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Caring for a String Instrument & Bow

Listed below are important items and steps to consider when caring
for a string instrument and its bow.

3 close ups of a violin which has been destroyed by extreme temperatures. The neck and both upper ribs have come off of the violin body. The lower block of the violin has ripped out of the lower ribs of the violin body.
Never expose the instrument or bow to extreme temperatures or humidity and avoid the sun.

Store your case away from radiators or air vents and do not leave it in a hot or cold car.

Maintain levels of 40%-50% humidity to avoid open edges and cracks.

Any quality of instrument-- student to professional-- can crack from improper temperatures or humidity. Low humidity can also cause the bow hair to shrink and damage the bow stick. Use a case humidifier such as The Precipitube® or the Stretto Humidifier or an instrument humidifier like a Dampit® or Humitron Humidifier.

*The violin pictured to the left was destroyed when it was left in a cold car overnight. 


Always keep the instrument and bow in the case
(or cover/bag) when not in use to prevent accidental damage.

Temperature and humidity are also easier to control when the
instrument and bow are stored in the case.

A light blue microfiber soft cloth.

Wipe rosin dust from all surfaces with a soft, untreated cloth after each use to avoid buildup.

Do not use alcohol to clean the strings or varnished surface as this may remove or damage the finish. Warchal Strings has a very informative post on how abrasives and solvents negatively affect the life of strings. Click Here to See Warchal Strings' Post

Oil-based polishes should be used sparingly and only if there are no open edges or cracks the polish could penetrate.

Wax-based polishes are gentle and can be reversed.

We recommend using separate cleaners and polishes to avoid polishing over existing dirt.

The Bridge
The bridge should remain so that the back of the bridge (the side facing the tailpiece and furthest from the fingerboard) is perpendicular to the top of the instrument.

Tuning at either end of the string (at the pegs or fine tuners) tends to pull the bridge over time.

If not adjusted and reseated regularly, normal tuning tension can cause permanent warping to the bridge. 

It is not uncommon for a bridge that hasn't had regular adjustment to warp so severely that the bridge snaps. The force in the collapse of a bridge can damage the top of the instrument.

Ask your teacher or repairman for assistance if you are uncomfortable making this adjustment.

Seasonal Bridge Changes
As seasons change, you may notice changes in the string height on your instrument (this may be even more obvious in higher positions).

In humid summer months, the top (and other portions) of the instrument absorbs moisture.
This swell can cause the bridge to rise and the strings to be too high off of the fingerboard.

During winter months when humidity levels are lower, the top of the instrument can lose moisture. This drop in humidity can cause the bridge to lower and the strings to be too close to the fingerboard.

In some cases, it may be necessary to have two bridges-- a low bridge for the summer and a higher bridge for the winter. Cellos are most likely to need winter and summer bridges.

Additionally, the bridge should also have some protection on the highest string to keep the string from cutting down into the bridge over time. This is generally done with either a cap which is directly glued onto the bridge or a string protector which comes standard on most E strings.

A diagram of a violin neck, fingerboard and bridge. A yellow string extends from the scroll to the bridge. An arrow points to the end of the fingerboard and another arrow extends to the top of the bridge.

9 square packages of violin strings. The string brands are violino, chromcor, tonica, oliv, obligato, evah pirazzi, flexocor, eudoxa, and piranito.

The Strings
Old strings become lifeless and, as they age, can go false. False strings require more tension to keep in tune, thus putting excessive pressure on the instrument.

Replace the strings every six months (or more frequently if the instrument is played more than an average of 1 hour a day). Remove and replace each string one at a time (removing all four strings at one time may cause the soundpost to fall or the bridge to shift out of place).

If you are using steel strings: place the ball end of the string into the tuner, then put the other end of the string through the hole in the peg and turn the peg so that the string winds over the peg and toward the handle part of the peg--it should not be forced against the pegbox wall. Only stick a small part of the string (approx. 1/4") through the peg.

If using a synthetic gut string: when installing on fine tuners (like the one pictured below), put the peg end of the string through the ball end of the string (forming a lasso) and put this lasso around the prongs of the tuner. This will prevent the breakage of strings at the tuner; lassoing the string is not necessary on most violin E strings or steel A, D, G, and C strings. Continue as above with the installation at the peg end. It is always a good idea to put graphite (pencil lead) in the top nut groove when changing strings to aid in the smooth passing of the string over the nut.

For more help with string installation, check out our video:

A close up of a violin tailpiece set up on a violin. The fine tuner has been extended too far and the bottom of the fine tuner is making contact with the top of the violin.

Fine Tuners

Fully-extended fine tuners can damage the wood or varnish (see image to the left).

Guard against tuners touching the top of the instrument by checking the bottom of the tuner frequently.

When the underside of the tuner becomes close to the top of the instrument, loosen the tuner screw until the screw is able to raise or lower the pitch of the string when turned slightly to the left or right. (Bot not so far that the screw falls out!)

After the screw is loosened, use the peg to tune the string back up to the correct pitch. Make sure the tuner screw or nut doesn't become too loose or it may buzz/rattle (check out our blog post on unwanted buzzing).

Four boxwood violin pegs rest on a workbench.

Normal tuning can cause pegs to compress and go out-of-round.
Out-of-round pegs are a common cause for slipping strings and should be fixed by a repairman.

Additionally, pegs are sensitive to changes in humidity and may require extra attention in winter and summer months. In winter months, pegs can dry out which causes slipping. In summer months, pegs can swell which causes sticking or jammed pegs.

Dry, slipping, or sticking pegs can usually be corrected by applying a thin line of "LAVA" bar soap where the peg makes contact in the pegbox.

Chalk and a dropper labeled peg drops are pictured with a red circle with a line through it.
We do not recommend chalk or peg drops pegs because they can cause the peg to jam or freeze in place and can cause permanent damage to the pegbox if they are forced free.

If you are ever unable to free a peg from the pegbox by simply turning the peg by hand, do not attempt to force the peg--take the instrument to an experienced repair-person.

Stuck pegs are typically a quick adjustment that can be done while you wait and the adjustment is typically free at Lashof Violins. The majority of broken pegs brought to our store for replacement were broken when too much force was applied to the peg. The amount of time (and cost) for a repairman to free the peg is negligible when compared to the amount of time and money it may take to replace the peg or repair the scroll or pegbox.

Remember: Pegs & Pliers Do Not Mix!! 
Click here to learn more about slipping pegs.

The top of a violin has separated from the rib of a violin. An arrow points to the separation.
Cracks & Open Seams

Check your instrument regularly for cracks and open seams.

In any quality of instrument, excessive dryness can cause both cracks and open seams (see image to left). This is yet another reason why it is important to humidify your instrument with an instrument humidifier and, if possible, a case humidifier. Humidification is especially important in the winter when the heat in your home will dry out the air.

Have your repair-person glue open seams and cracks as soon as possible to prevent the issues from growing/spreading.

*Do not apply cleaner or to polish an instrument that has open cracks or seams as this may make any future repairs very difficult. Lashof Violins checks instruments for open seams and cracks at no charge to the customer.

There are two photos. The top is a close up of the f-hole of the violin where a post is standing inside with an arrow pointing to the soundpost. The lower photo has the same close up of an f-hole with no soundpost inside.
The Soundpost

The soundpost is the heart and soul of the instrument and may need to be adjusted as the instrument changes with weather conditions.

It is not recommended the musician attempt to adjust their own soundpost. An inexperienced hand can cause serious damage to the inside and top of the instrument. (Lashof Violins offers soundpost resetting as a free service).

The soundpost is held in by tension; there is NO GLUE on your soundpost! This means that if a large amount of tension leaves the top of the instrument--ie. if the bridge falls, if all the strings are too loose, or if too many strings are taken off the instrument at once-- the soundpost will probably fall.

Always lower the tension of the strings if the soundpost falls and bring the instrument to a repairman for an adjustment (see image above).

The tip of a bow and the frog of the bow surround the words: the bow.
The Bow
The bow hair should be loosened after each use to preserve the proper sweep and straightness of the stick and to allow the maximum life on the bow hair.

As with the strings, the bow hair should be changed approximately every 6 months. As hair gets old, it stops producing a clear, resonant tone. Hair may also stretch or shrink with the weather.

In the winter, the bow hair can also dry and shrink due to too little humidity. Bow hair left tightened in extreme weather (cold, humidity below 40%, etc.) can shrink so dramatically that the bow may be permanently damaged. Protect your instrument and bow, humidify your case and its contents.