Pre-School Maintenance for Stringed Instruments
About two weeks before school starts, students and parents spend copious amounts of time and effort on back-to-school shopping. That begs the question: how many students upgrade and repair their stringed instruments before heading back to orchestra class? If you haven’t thought about it yet, consider doing a little back-to-school maintenance. Below is a list of common repairs I recommend to my students:
- Get new Strings – Look for the following indications of string wear: Squeaking, unraveling (usually at the nut or the bridge of the instrument), loss of resonance/general dull-sounding, or inability to tune.
- Bow Hair – If you are getting a squeaking, abrasive sound from your strings, ask your private teacher or luthier if you need a bow re-hair. Standard re-hairs will run around $50. The trade-off is drastic improvement in tone production.
- Bridge – ever seen a bridge that looks like a Picasso painting of a question mark? Even a slight warp in the bridge can cause a variety of tone problems such as buzzing, rattling, and pitch bending. Look at the bridge (or have it looked at) to make sure it is in good working condition. If you need a new bridge, consider getting a bridge cut specifically for your instrument. $150 is standard for cello bridges, less for violins and violas.
- Fingerboard – Over time, grooves develop along the string lines of the fingerboard. The grooves are caused by the natural vibration of the string. However, if your bridge is ill-fitting, the grooves develop more quickly. Grooves in the fingerboard keep the string from being fully “cut” (shortened) at the fingertip. This allows the string to vibrate too freely, resulting in a buzzing or rattling sound. A professional luthier can remove the grooves by planing your fingerboard for you.
- General upgrades – Keep a list of general upgrades. Throughout the year, add to this list when you notice a problem, or find an accessory that might improve the performance of your instrument. As you get closer to school, consider your list and decide if you have the resources to upgrade these parts. Your bridge might not be warped, but perhaps the bridge sits too high for playing to be comfortable? Or maybe you have a significant wolf-tone in your instrument and want to explore possibilities for improvement? Take your instrument to your luthier and ask them what they recommend having fixed. They can help you prioritize your repairs. This is also a great way to determine if you need a full upgrade to a new instrument.
As an added bonus to being prepared for school this fall, remember that small repairs and routine maintenance in the interim can drastically reduce costs over the long-term!