How to Repair a Violin
Why a picture of the potato chip to the left? When you are at home I want you to take a potato chip and place it on the table. Then I want you to take your hand and crush the chip. After this I want you to get a bottle of glue and re-glue all the pieces till it looks like the original chip. You will then have the experience of Violin repair.
As silly as the above paragraph might sound it tends to be a very close resemblance of the violin repair world. There have been many occasions of people bringing me a messed up violin in a box. I will search through the box looking for any chips that might have come loose from the instrument. I am often called upon to repair instruments that are two hundred years old so it is of the up-most importance to have as much of the original instrument as possible. It can be very challenging to collect all the pieces and try to restore everything to it's original state. Now I am not saying that you are going to be handed a box of violin parts to be repaired I was just trying to share what could happen. Violin repair can be straight forward at times and it can also be long and drawn out . If you are dealing with an instrument with many cracks and worn out finish it could take months to reassemble it, do all the touch up work and French Polishing. Violin repair is a work of art and patience. Let's take a look at some normal problems that arise.
Violin seams opening up
I would like to go over some of the common problems that would cause your instrument to need repairs. I should mention that the up coming articles also refer to Violas,Cellos And Basses. You should be familiar with the basics so the minor problems don't escalate into major ones.
One common problem is a seam opening up. It is usually the top that comes loose due to the fact that most properly glued tops are glued with a weaker glue than the back. The violin if made correctly will be glued with hot hide glue. This type of glue has a high tinsel strength but a low shear strength . This makes it ideal for removing a top but strong enough to not get pulled apart. There are three basic reasons for a top to become unglued 1. excess dryness 2. excess moisture 3. bad repair work. It is important that you understand that a top coming loose is not necessarily a bad thing . If the violin becomes too dry it causes great tension on the top. If the top is glued onto the ribs with too strong of a glue the top can develop cracks. It is better to have the top pop loose from the ribs and then re-glue it in the new position.
The top and back can also start to shrink, this will be noticeable when the ribs start to bulge out further that the top or back. When this happens there will be no rib surface for the top or back to be glued too. In a situation like that the top and back can be further loosed off the ribs - then the ribs are re-shifted to give a little more gluing surface to the top and back. Sometimes this is not always possible, in that situation the instrument would have to go under a rib shortening procedure.
The next most common problem is the sound post falling down. It should be re-set by someone with the proper training. You could severely damage the F-holes by not using the proper tools or not using the tools properly. Sound post tools can gouge up the instrument badly and can also devalue your instrument because of it. Not only does the post have to be set up, but you also must know the correct place to set the post to bring out the best sound for the instrument.
There are different types tools needed. You can use a traditional sound-post setter a sound-post scissor or one of the newer VSP sound-post setters. Besides a sound-post setter there are also tools to measure the length needed for new post installation .
The Bridge is one of the most replaced parts on the violin. The bridge will need replacement for one or more reasons. 1. badly warped 2.poorly fitted 3.too low 4. poor quality wood 5. of poor workmanship. The kind of bridge to replace your old one would depend on the quality of your instrument. An inexpensive student violin might be fitted with a Dejacques bridge. These types of bridges have movable feet which will adjust to the top contour of most violins. They are French made bridges of good quality wood, however, they tend to be a bit bulky and therefore diminish the tone of a good instrument. You can save some money by purchasing a cheaper bridge but you will pay for it in the long run with less sound quality, and they usually give out faster.
It is important that the bridge feet are fitting very accurately on the instrument top for best sound production. The bridge also has to be thinned and the kidneys and heart have to be opened for good response. You also have to consider the performers preference. If it is for a classical player the arching of the bridge will be much higher, if it is for a bluegrass player the arching would be lower to facilitate double or triple stops more efficiently.
Cracking is a very serious problem. You should always be on the look out for any cracks developing on your instrument. Keeping an eye on it before it develops into a major crack will save you a lot of money and contribute to a better resale value should you decide to sell it. If you are in a climate that is very dry the moisture levels can drop below 30% which is not to good. If the the wood starts to shrink too much and it doesn't pop of the ribs it could cause those unwanted cracks. If you do have cracks in your instrument don't just grab a bottle of Elmer's glue and go at it. Crack repairs can be very involved and the proper training is required before you should attempt it. I have had to re-repair many a violin because someone thought they could do it. It ended up costing them more money because I had to UN-do everything they did . So be careful if you are looking at doing this on your own. If your violin does crack try not to polish it until the cracks are repaired . If you should rub dirt into the crack from the cleaning and polishing cloth it will make it that much harder to repair. If you use a Violin humidifier inside your case you can greatly reduce the chance of the instrument cracking.
After repeated playing the fingerboard will become worn out. it will develop grooves and bumps. You will find that after a fingerboard has been over planed the part of it that overhangs the body will become thin and start to drop thereby causing a hump by the neck and body joint. Except for the thinned out fingerboard the above problems can be remedied by planing , scraping and sanding. This should only be done by someone with the proper training. The curve of the board must be maintained throughout the board as well as the relief (nut to end curve) . In order to do this properly you also must be aware of the vibrating properties of the string. You can't just start planning and hope you get it right. The way that the string vibrates determines how that board is planned . After the fingerboard is planned the nut also has to be lowered . Do not just cut the string grooves deeper, you also must lower the height of the entire nut surface. The strings rest on top of the nut and only slightly in the groove. When you are done setting up the nut height the strings should be sitting above the finger board no more than half the thickness of the string. Most of the student instruments that I have seen have nuts that are too high. When the fingerboard becomes too thin for re-paining it must be replaced, if the instrument warrants that repair. If the overly thin board is played on too long it will have a tendency to warp the neck. This condition is most apparent on Cellos and Basses. Bottom line keep an eye on the condition of the fingerboard.
Violin pegs can be a real problem if not taken care of. When you think of it the pegs are the most used part of the instrument. Every time you are to play you will grab the pegs and start tuning. After constant tuning the pegs can be worn out. One of the main conditions are pegs that have become out of round then the peg holes suffer the same. If you have sufficient material the peg can be reshaped with a special peg shaper and the holes can be redone with a reamer. The pegs can become very short but should work much better after re- fitting. If this can't be done the pegs have to be replaced again this is done with a peg shaper, reamer and some training. If you have adjusted or replaced your pegs it would be a good idea to keep handy a bar of Lava soap. This is a good to lubricant for your pegs. The soap contain pumice witch helps to hold the peg and soap to help turn the peg smoothly. I have used Lava soap for as long as I can remember and it still works great. There are many types of mechanical pegs on the market that have there individual pluses and minuses . I have a lot of customers who replace these types of pegs , when they do, some pegs will leave large holes in the peg box . If this is so, the holes will have to be plugged with peg bushings and then you would start the peg replacement. This should only be done with proper training. If you keep your pegs well adjusted it will help to minimize the wear and tear on them.
What can you do.
The above mentioned repairs should be done by a trained individual. There are things that you can do to help yourself. 1.Keep your instrument clean. Wipe the rosin off your instrument after your done playing. Use a violin polish/cleaner at least once a month to prevent excessive rosin and dirt build up. Do not remove rosin with chemicals or rubbing compound that should be done by a professional. 2. Keep your bridge straight. Even a very good Bridge will warp if not taken care of properly. If your bridge starts to tilt forward, because of the pull of the strings when tuning, you must then grasp the top of the bridge and pull it back until it is perpendicular with the top. 3. Keep checking for any seam openings or crack developments, again, they are more easy to deal with when they are small. 4. Use a humidifier when conditions call for it. 5. If you are not sure about something take it to a repairman before it becomes a major problem and don't try it yourself if you are not sure.
Stay Tuned More To Come