How to look after your cello.
Why look after your cello? Does it matter if it’s caked in rosin and dirt, the scuffs and scratches and missing pieces of wood from the edges and corners adds character?
The value of most stringed instruments relies upon not only their sound but importantly their condition. Values continue to increase and so maintaining your instrument is vital to help preserve this.
Remember the actual value of an instrument or bow is mainly determined by its condition.
Many owners of instruments and bows consider themselves as custodians wishing to preserve their beloved instrument or bow in order to pass on to a new owner eventually.
So hopefully this explains why it is important to look after your cello and bow.
How to store your cello and bow.
Store it safely, it is not necessary to store your cello in its case unless you are going travelling, In fact, putting your cello in and out of its case more often than necessary can lead to unwanted scratches and wear and tear to the edges and varnish. It is worth finding somewhere safe and if you have pets or children you may want to keep your cello in a hard case whenever it is not in use, even the smallest things can knock it over, just one fall is enough to wreck the instrument for life.
If you’re going to be away from your cello for several weeks or months, it’s a good idea to loosen the strings a little bit, not all the way, otherwise, the bridge will fall off.
Other things to bear in mind.
Keep it away from heaters, central heating, and direct sunlight, even when it is in its case or in transit.
Always loosen the hair of the bow when not in use.
Never lock a case. If the key is lost, entry to the case could cause extreme damage to your cello.
Always make sure that loose items such as mutes, tuning forks etc are secure and do not roam free in the case potentially causing damage to both your cello and bow.
Cover your instrument with a silk scarf or silk bag (pyjamas) when it is in its case. This helps to insulate your instrument and protect it from scratches.
Always have a clean duster in the case to wipe your cello down after playing.
How to handle your cello and bow
Avoid touching your cello body with your hands, try to handle it by the neck only, supporting it at the middle bout rib joint. Never pick up your instrument by any part of its body e.g. the fingerboard.
Keep it clean.
To remove finger marks and light rosin/dirt a microfibre cloth wiped gently will work well.
Always clean your instrument after use. Give special attention underneath and around the bridge and other areas where rosin deposits have gathered, beneath the fingerboard, the fingerboard surface, and the ribs. Not doing so will allow rosin to gradually build up, making it almost impossible to remove except by an expert such as Bridgewood & Neitzert. Microfibre cloths are an essential accessory to help you keep your cello clean.
Never try using commercially available cleaning products. There are several specialist polishes available for stringed instruments, we do not recommend using them. If there are open seams (where the front or back are glued to the sides or ribs) or open cracks these cleaners make repair doubly difficult, on some more delicate varnishes they can damage the varnish.
If you do not touch your cello’s body, then there is no need for any cleaning process other than your microfibre cloth. After about a year to eighteen months, the cello may begin to look ‘dull’, now is the time to bring it in for a careful clean and check over, wood moves with humidity and temperature, seams can open as well as cracks, often invisible to the untrained eye!
Keep the bridge in place.
The bridge can and should last a long time if it is looked after well. Bridges can easily warp or bend if they are not kept upright, they can even snap or be pulled over and fall by the tension of the strings. Check it once a week or so to ensure that it is still perpendicular to the body of the cello, if it’s leaning too much, that’s when problems start. If you need to adjust the bridge, loosen the strings slightly and gently push with your thumbnail between the A and D and the G
and C strings, this will move the bridge back, if uncertain or nervous please bring it in and we’ll do it for free and show you how to do this. If the feet are flat with no gaps, but the bridge is not straight, you have a warped bridge and should have it replaced, bring it in and we can advise you.
Once a bridge has warped it starts to underperform and the result is poor tone and loss of tone, the bridge is responsible for about 23% of a cello’s sound so it’s a major factor in tone, equally if the bridge moves or isn’t sitting well then the same happens and the whole tonal quality of the instrument will change.
Check the endpin.
The endpin is potentially dangerous, left extended when not in use can cause your cello to be accidentally knocked over by some careless person kicks or trips on it sending your cello flying. The tip can be very, very sharp, when not in use apart from retracting it back into the body if you have a protective rubber cap use it. It can cause a nasty scratch or cut, equally a sharp endpin is bad for lots of floors, we recommend an endpin holder. We sell several good, inexpensive models.
Look after your bow, and your bow will look after you.
Bows need more looking after than the cello, all it takes is a lack of care and some bad luck, and you have got a bow that’s snapped in half. Never touch the hair as the smallest amount of grease will stop it working in that area. If you have a soft cello cover inserting a PVC pipe or similar into the bow pocket, just large enough for your bow, this will protect your bow from a bad knock when you are travelling. Never engage in play sword fights with other cellists. Do not tap your bow on your music stand as a form of applause. You may very easily crack or break your bow. When the music says “col legno,” use a cheap bow, not your good one. You should clean your bow in the same way you clean your cello. Loosen the tension on your bow when you are not using it. Never over-tighten your bow, tighten it just enough that in the centre of the stick there is a gap of approximately 1cm.
Over time even correctly fitted pegs need attention, wood moves and wears leading to clicking, stiff and slipping pegs which all need attention.
The two main problems are they either click or refuse to turn easily, or they slip, worst they slip gradually during a performance!
Never use chalk or rosin to prevent slipping.
Attaching strings to pegs
One of the most frustrating problems for any string player is the slowly slipping peg.
Often the pegs are blamed, this may be true, but often a poorly fitted string is the cause.
Only change one string at a time to avoid problems with the bridge changing position or worse the soundpost falling over.
After removing the old string apply soft pencil e.g. B or 2B to the top nut string slot and the bridge string slot, this significantly helps strings move without being trapped in their slots.
It is essential to correctly fit and wind the string onto the pegs. Push the string through the hole in the peg so that about a cm protrudes, start winding the string, the first turn is to the opposite side of the pegbox, as the string passes the protruding section try and trap this section beneath the winding as you continue to now wind toward the peghead side of the pegbox. Finally, and very importantly, once the string has been trapped the remainder must be wound so that it bunches neatly against the pegbox wall, not so tight that it runs over itself. This will help hold the peg in.
The correct order of stringing a viola is to start with the C 4th, A 1st, G 3rd and lastly the D 2nd string, make sure your bridge does not begin to lean forwards or backwards.
Changing a complete set of strings
If you are putting a new set of strings on your instrument, never remove all four strings at once. Remove and replace each string separately. Follow these steps.
- Step 1. Lower the pitch a little on each string in the following order: for viola and cello: D, A, G, C, for double bass D, G, A, E, for violin A, E, D, G.
- Step 2. Remove and replace the C string first for viola and cello and E for double bass, G for violin, bringing it almost up to the pitch.
- Step 3. Remove and replace the remaining strings in the following order: violas and cello: A, G, D, double bass G, A, D, violin E, D, A.
Changing a string
- Step 1. Remove the peg from the pegbox. If the peg was working fine follow step 2 onwards below, if not then apply a small amount of peg paste to the two areas of the peg shaft which are the running surfaces and come into contact with the pegbox, begin to turn gently several times until the peg moves smoothly if it is still stiff or clicks then a little more peg paste may be necessary.
- Step 2. Thread the new string through the hole in the peg, allowing no more than roughly 1 cm to protrude through the other side.
- Step 3. Begin to turn slowly, bringing the string over to the inside of the pegbox immediately using your index finger to guide the string of your other hand. Make sure that the one cm of excess string is trapped and held securely in place by the advancing string.
- Step 4. Continue keeping your index finger against the string and the side of the pegbox; turn the peg without using any pressure until the string has been wound onto the peg. If this procedure has been successful, you will notice a gradual ‘tightening’ feeling as the excess string winds onto the peg and presses against the inside of the pegbox.
Cello strings are fairly strong and durable and don’t need anywhere near as much cleaning as some people think. Unless you’re a pro who’s playing every night, cleaning the rosin off your strings once a week or so using a micro-fibre cloth. Keep spare strings in your case in case of breakages.
Do not fit gut strings onto fine tuners, their sharp edges can break these strings.
Scratches and scuffs are at some point virtually unavoidable. Do not worry too much about small scratches in the varnish. The only time to be concerned is if the scratch is deeper and more pronounced, or the wood beneath the varnish has been exposed, now’s the time to bring it into us we will be able to touch up the damage. If it is a crack, however, then bring it in as soon as possible!
Cracks and openings
If your cello has an open seam (the joint between the front or back and sides or ribs) or worse a crack bring it in immediately and ideally reduce the tension on the string s enough just to hold the bridge and post in place.
Climate and humidity.
Weather, temperature and humidity affect every cello. Cracks may develop from both high and low humidity. A good cello should not be used outdoors. Try to keep your cello at home in a room with an even temperature and humidity, if possible. Some cellist place humidifiers inside their cellos, through the f-holes, there are also models available which are highly effective which are designed to live inside your case. Avoid excessive temperature, never leave near radiators or in direct sunlight!