A good violin, properly made, can last for a very long time. Some violins dating from the early 16th century, are still being used by professional musicians today! An instrument's life span and healthy condition is directly related to the care taken by its owner to look after it.
The violin: It is very important to keep the surface of stringed instruments free of rosin, dirt, sweat and dust.
Use a soft cloth to wipe rosin and dust every time you use your fiddle and leave serious cleaning to an experienced violin maker. Please don´t use commercial "cleaners" on your instrument. They often contain solvents and abrasives which can seriously damage the instrument. Even proprietary violin polishes can have an adverse effect if overused.
Strings: A build-up of of rosin on the strings will affect the sound and should be wiped off after every use.
Bow: The stick of the bow should also be wiped with a soft dry cloth after every use. Avoid touching the hair to prevent it from becoming soiled.
Tight pegs: If you find your pegs becoming difficult to turn and hard to tune it is time for some lubrication. Let the string down gently (only one at a time) and remove the peg. Take a small piece of hard dry soap (the sort of piece you would normally throw away is ideal) and put a small smear on the two places where it passes through the peg box, don't over do it! Then turn it a few times in its hole before replacing the string, if you have been frugal with the soap it will have corrected the problem.
Slipping pegs: Remove the peg as described above and apply some ordinary chalk to the parts of the peg that seat in the peg box, they usually show up as shiny bands around the peg. You will need to be more generous with chalk than soap. Sometimes pegs will require both treatments.
The function of the bridge is to support the strings and to transmit vibrations. It is essential that it stays in the correct position. When you view the bridge, side on, the back of it (nearest the tail piece) should be at 90° to the violin. Tuning can gradually pull the bridge towards the finger board and this should be corrected when it happens. Very gently pinch the D and A strings on the fingerboard side of the bridge, with the tips of your finger gently pushing on the bridge. This should put it in place without having to re-tune your instrument.
Storage and Carrying
Your violin should be kept in a case that fits it snugly. A cloth or blanket should cover your violin in the case, this prevents the bow hair getting caught in the fine tuners and also prevents the bow from scraping and damaging the varnish of the violin. Temperature and humidity greatly affect violins - it is ideal if your instrument is kept with constant temperatures and humidity. Exposure to extremes of either will greatly affect your tuning, your pegs and the sound. If you are storing the violin away for a while avoid damp places and store the case inside a sealed polythene bag, this will help avoid insects (woodworm) attacking your instrument. Bow hair can also be eaten by mites, the polythene should help avoid this. if for some reason you are storing the violin without strings, be careful that the tailpiece is also unattached as it can easy damage the varnish, especially if fine tuners are attached.
Strings should be replaced about once a year. The sound degrades after that time. A well played fiddle may need strings replacing more often. Many players replace them every 6 months. If you are replacing the whole set, just change one string at a time. This is much better for the violin as it avoids drastic alterations in tension. If you have tailpiece adjusters fitted be careful how you fit the string through the adjuster, it is easy to damage the string, there is not much room to spare.
Click here to watch a youtube video of how to replace a string.
Your bow should be slackened off, by turning the screw, every time you finish using it. This helps prevent the hair stretching and becoming unusable, or shrinking and warping your bow stick.
Never touch the bow hair with your fingers as grease and sweat will affect the sound.
If your bow is slipping on the strings apply rosin, but be careful not to use too much as this will make the bow sound scratchy. If you have used too much - playing will help remove it. Remember to wipe off the build up from the instrument and stick though. Only apply rosin when needed and not every day.
If your bow screw doesn't turn smoothly, don't apply machine oil. Rub it with a candle instead. When the hair becomes sparse, very dirty or stretched, you should have it rehaired - about once a year for well played bows, 1-2 years for others.