There are a few simple things to keep in mind if you want to maintain your instrument in great condition. Here are our 5 top tips.
1. Clean and wipe rosin off the instrument and strings after every use
Using rosin on your bow will leave some white dust on your instrument after playing. Any rosin left on the strings or over the body of your instrument will quickly build up and cause it to be sticky and dirty. You should use a lint-free, soft cloth to wipe off the rosin dust.
Never, ever use alcohol or any other cleaning solvents to clean your instrument; they can strip the varnish, making for a very expensive repair job. If you carefully wipe down an instrument after playing you shouldn’t need to use anything but a soft, dry cloth. If there is a significant build-up of rosin or other matter on the top plate or fingerboard, please consult Vivaldis for their advice.
You can also make cleaning easier by not putting too much rosin on the bow. And don’t forget to wipe the bow stick as well after playing.
2. Always loosen the bow when not in use
After each practice or playing session you should loosen off the tension of the bow hair. The bow has a special and exact curve that was added to the stick when it was made. If you leave it done up for days (or weeks… or months!) then it will gradually lose this bend and will not work as well. Get into the habit of releasing the tension every time you take a break from playing.
If the tension knob at the end of the bow is sticky or hard to turn then talk to Vivaldis about getting it serviced.
3. Keep your hands clean (and nails properly trimmed)
Have you noticed that the hair of your bow is dirty near the frog? This is the dirt from your fingers. To keep the bow hair clean, never touch the hair with your hands. The natural oils in your skin will counteract the gripping effect of the rosin. It can also react with some varnishes so it’s a good idea to avoid touching the body of the instrument too much. Learn to pick it up it up by the neck.
The fingerboard is usually made from ebony which is a hard, durable wood. Even so, repeatedly hitting it with your fingernails in the same place will start to dig holes and eventually make playing more difficult. So keep your fingernails short!
If your fingerboard has pits or ruts under the strings then Vivaldis can tell you whether it is time to get it planed.
4. Be aware of the environmental conditions
As a rule, the safest place to keep an instrument is in its case, so the first step in to get a good quality case. Make sure that it has a lot of padding but it should just cushion the instrument, not to the point that it rubs aggressively against the varnish.
Your instrument is made out of organic materials. In general, musical instruments like the same environment as their players. They need conditions where it is not too hot or cold, and certainly not wet or damp, or too dry! If the wood dries out too much it can be brittle and shrink and might crack. Humidifiers like the “Dampit” can prevent extensive drying; you can buy one at Vivaldis.
The optimum humidity for a violin, viola or cello is 50% but this can vary a lot in a room over a day (especially with air conditioning), so if you keep an instrument in its case these fluctuations will be minimised.
The worse thing you can do is leave your instrument in your car in summer. The excessive heat that builds up can bubble the varnish and might even cause the instrument to completely fall apart!
One common area of damage is from the bow frog hitting the instrument, so make sure the bow latch is secure and always locked before you close the lid. It helps to use a cloth blanket over a violin or viola as well for some extra protection.
5. Change your violin strings when necessary
Good musicians realise early on when a string has passed its prime because the sound and response will deteriorate. Generally, visible damage will occur well before a string fails and should be taken as a warning sign; if a string is frayed or worn or unravelling, or excessively tarnished then consider changing it. You certainly don’t want a string to break during a recital. But also don’t fit a new string just before a performance; it will need some time to settle in.
If you are changing strings, do them one at a time to maintain the tension over the bridge. If you remove all the strings at the same time, the bridge and possibly also the sound post will fall over. The placement of both is critical and you may need to visit Vivaldis to get the setup correctly restored.
Vivaldis have a good range of strings and are happy to advise you on what you need and can help out with fitting a new set.