These notes are written primarily for the owners of new instruments, but most of the advice is applicable to older instruments as well.
- In most violin and viola cases, wrapping the instrument in a silk scarf or covering with a blanket will prevent the risk of scratches from the bow clips, and will also help to protect your instrument from the effects of changes of temperature and humidity. Some cello cases also have bow clips that can damage your instrument – in this case, blankets are available which will protect your cello.
- Try not to touch the varnish; handle the instrument by the neck and the end-button only.
- Clean off rosin and finger marks with a soft cloth (microfibre is ideal as it cleans effectively, doesn’t shed fibres, and is easily washable) before you put the instrument back in its case. This is not just cosmetic – should the instrument be damaged, it’s much harder for a repairer to glue cracks invisibly if they have picked up dirt and rosin.
- You will increase the life of your strings by (a) ensuring that your hands are always clean before you start playing, to limit the degradation of the strings by dirt and perspiration and (b) keeping them clean by wiping off rosin using a dry microfibre cloth. For more information on string care visit:
- Check periodically that the bridge is straight; normally the back of the bridge is at right angles to the arching. If necessary, support the back of the bridge with your thumbs and the front with your fingers, and gently pullthe bridge straight. If the bridge won’t move, unwind the strings slightly one by one and follow the instructions in step 5 below to lubricate the string grooves, which will help the strings move more easily.
- When you change the strings, rub a little dry (unused) soap or soft pencil lead (6B) into the grooves of the top of the bridge. This will help the strings to slide easily over the bridge, and make it easier to keep it straight. Take extra care to check that the bridge remains straight while the new strings settle in. Also apply pencil lead to the grooves of the nut; if the strings run smoothly, they will last longer. Always change the strings one by one so as not to disturb the bridge position.
- Check the adjusters periodically to make sure that they are not wound down so far that they touch the front of the instrument.
- Protect the instrument from extremes of temperature. In particular, don’t leave it in a parked car in hot weather, as this can permanently damage the varnish. If it’s too hot to leave a dog or baby, it’s too hot for your instrument. If you are likely to be in an area of low humidity, for example in central heating in winter or hot dry summer regions, consider using a humidifier such as a Dampit to keep the humidity levels of your instrument safe.
- I’m always happy to look over my instruments if you have any concerns. If possible, I like to see new instruments after the first six months or a year, and afterwards have a check every few years, or more frequently if the instrument is in heavy use or there seems to be any sort of problem. I would rather catch a small problem early than wait for it to become a major issue.
- The things that may change over time are as follows:
Although the soundpost will have been carefully fitted and adjusted when the instrument left the workshop, it may be necessary to adjust the position later. As the instrument settles, the string tension can slightly change the shape of the instrument. The body may become slightly deeper, and therefore the soundpost becomes very slightly too short. You can often tell if this has happened; it feels as if the instrument has lost some if its clarity and power. And as the instrument develops, sometimes the original position of the soundpost is no longer optimal.
There may be some wear to the varnish, caused by abrasion from sweat and dirt, or accidental damage to the instrument.
The fingerboard will wear into pits and grooves from the sweat of the fingers and the vibration of the strings, and will need to be resurfaced.