Skip to main content

String Instrument Care and Maintenance

**Very Important for ALL Instruments** Always refer any repair needs (no matter how minor they may seem) to a qualified instrument repair technician. Many times a well-meaning family member (including one who may be quite skilled with tools) has ended up causing a much more extensive (and expensive) professional repair to be necessary after trying a home repair. Often what may seem to be a "horrible calamity" is something that can be handled rather easily and somewhat inexpensively by an experienced repair technician.   Musical instruments and their components are made out of very special materials and are held together with particular types of glue (not available at any home improvement store).


Supplies, Accessories & Maintenance – String Instruments

All Orchestra players using school instruments will be provided with a case, a bow, a shoulder rest (violin & viola) a floor stop (cello & bass).  Students will be required to replace any of these items that are lost or damaged.  The music department will replace strings and provide rosin for school owned instruments.


1. Never let the instrument get very hot or very cold. Excessive heat can irreparably damage to the varnish and cause the natural adhesive holding the instrument together to melt. Excessive cold and/or dryness (as well as rapid climatic changes) can cause severe cracks which are costly to repair. A good way to judge whether it is safe to leave the instrument in a particular environment is to ask yourself if you would be comfortable being in the same place as the instrument for the same amount of time. If you would be at all uncomfortable, do not leave the instrument in that environment. One of the more common mistakes is leaving an instrument inside a vehicle parked outside. In the sun, the inside of a car can easily reach temperatures over 120 degrees in just 5 to 10 minutes...absolute murder to the instrument.


2. Keep the instrument and bow in the case or bag when not in use. Instruments and bows left sitting out can be sat upon or tripped over. (It happens more often than you think!) When unpacking a cello or bass from its storage bag, always remove the bow from its pouch first and set it aside. Taking the instrument out first leaves the bow vulnerable to breakage when the bag is dropped to the floor. Reverse the process when packing the instrument up, putting the bow away last.


3. Cleanliness is important. After each playing, use a soft cloth to gently remove all rosin residue from the instrument (top plate, fingerboard, and bridge) and the stick of the bow. If rosin is left on the instrument, over time it will stick to the varnish and become very difficult to remove. There are commercial rosin remover kits available, but even the best of these can harm some instrument finishes. It is best to avoid the problem altogether. A positive side effect of always cleaning off your instrument after each use is that you will only rarely have to polish the body to keep it looking good.


4. Do not overtighten the bow. The stick of the bow is supposed to be curved toward the hair at all times. Under no circumstances should the bow be tightened so much that the curve of the bow stick disappears, or curves away from the hair. This can permanently damage the bow and make it unplayable. Always loosen the bow hair tension after playing and for storage. Avoid loosening the hair so much that the hairs hang limply. You only need to relax the tension off the stick. If a bow is left under playing tension during storage eventually the bow stick will lose its "spring" and will not be able to maintain the hair at a playable tension. If this happens, it often means the bow is ruined. A skilled bow repair technician or luthier can "re-spring" a high quality pernambuco bow, but the process is delicate and costly, and the bow is usually never quite the same again.


5. Avoid handling the bow hair directly with your fingers. Natural oil from your hands will transfer to the hair and shorten its useful life. Also, avoid using too much rosin. Once new bow hair has been rosined thoroughly, just a few strokes of rosin is sufficient before each playing session (often even less). Bass players face the greatest risk of over rosining, as most bass rosins require far less to be applied than for other instrument bows. A common symptom of too much rosin is a "raspy" sound that may even sound like a buzzing string.


6. Keep in mind that the only thing holding the bridge to the instrument is the tension of the strings. Under no circumstances should the bridge ever be glued to the top plate of the instrument. It should be positioned so that the side of the bridge facing the tailpiece is at a 90 degree angle to the top of the instrument. When in any doubt about any bridge or instrument adjustment, it is always best to err on the side of caution and not attempt to make any adjustments yourself. Your teacher or professional instrument specialist can usually make small bridge adjustments safely, quickly and easily