Instrument Care and Maintenance
Never attempt to repair an instrument unless you are a
Never touch the bow hair with your fingers. Natural oils on
your skin will damage the hair. Make sure you do not
over-tighten the bow hair, and always loosen the bow tension
after playing. Rehairing: A very freshly rehaired bow may
produce more side noise (a hissy or gritty sound) than a bow
that has been “played in”. Sound: Two things can influence
a bow’s sound quality. The type of rosin and the type and
quality of the bow hair.
A correctly maintained bridge can last for many years. The
position of the bridge is very important. The back side of the
bridge should stand at a right angle to the top. The feet of the
bridge should be seated evenly on the top. Problems with
bridges occur mainly when strings are loose and need to be
tuned. Adjustment: Always have a professional adjust the
bridge. String Height: The bridge can be adjusted
according to the player’s preference.
In general, cases with suspension are preferable. Suspension
means that the case is in contact with the instrument at the
upper and lower (neck and chinrest area), leaving most of the
instrument suspended in the air. In a non-suspension case, the
main contact point with the instrument is at the center of the
back, where the sound post stands. A strong impact to the case
can create a post crack in the top or back. To keep the
bridge from hitting the inside of the case, make sure the
instrument has straps that hold the neck down. Also, make sure
the bows are secured in the case to prevent instrument damage.
Inside your case: Suggested items to store in your case
include the following: rosin, spare strings, pencil, cloth,
tuning device, and chinrest. Secure items in your case so
they will not rattle around and cause possible damage to your
Cleaning & Polishing
Always wipe the rosin from the instrument and wood of bow
before putting them away. Both the instrument and bow easily
pick up dust, rosin, oils, and dirt, and it is best to clean
them with a cloth (something that is lint-free and will not
scratch the instrument). Make sure to wash the cloth regularly,
as dirt and rosin build up. Make sure you do not use
commercial cleaners on your instrument (pledge, etc.) They often
contain solvents and abrasives that can damage the varnish.
Holding & Handling your instrument
Never leave your instrument on a chair or allow it to lean
on anything. Always leave the instrument in its case.
Always loosen the bow when finished playing. Leaving the hair
tight will warp or break the stick and will also cause the bow
hair to stretch.
During low humidity, cracking may occur. Use a Dampit or
humidifier in your instrument when humidity is below 35%.
Keep the instrument away from radiators or other heat sources.
All instruments and bows should be insured against damage.
This can be done on a homeowner’s or renter’s policy. Be sure to
ask for an “all risks” or "marine rider" policy that will cover loss in case of a
fire or theft.
Your instrument’s pegs may slip from time to time, which is not
necessarily an indication that the pegs do not fit; pegs shrink
when humidity drops. Turn the peg with normal pressure into the
hole. Never force a peg into the hole when the peg is slipping,
because it may crack the peg box. If the peg still does not
hold, it may be too lubricated. In this case, remove the peg and
wipe off the excess lubricant with paper tissue and denatured alcohol. Your instrument’s pegs may also stick at times. In this case,
lubricate them with peg compound, but use it sparingly because it
may build up and cause the pegs to slip. If the pegs are too
tight due to swelling from increased humidity, don’t try to tune
them up. The peg might suddenly move and you will break the
string. If you use more force than usual, apply it in the
downward portion and pull the peg out as you turn it- then try
to tune it up again. In most cases, it is always best to let a
professional help to prevent any damage to your instrument.
Rosin selection depends on the individual player and the
particular instrument. Dark rosin will provide more grip
and stick than light rosin and is usually preferred by cellists.
Bass rosin is usually found in 2 varieties, a soft, sticky,
light rosin like Pops or a harder, dark Swedish style rosin like
Carlson. The new green or jade rosins are also very
The soundpost is made of spruce and transfers the vibrations
from the top of the instrument to the back. It is located inside
the instrument, below the treble foot of the bridge.
Adjustment: The tops and backs of instruments expand and
contrast depending on the humidity. This causes the soundpost to
be either too tight or too loose, resulting in sound variation.
Most of the time, the instrument will return to normal. If not,
the soundpost may need to be adjusted. *The soundpost should
never be adjusted by anyone except a professional.
Common reasons strings break
*If you are tuning the string above the
*If the string slots in the bridge or top nut are too narrow or
*If there are imperfections in the wood of the bridge
*If a string is pinched against the side or bottom of the peg
*Fine tuners with sharp edges, very common with Hill style loop
end fine tuners
If you have a particular string that breaks
often note the area of the break (ie. nut, bridge, peg, fine
tuner) to determine if the problem is in that area.
Strings should be replaced at least once a year (depending on
how much time is spent playing), although steel strings may last
longer than this. If you notice any of the following, you most
likely need a new string: irregularities in the winding, dull or
dead sound, or fifths out of tune when playing a finger straight
across two strings. Also, when strings are worn out, they become
flat at the bottom (the side that faces the fingerboard).
When this happens, the string needs to be replaced. Always
remove and replace only one string at a time. Removing more than
one may cause the sound post to fall. When replacing a
string, first thread it through the tailpiece or fine tuner.
Push the upper end of the string through the peg hole so that
about half an inch protrudes from the other side. While pulling
the slack out of the string, wind the string around the peg. Be
careful not to turn the peg too much, because the string will
break. Sometimes with older or inexpensive hardwood pegs
the hole in the peg that you insert the string into may be off
center and against the edge of the pegbox with the string
impeding the tightening of the string. Have a professional
reset the string hole to a centered position.
The brand of strings you select for your instrument can have
a dramatic effect on the sound. Some strings produce a brighter
sound, while others produce a sound that is darker. Not every
string reacts the same on every instrument. For some instruments, a
full set from one manufacturer often works fine, but at times it
is necessary to use different brands to achieve an even sound.
For example, the upper strings on instruments will often sound
brighter than the lower, so it is popular to use a brighter
string on the lower register. Steel strings are more
common on student instruments and usually require fine tuners on
all strings. Steel strings usually pull to a higher
tension than perlon or synthetic type strings and have a
brighter and sometimes louder sound. Fiddlers may prefer
steel but some also use perlon strings. Vassar Clements
used Tomastic Dominant perlon strings with a Piastro gold
labeled e string, one of the most commonly used string set ups
for all players. Perlon or synthetic strings have a
mellower, sweeter sound and usually pull to less tension than
steel strings. Perlon strings are easier to press down on
the fingerboard and are preferred for more delicate instruments.
Always keep the instrument at room temperature whenever
possible. Hot temperatures cause the wood to expand, dry out,
and crack. Cold temperatures cause the wood to contract, and
crack. Do not leave your instrument in an automobile and
do not expose the instrument to direct sunlight. The inside
temperature of a vehicle can reach up to 150 degrees!
Transporting your Instrument
Always make sure the case is fully latched and zipped before
picking it up. Cellos should be carried in an upright position
against the body- not down.
Troubleshooting Buzzes & Rattles
Here are some of the most common causes:
Contact between tailpiece and chinrest,
saddle, or top- adjust the chinrest slightly to the right or
left, or insert a small piece of cardboard in the narrow area
between the tailpiece and saddle/ top
Endpin- there could be a loose
screw (on a cello or bass)- all endpins are different
Fine tuner vibrating- undo the tuner screw, insert two
pieces of thread into the hole, screw the tuner back, and trim
any excess thread
Jewelry or buttons in contact with instrument- separate
with a cloth
Loose decorative pin in tuning peg- remove the tuning peg
and pin. using a toothpick, insert a very small amount of white
glue into the hole. reinsert the pin and hold for twenty seconds
Loose chinrest mountings- tighten slightly with a
Loose sliding mute- slide the mute down over silk
Loose wolf eliminator- slightly tighten the screw
Open Seam- take instrument to a professional
Instruments are tuned using the fine tuners and the tuning
pegs. If the instrument is really out of tune, use the tuning
pegs to the approximate pitch. Next, use the fine tuners to make
small adjustments. Fine tuners should be kept in the middle
range position, not too far in or out. When the fine tuner is
most of the way out, reset it to the middle position and use the
tuning peg to tune the string. Make sure, when tuning your
instrument, you do not go above the correct pitch of the string.
This is one of the most common ways to break strings.