String Instrument Guide
Humidity: Keeping your instrument in a controlled environment is crucial for its structural health. WInter and extremely dry environments are the most dangerous for instruments. The ideal humidity range is 30%-50% for stringed instruments. Wood contracts and expands with the environment, cracks and open seams are most likely to occur when humidity drops below the ideal range. Keeping the instrument in a well regulated environment is key to prevent expensive crack repairs. Using a humidifier in the home and inside the case can help against dryness. Note: If using a mist style humidifier, keep the instrument far enough away that the water droplets won’t land on the instrument.
In case humidifiers: Stretto and Bovea
Temperature: Just like humans, instruments like to be comfortable. If you’re not comfortable with the temperature then your instrument most likely isn’t comfortable. In extreme heat the varnish can be affected drastically, melting and sticking inside the case is the most frequent problem I see. In some cases, heat can re-melt the glue, causing cracks/seams to open.
Pegs: Turning pegs shouldn’t be a hassle, if they slip or are difficult to turn there might be more to it than what meets the eye. The first trick to uncooperative pegs is to apply chalk: unwind the string and pull the peg out, you’ll see two shiny spots on the peg where it meets the peg box, simply apply chalk all around those parts and retune. If you’re still having trouble then the peg or the peg hole might be mis-shapped and needs to be taken into the shop.
Fingerboard: Over time the strings can create grooves into the fingerboard! These grooves can cause buzzing and difficulty with shifting. This can be addressed by planing/resurfacing the fingerboard.
Bridge: A bridge can tilt with use of the pegs and the fiune tuner(s). Looking from the side of the instrument, a healthy bridge should look straight and not leaning too far forward or back. A few tricks to knowing if your bridge is warped: the back of the bridge (side facing the tailpiece) should be roughly 90 degrees with every aspect of the bridge feet touching the face of the instrument. Typically the front of the bridge (side facing the fingerboard) is cut with a slightly rounded chest to keep the bridge from tilting too much, so don’t be alarmed if you see a slightly rounded front. In some cases, the instrument adjusts significantly enough that the instrument needs two bridges: one for summer and one for winter. This tends to be more common for cellists.
Soundpost: A properly fitting sound post should stand up completely vertical just behind the bridge foot. Bumps to the instrument or the case can shift the post, if left unattended for a period of time, this can cause a sound post crack. This is an expensive and lengthy repair that can be easily avoided. Yearly sound adjustments can ensure proper placement and maximized sound production of your instrument!
Bow: In a perfect world the bow is rehaired every 6 months, 3-4 months for professional/conservatory players. The first tell-tale sign that the hair needs to be changed out is that the player finds themselves applying more rosin than usual to get the desired articulation they are normally used to. Significant loss of hair on a single side of the bow, this is cause for concern as the uneven hair tension can twist and warp the stick. Straightening out the bow can be costly, but easily avoidable if addressed sooner than later. Hard to turn bow screws can be the result of the hair completely stretched out, or improper alignment of the eyelet inside the frog! Broken tips can be easily avoided, we recommend to avoid the following: hitting the ceiling (or ceiling fan) with your up-bows, using the bow as a pointer and wacking it against the music stand, as a cat toy, quickly removing/placing in/out of the case, or as a bow and arrow/pencil.
In Short: Wiped down your instrument and the stick of the bow after every practice session to prevent sticky rosin build up. Generally, 6 month check-ups are highly encouraged to keep the instrument and bow in peak performing shape. This frequency can catch any potential hairline cracks from expanding, ensuring all the seams are closed, bridge and post are in the proper place, and that the bow has a fresh hank of hair!