Quick Care Summary
- When not in use, keep instrument in its case
- Avoid exposure to extremes in temperature and humidity and to rapid changes in temperature
- Wipe rosin off your instrument after every use
- Only hold your instrument by the neck
- Before playing, ensure that the bridge is straight
- Lubricate pegs when they start to stick
- Change your strings once a year or as needed
- Loosen the hair of your bow when not in use and have it rehaired once a year
- Do not over rosin your bow
- When not playing, always hold your bow at the frog with the tip pointing up
- Only allow qualified technicians to work on your instrument
Best care practices: Viols, Vielles, & Violins
When not in use, keep instrument in its case. The most common way for instruments to be damaged is during rehearsals, so we recommend storing your instrument safely in its case even during rehearsal breaks. If you have young children, it is advisable to use the lock on your case as well. If your case has a zipper, be sure to fully unzip before opening or the zipper may fail prematurely.
Avoid exposure to extremes in temperature and humidity and to rapid changes in temperature. Keeping your instrument in stable conditions is very important. High temperatures can cause damage to an instrument’s varnish or, in some cases, melt the glue holding it together. Likewise, cold temperatures and rapid changes in temperature or humidity can cause open seams, cracks in the finish and cracks in the wood itself. To avoid exposure, store instruments in a temperature-controlled room and aim to keep humidity between 30-50%. Avoid leaving your instrument in an attic, basement or hot car. If your instrument gets below 40° F, allow it to warm up gradually in its case before you remove it. Keep in mind that, in many places, the indoor relative humidity falls far below safe levels for string instruments during the winter months (November-April). A tabular instrument humidifier, such as those offered by Dampit and Humitron, can decrease the risk of damage to your instrument. (view instruction for using a tabular humidifier here).
Wipe rosin off your instrument after every use. Accumulated rosin can damage the finish of an instrument. After every use, wipe rosin away with a 100% cotton cloth like a non-terry dishtowel or a piece of an old t-shirt. If rosin cannot be removed with a cloth, take your instrument to a qualified repair person who can remove it chemically. Commercial violin polish can be used if the varnish looks dull or is covered with fingerprints. However, be aware that these products contain wax and many do not dry thoroughly. Always apply sparingly and remove as much polish as possible with a soft cotton cloth. If the finish prints easily, there is still too much polish on the surface.
Only hold your instrument by the neck. If you have a fine instrument, the acids and oils on your skin can wear away the varnish. Try to touch the top of your instrument as little as possible. If you use a shoulder rest, be sure to attach and remove it safely. Placing the body of the violin against your torso and holding the neck in your left hand, attach or remove the rest with your right hand. This prevents the instrument being knocked out of your hand in the bustle of rehearsals. If your shoulder rest has latex-covered feet, replace the latex when it becomes cracked and dry.
Before playing, check that the bridge is straight. With frequent tunings, the bridge can begin to shift or lean out of position. Even the best bridge will warp if it is not maintained and checked for needed adjustments. It is best to ask a qualified instructor or repair person to show you how to do this.
Lubricate pegs when they start to stick. Often during periods of high humidity, pegs can swell slightly and begin to stick. For pegs that are only sticking slightly, use lava soap or commercial peg dope according to manufacturer instructions. Occasionally, an instrument’s pegs will become stuck entirely. If this happens do not force them or use pliers, as they can crack or break off the peg box. Instead, take the instrument to a qualified repair person who can loosen the pegs safely.
Change your strings once a year or as needed. The life span of gamba strings can vary greatly depending on frequency of play and exposure to temperature and humidity. Therefore, it is always wise to keep a full set of replacement strings on hand. When strings start to fray or you notice they are producing a "dead" sound, it is time to change them. When in doubt, have a teacher or qualified professional teach you how to change your strings.
To care for your bow, loosen the hair when not in use and have it rehaired once a year. Storing a tightened bow will put extra wear on it over time and can cause the wood to warp. Be aware that humidity has an effect on the length of your bow hair. In dry weather, you may not be able to loosen the hair all the way. It is alright if the bow is a little tight, but if it is tight enough to play, take it to a qualified repair person and have the bow rehaired. Always have your bow rehaired at least once a year.
Do not over rosin your bow. If you had enough rosin on your bow at the end of yesterday’s practice, you likely do not need to add any more today.
When not playing, always hold your bow at the frog with the tip pointing up. Tempting as it may be, do not use your bow as a pointer, a cane, or a sword. Likewise, refrain from banging it on a music stand to applaud a soloist.
Only allow qualified technicians to work on your instrument. The vast majority of music stores do not have a qualified repair person, even when they advertise repairs. Before you entrust your instrument to anyone, be sure to inquire about his or her qualifications. Examine your instrument frequently for any problems like a warped bridge, open seams, cracks, etc. Small problems do not become big ones unless they are neglected.