An Ounce of Prevention

Insure your

In this section we offer advice that will help keep your instrument and bow in good playing condition.

It is generally unwise to attempt to adjust or repair an instrument or bow yourself. Periodically take the instrument and bow to an experienced repair person for a check-up. She/he can quickly look over your instrument or bow; a small repair or minor adjustment early on can often prevent costly major repairs and overhauls down the road.


• Keep the instrument and bow clean and in good repair. A little preventive maintenance goes a long way. An annual or bi-annual check-up is well-advised.

• Protect the instrument and bow from prolonged sun, or sudden changes in temperature or humidity. Care should also be taken to keep them away from heaters, radiators, and air conditioning vents. Never leave any instrument or bow in a car for any length of time.

• Let an instrument or bow have some time to adjust to changes in temperature or humidity before the case is opened. The more extreme the temperature or humidity difference, the longer the time that should be allowed for the instrument and bow to adjust to the change.

• Avoid leaving instruments or bows unattended, on a chair, or hanging from a stand. Never horseplay with or around an instrument or bow.

• Don’t use alcohol or hot water to clean either instrument or bow, as these liquids can easily dissolve the varnish and/or cause damage to the wood.

• Always remove the shoulder rest or pad from violins or violas before putting them back into the case.

• Don’t cram music, folders, or other personal items in the case with the instrument, as they may damage the instrument. Fit small items into the accessory compartments provided.


• Handle violins or violas by the neck or chinrest to minimize varnish wear. Using a cloth or pad between the instrument and the player will also help protect the varnish from perspiration.

• Violinists and violists who perspire profusely can drape a small cloth or pad over the chinrest; cellists and bassists typically use a cloth, or a bib fastened around the neck of the instrument, and draped between the back of the instrument and player’s sternum.

• Be aware of jacket or shirt buttons, dangling earrings, bracelets, watches and jewelry; they are often the cause of scratches, dings and dents.

• Always wipe the body, fingerboard, and strings clean after playing, to remove rosin dust and dirt. Pay particular attention to wiping hand moisture off strings and fingerboard, and removing rosin dust from underneath the strings.

• A 100% cotton cloth picks up dirt most effectively. However, whatever the material, make sure to launder the cloth frequently.

• Placing a small blanket or cloth over the top of the instrument will help protect it, especially if it doesn’t fit snugly in the case.

• Periodically check to make sure that the feet of violin or viola shoulder rests have not worn through the protective rubber tubing. Replacing the tubing when necessary will help preserve the areas where the feet contact the instrument.

• Ideal humidity for string instruments is around 55%; anything below 40% may be cause for concern, although appropriate humidity levels may vary, depending on different areas of the country.

• In winter, when artificial heat drives down humidity levels, a humidifier is advisable in rooms where instruments are kept or stored, to prevent cracking. Individual instrument humidifiers can also be helpful, when properly and consistently used, during winter months when humidity levels are low. However, if an instrument humidifier is used, make sure to wipe any excess moisture off the humidifier before inserting it in the f-hole. Moisture dripping down the inside of the instrument can cause regrettable damage.

• In areas where the humidity levels are high, an arch protector can be made to help inhibit possible arch collapse. This small rectangular block is typically made of folded cardboard, faced on the exterior to avoid damage to the varnish. It is lightly wedged under the fingerboard about halfway between the end of the fingerboard and where the neck joins the body (where the arching is highest), when the instrument is not being played.

• Watch the edges on instruments, especially celli; rough areas or tiny splinters have a tendency to snag on clothing or carpet and compound any damage to the edges or corners.

• Occasionally check under the tailpiece to make sure that the string adjuster lever is not pressing against the belly of the instrument. Over extension of the lever can damage the varnish and wood.

• When tuning strings, gently twist the peg inwards as the peg is turned to ensure firm contact between peg and peg hole; this will minimize peg slippage. A good visual image is to twist the peg into the peg hole as one would twist a cork into a cork bottle, using gentle but firm pressure.

• Each time an instrument is tuned, the top of the bridge has a tendency to be pulled slightly forward (or backwards, when fine tuners are used). Check the instrument each time it is tuned, to make sure the back of the bridge is still perpendicular to the top of the instrument and the bridge feet flush against the belly.

• Should the soundpost fall, do not continue to play the instrument; the pressure of the strings could collapse the unsupported top. Immediately loosen the strings and take the instrument to a repair person at the earliest opportunity.

• Should a crack be discovered, or a corner get knocked off, make sure to keep the exposed edges clean, so any repairs can be as unobtrusive as possible. Do not attempt to glue an open seam or crack; take the instrument to a qualified repair person at the earliest opportunity to avoid further damage.


• Always hold a bow by the frog, not by the tip or hair, and carry it with the tip raised, cradling the fragile head; if the bow is dropped, it is better that the bow falls on its frog than on the delicate tip.

• Avoid contact between fingers and bow hair; oils from the skin on the hair will make it more difficult to draw a clear, resonant tone.

• Always loosen the hair after playing. This keeps it from stretching unduly, preserves the camber (sweep or curvature of the bow) and helps keep the bow from warping.

• Keep the bow clean by wiping the stick with a soft, clean, cotton cloth after playing. Pay particular attention to the area underneath the shaft between hair and stick.

• Never tap or strike the head of the bow against the stand, or swish the bow through the air to remove excess rosin.

• Make sure the bow hair is even and full. When the ribbon of hair becomes uneven due to broken hairs, the bow becomes more susceptible to warpage and needs to be rehaired.

• Should the hair stretch to the point that tightening does not allow sufficient tension for the hair to clear the stick, or if the hair becomes so short that the stick is under constant tension even when the screw is fully loosened, the hair will need to be shortened, lengthened, or the bow rehaired.

• It is unnecessary to rosin the bow every time an instrument is played; too much rosin produces a gritty sound. Apply rosin sparingly and evenly, drawing the bow hair over the rosin in even strokes. Rotating the rosin cake will prevent deep grooves from forming in it.

• To avoid damage from mites and insects which can destroy bow hair, keep your case off the floor, especially carpeted areas or closets. Where this problem is severe, a cedar block placed in the accessory compartment of the case may help repel these pests. Mothballs (napthalene) can be used, placed only in the accessory compartment, not the instrument case cavity. Caution: mothballs may have an adverse effect on the varnish of the instrument.

• On any bow, there is a tendency towards wearing out the edge of the leather thumb grip near the frog, causing the thumb to erode the wood underneath (especially for cellists). The leather thumb grip should be replaced, or a protective leather patch put on, to prevent further damage. Some players use a length of surgical rubber over this area to protect the stick.

• Avoid playing on the side of the stick, which will damage octagonal facets, and wear the stick. Players may vary the tension of the hair to accommodate the type of piece being played; an aggressive, fortissimo passage may require a slightly more tensioned stick.


This section contains information on some of the different types of string available, and the advantages and/or disadvantages of each type of material. String selection for an instrument can be a very personal decision, based not only on the tonal characteristics of the instrument, but also on individual player preference.

Which Strings to Use?

The four basic types of core materials commonly used are:
solid steel, rope or cable core steel, synthetic, and gut. Each type of core material has distinctly different tonal and playing characteristics.

The outer wrapping can be made from a wide variety of materials, including nylon, aluminum, chrome, steel, stainless steel, tinned steel, tungsten, nickel-silver, silver, silver-plate, and gold. Each material provides its’ own unique tonal and tactile characteristics, as well as varying degrees of resistance to wear and corrosion (primarily from contact with the player’s fingers).

The selection of string type should depend on the age, construction, and individual characteristics of each instrument, and the kind of response and tonal qualities required. Many musicians mix different types and gauges of strings to obtain the desired sound and response. Gauge itself does not determine weight or tension, as gut strings are thicker than steel strings, and silver wound strings are thinner than aluminum wound strings.

Listed here are some of the characteristics of various popular types of strings.

Steel Core

Generally used on new instruments because they are economical, and produce a large, bright volume of sound with a minimal break-in period. These strings have a solid steel core with an outer wrapping of stainless steel, chrome, steel, nickel-silver, or aluminum.

The advantages are:

1. Longer lasting than gut or synthetic core strings.

2. Unaffected by changes in temperature and humidity, which affect not only pitch retention, but also string life.

3. Bright, loud response with a minimum of effort.

Rope or Spiral

Rope core, spiral (or cable) core strings combine many of the virtues of gut with the durability and volume of steel core strings. The central core of the string consists of strands of fine wire twisted into a cable. The wire unit is then overlaid with a flatwrap of chrome steel, nickel-silver, silver, or tungsten.

The advantages are:

1. Exhibit much greater durability than gut core strings.

2. Unaffected by fluctuations in humidity or temperature.

3. More flexible in response and range than steel core strings.

Synthetic Core

Synthetic cores strings typically have a nylon composition core, sometimes referred to as perlon, synlon, PET synthetic, or nylon core. In addition to a generally brighter and more focused response, synthetic core strings exhibit many of the characteristics of gut core strings in terms of subtlety and warmth, without gut’s inherent sensitivity to external factors. Natural gut reacts to changes in humidity and temperature by shrinking or swelling, which not only causes the winding to eventually loosen, but affects the pitch and longevity of the string itself. The synthetic core, being inert, is practically unaffected by environmental factors, thereby greatly increasing the playing life of the string. The outer wrap of the string is typically flat wrapped with aluminum, silver plate, nickel-silver, or silver.

The advantages are:

1. Much more durable than gut.

2. Unaffected by changes in temperature and humidity.

3. Response and performance more similar to gut than either rope core or steel core strings.


Gut core strings are associated historically with the oldest type of strings found on musical instruments (and were used on the original Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri instruments).

Strings made from sheep gut are mentioned early in the history of string instruments. Although other materials such as tendons and horsehair were used, the discovery of an Egyptian lute dating from circa 1500 B.C. indicates that the Egyptians were well acquainted with the technique of manufacturing gut strings.

In the following centuries, twisted gut strings were probably the most common type of strings used. It was during the middle of the 17th century – at the time of Stradivari – that metal (initially copper) wound strings started gaining prominence. Eventually, these strings evolved into the modern metal wound strings in use today.

Many professional musicians, especially violinists, still prefer gut core strings on all but the E-string (which normally uses a plain or wound solid steel core string), however, perlon strings have become increasingly popular.

Players adhering to period performance practice also continue to use gut core strings to achieve the correct sound for Baroque and Classical performances.

The advantages are:

1. Excellent flexibility and feel.

2. Warm, brilliant tone without harshness.

3. Sensitive response and subtlety.

Miscellaneous Notes on Strings

• For any given tuning, the thicker the string, the higher the tension; the higher the tension, the louder the string tends to play. However, increased tension can also adversely affect the tone.

• The string diameter of silver wound strings are thinner than corresponding aluminum wound strings, thus it is quite possible for a silver violin G-string to actually be thinner than an aluminum wound violin D-string.

• All Ύ instruments can be equipped with 4/4 size strings, although strings made specifically for Ύ size will, in general, be slightly thinner in diameter. Fractional size strings of one size can be utilized for the next smaller size, i.e. 3/4 can be used for both Ύ and 1/2; Ό can be used for both Ό and 1/8, etc.

• The large size 4/4 viola tailpiece with built-in tuners can be used for 1/10 size cello, provided that the strings have small ball ends.

• Solo bass strings can be substituted for orchestra bass strings when thin gauge is desired.


As of April 3, 2008
The new Greenwich/Cos Cob  address is:
403 East Putnam Avenue
Cos Cob, CT 06807
Telephone: 203.661-9500

The new address for the Riverside School of Music that is located in Greenwich/Cos Cob is:
401 East Putnam Avenue
Cos Cob, CT 06807
Telephone: 203.661-9501

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Our Westport facility is
available by appointment 

25 Davenport Avenue
Westport, CT 06880
Phone: 203.227.9577

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