Care & Maintenance, Why Strings Break, & Quick Fixes in an Emergency

Listed below are tips for caring for your instrument and bow, a list of reasons why strings break, and some quick-fix suggestions in the event of a musical emergency.

Caring for a String Instrument & Bow

Protection: Always keep the instrument and bow in the case (or cover/bag) when not in use to prevent accidental damage. 

Temperature: Never expose the instrument or bow to extreme temperatures or humidity. Do not expose it to the sun. Store your case away from radiators or hot air vents and do not leave in a hot or cold car. The violin pictured to the left was forgotten and destroyed when left in a cold car overnight. Maintain levels of 40%-50% humidity to avoid open edges and cracks. Any quality of instrument, student to professional, can crack from improper temperatures or humidity. Low humidity can also cause the bow hair can to shrink and damage to the bow stick. Use a case humidifier such as The Precipitube® or an instrument humidifier like a Dampit®. 

Cleaning: Wipe the rosin dust from all surfaces with a clean cloth after each use to avoid buildup. Do not use alcohol to clean the strings or varnished surface as this may remove or damage the finish.  Oil based polishes should be used only sparingly and only if there are no open edges or cracks that the polish could penetrate. The best polish is one that is wax based and can be reversed. Cleaners and polishes should be separate products or you will end up polishing over the existing dirt. Return to Top

The Bridge: The bridge must always remain so that back of the bridge (the side facing the tailpiece and furthest from the fingerboard) is perpendicular to the top of the instrument. Tuning at either end (consistently at the pegs or fine tuners) tends to warp the bridge and, if not adjusted frequently, this warping can become permanent. Ask your teacher or repairman for assistance if you are uncomfortable making this adjustment. If not frequently straightened, the warp can become so severe the bridge can break and the force in the collapse can seriously damage the top of the instrument. Return to Top

You may notice changes in the string height on your instrument (this may be even more obvious higher positions) as the seasons change. In humid summer months, the top (and other portions) of the instrument absorbs moisture--this swell can cause the bridge to raise and cause the strings to be too high off of the fingerboard. During winter months when humidity levels are lower, the top of the instrument can lose moisture--this drop in humidity can cause the bridge to lower and the strings to become too close to the fingerboard. It may be necessary to have two bridges (this is especially true for cellos which change more dramatically during the seasons); one low bridge for the summer and a higher bridge for the winter. 

The bridge should also have some protection (either a bridge cap or a string protector) on the highest string to keep the string from cutting down into the bridge over time. Return to Top

The Strings: Old strings become lifeless and as they age they can go "false" and require more tension to keep in tune, thus putting excessive pressure on the instrument. Replace the strings at least once a year and approximately every six months if using the instrument more than 30 minutes a day. Remove and replace each string one at a time (removing all four strings at one time may cause the soundpost to fall or the bridge to shift out of place). Return to Top

If you are using steel strings: place the ball end of the string into the tuner, then put the other end of the string through the hole in the peg and turn the peg so that the string winds over the peg and toward the handle part of the peg--it should not be forced against the peg box wall. Only stick a small part of the string (approx. 1/4") through the peg. Return to Top

If using a synthetic gut string: when installing on fine tuners (like the one pictured below), put the peg end of the string through the ball end of the string (forming a lasso) and put this lasso around the prongs of the tuner. This will prevent the breakage of strings at the tuner; lassoing the string is not necessary on most violin E strings or steel A, D, G, and C strings. Continue as above with the installation at the peg end. It is always a good idea to put graphite (pencil lead) in the top nut groove when changing strings to aid in the smooth passing of the string over the nut. Return to Top

Tuners: Guard against tuners touching the top of the instrument. Fully-extended fine tuners can seriously damage the wood or varnish (see image to the left). If the tuner becomes loose it can also rattle--see the section on buzzing in the emergency repair section. Return to Top

Pegs: Normal tuning can cause pegs and peg holes to compress and go out-of-round. Out-of-round pegs are a common cause for slipping and must be fixed by a repairman. Pegs can also dry out in winter months which causes slipping. Dry, slipping pegs can usually be corrected by applying a thin line of "LAVA" bar soap where the peg makes contact in the peg box. It is strongly recommended that "Peg Drops" or chalk not be used on pegs as both can cause the peg to freeze in place and possible permanent damage to the peg box when an inexperienced person attempts to free it. If you are ever unable to free a peg from the peg box by simply turning the peg by hand, do not attempt to force the peg--take the instrument to an experienced repairman-it is a quick adjustment which can be done while you wait and is typically free at Lashof Violins. Over 90% of the broken pegs brought to our store for replacement are caused by too much force applied to the peg. Applying excessive pressure can also cause cracks to the peg box or scroll. The amount of time (and cost) for a repairman to free the peg is negligible when compared to the amount of time and money it may take to replace the peg or repair the scroll or peg box. Remember: Pegs & Pliers Do Not Mix!! Return to Top

Cracks & Open Seams: Check your instrument regularly for cracks and open seams. In any quality of instrument, excessive dryness can cause both cracks and open seams, so humidify your instrument with an instrument humidifier and, if possible, a case humidifier--this is especially important in the winter when the heat in your home will dry out the air.  Have your repairmen glue open seams and cracks as soon as possible so they do not get worse. Do not apply cleaner or to polish an instrument that has open cracks or seams as this may make any future repairs very difficult. Lashof Violins checks instruments for open seams and cracks at no charge to the customer. Return to Top

The Soundpost:The soundpost is the heart and soul of the instrument and must be adjusted as the instrument changes with weather conditions. It is not recommended the musician attempt to adjust their own sound post- an inexperienced hand can cause serious damage to the inside and top of the instrument. Always release the tension of the strings if the soundpost falls (see image to the left). Return to Top

The Bow:The bow hair should always be loosened after each use to preserve the proper sweep and straightness of the stick. As with the strings, the hair should be changed approximately every 6 months. As hair gets old, it stops producing a clear, resonant tone. Hair may also stretch or shrink with the weather. In the winter, the hair can also dry out and shrink due to too little humidity. Bow hair left tightened in extreme weather (cold, humidity below 40%, etc.) can shrink so dramatically that the bow may be permanently damaged. Protect your instrument and bow, humidify your case and its contents. Return to Top

Why Strings Break. Strings today are manufactured to such high-quality standards that it very uncommon for a string to break with normal use/tuning. The following is a list of common locations where strings break and the probable cause. When in doubt, keep your broken string and take the string and your instrument to your local repairman for investigation.

        1. Breaks at fine tuner: the string was installed incorrectly and the tuner sides are pinching the sides of the string causing it to break or there is a metal bur on the fine tuner prong. See the instructions above for proper installation of soft centered (synthetic core), thicker strings.

        2. Breaks at the tailpiece slot: the string was installed into a tailpiece whose slots are too tight for the string and is pinching the sides of the string causing the string to break. Have a repairmen adjust the width of the slot for proper clearance. 

        3. Breaks or unravels at bridge: the bridge slot is either too deep or too rough and the string is being pinched. Have a repairmen adjust or replace the bridge. Bridges made out of lower quality woods may be soft and the strings may work their way into the groove quickly and cause problems for all four strings.

        4. Breaks or frays in the playing area: the string can wear from considerable use-- some players change their strings as often as every 6 to 8 weeks due to the amount of playing/practicing time. The more you play, small amounts of the metal are worn away and the string gets thinner and can start to fray or break. An uneven fingerboard can also cause this wear, if this is the case have a repairmen check and resurface the fingerboard. Sharp fingernails or acidic skin can also damage the metal jacket of the string.

        5. Breaks at the nut: like the bridge, a rough or too deep notch in the nut can cause fraying or breakage of the string. Have a repairmen repair or replace the nut. Excessive tuning from out-of-round or poorly fit pegs (they slip often) can also cause breakage.

        6.  Breaks between the nut and peg: In almost every case, this breakage is caused by tuning the string too high. This is the weakest part of the string, where it goes from metal to thread wrapped, and an over-tuned string puts too much force on the string; strings are only capable of being tuned a couple of notes high. 

        7. Breaks where the string meets the peg: especially on the E and G strings, the string can get caught between the edge of the peg box wall and the hole for the peg. Be sure to properly wrap a string onto the peg so that the last winding does not forcibly press against the peg box wall.

        8. Breaks in the windings on the peg: if the string hits the bottom of the peg box, it can be worn through. Be sure to properly wind the string without numerous layers over top of one another. If the string still hits then the instrument should be taken to the repairman for more space to be added under the peg for proper clearance. Occasionally strings may hit other pegs--this often true in older instruments which have replacement pegs with larger shafts or an instrument whose pegs holes were drilled in the incorrect positions. If this is the case, your peg box may need bushings to realign the pegs to prevent string contact. Return to Top

 

Quick & Easy Repairs to Do in an Emergency

Slipping Pegs

Buzzing

Loose Fingerboard

Stripped Bow Frog Eyelet

Hitting Multiple Strings at Once

Slipped Tailgut

 

Slipping Pegs: There are several reasons for slipping pegs.

      1. The pegs do not fit. No matter what you do you cannot get the peg(s) to hold. To tell if this is the case, take off the string and see if the peg wobbles in the hole, if it does - get professional help for the instrument. 

      2. The string hole is too close to the peg box wall. When the string hole is too close, the peg cannot be pushed in far enough to hold tuning. Solution: pull the string off, remove the peg from the instrument, and drill a new small hole in the peg (appropriately sized to match the string thickness) and set the string back in place. Lashof Violins does this adjustment for free, so if you're squeamish about drilling into the peg, bring it in for adjustment.

      3. The peg may just need to be lubricated. - A little LAVA brand (bar) soap put directly on the peg where it rubs in the peg holes will do wonders for both slipping and sticking pegs. Pegs also dry out due to too little humidity during the winter. Protect your instrument; humidifying your case will offer the best protection against the pegs drying out. Return to Top

Buzzing

     1. At the nut-the string has worn a groove in the nut down to the fingerboard. Remove the string and slip a thin piece of leather or piece of paper under the trouble spot.

     2. The string buzzes all the way up the fingerboard. The bridge is too low or the fingerboard is warped, also check the string windings. Take a piece of compressed cardboard (like the kind that comes inside a new shirt). Cut a couple of thin strips of cardboard and place them under the bridge feet while being careful to not let the soundpost fall--a little light pressure on the top of the instrument above the soundpost should suffice. 

      3. A woody sounding buzz.- First check the chinrest and make sure it is not touching the tailpiece; this is a common problem with center-mounted chinrests. Next check all around the edges to see if they are tightly glued. If you find an open spot, put a slip of paper in the opening to stop the rattle. Also check to make sure there is no buildup of funk (most likely a hardened rosin residue) in the "f" holes at the points. Use a business card to gently clear the debris.

      4. A metallic sound. Check the fine tuners and make sure they do not touch the top of the instrument. If there seems to be a lot of play in the threads of the fine tuner screw, remove the screw and apply candle wax, Lava soap, bees wax, or crayon to the threads and reinsert. Also check to see if the little plastic tube that comes on some strings is loose behind the bridge. This plastic tube is a protector for the top of the bridge and should be placed as such. 

      5. Most times the fingering tape applied to the fingerboard causes buzzing. The fingerboard has a slight curvature to allow the strings to vibrate. With tapes applied, this curvature is compromised and the tapes act like a fret.  We at Lashof Violins prefer to use a Silver Sharpie® Metallic marker to apply dots between the strings as this does not impede the strings from vibrating. The Sharpie® marks can also be applied and reapplied easier and removed with less damage to the instrument than tapes. Another common problem with fingering tape is that the adhesive breaks down and the tapes actually shift, causing the student to play out of tune. The Sharpie® marks do not in any way hurt the surface of the fingerboard and we are comfortable enough to mark all our stock bows with the same marker because of the ease of removal. 

If buzzing still persists it could be a number of other things - see a repairman. Return to Top

Your Fingerboard Falls Off

Loosen the strings. In a pinch, wet both gluing surfaces with warm water, put together and tape the edges (on the unvarnished portion of the neck) for as long as possible. Tune up the instrument at the last possible moment and remember to loosen the tension again when you are done. Do not attempt to re-glue or use glue on the instrument; the wrong type of glue will cause damage to your instrument and cost you more when your repairman has to remove the glue and repair/replace your fingerboard . See your repairmen as soon as possible and when not using the instrument, loosen the strings. Return to Top

The Eyelet in Your Bow is Stripped 

Remove bow screw and pull frog off stick. Being careful not to get the hair twisted, reinsert the screw in the eyelet and pinch the side of the eyelet with a pair of pliers. This will compress the threads and give you a few more days of use. You can also stick a thin piece of paper in the eyelet and rethread the screw-this will take up some of the play in the threads. Return to Top

You Hit Multiple Strings at Once When Playing

Your bridge is probably too flat. Put small pieces of tape (or small slips of paper) on the bridge under the string until it is high enough to work properly. As soon as possible, see a repairman. Return to Top

Your Sacconi-Style Tailgut has Stripped Its Threads

Re-thread the brass nuts onto the tailgut; pinch the nuts with pliers and heat the ends of the tailgut (see image on the left) until they slightly balloon. Finish by adding a drop of Crazy Glue to the threads. Return to Top

Having Other Troubles? Cracks? Strange noises? Not comfortable with the suggested temporary solutions? When in doubt, remember this phrase: If you have apprehension, just lower your string tension! Lashof Violins is not far away!

These repairs are to be done only in emergency situations and are not a replacement for repairs done by a qualified repairman/luthier. Lashof Violins does not accept responsibility for damage(s) done to an instrument or bow as a result of these suggestions.

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