How to look after your viola.
Why look after your viola? 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 viola and bow.
How to store your viola and bow.
When not in use return your viola and bow to their case, and make sure the lid is securely closed.
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 it is returned to its case.
Never lock a case. If the key is lost, entry to the case could cause extreme damage to your viola.
Always make sure that loose items such as mutes, shoulder rests etc are secure, do not allow to roam free in the case potentially causing damage to both your viola and bow.
Cover your viola with a silk scarf or silk bag (pyjamas) when it is in its case. This helps to insulate your viola.
Always have a clean duster in the case to wipe your viola down after playing.
Never put your viola on a chair. We have seen many times what disastrous damage is caused, and it is not pleasant!
When not in use one of the best places to store your viola is in a cupboard or wardrobe (obviously inside its case).
How to handle your viola and bow
Avoid touching your viola with your hands, try to handle it by the neck only, supporting it at the chin-rest end with your other hand. Never pick up your viola by any part of its body. To remove finger marks and light rosin/dirt a microfibre cloth wiped gently will work well.
How to clean your viola
Always clean your viola 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 viola 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 viola’s body, then there is no need for any cleaning process other than your microfibre cloth. After about a year to eighteen months, your viola 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!
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 viola, 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 the 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.
Bridge and sound post
The bridge can and should last a long time if it is looked after well. It is a good idea to check your bridge regularly, see that it is upright, no gaps between the feet and the body (tailpiece side), has not slipped towards the treble or bass side or has become skewed. The effects of tuning will result in pulling the bridge towards the direction of the scroll. If you notice that there are gaps or that it is not upright and starting to move forward, then gently push with your thumbnail between the A and D and the G and C strings and 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 violin, viola, cello or double basses 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 your viola will change.
Do not try to adjust the soundpost yourself; you can easily damage the f-holes and top of your viola. If the soundpost should fall, loosen the tension on the strings immediately and contact us to have it properly set up and adjusted.
This is a job for an expert.
Regular maintenance of your viola
- Try not to touch the varnish; handle it by the neck and the end- button only.
- Clean off rosin and finger marks with a soft microfiber cloth before you put your viola back in its case.
- Check occasionally that the bridge is upright, the back of the bridge should be at right angles to the front. If required, support the back of the bridge with your thumb and the front with your fingers, and gently pull the bridge upright.
- When you change strings, rub a little soft pencil lead into the grooves on the top of the bridge. This will help the strings to slide easily over the bridge and makes it easier to keep it straight. Take extra care to check that the bridge remains straight while the new strings settle in, apply soft pencil lead to the grooves of the top nut, smooth running strings last longer.
- Check the adjusters regularly making sure that they are not touching the front of your viola, unwind and retune, as necessary.
- Protect your viola from excess temperature. Do not leave it in a parked car in hot weather. This can permanently damage the varnish.
- When inside its case, protect by the supplied case blanket supplied or wrap in a silk or soft cloth. This protects it from rubbing against the bow holders, which can cause damage to the front of your viola.
Long-term Maintenance of your Viola
It is a good idea to have your viola checked over by an expert about every six months to a year. If you do not use your viola frequently checking
every few years is enough. It is better to early detect problems before they become major issues.
- Things that can change over time: the soundpost, openings of the seams (where the front or back are glues to the sides or ribs), cracks new and old.
- Wear and tear to the varnish, caused by hand and body abrasion and from sweat and dirt, accidental damage to your viola, the build-up of rosin. Checking regularly, removing rosin and dirt, and sealing any worn and dry patches will prevent wear to the underlying wood.
- The fingerboard will wear suffer wear and tear both from the strings and your fingers, strings cause grooves and fingers create pits, every so often it will need to be resurfaced.