Violins and violas are beautiful, fragile works of art. Cared for properly, they can last for generations. Abuse them, and they can be damaged in short order. Some things you shouldn’t do are obvious: dropping it, taking it in the tub with you or using it as a baseball bat. Other things are not so obvious, but no less damaging to your instrument. Here are seven tips to avoid damaging your violin, viola or bow.

1. Avoid extreme heat

Instruments hate to be hot. Leaving yours in a hot car, or worse, in direct sun, can permanently damage it. Varnish can melt in extreme heat, and rising temperatures can dehydrate the wood and cause the body to crack.

2. Clean off sweat

Instrument varnish is not impervious to its environment. Even getting sweat on your instrument can damage the finish. If you tend to sweat while playing, drape a cloth over the end of your instrument to protect it from sweat. When you’re not playing, don’t tuck the instrument under your arm in such a way that the finish touches your skin.

3. Clean rosin residue

As you play, rosin falls off your bow and builds up on the strings, fingerboard and top of your instrument. The strings and fingerboard aren’t hurt by rosin buildup, but rosin left sitting on the top of the instrument will fuse with the varnish. If this happens, the only way to remove it is to take the instrument to a luthier for professional cleaning. This problem is easy to prevent: just take a soft cloth and dust your instrument before the rosin has a chance to build up.

4. Fix a fallen soundpost

The soundpost serves two vital functions in an instrument: it transmits vibrations from the top of the instrument to the back, and it supports the top. The strings push down on the bridge of your violin or viola with 20 pounds of pressure. The soundpost helps keep the top from flexing or collapsing under this pressure. If the soundpost falls out of place (you’ll hear it rolling around inside), there is a chance the top of your instrument could collapse or crack over time. Bad news.

5. Keep cleaning simple

With the wrong substance, polishing your instrument can ruin the finish. Polish shines your instrument in one of two ways: with an abrasive that removes a thin layer of varnish, or with a wax-like substance that sits on top of the varnish. An abrasive polish can completely remove your instrument’s finish over time, and a waxy polish can build up and ruin the varnish. All you should do to clean your instrument yourself is to wipe it down with a dry, soft cloth. For deep cleaning, take it to a luthier.

6. Let your bow relax

Your bow stick needs time to relax. Leaving it too tight for too long can cause the stick to lose its camber (curve), which will spell the end of its springiness. Unless you want to play nothing but pizzicato, give your bow some rest.

7. Ignore bow hair loss

If your bow needs to be rehaired, don’t play with it! Typically, you’ll lose more hair on one side of the bow than the other, which creates an uneven pull on the stick when the bow is tightened. Too much of this uneven pull will warp the bow stick. You’ll know your bow needs a rehair if it has less than half the amount of hair it had when new.


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42 replies
  1. jeff guenther
    jeff guenther says:

    8. Never lend your violin to a rock musician.
    9. Never place your instrument on a chair or the floor for even a second.
    10. Never leave your instrument where the sun can reach it. Think ahead. The sun moves.
    11. No pets.
    12. Allow for earthquakes if you live in California or other seismic prone area. The instrument may fall OR something may fall on top of it.

  2. violin1807
    violin1807 says:

    This article is really useful… Because my soundpost had fallen and keep rolling inside the violin body… and that makes me sad because the resonance is not as good as before :'(

  3. "Papa" Robert Hill
    "Papa" Robert Hill says:

    I’ve worked as a fiddler for dance troupes at renaissance faires for years, and avoiding the sun is simply impossible when the stage you’re playing on for 30-45 minutes, 3-4 times a day, is in full sun. The way to deal with that is one of two ways. First, keep yourself AND your fiddle hydrated. Humidifiers, or even a wet washcloth left in the case, are critical when it’s 104 degrees in the shade. Second, if you have the money, leave your good violin at home and only take a beater out into the sun.

  4. Chrystal
    Chrystal says:

    My violin moved from Europe to Africa, sometimes I wonder how she sounded in cooler climates. I try to shield her from the sun here as much as possible. She seems to be holding our nicely though.

  5. Chris Guleff
    Chris Guleff says:

    These are good tips. I’ve been aware of most of them and can state that I’ve had my violin for nearly 60 years and it is now over 100 years old. Even as a factory made instrument, it has been able to stand the test of time.

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