Caring for Your Instrument and Bow
Caring for Your Instrument and Your Bow
These brief tips are designed to help you maintain your instrument and bow in the best possible playing condition and preserve their beauty. Following them will help you minimize expenses related to your instrument and maximize the pleasure you get from playing it. (If you or your school rent your instrument and bow from a shop, refer to the Rental Agreement to find out what adjustments may be covered.)
As a general rule, you should take your instrument to your luthier and your bow to your archetier (bow rehair and restoration specialist) at least once a year for a check-up. Some shops even offer a free set of new strings as part of the annual visit. When the seasons change – the start of cold or hot weather – are also good times to ask your luthier or archetier to look over your instrument or bow and make sure it is in top playing shape.
- Accidents Avoid accidents. Leaving your instrument or bow unattended on a chair or the floor or in the hands of your little brother or sister is asking for trouble. Always keep your instrument and bow in their case when you are not playing. If you need to get your instrument or bow repaired, find out whether the cost is covered by your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy.
- Adjustments Leave adjustments to your luthier or archetier. The soundpost and bridge are sensitive contributors to the sound of your instrument. Other than replacement, adjustments usually can be made by your luthier while you wait. Replacing a single broken string is something you may feel comfortable doing yourself, but get help from your teacher or luthier at least the first time or two. When it is time to put on a new set, be sure to talk to your teacher or your luthier first so he/she can make sure the bridge is returned to its ideal position.
If your bow hair comes loose from the stick, the thumb leather starts to come off, the frog gets wobbly, or the stick seems warped, take the bow to your archetier. Those kinds of repairs are not do-it-yourself candidates.
- Traveling If you travel by plane with your instrument, you are allowed to carry the case on the plane with you. Do not let the airline check your instrument with the baggage. Carry with you the US Department of Transportation regulations that require domestic airlines to allow you to stow the instrument case in the overhead compartment as part of your carry-on allowance. Those regulations can be found at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOT-OST-2014-0231-0001. Loosen the strings slightly before you get on the plane.
- Shipping In the unusual circumstance that you need to ship your instrument and bow, consult your luthier for packing and carrier recommendations.
- Insurance Be sure your instrument and bow are covered by your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy if possible. Take photographs of your instrument – front, back, sides, label through the f-holes, and any marks such as knots in the wood. In the case of the bow, photograph the head (the tip), the frog, the whole bow, and any maker’s mark on the stick. These can be handy in identifying the instrument and bow in the event of theft or misplacing it. Even some very famous players have left their violins and bows in taxi cabs!
- Changes in Sound If you notice your instrument just doesn’t sound right – maybe it has developed a buzz --, let your luthier check for issues such as open seams (where the top or back and sides come together). These can be avoided for the most part by keeping the instrument in a climate-regulated place, e.g. a room in your house other than a closet. Never leave the instrument or bow in a car which even on a mild day can get too hot, resulting in open seams among other structural problems and damage to the varnish or in the case of the bow, warping of the stick.
- Tight or Loose Pegs Pegs and the wood of the pegbox expand and contract at different rates in response to humidity changes. If pegs get loose and don’t hold or get tight and won’t turn, bring the instrument to your luthier who will make the appropriate adjustments. Applying a liquid lubricant which may soak into the maple or the ebony likely will require expensive repairs.
- Strings Strings – just like shoes -- need to be broken in and they do wear out. They should be changed every 6 months to a year -- depending on how much you practice! If you like, your luthier will help you identify the strings that make your instrument sound its best.
- Cleaning Cleaning your instrument, strings, and bow stick should be done with a clean dry cloth after each playing so that rosin and body oils do not accumulate and require cleaning by your luthier or archetier. Do not use cleaning liquids of any kind. No matter how careful you are, some will get on the instrument or bow stick and damage the finish.
- Bow Hair Always loosen your bow hair after playing. Find a way to remind yourself, such as tying a short piece of brightly colored yarn to the clasp on the lid of your case that holds your bow in place.
Touching the horsehair on your bow will transfer body oils to the hair and adversely affect its ability to set the strings to vibrating properly. Bow hair should be changed every 6 months to a year, depending on how often and long you play. Bow hairing is an art in itself and Fiddlestick Bow Shop has years of experience in both rehairs and restorations.
- Service Outside Austin If you are planning to take your instrument on an out-of-town trip, say to play a tune for your proud grandmother, check with your luthier and archetier in advance and see if they can recommend a qualified colleague near your destination in case your instrument or bow needs adjustment or repair while you are away from home.
- Oops! Here are some common problems that arise.
o “My bridge fell over/broke in half/looks warped.” Loosen the strings and see your luthier. Your teacher may be able to help you with a fallen bridge, but loosen the strings until you can talk to him or her.
o “There’s a piece of wood rattling around inside my instrument.” It’s probably the soundpost. Again, loosen the strings as soon as you discover the problem and see your luthier who can return the post to its proper place.
o “The dog bit off the corner of my instrument.” Or, if you’re not worried about being yelled at, “I dropped my instrument and a corner came off.” If a piece of your instrument breaks off, find the piece and bring it with the instrument to your luthier. Gluing back a piece of wood is a lot easier and less expensive than carving a new one. Don’t try gluing the piece back on yourself – that requires the special glue your luthier uses.
Your instrument and bow are extensions of your body. Take care of them in the same way you would a broken arm or a leg. Your luthier and archetier are your instrument’s and bow’s doctors. Rely on him or her to help you keep your instrument and bow healthy and your playing fun.