Sunday, March 17, 2013

Instrument Maintenance

As musicians, it's important to take every step possible to sound the best we possibly can, a process which absolutely begins with instrument maintenance. The things is, so many musicians don't keep their instruments in top shape, leaving strings on for too long or failing to use compound on their pegs. Below are some of the basics of string instrument care:

Generally: change every 4-6 weeks, depending on the amount of playing and the type of strings
Before a performance/competition/audition: one week, to allow time for the strings to finish stretching, lose the metallic sound, and for any mishaps [my 5-day old E string snapped in my face last night]
Be aware of: wrapping the string over itself to prevent slipping and making sure the strings are a close to the pegbox as possible

Generally: wipe clean every day after finishing playing with a cloth; clean with an alcohol wipe [making sure to cover the body of the violin with a cloth! just one drop of alcohol will permanently remove the varnish on the wood] when changing strings
Before a performance/competition/audition: as needed
Be aware of: ridges that form in the fingerboard, creating a "bumpy" feel; this means it's time for the fingerboard to be planed [a process which entails shaving off a thin layer of the fingerboard to create a smooth surface]

Generally: use peg compound on the parts of the peg that touch the wooden holes of the scroll to prevent slipping and/or sticking. I like to do this when I change my strings, so generally every 4-6 weeks
Before a performance/competition/audition: as needed
Be aware of: a clicking sound when turning the pegs; this means that the peg needs compound and is grinding against the wooden holes of the scroll, something that speeds up the decay of said holes [side note: the holes for violin pegs become too large after a long period of time, as the turning of the pegs wears away the wood; these holes are then filled in a process called bushing, which entails creating new holes for the pegs. This can only be done about 3 times in a scroll, so take care to avoid the unnecessary wear!)
*if you're using the fine tuning pegs with internal gears, you don't need to use peg compound or worry about bushing. lucky you.

Generally: check the bridge every day after finishing playing to make sure that it is properly placed
Before a performance/competition/audition: as needed
Be aware of: the bridge when changing strings; when initially tuning the strings, make sure to turn the pegs very slowly so the bridge doesn't make any sudden movements. Make sure to pinch the bridge back into its proper position, as the multiple tunings required of new strings will bring it forward

Sound Post
Generally: depending on the temperament of the instrument, every 6 months to 1 year [or anytime work is done on the instrument which requires removing the bridge]
Before a performance/competition/audition: as needed
Be aware of: the sound post when the instrument is sounding its best; take note of its position, its proximity to the label, etc. so you have a visual idea of its placement in addition to an auditory knowledge of the sound

Wood/Body of the Instrument
Generally: clean rosin residue every day after finishing playing with a cloth; once or twice a year bring to a luthier for a professional cleaning
Before a performance/competition/audition: clean with instrument polish [from an instrument shop, MacGyvered concoctions]
Be aware of: any nicks or scratches; be sure to have your luthier fix them as soon as possible and don't try to cover them up with anything yourself. Also check for open seams; a frequent place where my violin comes unglued is on the lower rib beneath the chin rest and I immediately notice a huge difference in the sound

Bow Rehair
Generally: every 6-8 weeks, depending on the amount of playing
Before a performance/competition/audition: at least one week before to allow time for any mishaps [it rained the last time I rehaired my bow in Los Angeles; the bow hair length was cut for a drier climate, which meant that in the humidity of the rain the hair was way too long]
Be aware of: the humidity of your climate; drier climates need longer hair, while humid ones need shorter hair. Also, ROSIN. Use it. In the hall, it makes a huge difference.

I hope this was somewhat illuminating as to what goes on with caring for these irreplaceable string instruments, and perhaps a friendly reminder to those who either consciously or unconsciously forgo one or two of these steps!

Until next time,

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