Maintaining the String Section

Over the last few weeks we’ve been talking a lot about how you can maintain your instruments, and even do a few minor repairs, at home. We started with minor maintenance and repairs you can do on your guitar, then we moved to keeping your piano’s keyboard clean, before moving on to keeping your drums shining!

This week we’ll be continuing that theme, but this time with an entire section: the strings.

Unfortunately, due to their delicate and precise nature, doing any kind of repair-work on your own is very strongly discouraged, but there are a number of things you can do to help maintain your string instrument, and prevent the need for expensive and time consuming professional repairs.

Keep You Instrument Out of Extreme Temperatures

Either end of the thermometer is bad news for your instrument. High heat can cause irreparable harm to the varnish, and cause the natural adhesive used to hold the instrument together to actually melt. On the other end, extreme cold or dryness (as well as a rapid change in temperature or humidity) can cause serious cracks which can be expensive to repair.

As a general rule of thumb, if you would be uncomfortable in an environment for the length of time you’ll be leaving your instrument, then don’t leave your instrument there.

Keep Your Instrument & Bow in its Bag or Case When Not in Use

Anything left out, like your bow, or the instrument itself, can be tripped over, or sat on – it happens more often than you think! When removing a cello or bass from a case, be sure to take the bow out first and set it aside. If you take your instrument out first, you may run the risk of breaking the bow if you drop the bag. Reverse the process when packing up your instrument, bow first.

Clean, Clean, Clean

It’s wise to use a soft cloth to remove any rosin residue from your instrument, and the stick of the bow after each time you play. If you allow the rosin to remain on the instrument, it will build up, stick to the varnish, and become very hard to remove later.

There are commercial products that can help take the resin off, but even the best of these can cause some harm to instrument finishes. The best way to deal with the problem is to avoid it altogether with regular maintenance.

On the plus side, keeping your instrument clean after every practice or performance means you won’t have to polish very often to keep it looking great!

Don’t Overtighten the Bow

The stick of every bow should curve toward the hair – always. The bow should never be tightened to the point that the curve of the bow stick disappears, or even worse, curves away from the hair. This can render the bow permanently unplayable. Make sure to loosen the bow hair tension after every session for storage. When loosening the tension, make sure that you avoid loosening it so much that the hair hangs limply – you only need to relax the pressure on the stick.

If you store your bow under playing tension it, over time it will lose its “spring,” and won’t be able to hold the playing tension any longer.

Don’t Touch the Bow Hair & Use Rosin Sparingly

The natural oils on your skin can and will transfer to the hair, and shorten its life. Similarly, you should avoid using too much rosin, which can impact the tone your instrument produces. Once new bow hair has been properly rosined, you’ll only need a few strokes (or less) before each playing session. Bass players usually have to deal with this problem a little more than others because they require a lot less rosin than the rest of the string section. If you hear a raspy or buzzing string as you play, that’s a good indicator that you’ve used too much.

Remember that the Tension in the Strings is the Only Thing Holding the Bridge to the Instrument

Never, never, never, under any circumstances, should the bridge be glued to the top plate of the instrument. It should simply be positioned so that the side of the bridge facing the tailpiece is at a 90 degree angle to the top of the instrument.

When in doubt, bring your instrument to your teacher, or a professional.

Always Bring Your Instrument in to a Qualified Repair Technician or Luthier for Repairs

Whether your repair seems relatively simple, or catastrophic, always bring your instrument to a professional for repairs. Some things that seem like complete disasters, like the instrument’s neck coming off, or a big seam opening up in the body, can actually be repaired remarkably easily and relatively inexpensively when done by a professional.

Routine Maintenance

Now, all that being said, there are a number of thing that you can do on your own, at home.

The first of these is replacing the hair on your bow. This will need to be done regularly, usually around every 6 months to a year, depending on how often you play.

You can also replace your own strings. Don’t wait until your strings break to replace them. All strings, regardless of their brand, will start to lose tone quality and response, but these changes happen slowly, and you may not notice them right away. This is especially important for bass players to keep in mind, because bass strings never break, unless they’re abused, they just become more and more “dead.”

To ensure an evenness of response and tone, always replace the entire string set, rather than mixing old with new. When you do change your strings, save the most recent old set to use in an emergency. Keep them in the packaging for the string you replaced them with, and write the date you made the change on it. Keep this in your instrument case to keep track of their age and brand.

Stringed instruments tend to be quite a financial investment when brand new (or even used for that matter), so you’ll want to protect that investment. Following these simple maintenance tips will help keep your instrument not only in working order, but looking great too! And remember, no matter what needs repairing, the expertise of a professional will be able to do the work faster, cheaper, and with a lot less risk to your investment.