15 March 2024

How to Maintain String Instruments

By Lark Music

A talented musician deserves instruments in peak playing condition. But this doesn’t happen by chance. To help you perfect your skills, your string instrument needs proper care and attention.

In this guide, we’ll provide a symphony of tips, tricks, and advice to help you get string instrument care and maintenance right. So, whether you’re wondering how to maintain a guitar, violin, cello or harp, you’ll be able to play with freedom knowing you’ve got an instrument that should last long into the future.

Types of string instruments

Instruments in the string family are some of the most adored by musicians and audiences. From individual parts making up a grand symphony orchestra to solo performers, string instruments offer versatility, authenticity, character, and beautiful music.

The most common types of string instruments, and the ones we’ll discuss in this article, are:

  • Guitars
  • Violins
  • Cellos
  • Harps

What are string instruments made of?

String instruments are generally made from different kinds of wood, with hollow areas inside that amplify vibrations and project sound through holes in the body. The actual sound is created by vibrations of the strings, which are typically made of nylon, steel, or gut (animal intestines).

Knowing how to care for each of these materials is key to carrying out effective string instrument maintenance.

Routine string instrument care

Most of the care for string instruments is easy and best done little and often. Simple habits performed consistently make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting and preserving your string instrument into the future.

So, if you’re wondering how best to care for a cello, guitar, violin, or harp, here are the routine steps you should consider.

Wiping down strings

One of the easiest and least time-consuming things you can do to care for your instrument is to wipe down the strings after each use. This is especially important for string instruments played with bows because rosin can build up and impact the sound quality.

Rosin is a solid resin that is used to create friction between the bow and strings which produces the melodious sounds from violins and cellos. Without rosin, there’s not enough friction to create vibrations, but too much can dampen the sound.

Wiping down guitar and harp strings is also advised after each use, primarily to wipe away any oils, germs, or debris that might be left after playing. Do this gently with a clean, dry, microfibre cloth, whatever the  string instrument you’re caring for. If something won’t budge with just a wipe, a specialist string cleaning substance or rosin cleaner fluid often works well.

Cleaning the rest of your instrument

It’s not just your strings that need TLC – cleaning and maintaining the rest of your instrument and bow helps keep them looking and sounding fantastic. With a dry, clean microfibre cloth, wipe down other areas including the neck, face, and body after each use or at least periodically. Other more heavily used elements such as chinrests may need extra cleaning.

These steps help to maintain precious woodwork and metals and avoid the build-up of dirt, oil, and rosin around the rest of the string instrument. Take care around delicate elements, such as sound holes, F-holes, bridges, and tailpieces, because these are more prone to breakage.

If you’re applying any specialist cleaning products and polishes, always apply these to a clean cloth first rather than straight onto the surface or material. Strong substances can damage the finish and detract from the natural beauty of your string instrument. And never use household products and polishes!

Proper string instrument storage

Cleaning and maintenance are important aspects of string instrument care, but storage plays an equally important role. Use a strong and sturdy case when transporting your instrument, or when you aren’t using it – this prevents bumps, scrapes, and accidental damage. Make sure the case is clean too because a clean instrument won’t stay that way in a filthy case.

String instruments and environmental conditions

When storing and transporting your instruments from gig to gig or location to location, thinking about environmental factors such as temperature and humidity is important. Exposure to these conditions may seem inconsequential, but they may impact the sound your instrument makes and ultimately shorten its lifespan.

Excessive heat or cold may lead to shrinking or expanding of wood and other materials. This is likely to fundamentally change the structure and sound of the instrument and put seams, joints, and other elements at risk of cracking. You can avoid this by maintaining a stable temperature between 21-25˚C and storing your instruments inside their cases in a cool, dry place. Making sure cases are fully closed helps insulate against temperature changes.

Humidity is another concern. Natural products such as wood can absorb and release moisture from and to the surrounding environment, so you need to maintain the right level, somewhere between 40-60 per cent. Too much could see the wood warping and too little can risk it drying out and cracking. There are different ways to maintain humidity – some musicians rely on inexpensive in-case humidifiers. Others opt for a more reliable system of case-mounted hygrometers or electronic monitors and humidifiers.

String care and maintenance

Depending on how often you play and for how long, replacing your string sets at least a couple of times per year is recommended to maintain the instrument’s sound and feel. Always use quality strings to avoid diminishing the sound of your instrument.

For casual and sporadic players, cleaning regularly may be enough to maintain strings without needing to replace them as often. Replacements are usually only needed when the sound changes or becomes distorted.

Close up of guitar strings

Keep playing with String Instrument insurance from Lark Music

With over 25 years of industry experience and excellent Feefo reviews from our customers, we’re a trusted provider of String Instrument insurance.

Take care of your instruments and we’ll take care of the rest with our Signature or Essential cover.

Get a quote today or feel free to contact us via phone or email for support and advice.