If properly cared for, string instruments can maintain their appearance, hold (or increase) their value, and remain fully playable for hundreds of years. To this end, I highly encourage players to bring their violin, viola, or cello in for an annual checkup. The whole process usually takes only about ten minutes and greatly contributes to an instrument’s well-being and the player’s peace of mind. Since I’m often asked what I do during an annual checkup. I’ll outline the process here.
Checking for Open Seams and Cracks
The first thing I do is check to see that all the seams are glued. I give a little pull all around and look for movement because an open seam could still be sprung into position and not obviously loose. I also check for open cracks everywhere, including from the A-string peghole. I give a light tug upwards on the bottom of the fingerboard to make sure it’s glued firmly to the neck.
Checking the Fingerboard and Bridge
I check the depth of the string notches in the bridge and the nut. At the bridge, I want to make sure that the strings have not sunk in too deeply. At the nut, I make sure the strings are not hitting the board at the nut, but are always slightly above it.
I measure the string height at the end of the fingerboard. The maximum E-string height should be about 3.5 mm to the center of the string and the maximum G-string height should be about 5.5 mm.
I almost always end up pulling the bridge back because most players don’t pull it back far enough—the back side should appear to be perpendicular to the top, as explained on this page.
Checking Strings and Pegs
I unscrew the fine-tuner screw, rub a candle on the threads, and push a little of the wax into the hole. If any strings are looking shabby, I suggest that the owner replace them. I test the pegs and if they aren’t working well, I’ll offer to lube them.
Checking Instrument Tone
At this point, we can do some quick tonal checks by playing the instrument, and I make sure the soundpost fits correctly. Moving the bridge in any direction definitely affects tone, so we can do a quick check together to make sure that the bridge and post settings are delivering optimum tonal results and playability. If I notice something out of whack tonally and think I can correct it easily, I will suggest a fix and can often accomplish this on the spot. I can almost always make someone’s violin sound better in ten minutes or so through tonal adjustments if the player is open to the idea, but I never pressure someone to change something when he or she is happy with their instrument. Ultimately, each player’s tastes and preferences are what matter most.
Finally, I ask the owner if there’s anything else they’d like addressed in terms of playability, tone, or appearance. If the checkup has revealed an issue that needs repairing, I explain what is involved and offer to schedule the work. As a last step, I might wipe any loose rosin off the top, although this is something that is best done by the owner on a daily basis. Rosin dust can fuse with the varnish, necessitating a more complex fix. The checkup is finished!