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
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
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
Avoid leaving instruments or bows unattended, on a
chair, or hanging from a stand. Never horseplay with
or around an instrument or bow.
Dont 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
Always remove the shoulder rest or pad from
violins or violas before putting them back into the
Dont 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
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
between the back of the instrument and players
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 doesnt 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
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
Should the soundpost fall, do not continue to play
the pressure of the strings could collapse the
unsupported top. Immediately loosen the strings and
take the instrument to a repair person at the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 players 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.
Generally used on new instruments because they are
produce a large, bright volume of sound with a
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
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
The advantages are:
1. Exhibit much greater durability than gut
2. Unaffected by fluctuations in humidity or
3. More flexible in response and range than
steel core strings.
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 guts 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
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
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
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
The new address for the Riverside School
of Music that is located in Greenwich/Cos Cob
401 East Putnam Avenue
Cos Cob, CT 06807
Click for directions
Our Westport facility is
available by appointment ONLY:
25 Davenport Avenue
Westport, CT 06880
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