Every string instrument, new or old, should have annual checkups at the shop to make sure that no problems have developed, and there are various things you can routinely do yourself throughout the year to keep your instrument in good shape. However, if you notice something amiss in between checkups, it’s a good idea to have it attended to immediately. Violin family instruments need ongoing attention to function their best, and the specialists in our shop can deal with any problem that develops with your instrument or bow. Below are some examples of when to visit the repair shop shop.
First Year of Ownership
Many people don’t realize that a violin needs some extra attention during its first year with a new owner. Although some violins are quite stable from the start and need little attention even after their initial break-in period, this is the exception rather than the rule. As a new instrument gets used to the tension of having strings, it can distort to a new shape and may need a new soundpost as well as other adjustments.
I’ve seen many new violins that have tonally deteriorated in their first year simply because the player has put off consulting with the shop to see if normal and necessary repairs are in order. Problems that you may assume to be an inevitable part of how the instrument is playing in can often be corrected.
Spring and fall are times of year when we see lots of instruments brought to the shop because they no longer sound the way they should. Seasonal changes in temperature and humidity can play havoc with instrument tone and behavior. Beyond the obvious (such as buzzes), behavior problems can include whistling E strings, poorly starting notes and poor note separation, or trouble playing in certain ranges on the instrument. These are things we can work together to address successfully.
Open Seams and Cracks
An open seam is defined as a space between two adjoining parts of the instrument that were originally glued together—for example, in a spot where the top or back meets the ribs of the instrument. In contrast, a crack is a break in a single piece of wood—the top, the back, or a rib. Each of these two issues needs a different type of repair.
Open seams, no matter how small the opening (and even if not readily visible), are particularly detrimental to the sound of an instrument. They are common and seemingly spontaneous—the violin’s way to relieve stresses without breaking the wood. You should get any open seams glued as soon as you notice them. At best, they might be causing an annoying buzz that you will be glad to have fixed. But if they are in structurally important areas and remain unattached for a long time, whole sections of the violin can move or collapse, resulting in a much more extensive (and expensive) repair.
Cracks, too, should be repaired as soon as you observe them. The pressure of the strings (75 pounds along the length of a violin, with 25 pounds of downward pressure at the bridge!) can cause small, easy-to-fix cracks to quickly spread and become large ones that need expensive intervention. Moreover, dirt or oils (and especially polish) can get into a fresh crack, making it much more difficult to glue and also more challenging to accomplish an invisible repair. If a crack develops, it’s best to immediately loosen the strings until the crack can be fixed and call the shop.
Changes in String Height
A small amount of seasonal change because humidity is normal; usually strings get higher in the summer and lower in the winter. However, excessive string height is a symptom of something gone awry, and should be taken as a sign to have the instrument checked.
The normal height for 4/4 (full-size) violin strings at the bottom end of the fingerboard is 3.5 mm to the middle of the E string and 5.5 mm to the middle of the G. In concrete terms, that’s a little less than two dimes and a penny under the E and exactly two dimes and two pennies under the G. A little higher string height is okay, but if it’s a lot higher, the instrument becomes hard to play and can even cause injury to the player. Shop staff can determine what’s causing the problem before it becomes even worse.