Things to Watch Out For:
Shoulder Rest: Some players use a “bar” type shoulder rest. There are two potential problems with this kind of rest. It attaches with metal feet covered with rubber. Sometimes the rubber wears out and the instrument can become scratched. Watch for this so you can take care of it BEFORE it happens!
The other problem is that sometimes the bar is low enough that it can touch the back of the instrument in the center. If it’s only touching slightly it will cause a buzzing sound as the wood vibrates against it. If it is scraped against the wood when putting it on or off, it will scratch the finish, marring the instrument.
Sound Post: If you peek in the sound hole on the right side of the instrument (right as you hold the scroll away from you), you’ll see a small round stick of wood connecting the top and bottom of the instrument. This is the sound post. The exact location of this little piece of wood can make a big difference in the tone of the instrument.
The sound post is not glued in place. It’s held there by the pressure of the strings on the bridge – which in turn is pressing on the belly of the instrument. A sound post is supposed to be wedged firmly in place, but over the years, the wood may shrink a bit.
A sound post can fall over for two reasons – 1) if the instrument is dropped or bumped, or 2) if all the strings are loose at the same time. Don’t panic if this happens. But DO take care of it right away. It’s a good idea to handle the instrument gently and hold it flat until you get it in to see a fiddle doctor. Even if the bridge has fallen over (result of all the strings being loose at the same time) the sound post MAY stay in place if you treat it kindly.
Cracks in the Wood or Seams: The most common places for a crack to develop in the wood are at the ends of the F holes, next to the chin rest clamps, or on either side of the saddle. (That’s the little piece that the tailgut – which holds the tail piece on – rests on. Got it?) A crack in the wood CAN cause a buzz. Or it can make the instrument sound better! It’s a mystery! Sometimes seams fail. Violins are held together with hide glue. (Ever hear of horse owners threatening to send their animals to the glue factory? That’s it.) Being an animal product, hide glue is susceptible to bacterial breakdown. Too much heat or cold can hasten this process. If you notice a seam coming loose, take it to an instrument repairman right away. DO NOT USE WOOD GLUE ON A VIOLIN!
Strings: Sometimes strings become worn. If they’re all beginning to wear out – just sounding tired, a new set of strings is needed. But if only one string is showing wear (it’s usually the A or D string) you can replace only that one. If only one string is going, it usually begins to unwind where the second or third finger hits. This needs to be replaced right away, because that winding is sharp!