Maintaining Your Instrument
5 Things You Can DoTo Save Money maintaining your instrument (and bow).
Routinely take care of your instrument and you don't have to pay a professional to do it for you.
1. Clean your instrument and bow with a soft clean cloth
It sounds simple, but keep you instrument and bow clean will save you money and keep you healthier through cold and flu season.
Confession time: I secretly used to think brass players were kind of gross for spitting on the floor. I eventually learned that they at least cleaned their instruments fairly regularly due to the nature of playing an instrument you breathe into.
I was enlightened while I worked for a violin shop and saw violins come in for professional clean and polishes. I have seen layers of grime at least a millimeter thick consisting of human dirt and oil that had to be carefully removed with special solvents. Which lead me to think about the fact that my violin went years without a good, solid wipe-down...
How many doors did I touch before playing my violin? How many meals did I eat and then go to practice right after? How many germs collected on my violin, ready to share during cold season? 😳 Now that's nasty. 🤢
Regular wipe-downs are the name of the game.
Here's how wipe your instrument down with a clean cloth at least once a week.
Rub very thoroughly starting on the back.
Move to the ribs.
Pay close attention to the chinrest area and the upper treble bout that is handled often.
Move onto the top.
Look for cracks around the sound holes and loose, splintery wood near the edges. Be careful to not damage your instrument.
Wipe under tailpiece, chinrest and fingerboard. Rub at area under strings near the bridge.
Be aware of heat buildup. It is possible to damage the varnish with heat from friction.
Wipe down chinrest.
This area gets really gunky from beards, makeup, perfume, and general skin oils.
Wipe down the neck and scroll.
Wipe down the neck and scroll.
Be gentle around the pegs, unless you feel like tuning your instrument.
Do the fingerboard last, as it will have the most dirt build up on it.
Wrap the cloth around one finger and trace between the strings all the way up to the nut.
You can really get rubbing into the fingerboard, as long as you don't have finger tapes on your instrument.
If you do have tapes or stickers, work around them, or be ready to replace them, if necessary.
Drape your free hand over the strings to dampen the horrible noises that are about to come from your instrument.
Pinch the strings using the cloth and try to get the excess rosin and dirt off your strings.
Rosin and dirt add mass to the strings, making them not vibrate uniformly, thus contributing to false or warn out strings.
When all is said and done, you should have a dirty cloth on your hands. Don't just toss it back into your case.
Wash it! Like you would any other fabric. It has done its job cleaning your instrument collecting dirt and germs, since you can't toss your instrument in the wash.
If your instrument just seems too far gone and you'd like a fresh slate to start cleaning your instrument, you can schedule an appointment to have your instrument professionally cleaned and polished. I have seen, and cleaned off ridges of years of hand oil and dirt build up. Sometimes, it takes a little bit more aggressive tactic to bring an instrument to its shining glory again. We know all the tricks that won't hurt your instrument's finish. But, once it's clean and polished, it's really easy to maintain with a weekly rubdown with a clean, dry cloth.
1.1 Wipe down your bow as well.
Loop a clean corner of your cloth between the stick and the hair.
Wipe off rosin to the head of the bow.
Support the head of the bow and gently wipe.
If you have a wood bow, this is a great time to look for any cracks in the head. This area is very delicate and susceptible to breaking.
Next, wipe the frog, and its metal parts.
Be careful of the wood where metal meets wood.
The wood gets very thin in that area. Don't aggressively rub at the joint areas.
Also, keeping your bow free of oil and dirt will keep the hair cleaner, which can put off the need for a rehair, at least until the hair has stretched.
When your bow comes in for a rehair, it does get taken apart and all the parts get individually cleaned and polished.
2. Straighten your bridge if it’s starting to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa
- especially due to the strings pulling the top of the bridge towards the peg ends
Here is a post about adjusting a bridge
Bridges don’t generally wear out. They might warp and eventually snap due to leaning, but if taken care of, I’ve seen well maintained bridges in action over 30 years old.
3. Use your pegs every now and then.
With practice, this gets a lot easier and a lot less scary.
The biggest thing to remember when using the pegs, is to listen for the pitch of the string by plucking or bowing the string while you are adjusting with the peg and push the peg in more than rotate.
The peg is a cone shape that is supposed to fit in a cone shaped hole and merely rotating the peg doesn't let the shapes grab each other with friction. Push the peg into the pegbox while tuning up to the pitch. You will break a string if you're not listening and you go past the tensile strength of the string, which is higher than the designed pitch for the string.
If you use your pegs, you can keep an eye on cracks that can form in the pegbox area. A fresh crack is easier to clean, glue and reinforce than an old, dirty crack.
4. Don't over tighten your bow.
Over tightening puts a lot of pressure on the delicate head area, making it more prone to breaking. If a bow breaks in this area, it is more than likely repairable, but the bow loses about 80% of the value of the stick. It might play the same after repair, but it will not be as valuable. Over tightening also doesn't help playability. A bow might feel more uncontrollable while over tightened. About a pinky finger's about of space, or 1/2" between the hair and stick in the swoopiest area of the bow is a good starting point if you don't know how much.
5. Loosen your bow when you're done for the day.
When the bow is tight, it stretches on the horse hair. The hair will eventually stretch out, making you need a rehair sooner that you had planned. I budget for a rehair one to two times a year, depending on the style of music I am playing. Wood bows also have the curve, called a camber, heat bent into the bow. With prolonged exposure to tightness, the bow will lose it's curve, which plays a huge part in playability and response. Loosen your bow when you're not using it to keep it in good health.