Basic Care of Your Violin

  • Keep the instrument in the case when not using it and latch it. One of the more horrifying events for a violinist is to pick up a case by the handle and see the violin fall to the floor when the lid flies open! If the case is not nearby, the instrument may be placed on a towel or case blanket on a flat surface for short durations. Never set the instrument on its side (except cellos and basses). It may easily fall over or damage the delicate edge. Do not leave the violin in the seat of your chair or hang it from your music stand.
  • Hold the instrument by the neck or if using two hands, horizontally by the neck heel and the bottom end by the end-button. Hold the instrument in front of your body, especially when passing through doorways. Avoid touching the varnish as the oils and sweat from your hands are harmful to the varnish or may contribute to the opening of a glued joint.
  • The best way to keep the instrument clean is by gently wiping with a soft cloth after every use. Accumulated rosin dust will eventually damage the varnish, especially when combined with sweat and air-borne moisture. Sweat also eats at varnish and dislodges glue joints. Cleaning solutions and polishes are best avoided, even those formulated especially for violins. Many even have alcohol or other varnish solvent as a main ingredient. Never use any commercial household cleaners on the instrument.
  • Clean the rosin off the strings with a separate soft cloth to avoid spreading rosin dust on the varnish. Some people use alcohol to clean the strings, but it exposes the varnish to unnecessary risk from drops of alcohol. A cloth is good enough.
  • Never remove all the strings at once. The sound post inside the violin may fall over when the string tension is released. If it does fall, there is no need to panic, however, you should take the instrument to a violin shop for a violin professional to re-set the sound post. This is an inexpensive procedure, so it really is not worth the damage that could be caused by attempting it on your own.
  • NEVER leave the instrument in a car or trunk of an automobile. Violin glue dissolves at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius) and the varnish will easily  begin to bubble at even lower temperatures within as little as 30 minutes depending on the weather.
  • Store the instrument in a climate  controlled area if possible, ideally between 60-75 degrees Farenheit (18-23 Celsius) and 45-65% humidity. Ideal humidity levels are 50-55%. This will prevent the fragile top from cracking due to expansion and contraction of the wood.  Wood expands and contracts with changes in temperature and humidity.  A good rule of thumb is that if you are comfortable, so is your instrument. Do not store the instrument case near an HVAC vent or radiator.  A case humidifier is especially important for musicians that travel.  Most cracks occur due to sudden changes in humidity or temperature. The average relative humidity may vary widely from city to city, creating a sudden change in the instrument's environment. Purchase an after-market humidifier and hygrometer (humidity monitor) for your case. Almost all hygrometers supplied with even expensive cases are highly inaccurate and do nothing but look important. 
  • Do not attempt any repairs by yourself. Home repairs only make the problem more difficult and expensive to repair by a professional.
  • If the instrument becomes damaged, avoid fussing with it. Carefully place it the case and take it to a reputable violin shop as soon as possible. A clean crack is easiest to repair. Repairs are best performed by a professional who specializes in repairing bowed string instruments. Guitars and violins are very different animals. I often get calls for damaged guitars and I gladly refer them to my brilliant guitar builder friend. 
  • If the bridge suddenly collapses, don't panic. Loosen the strings slightly and place a cloth or piece of foam under the tailpiece to prevent damage to the varnish. Keeping it horizontal, place it in the case and take it to your violin shop. Your violin pro can show you how to replace the bridge if it happens again in the future. 


NPR: Can You Pick The Strad?

National Public Radio ran a great story on January 2 about a recent study on the conventional wisdom regarding old and historical violins. The results were fascinating. Old violins are treasured as great art of historical value, as they should, but otherwise they are just that: historical artifacts. Their value derives from their historical importance and rarity, not because the sound that can be produced when using them is unmatched in quality by newer instruments. Some sound great, many don't and all are different. The same goes for new violins, too. 

Remember, Stradivari's violins were new once, too.

You can listen to it here.

In a double-blind test by professional violinists, most couldn't determine — by sound alone — which violin was an original Stradivarius and which was a modern instrument. Above, a 1729 Stradivari known as the "Solomon, Ex-Lambert."

From the piece:
They gathered professional violinists in a hotel room in Indianapolis. They had six violins — two Strads, a Guarneri and three modern instruments. Everybody wore dark goggles so they couldn't see which violin was which.
Then the researchers told the musicians: These are all fine violins and at least one is a Stradivarius. Play, then judge the instruments.

Joseph Curtin, a violin-maker from Michigan, was one of the researchers. "There was no evidence that people had any idea what they were playing," he says. "That really surprised me."
Curtin says of the 17 players who were asked to choose which were old Italians, "Seven said they couldn't, seven got it wrong, and only three got it right."

The lesson that can be drawn from this is that there is nothing inherently superior about an old violin. If it is a great instrument now, it was when it was built. For a violinist looking for an instrument, it should be noted that antique violins are more expensive for no other reason than the fact that they are antiques, just like furniture or any other decorative art. It is possible to obtain a new master crafted violin which will sound and respond every bit as well as an antique fine violin. 

Recommended Books on Violin Making

I compiled a selection of books that are available on Amazon.com that are terrific, reasonably priced resources for anyone wishing to know more about violins. They represent both the latest and seminal works on violin making. There are also many large format volumes that include full size photographs and drawings that are available elsewhere. Two sources for these books are Amati Books and Howard Core.


Restoration of Violin by Johann Glier -1765

One of my customers collects violins of the Glier family of makers from Markneukirchen and Cincinnati. The most well known is Robert Glier who immigrated to Cincinnati from Germany in the mid-19th century. This violin was made in 1765 by Johann Gottfried Glier.
This violin had extensive woodworm damage to the spruce top that had been previously repaired using wood putty. The bass bar was too large and poorly shaped. There was a crack on the treble side of the back near the soundpost.

Belly before restoration
Belly interior before restoration
The following repairs were made to this violin:
- Repair crack on back.
- Removal of loose wood putty used to fill woodworm holes in the belly.
- Fill cavities in the belly with Abatron Liquid Wood, a highly technical epoxy mainly used in historic architectural applications. This is far less invasive than the traditional removal of wood to place large chest patches. The epoxy has the same flexure as the original wood and pigments can be added to match the wood color. This is not a product found at the corner DYI store! This procedure is outlined in "Less-invasive Repair of Worm Tracks" by Andrew Ryan in the newly published 3 volume conservation manual by IPCA-Canada, "The Conservation, Restoration, and Repair of Stringed Instruments and Their Bows."
- Re-graduate the bass bar to achieve standard measurements and tuning nodes for the belly plate.
- Restore the edges of the belly.
- Restore missing one corner and purfling in several places.
- Patch the belly with new wood at the blocks to restore a stable gluing surface.
- Glue and cleat 5 cracks in the belly.
- Add maple sound post veneer (not a patch) on the belly.
- Touch up the varnish once repairs are completed. Match any new wood to the existing varnish.
- Bush the A-string peg.
- Complete set-up including planing fingerboard, new soundpost and new bridge.
Belly in aluminum frame with woodworm cavities
Epoxy filler added to wood
Back after Restoration

Front after Restoration

When I delivered it to the owner, he told me it sounds better than ever and he will play it in his next concert with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, performing Beethoven's 9th Symphony.



National Public Radio (NPR) featured Scrollwoks, a music education program in Birmingham, AL on the news program, Weekend Edition for February 27. The story is an excerpt from the series, "State of the RE:Union." Scrollworks provides music lessons to children of all income groups. The cost of the lessons is based on a sliding scale according to family income, and are often free. In a city like Birmingham, sometimes called "the most segregated city in America," the lessons bring kids from all backgrounds together with one goal; to make music.

I play a small role in Scrollworks by maintaining and repairing the program's stringed instruments, mostly donated, on a volunteer basis. I set up shop at the church where the lessons are held each Saturday. More often than not, kids come down with a small problem identified by the instructors during a lesson. Many times I can fix the problem while the student watches. I treat them as I would any customer, whether or not the student owns the instrument. In addition, they get to see first hand what goes into caring for the instrument.

Later in the spring, a full-length segment featuring the program will air on State of the RE:Union. In the meantime, enjoy this 10 minute segment about some great kids and the dedicated volunteer teachers and parents who participate in this worthwhile project. There is also a link to Scrollworks on my links where donations are accepted online, if you are so moved.

Click HERE to see the see and hear the story


My Violin Making Studio

I have two studios in my shop. My front studio is where I work on restorations, touch-ups, adjustments and other tasks that don't require a workbench or make a mess. I also work with clients here. They can relax and chat while I perform adjustments or make consultations. I love the light in this space and the acoustics are excellent. Behind the desk are two display cabinets for instruments and accessories

The Front Room

The Front Studio
The back room studio is used mainly for making and messier tasks that create a lot of shavings. The benches are made from solid core doors (they weigh about 150 lbs each)bolted to the wall and supported by wood cabinets (they don't wobble). I added a 10cm poplar apron and 2 vises- a maple front vise (I'm left handed) and an aluminum Swiss Vise (love it!). An old chest of drawers holds large tools and vises.

My Back Violin Making Studio

I keep all my power tools in the basement. I have a table saw, band saw, drill press, oscillating sander, disk sander and several grinders, including a Tormek. I mainly use these to make tools and jigs. The bandsaw is the only power tool I use for actually making my violins. I keep the power tools in the basement for the room and mess, but also I feel that having them in the main studio gives my customers the wrong impression about what I do, since they are mostly used for general woodworking, plus they make a mess and are noisy.

I believe there is a certain amount of theatre in every profession's workspace. Customers feel more comfortable when the studio looks what they imagine a violin maker's workshop is "supposed" to look like. It gives them a clue that I know what I am doing. I also believe that my own pyche is influenced by the feel of the space in the same way, affecting my work for the better. My used to be an architect, so I like the idea of the studio resembling an architect's workspace.

Violin Making Museum - Mittenwald, Germany