Music Education

Learning Basic Instrument Care For Fiddle

Home Main Menu Singing & Playing Order & Order Info Support Search

Share page  Visit Us On FB

This quick guide will help you maintain your instrument and recognize problems when they arise. Included are some simple tips to help you with problems if you have an emergency. Remember that proper care of your instrument will prevent problems, keep it healthy and keep you happy. Remember, most questions should be referred to a qualified person. This is only meant as a guide, not as a repair guide.



Pegs are often subject to slipping or sticking. Otherwise normal pegs can slip or stick with a change in humidity or temperature. With pegs that slip, a simple cleaning is recommended. Simply unwind the string and wipe the peg with fine steel wool and replace. Additional cleaning inside the peg hole may be necessary. Remove the peg and *very* carefully scrape the build-up on the inside of the hole with a pen knife.

With pegs that stick, a little dry Ivory soap on the peg where it touches the peg-box wall usually helps. Peg dope, sold as a stick in a tube, also helps sticky pegs turn a little easier.

If these solutions don't work or if you have any questions, consult with a qualified repairman.

Occasionally, pegs fit poorly and it is recommended they be replaced. Pegs that don't fit can slip, can have a "bump" in them while turning, or stick out on the other side of the peg-box. If pegs stick out too much or there is a crack in the peg-box, a bushing may be required. A bushing involves filling the peg hole with a tapered dowel and re-cutting a new smaller hole for the peg to avoid excess pressure on a crack when turning.


When should strings be replaced? This is a big question and everyone has a different answer. It really depends on the string and how often you play. Most strings with regular use (1/2 hour to an hour a day) should be replaced every six to eight months. Some sooner - some later. The biggest criteria is: do you feel the strings should be replaced? If the answer is 'yes', then replace them.

Strings come in a great variety. Perlon core, steel, rope core, pure gut and wrapped gut. Many fiddlers like the steel string for its power. The perlon (or kevlar) core strings tend to have a smoother sound and last quite well. They are made by most companies. Experimentation and experience will help you choose your string.

Remember to wipe the rosin from the strings frequently and to change strings one at a time.


The fingerboard of an instrument is not flat. It is scooped allowing the strings to play true without buzzing. Lack of scoop or a bump in the board will cause frustrating noise. In this case a dressing of the board is necessary. The dressing removes bumps, channels dug by the strings, and restores the board. A fingerboard is replaced only when it becomes too thin or is badly cracked.

Occasionally fingerboards come loose from the neck and must be reglued.

Sound Post

Often called the "soul" of the stringed instrument, the soundpost can radically affect the sound of the instrument. Its relative position to the bridge is essential to the tone of the instrument. The post must fit in length so as not to be too tight or too loose. The fit should be snug and clean. The ends of the post are beveled to fit the inside curve of the instrument. An ill fit post will harm rather than enhance the sound.

A general rule is to keep the post approximately 3mm to 6mm behind the foot of the bridge. The post acts as a support for the top and as a nodal point on the top which directs the patterns of vibration and hence the sound.

The diameter of the modern post is 6mm to 6.5mm


The bridge is one the most important parts of the set-up of the fiddle. It regulates the sound of the fiddle by setting the height of the strings and setting the relationship of the string to the instrument. A well cut bridge should give a string height higher on the 'g' side than the 'e' side. The feet should fit the contour of the top perfectly, and be shaped so that they are not too thick.

If the feet should rise away from the top in the back, they lose contact area and hence sound. The bridge will also sometimes be pulled forward by the action of tuning. The feet can be brought back down by taking the instrument and bracing it against the chest with the scroll pointed down and using your fingers to gently pull the bridge back into position. The average bridge (for fiddle) is fit at 195mm from the upper edge at the joint of the neck to the body for fiddle and approximately 400-415mm for 'cello. This is usually at the notches of the 'f' holes. Viola varies too greatly for there to be an average.

Adjustment should only be attempted with care and confidence but will improve the sound and help prevent warpage.
A little graphite from a pencil lead rubbed in the string grooves of the bridge will also help the strings pass over the bridge a little smoother. This should be done perhaps once a month or when the strings are changed.

Check the bridge for warpage by viewing it from the side. A bridge should be at a 90 degree angle at the back, to the plane of the instrument. If the bridge curls forward it may be time to have the bridge either flattened or replaced.

To protect the bridge from the 'e' or 'a' string slowly cutting into the wood of the top, a small, thin piece of leather or parchment is usually glued into place over the string groove. If your bridge doesn't have one, use the small sleeve provided with most new 'e' and 'a' strings.
Bridges are made to fit in one place and moving the bridge from its original placement is not recommended.

Again, any questions or problems you're not sure of should be referred to a qualified professional.

Seasonal Concerns

With the changes in temperature and humidity some instruments expand and contract. The strings will feel high or low and the sound can become very un-focused.

Seams are also something that must be watched when seasons change. The glue holding the instrument together is water soluble therefore allowing the seams to open rather than the instrument developing a crack. Re-gluing seams is a fairly simple procedure that involves washing the old glue out and running a bead of new glue in and clamping it.

Your instrument should never be left in the car or in a dry room. Humidifiers are recommended for winter and careful handling for the summer.

Top Nut

The top nut is the ebony piece over which the strings go into the peg box at the top of the fingerboard. The only real maintenance here is to lubricate the string grooves with a bit a graphite from a pencil lead. You must also keep an eye on whether the string has worn the groove down too low and onto the fingerboard. If this is the case, the string will start to buzz or be difficult to play. A simple mix of superglue and ebony dust will fill the old groove which can then be re-cut.


Buzzes on instruments are caused by a myriad of things. Here is a check list of what to look for:
1/ Are there any open seams between the ribs and the top or back?
2/ Is the fingerboard loose from the neck?
3/ Are there any cracks developing on the top?
4/ Do the strings travel over the bridge and top nut without obstruction?
5/ Are the strings wound properly around the pegs?
6/ Is there anything touching the top such as a part of the tailpiece?
7/ Is the chinrest secure?
8/ If you use fine tuners, are they all properly tightened down to the tailpiece?

This is a quick list of things to look for. A buzz can easily hide in an invisible open seam. Most likely if the buzz is inside the instrument it is a loose lining.

Also, be aware that if a buzz develops it's probably due to a change in the humidity that has opened the seam. Seams are glued with a water soluble glue that allows the instrument to open at the seams rather than crack.

Questions and Answers

What is the difference between violin and Fiddle?
Only the style and choice of music. Occasionally, fiddlers prefer a slightly flatter bridge and steel strings to gut or perlon. Otherwise, the instruments are exactly the same.

With what do I clean my fiddle?
There are many cleaners and polishes on the market. Most instruments only require a careful wipe with a cloth after playing. Be careful not to use alcohol or oils to clean without first consulting with a trusted maker or repairperson.

What about travel?
Treat your instrument the way you would a child. Do not leave it unattended in a hot or cold car. Always carry-on for air travel if possible and if not, then use an aluminum re-enforced case that is well padded.

How can I tell if a seam is open?
Look closely under good natural light at the suspected area. Try inserting a business card into the suspected area. Careful! Many people miss open seams which can then spread.


Cracks develop in the top or back due to changes in the top, ie: shrinking or due to pressure or stress. A proper repair to a large crack involves removing the top and gluing the top crack flush and then patching with very small spruce studs. In most cases, if the repair is done carefully, the tone will not be affected.


A good bow will make an instrument sound very different from an 'okay' bow. Bows should be kept clean (done at the time of a re-hair). and the hair should be replaced regularly. Some players go for years without a re-hair and some who re-hair every couple of weeks. The choice is yours. A good indication of the need for re-hair is when the hair at its loosest hangs well below the stick, or if the hair feels greasy.

Occasionally, the eyelet screw will strip and must be replaced. The eyelet connects the end screw and the frog. You will notice that it's stripped when you are no longer able to tighten the hair and it is possible to pull the screw out.

Other things that occasionally need replacement are the grip and the wrapping. The wrapping (or winding) is made of steel wire, silver wire, whalebone, leather, or plastic. It adds aesthetic and functional value to the stick. It sometimes un-winds. The grip is made of leather or lizard skin and allows a comfortable positioning of the hand.