Fiddler and Violin Care 101

Basic Fiddle Care as If It Were a Violin

The source of the fiddle care quotes is Strings Magazine Guide to Common Sense Instrument Care. This is a 32 page booklet I got for $4.95 from Strings Magazine. It was published 1990. Sub Titled,  “How to Look After Your Violin (or Viola or Cello) and Bow.”

This little booklet is about fiddle care.
This little booklet is about fiddle care.


For the sake of completeness i have included all the subheadings in brackets [Like This]. Any quotes following those signals is directly from the booklet. It begins [Background] by going into great detail about how the instrument is built and put together. Lots of photos and images of a violin being made with inside images of it. Next comes [Preventing Accidents].

“The vast amount of the repairs that find their way into a shop are the kind that could have been prevented b the owner. The rest are due to weather, or the deterioration of older repairs. The best way to prevent a costly repair is to always keep in mind that your instrument was designed to be remarkably sturdy, but is, after all, made of very thin wood. Don’t take it for granted–like a small child, once you forget it, it will end up in trouble. When you aren’t playing it, put it in the case, rather than leaving it lying about. When it is in the case, make sure you secure the latches on the lid. If you don’t, you might forget it is open and pick it up, sending the instrument tumbling to the ground.”

Preventing Bad Fiddle Care Flubs

And, yes, I have seen students pick up a case with an unfastened lid, with the result of the violin tumbling out. Maybe it’s a good thing that cheap beginner violins are made with thicker wood than fine violins. In the times this happened no damage was done more than the bridge being knocked out of position. And that, I can fix.

I’ve had two brutal accidents happen to my own instruments. One was a time when I was teaching at Music Matters. I thought I had placed the violin carefully in the open case. But apparently not. As I turned away to pick up something, it slipped out, falling down, and hit the bottom end on a metal leg of the bench the case was on. The resulting crack looked awful. Luckily, my luthier John Importuno was able to repair the violin so completely that the damage was not visible after the repair.

The second event actually happened earlier. I was in a students home for a lesson and in a playful mood showed her a trick one of my students did with his bow. I now believe I did not observe him closely enough. I ended up throwing my bow down on the tip, which broke off. The repair was good enough to use the bow, but took away about $500 in value. I still mentally kick myself when I think about this.

Fiddle Care Investments

[Selecting a Case] Summary: get the best case you feel you might need.

[Insurance] Not many casual fiddlers get insurance for their violin. You may be able to put it on your homeowner’s policy. If I had a name violin, I might get serious insurance.

[General Maintenance] “The best approach is to stop dirt building up in the first place.” This means mainly rosin and dirt that comes from your hands or neck. Most professional violinists wipe their violin off with a good cloth, micro-fiber is a good choice, every time they complete a session.

[The Repair Shop] “A lot of work that is done in a repair shop falls in the category of basic maintenance. Fitting and adjusting bridges and sound posts, gluing open bouts, planing the fingerboard, retouching worn varnish.” These are tasks that can be done expertly by a good luthier. I’ve tried some of them. A few times I fitted a bridge to a violin. It was not a good job and it took forever. I don’t do it any more.

[The Bridge] [The Sound Post] [Open Bouts] [Retouching] [The Fingerboard] [Pegs] All repair shop items. All these are in the category of work I have had the luthier do.

[Buzzes] “Buzzes are the bane of the musician’s (and the repairer’s) life. They might be caused by something as simple as a loose E tuner, or as serious as an unglued patch on the inside. The frustration part of it is isolating the culprit.” I’ve helped students with buzzing violins. Often it is the chin rest touching the tail piece just enough to buzz. Many times it has been a loose fine tuner. Occasionally a bad string is at cause. The worst cause is the open bout. That has to go to the repair person.

[Strings] [The Bow] [Repairs]

[In Sum] “All you really have to do to keep your instrument and bow in good condition is to be careful. Violins are remarkably durable when treated well, and they respond to care. If you exercise a minimum amount of caution and prevention, you will never have to think about finding another. You can save all that energy for practicing and playing.” Good advice.

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