Using and maintaining the viola
The sound post plays a crucial role in the generation of sound. It functions as a conduit between the bridge, the strings and the body of the instrument. The sound post is located inside the body and is visible from the F-hole. Special tools are needed for setting up the sound post of your instrument. It is not attached to the instrument, but is held in place by customized dimensions that match the convexity of your instrument. It is possible that during transport the sound post becomes loose or displaced. If so, contact How Violins. You can damage your viola if its sound post is misplaced, and in these cases the How Violins warranty does not cover damage.
Maintaining the viola
Keep your instrument and bow in their case every time you don’t use them. Make sure the bow is locked in place. Carelessness in this matter can cause major damage to your instrument.
If the tuning pegs are sliding, press them against the peg box for better grip. Use pin wax to help lock the pins in place. Over time, all the pegs and peg boxes will wear out. If this is the case, it is time to have your instrument repaired by a qualified service technician.
If the pegs slip, you can do the following:
- As you tune the string, push the peg inward. This tightens the peg grip as the string tension increases
- Use peg wax to help the pegs lock in place
New strings require some stretching before they settle down and stay in tune. After tuning the strings, gently pull them up. This will get the extra loose out of the new strings and speed up settling.
Tuning the strings
Once the bridge is in place, you can start tuning your viola. If you have recently started playing, we recommend that you ask for help from a more experienced user. The strings are sensitive, and if tightened too much, they might break and cause damage to your new instrument.
While tightening the strings, simultaneously press the top of the bridge back toward the tailpiece. When tightening the strings, the bridge tends to lean toward the fingerboard. If you let it tilt too far, it will fall down and cause damage to your instrument. The viola string notes are C-G-D-A from bottom to top.
- Use a pitch pipe or electric tuner to help you tune the strings.
- Start by tuning the G string first. G is the second string from the left in the player’s perspective.
- If you use a pitch pipe, blow G.
- Pluck the string and adjust the tension of the string from the tuning peg until you are relatively close to the correct pitch. Push the pegs inwards towards the peg box.
- When plucking or bowing a string, keep the g-tone in your mind or blow it from the pitch pipe until you get the same tone. If you are using a tuner, tune the string until the tuner indicates that you are near the desired pitch.
- When you are near the right pitch, you can use the Quick Tuner in the tailpiece to make the sounds play exactly the same.
- Repeat the above steps to tune the remaining strings in the following order: D, A and C.
Things to note and remember:
- Use tuning pegs for larger changes and quick tuners for smaller changes.
- Tighten the peg by turning the G-peg clockwise. Lock the strings in place by pushing the pegs towards the peg box
- Depending on the weather (temperature and humidity) and the volume and style of the playing, you may need to tune the instrument more often (for example, every 15 to 30 minutes)
- Ideally, this is not necessary, but check from time to time that your viola is still in tune.
- It takes some time for the strings to settle. New strings lose their tension more than older strings. The first time you tune new strings, you can pull them up slightly to make them stretch and settle more easily. After pulling them up, you will probably need to retune your strings.
- You can more easily reach the desired pitch from below the pitch. If the sound of the string is too high, loosen the string slightly until it is lower. Tighten the tuning peg until the string is at the desired pitch.
- It takes some time to learn how to tune, but with time you learn to make small adjustments instinctively and you can quickly tune your instrument without having to think about it step by step.
Never clean your instrument with furniture cleaner or alcohol.
Clean the viola after each time you play. Keep a lint-free cloth in your case and wipe off the rosin dust and other dirt. Pay particular attention to the fingerboard and the top of the instrument. If the rosin dust accumulates in the instrument and is not wiped away, it will mix with the varnish and make it almost impossible to remove without problems.
Be careful not to push the bridge away when cleaning the instrument.
The bow should be tightened and rosin applied to produce sound. Here’s how to prepare a bow for playing:
- Use the screw to tighten the frog so that the bow hair is tensioned.
- However, do not over-tighten the bow. There should be some elasticity in the hair, but not so much that it touches the stick when the bow is placed on a string. The tension is also influenced by the individual characteristics of the player and the curvature of the bow.
- The new rosin piece is too slippery to be applied to the bow hair. Use a small pocket knife and cut three or four parallel cuts into the rosin piece to obtain a suitable surface for the rosin. You can also roughen the surface of the rosin pad with sandpaper.
- Slowly pull the strings over the rosin pad from the frog to the tip of the bow. Do not pull the bow too quickly while rubbing.
- You may need to repeat the process for a new bow after 5-10 minutes. Try the bow to see if the rosin has stuck to the bow hair.
- If the rosin is stuck, you will hear a clear sound as you pull the bow over the strings.
- Place the bow on the strings and play a few open sounds.
If there is no sound from the strings or the sound is weak, the bow will not grip the string sufficiently to form a sound. In that case, add rosin.
- Repeat these steps until the bow no longer slips over the strings and you get a clear sound.
Things to note and remember:
- When adding rosin, you must find the golden mean. Search for clear voice when playing strings with a bow. If you hear a whispering sound or no sound at all, add rosin to the bow hair. If you get a clear sound from the strings, the rosin volume is ideal for the bow. If the sound is scratching, stop adding rosin and start playing.
- If you hear a scratching sound instead of a clear and beautiful sound, you may have added too much rosin to the bow.
- If this is the case, you can simply consume the excess rosin by playing.
- After you have finished playing, loosen the screw so that the bow hair is no longer tensioned and place the bow in the case. This will extend the life of your bow.
- Never touch the bow hair. Skin oil damages the hair and removes the sticky surface.
Keep lint-free cloth in your case and use it to remove rosin dust and dirt from the strings after you have finished playing. This measure is of great importance for sound quality.
Strings deteriorate over time. In general, in about half a year they have lost much of the quality of sound and they sound muddy and lifeless. This also happens when the violin is not played. Old strings are lifeless and sound flat. They should be replaced with new strings. Even the best violin does not sound good when played with bad strings. Strings should be changed one by one. If you need to change all the strings on your instrument, do not remove all the old strings at the same time, as this may cause the bridge to move out of position and lack of tension may tip over the sound post.
To change strings, follow these steps:
- Adjust the quick tuner to the center position
- Put the ball at the end of the string around the hook of the tuner and pull gently
- Insert the other end of the string through the hole in the tuning peg and turn the peg clockwise. Place the string on the bridge so that it sits in the hole where the old string was
- Rotate the string evenly from the center of the tuning peg to the edge of the peg box. Tighten the string until you reach the desired pitch
- Use the quick tuner to find the exact pitch
- Check the adjustment of the bridge and make sure that the edge is not tilted too far towards the fingerboard and gradually tune the new string
New strings may break after the switch. If this happens, see where the string was broken. There are a number of reasons for string breakdown:
- The viola peg, nut, or quick tuner may have a rough spot if the string threads are too close to the edge of the peg box.
- Also, too much tension or load can cause the string to break
- If the tuning pegs on your instrument are slipping or too tight, see the steps above to fix these problems
Remember that strings become more fragile over time. Usually after about six months, they have lost much of their sound quality and sound cloudy and lifeless. This also applies to unused strings. The strings in the package will deteriorate over time. Often, trying different strings can significantly improve the sound of your instrument.
The viola is a delicate instrument and requires regular maintenance. We recommend that you visit our store and have your instrument inspected at least twice a year. An early, inexpensive repair can save your viola from major repairs or maintenance.