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Care of Instruments
There's a reason why a number of Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri instruments are close to three hundred years old and are still being played: They have been lovingly cared for by their owners. Whether you own a golden age Strad, a Mirecourt shop violin or a well-made student instrument, the responsibility of caring for it lies with you, the player.
Because string instruments are made from wood, they require special treatment. The wood is very much alive (even though the tree has died) and reacts to temperature changes. For this reason, you must be aware of seasonal changes in your instrument which include temperature and humidity.
An instrument is also a mathematical marvel of complex numerical relationships and a bit of magic. For your instrument to sound its very best, all of the relationship must work together. This includes an excellent set-up (bridge, soundpost, tailpiece and fingerboard) by a qualified luthier, with well-fitted pegs, quality strings that your violin 'likes,' and daily practice.
Always keep your instrument in its case when it is not being played. Invest in a good case to protect your instrument.
Protect your instrument from extreme temperatures. Cold can cause the wood to crack or split. Cold can change the chemistry of glue, making it release its hold. Heat softens the glue, causing openings. Heat can also melt your varnish and do ugly, irreparable damage. Never leave your instrument in a car in any weather. Most insurance companies will not honor a claim if an instrument was left in a car. A good guideline is to keep your instrument as comfortable temperature-wise as you like to be.
After practicing or performing, always wipe the rosin dust (and fingerprints) from the instrument. Be careful to get under the strings between the f-holes. Rosin contains chemicals which can ruin your varnish if left on the instrument. And wipe off your strings. Clean strings vibrate much better than dirty ones--and last longer.
Once a year, have your instrument adjusted by a qualified luthier and cleaned by her/him if needed. Never use any type of alcohol to clean your instrument. And no furniture polish, please.
When changing strings, place the instrument on its back (with a towel or soft padding under the instrument), then remove and replace one string at a time. This keeps your bridge and soundpost in place.
Watch the angle of your bridge. As you tune your instrument, tightening the strings pulls the bridge forward. If the bridge is not kept straight, it will warp and/or break. Ask your luthier or teacher to show you how to straighten the bridge.
If the sound of your instrument changes, take it to your luthier for inspection. With weather changes (and age), the glue dries out or softens, causing your instrument to develop a seam opening. This is a fairly common problem. Your luthier will clean out the old glue, put in fresh and clamp the instrument until it dries. Take care of open seams immediately to avoid any cracking or warping of the wood.
If the fingerboard should come unglued--or the neck unglued, immediately loosen the strings to take the tension off the instrument. Take it to the violin shop right away for repair.
Any problems you may have with an instrument, such as slipping pegs, a change in sound, a broken bridge or fallen soundpost, should be evaluated and repaired by a qualified luthier as soon as possible. By talking with your luthier, you will learn many other details about potential problems.
Insure your instrument. Depending on the value of the instrument, you may want to place a rider on your home insurance policy or insure it with a musical instrument insurance company such as Clarion or Heritage. An update appraisal or receipt will be required.
And do not let other people play or handle your instrument.