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Instrument cleaning and maintenance

12 Feb 2021
by Jeroen

Give your instrument some loving care every day and you will enjoy playing much more. Why should you clean your violin, viola, cello or double bass? And how do you do it, and how often?

When you play your string instrument, you will notice that a layer of dust, rosin residue and sweat spots quickly appear on the varnish layer. This is inevitable, no matter how careful you are. After a while, the instrument will shine less than usual. Did you know that when you clean your instrument thoroughly, not only the appearance but also the sound will improve? The dirt prevents the instrument from resonating acoustically as it was designed. 

During cold winters, it is important to maintain the humidity inside the instrument. The wood changes its volume slightly with changing humidity, which can have z significant effect on the instrument's sound characteristics, and even cause unwanted vibrations as the different parts of the instrument no longer fit together seamlessly. This is where the Dampit comes in. Put it in a glass of water, dry it off and put it in one of the f-holes of the instrument. A simple solution that can prevent many problems!

A daily routine is an important way to bond with your instrument. Get into the habit of cleaning your instrument and strings with a soft, dry cloth after every playing session. This largely prevents dust and sweat residue from sticking to the instrument and string surface. 

However, a thorough cleaning once in a while will also make your instrument happy. It is a good idea to bring your violin, viola, cello or bass back into top shape every year. What do you need?

The inside

To clean the inside of your instrument you need nothing more than some grains of rice. A handful is more than enough. We are not on a culinary course, so the rice has to be uncooked! Pour the rice through the f-holes in the instrument and shake it gently back and forth a few times, in all directions, so that the rice is spread all over the inside, in the nooks and crannies at the sides, top and bottom. Dust tends to accumulate in the hard-to-reach places inside. The rice makes the dust clump together into a ball, which you can easily remove through the f-holes with your fingers, or with tweezers if necessary. When you feel that all the dust has collected, turn your instrument over and let the rice back out through the f-holes. Make sure that there is no grit left inside, as this can cause unwanted vibrations when playing your instrument.

The strings

The strings are the fastest-wearing part of the instrument. But by treating them well, you will significantly increase their lifespan. Sweat and dirt will corrode the strings, especially those that contain metals. Washing your hands before you start playing is a good start. Sticky dirt and rosin residue can be removed with some disinfectant alcohol or the specially designed string cleaner. Put a few drops of the alcohol solution on a cloth and wipe it over the strings. Be careful, because alcohol can damage the varnish layer of the instrument! Therefore, protect the body of the instrument with another cloth when cleaning the strings and do not use more alcohol than necessary to avoid spillage. The fingerboard, however, is usually made of unvarnished ebony, so it can't hurt to clean it with alcohol as well. 

Although the bridge does not have a varnish layer and can be cleaned with alcohol, we do not recommend doing this yourself because of the fine corners. The risk of spills on the varnish layer is also much greater here.

If you have gut strings on your instrument, it is worth treating them occasionally with string oil. This product keeps your strings nice and supple and in top shape.

The varnish layer

If there are dirty spots on the varnish layer that you can't get off with a dry cloth, or if a rosin or dust layer has formed, you can use products specifically designed for this purpose. The varnish layer on a bowed instrument is very fragile, especially on old instruments. Be very careful when cleaning the body of the instrument yourself.  

Viol varnish cleaner or the natural products in the Nature Works cleaning set are 'friendly' to the varnish layer. Drip a little of this product onto a cloth and gently rub this over the varnish. This can be a time-consuming process if the dust layer has been given time to build up. It is best to clean small areas at a time. Be extra careful around the f-holes, the wood is very fragile there! You can also use a cotton swab in those hard-to-reach places. Rub the instrument with a clean, dry cloth to remove product residue and polish the surface. 

The tuning pegs

After a while you will notice that your tuning pegs start to turn less smoothly, or they loosen up quickly. We advise you to lubricate them from time to time with peg paste from Pirastro or Hill.

Do you have any other tips to clean and maintain your instrument? Feel free to let us know in a comment!


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