up a little worse for wear. Don’t worry! If this happens, you can bring your violin to an experienced luthier or violin maker to repair the damage. Here are a few warning signs to watch out for which will hopefully prevent any damage becoming irreparable:
Cracks in the body of any instrument can be a bad sign. Check your violin frequently to make sure the body is in good condition.
Small cracks along the seams are not uncommon, and can usually be repaired without causing any major long term damage to the violin.
If cracks appear on the body they may represent further problems with the instrument. Serious cracks can be expensive to fix, athough a good luthier should be able to do so. They will also negatively affect to sound of your violin, so make sure to take care when handling and storing your instrument, and keep a careful watch over its condition.
The fingerboard on your violin should be straight, smooth and even. If not, it may need to be re-planed or replaced.
Every violin has a slight natural curve to it. If a fingerboard is too curved however, or is curving to the side, this will cause problems and the violin will not play correctly.
A well crafted violin should rarely have to worry about this issue. Uneven or warped fingerboards are common in cheaper instruments and can result in the fingerboard becoming so curved that the strings are no longer evenly distributed across it, rendering the instrument unplayable.
The F hole should contain a small wooden dowel, inside the violin, close to the bridge, called the sound post. This helps to create the sound and can dictate the tone the violin produces.
Even slight changes to the sound post can alter the tone of an instrument dramatically, and completely change its sound. Moving the soundpost can make a violin sound louder and even give it a brighter, darker or clearer sound. If you notice a change for the worse in the sound of your violin, it may be a sign that the soundpost has become dislocated.
Don’t worry though – an experienced violin maker can easily adjust the soundpost, returning your violin to its former glory.
The bridge of a violin is the small piece of wood which is positioned between the fingerboard and tailpiece which holds up the strings.
It’s common that violin bridges may need to be replaced every so often as they can become warped and bent. Again, with proper storage and care, this is not an issue you should worry about with a well-crafted instrument.
Caring for Your Violin Bow
Like your violin, the violin bow needs care and attention to keep it in prime playing condition.
The bow hair should be loose and the screw should turn easily. Over tightening and age can cause the hair to stretch however. If the bow hair becomes too long, it may be time to get your violin bow re-haired.
To check the length of the hair, simply let the bow hair down as far as it can go. If it hangs loose like a hammock, it’s too long and needs to be replaced.
Always make sure to slacken the hair on your violin bow before storing it.
Watch out for any cracks or damage in the stick – especially if it’s made of wood. Overly tightened horsehair is strong enough to warp or even break a wooden bow.
The bow itself should be perfectly straight, meaning the frog and the tip should be in line. However, it should still retain its camber or curve.
To check for warping or curvature in your bow simply hold it out in front of you and look down the wooden stick. If it bends to one side or the wood is warped, it’s no longer suitable for playing.
This can happen with any wooden bow if it hasn’t been well maintained. To keep your bow safe, make sure to store it securely in the case alongside your violin.
To avoid this issue entirely, consider investing in a carbon fibre violin bow – these bows are virtually indestructible and are light and easy to handle.
How to Repair a Damaged Violin
The short answer is: don’t. Leave it to the experts.
Violins are intricate instruments and should be handled with care by an experienced craftsman. You should always seek professional advice.
As tempting as it may be to attempt to superglue a crack, or engineer your own ‘quick fix’, home remedies are not the answer. Please do not try to repair a damaged violin by yourself – not matter how handy you think you may be.
At McNeela Instruments we’re always happy to answer any questions you may have about the wellbeing of your instrument. So whether it’s violin repairs or a new violin you’re after, there’s no question too big or too small.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, a violin may have come to the end of its life. Too much wear and tear can affect the sound an old violin produces and it can’t always be fixed.
If this is the case then don’t despair – here at McNeela Instruments we stock a range of violins suitable for all ages and abilities – we have something for everyone!
We’ve been making and selling traditional Irish instruments since 1979. Why not pop over and browse our range of wonderful violins for classical and traditional Irish music.