Tips on Instrument Care

by Ute Brinkmann, Geigenbaumeister (master violin maker)

- Replaced every 6-12 months, depending on use. You don't have to wait for a string to break before replacing it. If the winding is damaged or the string goes flat at the fingerboard side, change that string! This refers to the metal hitting the ebony fingerboard over time. This can flattens the bottom of the string, it is not
- round anymore plus it makes grooves in the fingerboard. That's why strings
- need to be changed and fingerboards need to be trimmed.
- Never replace more than one string at a time. For a violin, the order is: G, E, D, A. While you are changing the strings; take a soft pencil and rub some graphite into the notches at the bridge and the top nut. That will lubricate the notches.
- When you tune the instrument, the bridge might move forward. Be sure to move it back.

- Pegs change with the seasons. In the winter, the lack of humidity causes shrinkage, which affects the tension and a peg might come loose. Consequently, the second, third, fourth pegs may also become loose. In the summer, pegs often stick and are difficult to turn because they expand with the humidity. Humidify in winter and de-humidify (air condition) in summer.

- The backside of the bridge, or tailpiece side, should be straight and should stand in a 90 angle to the top. While tuning an instrument the bridge has the tendency to bend slightly. Check it occasionally and move it back. Any warping should be attended to immediately by a professional before the bridge falls or breaks.

Fine Tuners
- It is common for the E-string to break because the edge of the fine tuner is too sharp. A little piece of rubber can help.
- Make sure there is sufficient space between the fine tuner and the top of the instrument. If the screw is touching the top, it is advisable to loosen it all the way back and tune with the peg.

A Buzz
- If you have detected a vibration, or buzz, in your instrument that is affecting the sound, first look around to see if you can find the source. The string might unwind; a fine tuner might be loose. Sometimes decorations on the pegs come loose and buzz. Often you will find the instrument has opened up at the seams. If the cause is not obvious, a trip to the repair shop might be the answer.

- Stickers and tape should not be applied to the body of the violin. If stickers are needed put them only on the fingerboard. (In the past, Stacy has not obeyed this rule.)

Clean and Polish
- It is important to keep the instrument and bow clean. Use a soft flannel cloth after every playing to prevent the rosin from sticking to the varnish. Commercial polishes are not recommended because often they don't clean the instrument and just add another layer to the varnish.

- Never leave an instrument in the car, and avoid the trunk. The summer heat can bubble the varnish or dry out glue joints.
- Keep your instrument in its case away from radiators, heat vents and baseboard heaters. In winter, keep a humidifier in the room where the instrument is stored and crack the case lid open for circulation. A humidity level of 50% is desirable.
- When putting a cello down: don't stand it up and walk away. If the case falls, the cello inside can still break. Put the cello case down on its side.

- Never attempt to repair an instrument yourself. You may do more harm than good, and many "home repairs" can ruin the instrument permanently.
- The player's relationship with a good violin repairer is just as beneficial as the one you have with your family doctor. Choose one you can trust.
- If you have any question or suspect even the slightest problem, do not hesitate to make a trip to the repair shop. Transport your instrument by undoing the tension of the strings and putting a soft paper towel between tailpiece and top. In case the sound post falls down the violin repairer can put it back up.

Instruments can last hundreds of years when properly cared for. Do remember that even though you are the current owner, you are really just the custodian of the instrument. It is your job, and legacy, to maintain it so it is available for generations to come!


Ute Brinkmann's shop in Connecticut specializes in the sale and repair of fine bowed instruments. Among her many credits is the position of foreman of the violin restoration department for the prestigious W. E. Hill & Sons of England.


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