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care tips

A correctly fitted bridge, regular peg maintenance, the occassional check on the condition of the fingerboard and cleanliness are the keys to stringed instrument care. We hope the following guidelines will help you get the best from your instrument and bow while avoiding the expense of unnecessary deterioration and damage.

 
Care tips for all instruments
Bridges
Pegs
Tuning adjusters

Strings
Fingerboards
Cleaning
Bows
Soundposts
Cases
 
Care tips for cellos only
Endpins and spikes Bags    
 

Bridges

 

Bridges are delicate objects but when correctly fitted and maintained will last many years under the considerable forces exerted by the strings.

Check to see that the feet of your bridge fit exactly to the top of the instrument and that the bridge is sitting on an imaginary line running between the inside 'nicks' in the f-holes. (This is a general rule; some instruments may have been set up to have the front or the back of the bridge aligned on this imaginary line.)

A bridge should lean back very slightly towards the tailpiece so that the back of the bridge is at a right angle to the seam between the front and the ribs. Sometimes the bridge can be tipped forward by the action of the strings while being tuned using the pegs - in which case if you are a violinist/violist, place the instrument firmly in your lap facing upward with the head away from you and gripping the bridge firmly with both thumbs and index and middle fingers, ease it gently back into position with a rotating twist.

If you don't like the thought of doing this yourself, ask someone else to (a teacher for instance) or take it to your local violin shop. (We do recommend using a specialist shop.)

The way to prevent a correctly fitted bridge from tipping in the first place is to lubricate the string grooves in the bridge with pure dry soap or graphite from a soft pencil. This can easily be done when changing a string or by loosening off a serviceable one but only do one string at a time or you risk letting the bridge fall over and maybe the sound post too!

We cannot overstate the importance of a good quality, correctly fitting bridge even on a student instrument. It is essential not only for its sounding properties but also to make playing as easy and comfortable as possible. A poor bridge can make any instrument virtually unplayable (see Buying an Instrument).

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Pegs

 

Pegs require regular servicing to maintain them in good working order and to prevent unnecessary wear-and-tear, a task that can be carried out easily at home with a little patience and practice.

If a peg has become stiff, uneven ('clicky' or 'notchy') or slips too easily, remove the corresponding string and its peg one at a time and clean the peg with a dry linen or cotton cloth.There are all sorts of peg pastes which one can buy to apply to the peg shank but they all work by combining substances which grip (abrasives) with substances which lubricate.

The task is to load the needed amount of paste onto the peg shank at the points at which it will be in contact with the inside surface of the peg holes. Once the peg is reinserted into the hole, turn it several times in both directions to distribute the paste evenly in the hole and then re-attach the string. This will almost certainly improve the peg action but it may not yet be how you'd like it. If it is still stiff or 'notchy', repeat the operation. If it slips it could indicate that there is too much paste or that you need more! You will have to experiment.

Sometimes the reason that pegs don't work properly is that they have become too worn or damaged and need replacing. It is important to have an expert assessment if you think this may be the case as delaying can cause damage which will cost more to repair than will just replacing the pegs.

 

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Tuning adjusters

 

There are many different designs of adjuster especially for violin E-strings. It is generally worth avoiding the cheapest, as these can be unreliable or at best difficult to use.

The most common complaint about them is that they get stiff. This can be caused by wear but if not, a quick remedy is to remove the screw (no need to remove the string) and wipe a bit of Vaseline onto the thread before reinserting it.

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Strings

 

Strings (all metal and metal covered makes) should be kept as clean as possible to get the best from them.

When putting the instrument away always wipe the strings with a soft duster. However, this won't prevent a gradual build-up of rosin and dirt on the under-side of the strings at the bowing point. Remove this with a cloth and a minimal quantity of alcohol (any form) being very careful not to touch the varnish of the instrument with the impregnated cloth. (Don't worry about the fingerboard; you can clean this the same way when you change a string.)

When changing a string, only ever do one at a time - take the opportunity to clean the exposed section of fingerboard and check that the bridge groove is sufficiently lubricated. This is also a good moment to service the peg if required.

Attaching a string is straightforward but surprisingly, many teachers don't give their pupils clear instruction on this. Most strings (e.g. Dominant) have ball ends, which can attach to an adjuster or directly to the tailpiece, the slots above the holes retaining the ball. Sometimes a hole isn't large enough to insert the ball from the top in which case thread the top end of the string through from underneath the tailpiece.

Covered-gut strings have a knotted loop end (e.g. Eudoxa). Don't use this type with adjusters; they should attach directly to the tailpiece. They do not need to be double looped onto the tailpiece; attach them in the same way as one attaches a ball end string.

Some strings come with a felt or cloth ring, which if it is required should be inserted through the tailpiece hole with the knot or ball, thus protecting the tailpiece.

Some strings, especially metal varieties are supplied with bridge protectors, usually a small piece of plastic tube through which the string has been threaded. It is usually only necessary to use these with the thinner strings (violin E; viola and cello A). If the bridge has a vellum (a small piece of clear, very hard skin) fitted over the top string groove, the additional bridge protector is unnecessary and can be taken off.

E strings on violins need a special mention; these are almost always wire and usually used with an adjuster even if the other strings aren't. Ball end E strings should only be used with the forked lever type of adjuster, the loop end variety with the single lever type.

Once the ball or loop is installed at the tailpiece the top end of the string can be inserted into the hole in the peg so that it protrudes from the opposite side by about 0.5 cm or less depending on the amount of room in the peg box. Then, while gently taking up the slack on the string with one hand, start to wind the peg (clockwise on the treble side, anticlockwise on the bass side), the first half winding to the side of the string hole away from the peg handle, continuing on the other side of the string hole towards the peg handle so that the protruding string end is wedged between the first two windings of the string. Once the string is up to tension, the last coil is close to-but ideally not quite touching-the side of the peg box. This may take more than one attempt if you are not used to doing it but once it has been mastered, the process usually only takes a minute or so.

If you should ever need to remove more than two strings at once, make sure the right peg gets the right string!

When do you change a string? It is certainly essential once a string starts to fray or the winding starts to unravel as a string in this condition can easily scratch the fingerboard, which in turn can damage the next new string. Apart from that it will probably buzz and could snap on you.

Most strings, especially all-metal ones, rarely fray or snap. If they do with any regularity, have the instrument professionally seen to as the fault is likely to be in the instrument, not the strings and will be easily remedied.

The other occasion to change strings is less definable. With age and use they lose their resonance and tonal quality but this is a gradual process so it often goes unnoticed.

If you are a regular player it is a good idea to have a regular changing schedule to avoid this problem. Your string supplier should be able to advise you on this as the playing lives of different makes, vary. Also bear in mind that the thinner strings (As and Es) wear out sooner than their fatter neighbours.

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Fingerboards

 

Keep the board clean (see strings, above) and don't use frayed strings, as these will scratch the board making it uneven.

Anything beyond this should be carried out by skilled craftspeople. This will consist in the main of periodically 'shooting' or planing the board once it has become uneven through use.

To check the board's condition look straight down it into a light source; if the surface looks smooth and shiny in one sweep along its whole length it is probably fine. (The precise shape of the board is a professional judgement and not dealt with here.)

If however you see a wavy pattern across the board (usually most visible in the part of the board corresponding with first position) and/or grooves running along the board under the strings, this is a sure sign that it needs 'truing'. Make an appointment with our workshop and we can advise.

As a board becomes progressively worn it becomes harder to achieve true intonation. The life of the strings will also be shortened and buzzing can become a problem.

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Cleaning

 

There is an extraordinary number of cleaning solutions available most of which claim to be 'unique' or 'unsurpassable' but most of it is just hype. Anyone would think we were buying the stuff every other week. If you are, incidentally, you are using far too much of it or perhaps just drinking it!

Keeping your instrument clean is important though for aesthetic as well as practical reasons. A dirty instrument cannot sound it's best and can suffer damage to the varnish, especially older instruments. It may sound obvious but simply washing hands before playing makes a significant difference.

Wiping away rosin from the area around the bridge after playing is also important; use a soft duster for this.

Whatever precautions one takes, a well used instrument inevitably gets dirty and the sparing use of a suitable cleaning fluid applied with a soft duster can do much to restore an instrument's appearance. Avoid getting any more of the liquid onto the seams of an instrument than is necessary. Also avoid soaking the bridge feet or letting moisture run into the peg holes. Make sure the cloth is entirely non-abrasive and clean.

At the end of a cleaning session always wipe off any remaining fluid with absorbent kitchen paper. On older and well-used instruments, particularly those with softer varnishes, parts of the instrument, especially edges and the shoulder rib, can lose their varnish exposing the wood underneath to moisture. It is advisable to avoid applying cleaning fluid of any sort to these areas as the wood can swell and become damaged. They should be professionally cleaned and the varnish restored.

Cheaper factory-type instruments can be cleaned with a household furniture polish, as their varnish is usually hard and completely non-porous. This is as far as one needs to go with cheaper, generally new student instruments.

If you have a much older and/or more valuable instrument, even if you conscientiously look after it, it will periodically need professional cleaning. Some varnishes are very difficult to deal with and inexperienced hands can do irreversible damage. Your local specialist violin shop will be able to advise you.

If this kind of work is necessary you will be able to look forward to one of a string player's greatest joys, the moment when you see your instrument restored again to its prime condition.

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Bows

 

Bows, like instruments should be kept clean by simply wiping the stick, frog and handle after use with a soft duster. They shouldn't require more than this between re-hairs when the stick should be thoroughly cleaned in the workshop.

If you have sweaty hands take special care to dry the handle when returning the bow to the case, as sweat can be quite corrosive in the long term.

A stiff tensioning action can usually be remedied by removing the screw from the stick and applying a small drop of light lubricating oil (e.g. 3-in-1) near the end of the screw before reinserting it. If this doesn't work or the action is getting sloppy, this usually indicates that the eye (set into the top of the frog) is worn and needs to be replaced.

Always slacken the hair tension when returning the bow to the case.

Once the hair has become discoloured and clogged (often most evident at the heel where the thumb comes into contact with it), or more than about 1mm width of hair has broken off on either edge of the hair ribbon, it is time to have the bow re-haired. This is especially important if much hair has come out of an edge because the resulting uneven tension on the stick can distort it.

After so much use the hair becomes worn and 'tired', the best indication being when it no longer holds rosin well and needs more frequent applications. (Rosin should normally be used sparingly and it is well worth paying a little extra for a good quality block of the correct grade for the instrument).

Some players extend the life of hair that has become dirty by washing it. This is safe to do but won't do anything for worn out hair. Remove the frog from the stick and dangle the losoe hair into a jar or bowl of warm, soapy water (e.g. shampoo without conditioner or washing-up liquid) so that the stick stays dry. Agitate and rub out the dirt and grease and rinse. Allow the hair to air dry naturally before reattaching the frog to the stick.

Warping and twisting of the stick is rare in quality bows but can easily be corrected by an experienced repairer. Looking straight down the shaft while holding it at arms length will reveal any obvious problem. Always maintain the head plate (tip) in good order as this protects the head from damage.

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Soundposts

 

The 'soul' of the instrument, the precise position and tension of which is of utmost importance for getting the best out of an instrument.

Ideally, once correctly installed, the post shouldn't need any attention for many years unless the instrument is a new one in which case it is a good idea to have it checked and adjusted if necessary after the first few months when the wood has had time to settle.

If an instrument receives a severe jolt or knock and you think the post might have moved getting it checked out only takes a few moments and could be well worthwhile.

It is a good idea to get used to how the post in your instrument should look through the f-hole so that you spot any substantial movement. If the post falls down, let the tension off the strings immediately to avoid damaging the front.

Lastly, don't become anxious about your soundpost! It is quite probable that you will never need to have anything done to it at all!

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Cases

 

Vacuum out your case every three months or so to remove any scratchy objects (e.g. rosin crumbs) and to prevent bow bug infestation; bow bugs love to make a meal of horse-hair!

Violinist/violists who store a shoulder rest in the main body of the case (usually shaped cases) take care that metal parts e.g. screws, do not have the opportunity to rub or knock against the instrument.

Likewise ensure that bow clips in the case lid, especially the cloth covered metal type don't come into contact with the instrument when the case is closed.

Refrain from keeping music and the like under the instrument as this can cause the instrument to press against the lid.

Finally a tip on deodorising old (and some new) cases! Bad smells in cases transfer to the instrument easily and can be very unpleasant. If necessary first clean the case out and then sprinkle a few drops of eucalyptus oil into it; works wonders!

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Endpins and spikes

 

Keeping the rod unit clean ensures continued ease of use providing the endpin is of reasonable quality. If the rod becomes difficult to extract, the endpin may need attention.

Avoid inverting the cello to put the rod away because it can drop into the instrument if the spike head isn't secure, resulting in an expensive repair bill. Cello rods have been known to fall through ribs making large holes! If the thumbscrew becomes stiff, a little oil will remedy the problem; make sure the oil doesn't coat the end of the screw, as this needs to grip the rod inside the unit!

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Bags

 

These deserve a mention as accidents can easily happen when they aren't used correctly. Never leave the bow in the bag once the cello has been removed; it can easily be stood on!

Always fully fasten zips/straps before carrying the instrument and protect yourself, others and the bag from the spike by using a rubber spike cap.

Always chose a bag that opens all the way up the side, they are much easier and safer to use than those with an opening restricted to the bottom of the bag.

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Official repairer for the Benslow Music Trust

 
Evans-Pughe Strings of Hitchin Ltd, 24 Bucklersbury, Hitchin, Herts, UK. SG5 1BG Tel: +44(0)1462-426012 Fax: +44(0)1462-426013
Opening hours: 9.30am-5.30pm (Mon-Sat)