Looking After Your Instrument
If something breaks or cracks please please please do not use super glue, hot glue gun or other glues to make temporary repairs. It is best not to play as the vibrations can wear the cracked wood and make it more difficult for the repairer. Bring your instrument along to a professional repairer as soon as possible. Here are some tips.
1: Cracks. These often appear in the belly, their are many reasons why they happen. Keep the crack clean and free from rosin. Do not touch the crack with your fingers as you can wear away the wood or transfer body oils to the bare wood. If you cannot have it seen to immediately take a strip of masking tape, first stick it to a cotton T shirt to remove the sharpness before covering the crack.
2: Rib Cracks.
The same applies for rib cracks. See photo at bottom of this page showing clamping of a full length crack in a violin belly.
16 clamps and 18 wedges.
3: Peg box Cracks. Cracks across the pegbox holes are caused by pushing in the pegs. If you find yourself constantly doing this bring your instrument along to a luthier for a check over. Their is nothing you can do but have this repair done by a professional. This repair requires bushing the holes back to standard and new pegs fitted. The photo right shows the holes filled and retouched to match the figure and varnish texture.
Other cracks in the pegbox are most likely caused by no clearance for the string between the peg and the wood at the bottom of the pegbox.
4: Pegs and how they work.
Good fitting pegs will be slightly tighter in the pegbox on the thicker part of the taper than the thin part. When the reverse occurs the pegs stick and will often jam or break through the string hole. Their is nothing you can do, they either work or don't. Adjustments are made by truing the holes with a tapered reamer and fitting new pegs shaped with a matching peg-shaper. Then a final adjustment is made to make them tighter on the collar side. Peg paste will make the pegs slip, peg paste combined with chalk dust will make them grip. Never use the rosin off your bow to stop pegs slipping as this will have the same effect as glue.
5: Fingerboards. Wear in the fingerboard can be dressed by reshooting the fingerboard. This can be done a few times but eventually the fingerboard will become too light causing the overall sonority to change. This happens because the body mode or frequency goes out of sync with the Air mode or frequency of the corpus. A new fingerboard will correct this. If the fingerboard comes loose or falls off, immediately lower the tension of the strings to prevent the neck warping or breaking. Most of the the strength of the neck is in the fingerboard. Just leave enough tension to hold the bridge which in turn holds the soundpost in position.
6: Edgework and Corners: Sometimes these can become worn down so much so they need replacing. The corners protect the rib joints where the upper or lower bouts join the C bouts. If neglected you may have a more costly repair to the ribs. If an edge or a corner breaks off save the broken piece and bring it along to your luthier.The photo left shows four corners which have been repaired and rounded to suit the age of the insturment but not retouched.
7: Necks and Neck root: Should the neck become unglued their is nothing you can do but have it repaired immediately. Sometimes an accident happens where the neck becomes detached in this case most likely the button on the back will break off at the purfling. This requires a button graft and is much more expensive than just fitting back a neck. The photo right shows a button graft which became detached when removing a back.
If the neck breaks you will need a scroll graft. This repair would only be done on expensive instruments because of the cost in doing this repair.
8: Scroll:Sometimes they become chipped. Keep the chip and have it glued on by a luthier.
9: Bridges: The most common fault is warping. Every time you tune at the pegs or replace a string the bridge tends to pull forward. If not checked the bridge will warp. When changing strings lubricate the bridge groove with dry soap. Also the nut can be lubricated with graphite ( a soft pencil ). A quality bridge should last a long time with care. These bridges are treated to make them harder which highers the frequency. The best wood is used with lots of figure or medullary rays. The bridge should have spotted figure on the front and long medullary rays to the rear. These medullary rays transmit the vibrations from the string to the belly and so the back of the bridge is kept flat and the front shaped. The grain will be horizontal to the belly. The bridge quality and fitting can have the biggest effect on sonority than any of the exterior parts. Thinning the ankles allows the bridge to move from side to side as you play across the strings. The bridge also moves forward and back when playing. Opening of the kidney shapes will open up the sound also the arch between the feet should reflect the arching of the belly. The strings should not be deep in grooves, rather they be on top of the wood at least 2/3 of the thickness of the string showing above the wood. The first string may sit on a piece of parchment stuck on with dare I say "super glue" the glue hardens the parchment and protect the bridge from being cut by the string.
10: Buzzes Nine times out of ten a buzz will be caused by something loose on the outside of the violin or part of your clothing ie buttons, studs & jewellery . A faint buzz can be hard to track down and is better left until it gets louder. In very dry circumstances you can get a buzz from an internal stud or lining that might be partially loose. Move the instrument or expose it to some humidity for a few days. The source of a buzz may not necessarily be where it sounds the loudest. For example on a double bass if the string groove in the nut is causing a buzz it will be amplified down low at the bridge. Here are some reasons for buzzes.
String windings frayed.
Chinrest bracket loose.
Chinrest touching the tailpiece
Loose adjuster screw or lock nut
String groove in the nut, bridge or fingerboard.
Loose belly or back.
Badly fitting bridge.
Badly fitting soundpost
Using a soft cloth to remove the rosin dust should be the only cleaning done by a musician. To my knowledge their is no commercial cleaner that will clean off rosin which has stuck fast. Most commercial cleaners used will end up with a sticky mess. This job is best left to a luthier as the chemical used is dangerous to breath in and requires a license to stock, it cannot be sold to the general public. Rosin is made from gum resins (colophoney ) and is also used in the making of varnish. So the rosin from your bow if not cleaned off the instrument regularly will eventually become part of the varnish. This only happens when the instrument is never cleaned over long periods ie a year. Vigorous cleaning of this rosin usually around the bridge area should not be done as you will damage the original varnish.
Often advise is given to clean the instrument with a damp cloth but be careful. First dust off the loose rosin with a dry soft cloth. Loose rosin picked up by a damp cloth can be abrasive, also some varnish's are water soluble. Try a small area fist say the button on the back. Nearly all solvents will damage or change the appearance of varnish. Especially the cheaper starter outfits which are spirit based, don't put meths in any form near these instruments. If you do choose to use one of the commercial cleaners never use it over an open crack, if it gets into an open crack the luthier may have to use bleach to clean before gluing. obviously never allow it to touch the strings or bow hair. Cleaning the neck.
Often I am asked to clean and varnish the neck. I will always refuse to varnish a neck. An oiled and polished neck is much better for sliding your thumb along. The varnish I make is made from fossil and gum resins in linseed oil and has venetian turpentine or elemi added which keeps the varnish soft evan after many years. This is one of the requirements of varnish for better sonority, a warm hand will not slide along a varnished neck. Better to have a nice patina from oiled and polished wood. Cleaning strings
My advise is don't as the commercial cleaners can do more damage to the varnish should it come in contact. If you are going to clean your strings take them off the instrument. Pirastro make a string cleaner also you could use pure alcohol ( I'd rather drink it than clean my strings ) or an "eau de Cologne" use this together with 0000 steel wool. Remember take the strings off and maybe two at a time to prevent the soundpost falling. Inside the instrument
The inside can be cleaned with a small handful of dry rice inserted through the FF holes and swirled around. This picks up and dislodges any dust or foreign body's. Shake out through the FF holes. A ball of fluff can often be found inside, referred to as a mouse. Use a piece of wire to catch the mouse and gently pull out through the wide part of the FF hole.
12: Set-up effecting Sonority
A good set up in other words the fitting of strings from pegs to endpin can enhance the overall sonority. This involves good fitting and adjustment to:- pegs,top nut, fingerboard, bridge, tailpiece, tailgut, endpin and soundpost. 13: Cello set-up
Cello's are prone to wolf notes and usually occur around the E or F note. A wolf note occours when the second harmonic is louder than the fundamental or primary harmonic. This can be so bad as to make the bow jerk while playing and of course the sound is totally undesirable. The wolf can be controlled in many ways. The simplest way is to attach an eliminator to the string behind the bridge. I prefer to us the set-up to get rid of the wolf. Changing a string or the tailpiece can be enough to expel the wolf. Sometimes I have to change the end pin to a carbon type or now their is a new design in endpins specially to get rid of the wolf. These are made from titanium are hollow and have a series of holes drilled at various intervals, by rotating the endpin and aligning a set of holes will get rid of the wolf. Can't wait to try one of these.
Badly fitting endpins will damage ribs and bottom blocks. Cello endpins or endpin spike can have lots of problems. These will nearly always be the cause of a buzz if not extended enough. The plugs often become cracked or the threads for locking the pin become striped. If the lock nut or the thread does not hold, in an emergency you can use a sticky tape wrapped around the pin many times to prevent it slipping through. The energy absorbed by heavy metal endpins is quite considerable and a cello fitted with a carbon endpin will have a far greater sonority. Always retract the endpin when your instrument is laying on its side for safety and preventing damage to your instrument.
Bow hair should you clean or not. I would not recommend washing the hair. If water gets into the wedges or the stick it can cause damage. If you never touch the hair with your hands it should stay reasonably clean. When should you have your bow rehaired. If their is not enough hair to play with you have left it too long to have a rehair. When the hair keeps breaking off from one side and you have lost about 1/4 the amount the bow will start pulling to the other side and if left for too long a period may remain warped. Usually having a rehair straightens it back. If the hair and wedge in the head keeps popping out it could be a badly fitting wedge or their is not enough hair to hold it in. Also check the face of the head, sometimes the mammoth face cracks, have this seen to immediately as the wedge will put pressure on the side of the head and might crack the head.
Tightening the hair:
When you tighten the hair you should have a gap about the size of a pencil between the bow stick and hair. A larger gap makes it difficult to control the bow. Over tightening will make the bow stick straight.
The frog should move 4m.m. to 5m.m. back from the leather lapping to have the correct tension, more than this might mean the wedge has slipped in the frog.
A good tip to save damage to the leather lapping is to put a rubber pencil grip on over the leather. This will protect the lapping from your thumb nail and also makes your grip more comfortable.
Not tightening the bow enoough:
This will damage the the bow stick and wear or break the hair:
If the head of a bow breaks:
Splicing a new head on to the original stick will make it good. However this repair reduces the value of the bow greatly.
Cleaning you bow:
Before putting your bow away use a soft cloth to dust off the rosin from the stick.
If it has rosin caked on bring it to your Luthier for a professional cleaning. The chemical used is dangerous to breath in and requires a license to stock, it cannot be sold to the general public.