Cooking is fun but the clean-up isn't. Cycling is great but maintaining your bike is a chore. Playing music is an uplifting, transcending experience but taking proper care of your instrument can be onerous.
If you've ever attended a concert featuring violins - and provided you took your seat before the show began, you may have seen those artists applying rosin to their bows and wiping down their violins' bodies just after taking them out of their cases.
And, as you're waiting to file out of the concert hall, casting a glance toward the stage will probably treat you to the sight of violinists wiping their instruments down before securing them anew.
By no means are those two actions the only cleaning that violins are treated to (but they should be done before and after every playing session). For your violin to sound consistently, it needs regular cleaning.
Superprof lays out the steps to take talks about how often you should deep-clean your violin.
Taking Care of Your Violin
Upon visiting a distant relative for the first time in years, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that their eldest had started violin lessons. That joy soon dissipated upon discovering that, between lessons, they left the instrument in the car.
That's no way to treat a violin!
Every component of a violin, from its tuning pegs to its chin rest need proper care, including storing it in a suitable environment - not too hot or cold, and with proper levels of humidity. And it should be kept in a protective shell, the most common of which are hard-sided with a velour interior and compartments to store resin, cleaning supplies and to lock the bow firmly in place.
The best violin cases even have a space for sheet music because laying abrasive paper under or on your violin's body could harm it.
Even if you take all of these precautions, your violin will still suffer from wear; its very nature demands that it be handled and played. Indeed, there's hardly a point to having a violin if you're not going to play it unless it is a collector's item.
Transporting, handling and playing your violin means that, inevitably, its appearance and sound will suffer.
Taking proper care of it and cleaning it regularly will ensure that you will continue to enjoy playing your violin without frustration over its flat sound or aggravation at its dull sheen.
How to Clean Your Violin
As mentioned earlier, wiping down your instrument before and after playing is one of the best ways to protect your violin.
True, you might not notice any fingerprints or resin dust at first but, over time, the oily prints and sticky dust can have a serious impact and, even if you wipe it down after every session, you might miss a spot of two.
So get ready to spend a bit of time and gather up these cleaning supplies:
- almond oil or varnish cleaner
- cleaning alcohol or string cleaner
- cotton swabs
- microfibre polishing cloths - separate ones for cleaning and polishing
- rice and tweezers
We'll talk about the rice and how to use it in a moment; for now, let's talk about those polishing cloths.
Music stores and online outlets such as Amazon sell so-called violin cleaning cloths. They're supposedly made especially for cleaning violins' delicate wood but they're actually just microfibre cloths. You can use any microfibre cloth you have handy provided it's never been used for anything else.
Whatever you do, though, do not use paper towels. No matter how soft they feel and how absorbent they are, they can still damage your violin's surface and, besides, they leave quite a lot of lint behind.
You should clean the strings first because whatever they harbour - resin residue and other dirt particles will fall on the instrument's body. Using a clean microfibre cloth, wipe down each string individually, from the neck all the way down to the bridge, until it is thoroughly clean.
Next, you should turn your attention to the violin's face. Using a clean section of your cleaning cloth and almond oil, wipe under the strings and around the F-holes - but carefully! You don't want to push oil or rosin dust into your instrument. The rest of the face and body, you can wipe down as you would any other flat surface.
As you likely well know, a violin's bridge is not fixed to its face so you should take extra care when cleaning around it. This is where your cotton swabs come in. Gently run a cotton bud along the base of the bridge, swapping out for a clean one when it comes away dirty. You will also clean around the F-holes with cotton swabs - but be gentle because the wood in those areas is particularly delicate.
It's not necessary to polish your violin every time you clean it; indeed, even the thinnest layer of varnish may affect its sound. Polishing it once a month should be more than enough for average playing but if you play your violin every day, you might step up to twice each month.
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Bring On the Rice!
Provided you take care of your violin - wiping it down after playing, storing it properly and cleaning it regularly, you should only need to 'rice' it about every three months or so, depending on how often you play and how long your sessions are.
If you notice your violin's sound is getting a bit muffled, start your cleaning session by carefully introducing uncooked rice into the F-holes. Gently shake your instrument so that the rice can travel to every corner and then, with the greatest care, turn your violin facedown and let the rice flow out.
Some of the dirt from inside may tumble out with those grains but it's more likely you'll be left to pluck dust balls out of the F-holes. With your tweezers, extract each dust kitty, always that you're working with exceedingly delicate wood.
Once this step is complete, you may proceed as described above.
Cleaning the Bow
Some violinists like to wash their bow hair in soapy water every week but that level of diligence is not needed and, like everything else about violin care, could actually harm your instrument.
Just like washing your hair too often will strip it of its natural, protective oils, washing the resin off your violin's bow could leave those fibres unprotected. Simply wiping it down with a microfibre cloth after every session is enough to remove any accumulation of rosin.
The parts of your violin's bow that do need regular attention are the stick and winding, by the frog of the bow.
You'll use the same processes and supplies - minus the rice, to clean your bow. It likely won't need any varnish because you don't handle the majority of the bow, just the lower part.
As for the bow hair, as long as you loosen it before packing it away - and don't tighten it excessively before play, it should last. Many violinists have their bows re-haired about once a year, depending on how much they play. Note that, if you're playing hard and you start losing bow hair, it's time to have your bow re-haired.
If you're a beginner buying your first violin, be sure to learn all about your bow's proper camber and how overtightening your bow can damage your bow's camber.
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Cleaning Electric Violins
If you've mastered violin fundamentals and are interested in taking up the electric violin, you'll be happy to know that, in many ways, it's easier to maintain than acoustic violins.
For one, there are no F-holes to be cautious around unless you're investing in an electric-acoustic violin. Electric violins are solid-bodied - although some might have a battery installed, which you might have to replace as needed.
In fact, much of an electric violin's care is the same as an acoustic's - cleaning the rosin off the strings and wiping it and the bow down after every session. Also, if your electric violin comes with volume and equaliser knobs, you'll have to make sure there is no rosin dust buildup under them.
Also, take extra care cleaning around the pickups; they too can be tricky to clean and maintain.
Keeping your electric violin in tune is a bit more complicated than tuning an acoustic instrument.
One aspect of the violin's sound that makes it so rich is its overtones - too complex a topic to get into here but, suffice to say that an electric violin's overtones can vary substantially from an acoustic's. So, when tuning your electric violin, it's best to leave it unplugged and tune the strings as you would an acoustic violin.
If you don't get enough sound out of your unplugged violin to tune it properly, you might plug it into an amp and filter the sound through noise-cancelling headphones.
It will likely take some practice before you get your e-violin's tone right but, as long as your instrument is tuned properly, your overtones will sound good, too.
Are you having trouble choosing the right violin size? Find out all you need to know before buying your next instrument...
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