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From the Directors: The following article from School Band and Orchestra magazine offers an excellent explanation for purchasing a stringed instrument (not just the violin.) For local stringed dealers that sell instruments, please visit shops that rent instruments in our area, as well as Wayne Burak & Associates.
CHOOSING A VIOLIN
Because size is very important in choosing a violin, it is advisable to seek out someone that is familiar with violin sizing. A violin that is too large for the student can be very uncomfortable to hold, and in extreme cases excess stretching of the shoulder and arm can cause painful tendonitis.
A violin teacher, orchestra director or music store dealer can be of great help in determining the size you will need in relation to the arm length and hand size of the student. Violin shops that deal exclusively with orchestral instruments and music stores with string instrument departments can be good sources of education, and instrument sizing is an important part of their work. Some music stores have a very well developed violin department where children can be sized accurately, but unless this is the case, you should rely on the advice of a teacher. Often teachers or orchestra directors want to be involved in helping their students choose an instrument. It is helpful if they can accompany you to the violin shop or music store. If this is not possible, most violin shops will allow you to take an instrument for a few days on approval so your teacher can advise you on your purchase.
PLANNING YOUR BUDGET
Violins come in a great array of price ranges. Many of the very inexpensive ones ($100 to $200) are not worth carrying home. In the violin shop, we call them VSOs -”Violin Shaped Objects.” Unfortunately, many times each year I am confronted with the unpleasant task of informing a distraught parent or an excited young student that the violin they have just bought will take over $150 worth of work just to make it playable, and then their instrument will only be worth about $100! A good quality, new European violin outfit for the beginning student should retail in the neighborhood of $650 to $850. “Step-up” instruments will be in the retail range of $1,000 to $3,500, and professional instruments are generally $5,000 and up.
Unlike other instruments, good violins do not depreciate in value, so buying used will not necessarily save you a lot of money. A good option to outright purchase is instrument rental. Good rental programs will allow you to apply at least part of the rent toward the eventual purchase of an instrument, and will allow you to exchange sizes as necessary.
It is not uncommon for teachers to encourage their students to purchase used violins because they have “mellowed out” or been “played in.” This phenomenon is real! Good violins do get better as they are played, however for a beginning student the noticeable difference is negligible. If you choose to purchase a used instrument, you should seriously consider getting it from a reputable dealer. Repairs can be very costly, and are often necessary on old instruments that are found in flea markets, Grandma’s attic, etc. If an individual is offering an instrument for sale, you should have someone who is familiar with violins look at it before you buy. Violin shops will most likely charge a small fee for this service, but it will save you a lot of problems to get some expert advice. Expect to spend some money on refurbishing a used violin. Replacing the strings, bridge, and bow hair and making other minor adjustments can cost $100 or more. Crack repairs can be very expensive.
WHERE TO BUY YOUR VIOLIN
There are several options for purchasing new violins: your local music store, a mail order company, a violin shop, or a private individual selling a used instrument. One of the things you should consider is availability of service. Buying your instrument from a local dealer that has a trained violin repair person on staff is an advantage because adjustments or repairs may be needed from time to time.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Violins are made of wood, and wood is affected by the environment. Because of this it is important to examine the body of any violin (new or used) to make sure that there are no cracks in the top or back. Well repaired cracks in the top of an older instrument may not be a problem (Seek the advice of a teacher or violin maker), but cracks in the back of an instrument can depreciate its value as much as 75 percent.
Examine the ribs (sides) of the violin to make sure that they are not bulging out beyond the edges of the top or back. This happens because wood that is not well seasoned will shrink noticeably when it dries out. As the top and back shrink, the ribs begin to bulge. Most instruments of reasonable quality do not have this problem, because close attention is given to curing the wood properly. It is also not uncommon to find this problem in used instruments over 50 years old regardless of quality. If everything else is in good order, this may not be cause to reject a used violin, but consult your violin repair shop concerning repair costs before making such a purchase.
Check to make sure that the neck of the violin is straight. Occasionally an instrument is made wrong, and somehow slips through the adjusting process unnoticed. Make sure the bridge is centered between the f-holes, then sight up the fingerboard to see if it aligns with the bridge. If the bridge must be off-set toward one side or the other to make the strings and fingerboard line up you have a problem.
“Set up” on violins is very important. This includes proper bridge and string nut fitting so that the strings are a proper height from the fingerboard, fingerboard planing to make sure the strings don’t buzz, peg fitting so the pegs turn smoothly and stay in place, and setting the soundpost for proper tone adjustment, etc. As a general rule, pegs should be made of ebony or rosewood because most other woods are not dense enough to retain the smooth roundness that is necessary for easy tuning. Some music stores do not set up their own instruments, but well-known brands generally are shipped in good adjustment. Many violin shops do their own “set ups,” and work to meet the desires and specifications of local teachers and professional players.
Most violin outfits will have a case and bow included in the price. A fiberglass bow with horse hair is a good bow for beginners. A good wood bow can add $100 or more to the cost of a beginning violin outfit. For step up violins, you will find the instrument, bow and case priced individually.
MAINTENANCE AND CARE
Like most musical instruments, the violin requires maintenance occasionally. You should expect a few broken strings from time to time. It just happens with violin family instruments. If the same string breaks often, have your repair person examine the violin to make sure something is not out of adjustment. Upgrading to perlon core strings can give a violin a much more pleasing tone, and is often worth the investment. Violin bows need to be rehaired every year or two depending on the amount of playing.
Because the instrument is made of wood and is held together with glue it is very susceptible to heat and humidity changes. Leaving the violin in a car in the heat will often cause it to come apart or crack. If an instrument gets too cold it can crack also. When transporting your violin, keep it in the passenger compartment of the car, not in the trunk because the trunk can get very hot or very cold and cause serious damage.
Rosin is used on the bow to make it grip the strings. Dust from the rosin will collect on the fingerboard and on the top of the violin. This rosin dust should be wiped off with a soft cloth regularly or it can build into a hard unsightly layer which will have to be professionally removed.
Playing the violin can be a lot of fun! There are many styles of music, and a great variety of opportunities for musical performances are available. Playing in the school orchestra is just a beginning in the wonderful world of strings. Keep your instrument in good adjustment so that it will respond to your touch, then explore, experiment, experience the excitement of making beautiful music!
Reprinted from School Band and Orchestra magazine
Please visit them at www.sbomagazine.com
Proper care and maintenance of string instruments Compliments of Wm. LEWIS & SON
CARE OF VIOLIN, VIOLA, CELLO, OR BASS
Regular attention to the following details will help keep a string instrument in the best playing condition.
THESE ARE THINGS YOU CAN DO.
PROTECTION: Always keep the instrument and bow in the case (or cover) when it is not in use. Make sore the how is secured in proper position.
TEMPERATURE: Never expose the instrument to sudden changes in temperature or humidity. Do not expose it to the sun. When not in use, store it in a place with moderate humidity, away from radiators or hot air vents. Never leave an instrument in a car in extremely hot or cold weather.
CLEANING: Rosin dust should he removed after each playing. Use a soft cloth like flannel to clean the body of the instrument. To remove rosin accumulation on the strings in the bowing area, polish the strings lightly with Triple steel wool. D0 NOT USE ALCOHOL OR FURNITURE POLISH. It is a solvent and can damage the varnish.
THE BRIDGE: The feet of the bridge should always be aligned with the inner notches cut in the F-holes. It must be kept in a perpendicular position.
Tuning the strings tends to pull it forward. Check its position frequently. If neglected, the bridge may warp, even break. If it requires adjusting, grasp the bridge at both upper corners with the thumb and first fingers of each hand while holding the instrument firmly braced. Then gently move the top of the bridge to a perpendicular position. Or, ask your instructor to do it for you.
STRINGS: Old strings are lifeless, false, dull. Replace them with good fresh strings. The finest instrument cannot sound its best with poor strings. Put new strings on one at a time. Guard against the bridge being pulled forward while tuning new strings up to pitch.
STRING TUNERS: If your tuner has a lever under the tailpiece, guard against the lever touching the top of the instrument. This can seriously bruise the wood. To reduce the depression of the lever, merely turn the tuner screw to the LEFT. Then raise the pitch with the peg.
CHINREST: If the rest is loose it may produce a buzzing sound. Fix the rest firmly by inserting a metal pin in the small hole in each chinrest bar. Turn the bars to tighten. Not too tight. Just enough to fix the rest firmly.
PEGS: Even normal tuning will cause both peg and peg hole to wear smooth. This causes slipping. To give the peg more grip apply ordinary white chalk. Sometimes a peg will “stick.” For that condition we recommend a lubricant developed in the Lewis Shop, Lewis Peg Dope. When pegs become seriously worn see your repairman.
MAINTENANCE OF THE INSTRUMENT – THINGS TO BE DONE ONLY BY YOUR REPAIRMAN
FINGERBOARD: Don’t let grooves develop under the strings. Grooves prohibit free vibration of the strings. Be sure the board has a sufficient concave dip. See your repairman. He will also check the grooves in the nut. They may be worn too deep.
SUMMER, WINTER BRIDGE: In warm weather the top of the instrument swells upward. This raises the bridge and lifts the strings too high above the fingerboard for comfortable playing. A lower bridge is required. In cold weather the top is at its lowest level. Then a higher bridge is required. Otherwise the strings will be too close to the fingerboard to permit free vibration. See your repairman.
SOUNDPOST: If the post was fitted during the cold weather it may be too short for summer use when the top raises. Conversely, if it was fitted in warm weather it may be too long for winter use when the top subsides. Unless the post fits properly, the tone will be disturbed. If it falls, or moves, loosen the string tension slightly, and ask you teacher or repairman or reposition it.
OPEN EDGES: Check your instrument regularly to note whether the top or back has become unglued from the ribs at any point. If so, do not neglect this. See your repairman.
CRACKS: Check periodically for cracks that may develop. Have a repairman glue the cracks as soon as possible. Keep all polishes away from open cracks.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF THE BOW
THE STICK: Always loosen the hair after each playing. This will preserve the sweep and straightness of the stick. Keep it free of rosin. Clean with a soft cloth after each use. The head of a wood bow is very fragile and can break with a light impact. Inmost cases the bow cannot be repaired and will have to be replaced.
THE HAIR: Bow hair becomes smooth from playing. Rosin will not restore its ability to grip the strings. When the hair begins to break it is time to have the bow rehaired. Worn out hair cannot draw a clear, resonant tone. Warm, humid weather causes hair to stretch. It may become too long to permit tightening to give sufficient tension to the stick. If so, see your repairman about shortening or re-hairing. Never touch bow hair with the fingers. Never permit oil or grease to touch it. Don’t use polish on the stick.
SCREW, EYELET: The screw passes through the eyelet which is attached to the underside of the frog. The threads in either, or both, may become worn. If so, the hair cannot be tightened. Your repairman can replace either part.
IVORY TIP: It is not merely ornamental. It reinforces the fragile bow head where the hair is inserted. If the ivory cracks or breaks at that point see your repairman for replacement of the ivory.
ROSIN: Use a fine grade of rosin for good tone. Apply it sparingly, evenly, the full hair length. Too much rosin will produce a gritty tone.