A B C of Instruments

Maintenance, Service, Strings, The bow, The bridge and the sound post, Pegs, The corpus, The shoulder rest, Chin rest, Buying an instrument, Tailpiece

Maintenance: Every instrument should be wiped after playing. You should use a soft cloth in order to avoid scratches. Cleaning means, especially those who bases on Alcohol, must not come in contact to the varnish; they can attack the varnish and ruin the smooth surface. Especially on old and expensive instruments varnish is very sensitive and there can be a reduction of the value. There are suitable cleaning means that, if applied without proper care, leave an oily film. I polish the varnish with a ethylated spirit by means of which a shining surface occurs which lasts for a long time and so the dust can be removed with a soft cloth. Besides it is useful to wrap the instrument in a suitable cloth (e. g. an old scarf) and so put into its case to avoid the damage by bow or other accessories.

Service: Once a year your instrument should be checked. I offer this to my customers free of charge. I check all glued places, the sound post and bridge, and the strings. Should there be a damage I can either at once or if possible at a later date offer a repair. If possible I also take concerts into considerations or other personal circumstances of my customers, in order to quickly eliminate the damage.

Strings: The structure of a string consists of a core and the wire. The core is made of gut, synthetic materials or steel (it can be wire or cable). The wired String is made of different first grad and cylindrically ground metals like aluminum, silver or gold alloy, wolfram, copper or other rare precious metals.

On the Bridge and nut there is very strong friction and therefore there are the most damages of the wired strings. These critical points of cleft can be repaired with the help of a little graphite, which you put on the groove with a pencil. But also with long fingernails you may damage the wired string and thus damage the string. If you don’t repair these damages soon the quality of sound is lowered and finally the string will tear.

Some strings have a little tube so that they don’t sink into the bridge and are damaged across the bridge. If you don’t like this protection take the little tube away, don’t push it against the tailpiece. This sometimes causes an inexplicable snare that you can’t locate at first. Often I was able to eliminate this defect immediately.

In my workshop I have all sorts of different strings for any kind of use from beginner to soloist. Separate wishes for certain manufactured articles and strength I try to fulfill if possible.

There may also be damage if a string is arranged crosswise across the peg where it forms a potential point of cleft. If a string is too long and does not fit into the space between peg hole and box you may put 2 or 3 windings to the other side, then across the winding and then pull it towards the box. The last 2 windings must absolutely lie without crossing.

The right length of a string is also important. For every instrument there are the right dimensions. On a ½ size instrument belongs a ½ size strings. You also don’t put a string for cello on a viola, or?

The bow: The bow stick is mostly made of Brazil wood or one of its best species, the fernambuk (brazil wood from the province of Pernambuko). This stick is straight in the longitude and bowed against the hair, where the deepest point in the upper third of the stick should just touch the hair. After playing the bow must be loosened so the stick does not become crooked and thus is worthless.

Light crookedness in the bow can be brought into shape by lightly bending it. If bows are cheap this correction will not last long and the bow will soon be crooked in the same place.

The hair for the bows comes from the tale of a horse, the best are from the stallion from Siberia and the mustang. The hairs of mares are not fit as bow hair because of the anatomy of mares their urine sprinkles them, they become brittle and easily tear. The hair has teeth like share grass where rosin adheres and thus the strings are made to swing.

You should not touch the hair with your fingers because dust and sweat will deposit and thus the bow cannot touch the strings correctly causing whistle sounds when the bow is played. Hair, which is used too long, doesn’t have enough teeth, so that the rosin clots on the hair and good sound can not be produced. But also too much rosin isn’t good because scratching sounds will be produces.

Very dirty hair can be washed, if the hair is not damaged. In regular intervals the hair must be changed – that is called rehairing.

The frog has a brass nut that is stretched with its bone with the screw stick made of steel. In the course of time the nut can wear out and must be replaced to be able to stretch the bow.

On the frog and the tip of the bow the hair are fixed with a wooden wedge. They should only be firmly wedged and not glued, because by gluing, the rehairing and taking away of the wedges could damage the wood of the stick and the frog.

Loose hair must not be torn out, they must be cut with a sharp knife. Because the hair in the case is tied on the tip and on the frog, by tearing the hair, the tying may become loose and all hair will fall out. In that case the bow must be rehaired.

The bridge and the sound post: The bridge transfers the horizontal swinging of the string to the top. Therefore it is important that the feet of the bridge are exactly fitted to the top. The bridge must have the right curvature, so that every string may be played singularly, but must not have too much curve, so that the middle is not too high. If the bridge is too high in the upper positions there can be too much pressure and the intonation will not be clear. In the middle the bridge is strongest and toward the edge it gets thinner. Under the strings it is thin to allow the string to swing. Bridges, which are too thin, give a shrill sound; those, which are too thick, deaden the sound.

The bridge stands with its back (in position to the tailpiece) in a right angel to the top. That is important because of technical reasons. When tuning, especially synthetic- and gut-cores strings, the bridge will slowly be turned towards the fingerboard and has to be controlled and adjusted.

If a crooked bridge is under tension too long it becomes more crooked and looses firmness and the ability to vibrate. An old bridge must be replaced in order to keep good sound qualities. A musician can become used to a reduced sound intensity and is astonished when the sound improves after replacement. But you should know, that after the replacement of the bridge the instrument must be played many hours in order to reach the full result.

The sound post, or as the Italians say the soul of the instrument, is one of the most important but also the most invisable and least noticed part of the stringed instruments. It is important for the resonance of the body where top and bottom swing against each other. The swinging of the strings puts the bridge in a turning and overturning movement, which then puts a load on the sound post and eases a load on the bass bar. Thus with the help of the sound post the bottom is pushed down and the volume of the corpus gets bigger. The other movement eases the load on the sound post and puts the load on the bass bar, where the volume in the corpus gets smaller. These movements are minimal, that makes a very fine work on the thickness of top and bottom necessary. Only well worked sheets guarantee the best sound of an instrument.

The sound post generally is placed half strength of the sound post behind the right foot of the bridge and must have the right strength. Too thick or too thin sound posts as well as the position too near or too far from the bridge change the sound enormously. In old instruments the right position may diverge from the norm and must be changed and fixed individually in the matter of a few days. I like to bring forth the fine-tuning together with the musician.

A sound post that is not optimally fitted to the top and bottom causes holes not only inside the instrument but it is also a potential danger for sound post cracks. The smallest hit on the bridge may cause sound post cracks in the top and still worse in the bottom, which can only be eliminated by a costly repair with a peace of wood replaced over the crack. Such repairs are always a great provocation and often there is also an improvement in sound because the instrument wasn’t fitted properly before.

Pegs: They are very important for the tuning and intonation. Pegs have a conus by which they are fixed under slight pressure in the peg box. On instruments, which are not played for a long time the points of friction can dry out. Also the beginning of the heating season and at its end are critical moments, where pegs through the change of air-dampness can either slide or jam.

This deficiency can be eliminated within a few minutes and for little money by using chalk and peg soap. Violins used to have a steeper conus, which cannot stand the pull of modern strings. Then pegs must be exchanged, which I can do in a short time with little expense.

Such an exchange gets costly if the old pegs were very thick and the peg holes must be filled with boxwood and then be newly drilled. Hereby wrongly placed pegs can be moved. Often the A-string lies on the D-peg and is rubbed off and the string tears. This seldom happens with the E-peg but it can happen.

Generally the pegs are made of ebony. This material is very hard and lives longest. Black coated pegs of hard wood are too soft and get grooves and steps, which press the peg out of the hole and cause trouble. Pegs made of boxwood, rosewood or similar kinds of wood look good and fit to very dark instruments, but with the time cause the same problems. Besides the wood is oilier than the complete dry ebony and inclines especially in damp weather and in churches at cold temperatures to slide through. You can easily imagine problems this can cause in concerts.

A further problem comes up in the course of time through pegs, which press themselves further into the peg-box. Thus the hole, through which the string is drawn, is pushed to the verge of the chest or even into it The peg is again pressed out and the peg does not stay. Here I cut the peg off if possible, fit it and drill a new hole and the trouble is over for a long time.

Watch the Notice about fixing strings under strings.

The corpus: Through the use of a string instrument there are sometimes places at the top or bottom where the glue loosens. This happens because of heat and damp (sweat) at the chin rest and on the right side of the fingerboard (holding in hand). Generally the instrument is glued with warm glue, these spaces can easily get loose. Through simple gluing opening can be stopped. But I must keep the clamps fastened over night to wait for the glue to harden.

Often the varnish on the verge and the ribs is damaged by strong sweating of the left hand. The repair lasts several days. The varnish must be applied at least 5 to 10 times and allowed to dry. Washing hands may reduce this risk. Youths in their puberty often sweat more.

The frog hitting the middle bow may cause injury or a corner may be broken off. I then replace it with a new piece of wood, glue the corner (if you find this piece) or put in a new corner. Generally I can repair these damages so they won’t be visible afterwards.

The shoulder rest: In my workshop I have many different shoulder rests, which I can fit to the body of a musician. I also like to advise my clients about advantage and disadvantage of the different products.

Chin rest: I have about 30 different chin rests in my store also in different materials, so my customers will find the right model for their instruments. The chinrest should not clam the skin under the chin where the ugly “violin spot” may arise. I allow you to try the chinrest for a few days and change it for another model if it does not fit properly. An improper fitting of the chinrest may result in it touching the tailpiece or the top and you will hear a disagreeable jingle. Moving it and tightening the screws can help this.

Buying an instrument: Whether you buy a new a used or a completely overhauled instrument – I will help you to make the right decision. I set great value on advising you concidering advantages and disadvantages of different instruments irrespective of costs and origin. My customers must of course be able to afford an instrument, if possible I also offer a hire purchase without interest or a leasing possibility.

You can’t get collector’s pieces for high prices in my shop; for them you have to go to auction houses or dealers in foreign countries.

There are enough instruments, which sound good and are price worthy. A new instrument may be better than an old one but you must take care to practice the instrument for some years. I am sorry to say I can’t fit into the new instrument the necessary years of playing it. A baby must also learn to walk and doesn’t win the marathon run.

I will advise you if you come to me with an instrument, which you had been offered. I check it’s functions and make an estimate for necessary repairs if anything is wrong. Then you can decide if the price and possible costs confirm with the value.

Tailpiece: There are a number of tail pieces made of wood, synthetic materials and metal. For beginner’s fine tuner tailpieces are the best so all the strings can be fitted through a fine tuner. Trained violinists usually use only one fine tuner for the E string, all other strings are tuned by the pegs. The more fine tuners you have mounted on your tail piece the more weight you have, increasing the possibility of clattering sounds caused by loose mountings or loose screws which are turned out too far (the same holds for fine tuner tail pieces).