Is it me, or is it my instrument?” Check the below table to gain an overview of common maintenance and set-up issues with string instruments, and how to avoid, identify, and address them for your students and yourself.  Contact us if you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment. 


What’s going on



Look: The pegs keep slipping or
don’t turn.

You can apply peg
compound when changing strings

A luthier can refit the pegs


Listen: As strings age, they stretch, become false (cannot keep their pitch), and don’t resonate easily.

You can keep track of when you change strings, and set reminders to do so regularly. Remember to change one string at a time, and apply graphite to both the string nut and bridge notches to reduce friction which would cause excessive wear on the string windings (and a whole host of other issues!). 

String Nut

Look: The depth of string nut (and bridge) notches should be between ⅓-½ the thickness of each string. If the notch is too deep, strings can buzz against the fingerboard in the lower positions, and strings may become damaged prematurely by excessive friction when tuning.

Look: The height of the string nut above the fingerboard should be about the total thickness of each string (it is therefore lower on the treble side). If it is too high, it can be extremely tiresome to play in low positions.

Look: The shape of the string nut should not cause any sharp angles in the string as it passes over and into the pegbox. Any sharp angles will cause stress points on the windings and cause the string to unravel. 

You can add graphite (from a pencil!) when changing strings to help prevent or slow down the process of strings digging into the string nut. 

luthier can help alter the string nut appropriately by shimming (raising) it, reshaping the top for the angle and height, and/or filling in the grooves.


Look: When the fingerboard scoop is too deep, strings feel high in 3rd-6th positions and it is difficult to push strings down. Sometimes, the scoop is too shallow and the opposite happens: your strings buzz in these positions. 

Look: Fingerboards can come loose. This causes buzzing, and it is certainly troublesome to play without one!

luthier can dress the fingerboard, bringing it back to spec. Sometimes, the neck will sink forward, causing the projection from the fingerboard to the bridge to lower, making all positions feel difficult. A New York neck reset is the best solution to this.

luthier can reglue the fingerboard.


Look: Positioning and straightness of the bridge is imperative to the tone and
response of the instrument. This should be checked before and after

Fun fact: A violin bridge weighs less than a penny and must support 45-50lbs of weight! 


You can…

Check for Straightness: View from the side profile to check that bridge is perpendicular to the top. The back side (the tailpiece side) is usually a flatter surface. Ensure that the feet are making good contact on both sides. When making any adjustments to straightness, you will be moving the top. Be sure to support the bridge top from both sides with a thumb and index finger between each outer pair of strings. If the bridge is stubborn in moving, loosen the strings a little bit and use this opportunity to reapply graphite from any pencil in the notches.

Check the Position: The bridge should be centered relative to the inner notches of the effs, the top of the instrument, and the fingerboard.

Remember, bridge tops are curved unequally; the lower side is the treble side!

luthier can straighten moderately warped bridges or make a new bridge (broken bridges cannot be repaired!).


Look: If the bridge is pulled out of straight when tuning, it may be a sign that the notches are too deep or simply need graphite applied. Deep grooves damage the bridge, and strings will become damaged prematurely. A leaning bridge will lead to
warping, and eventually breakage – an avoidable expensive!

You can add graphite from any pencil into the bridge notches when changing strings to reduce friction and pull on the bridge.

luthier can add parchment or synthetic bridge protectors to the treble string notches to help prevent strings from cutting through the bridge wood.

End button/pin

Look: The end button/pin acts as an anchor
to the tensioning of the whole instrument. It must be rock solid.


You can check that the end button/pin is flush with the bottom
ribs. It is possible for it to work its way out if tension is lost on all strings. If you need to reseat it, loosen strings enough for this to be possible, and ensure that it remains flush while bringing the strings back up to pitch.

luthier can ream (bore) or bush
(reset and refit) the endhole to create a better fit. 

Dirty instrument

Look: Instruments that are not cleaned regularly quickly build up dirt and rosin on the fingerboard, strings, and body of the instrument. This can make it more difficult to shift, create pleasing tone, and can dampen the sound.

You can clean the body of your instrument using a dedicated dry, clean, lint-free cloth (microfiber or cotton) after every playing session. 

You can clean off the rosin and finger gunk from the fingerboard using a small amount of rubbing alcohol applied to a lint free cloth. This is easiest to do when changing strings. Be sure not to get any alcohol on the body of the instrument!

luthier can
clean rosin build-up that has fused to the varnish.

Seams and cracks

Look and Listen: The seams between the sides and top or bottom are designed to open instead of crack when there is a change in temperature and humidity. Open
seams will cause a lack of sound and response, and sometimes hint to their
presence with a buzz. 

Look and Listen: Cracks can form after impact to the instrument, or after weather changes when the wood contracts. They will adversely affect the sound and can spread to structural points if not fixed in a timely manner.

You can take instruments inside; don’t leave them in car. Be sure to allow acclimatization in case (15’) before opening in different environments. Inspect your instrument after temperature or humidity changes, and after any impact. 

Check for open seams by running a finger back and forth perpendicular to the edge of the top or back of the instrument; when there is an opening, the sound suddenly hisses.

A luthier can glue seams and fix cracks.

Sound Post

Listen: The sound post plays a critical role in the vibration system by supporting the top and maintaining proper tension between the plates. Adjustments may be necessary to compensate for variations of tension caused by seasonal changes. 


If the soundpost falls down, release all tension immediately and bring to a luthier (keep the bridge safe!).

luthier can adjust the placement, trim the length, or fit a new soundpost.


Look: All bows can warp!

You can loosen the bow hair after every playing session.

 specially trained luthier/archetier can rehair the bow.