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Winter Maintenance for String Instruments
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Author: Potter Violin Company
Protect your instrument from winter cold.

The Potter Violin Company

February 2013 Edition


Jack Frost may not have RSVP’d to your holiday party, but as January comes to a close, he’s sure to make an appearance.

With this in mind, we’d like to offer a few common-sense tips to care for your stringed instrument as the temperature drops.

No matter what climate you live in, your instrument needs to be cared for during the winter. To find out what the most common cold weather threats to instruments are, I consulted with our luthiers, who spend countless hours repairing preventable damage caused by winter’s effects.


Hot and Cold

A quick lesson in meteorology: As air gets warmer, it expands because its molecules move more and create distance between each other. This added space allows for more moisture to be retained as vapor, so warmer air tends to be moister than cold air.  Of course, if you live in the desert, the warm air can be very dry: you can’t have vapor where no water is available.

The most important thing to remember is that your instrument will be happiest when it is in a room with 40-50% relative humidity, and that it’s harder to maintain humidity levels when the air is cold and dense.

Keeping your instrument safe with Dampits and room humidifiers is the first line of defense against the obvious dangers of dry wood: cracks and open seams. What is less obvious to the eye are the changes in adjustment that take place as wood expands and contracts. Action becomes higher or lower, painstakingly aligned soundposts shift, and bridges twist. It’s hard on your strings too, which only have a certain number of expansions and contractions until they wear out and sound dull or go false. Pamper your instrument with humidity now, and prevent cracks and other costly repairs all winter long.


A note about heating and cooling: If you’ve ever heard the adage “if you’re comfortable, then your instrument is comfortable”, there is one major caveat: while we may enjoy coming in from the cold and sitting in front of a fire, radiator, or heating vent, our instruments do not. Rapid changes in temperature are not good for the wood, so avoid leaving instruments in very hot or cold environments or next to heating or cooling vents. 



Don’t forget the bow!

Bows appreciate care, too! Make sure to loosen the hair after playing and always store them paying careful attention to protecting the tip.


Every day maintenance

There are several things you can do without needing to run to the repairman.

If the bridge starts bending, you can adjust it back to its correct stance by grasping the bridge at both upper corners with the thumb and first fingers of each hand, while making sure the instrument is firmly braced. Then gently move the top of the bridge to a perpendicular position. Of course, you can have an instructor or luthier do this if the prospect of moving your bridge is daunting. You can always stop by our shop and one of the luthiers will guide you through the process.


Violinists and violists can adjust buzzing chinrests with a small key (available at the store on online) to ensure a snug fit against the instrument. Take care not to push the key completely through the hole- this can scratch the wood.     

Slipping pegs are usually the result of normal use and is not an indicator of a bad instrument. They often can be helped by applying some Lava® soap or Hill peg compound to the peg shafts where they are smooth and shiny.



When to bring your instrument in

When it comes to more substantial adjustments and repairs, it’s best to leave it to the experts.

Among these are: cutting and installing a summer or winter bridge, planing the fingerboard, and gluing open seams and cracks. These should be seen by a qualified luthier as soon as they occur. Resist the temptation to glue or apply polish to what may seem like superficial or purely cosmetic damage. The more wood is left intact and untouched, the better and less costly the eventual repair will be!

When pegs are worn, sometimes they can be adjusted. When the wear becomes too much to fix easily, it is just a matter of replacing them, but this is not something you can do at home. Pegs have to be fitted precisely to ensure they turn well.

Want to know more about how violins are made?  Check out the Potter Violin Company channel on YouTube.  Click here.



Our New Year’s Resolution

As we make our way through the beginning of the new year, we hope your musical pursuits keep you happy and warm, even as the temperature drops.

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”

― Plato


The Potter Violin Company | Bethesda, Maryland


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