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Instrument Sizing & Care

Instrument Sizing
Bowed stringed instruments are available in many different sizes to accommodate players of all ages.

It's important to choose the proper size when purchasing or renting an instrument. This is because playing the incorrect size instrument may result in technical difficulties and injury. Most adults can play a full-size instrument (4/4), while young children will likely need a smaller size.

Sizing by age for children is not recommended as children of the same age may be of significantly different heights and arm lengths. It is best to first consult a teacher if you have one, as your teacher may have his or her own approach for sizing students. The instructions provided below demonstrate sizing for violin, viol. They are intended as guidelines only and represent one approach for properly sizing instruments.

Violin and Viola Sizing

This approach may be used to determine the correct size of violin or viola:

1. Extend the left arm from the body in a straight position.
2. Position the violin or viola upside down under the arm.
3. Wrap the fingers around the scroll and support the instrument against the side of the body.
In this position, the instrument is of proper size. The fingers will be unable to reach around the scroll on an instrument that is too large and there will be too much bend in the arm on an instrument that is too small.

Instrument Care and Maintenance

Most experienced players are able to adjust the bridge and address minor problems with the pegs, but all other concerns usually require the experience of a person trained in instrument repair, called a luthier. Some components of the setup may need replacing as a result of wear or environmental influences. It's best to monitor your instrument and attend to any noticeable problems with its setup. Below are some common situations to be aware of and watch for.

Bridge - Bridge placement is extremely important. The bridge should stand on the instrument top so that the back side of the bridge is at a ninety-degree angle with the top of the instrument. As the strings are tuned, the bridge is pulled forward toward the scroll. If the bridge leans too far in this direction, it may cause the bridge to break or fall down. Once this occurs, the setup collapses. Always monitor bridge placement, especially when installing new strings.

Pegs - The pegs are fitted into the scroll and should turn easily. The most common problems with pegs are sticking or slipping. This may be corrected with a number of products we sell that are designed to prevent slipping or sticking pegs. In addition, pegs may need replacing due to wear of the pegs and the peg holes. This may not occur for several years, but will depend on the peg material.

Fingerboard - The fingerboard may become pitted from the action of the fingers over time and may need to be planed by a professional luthier.

Soundpost - The soundpost may need to be adjusted or reset as the instrument responds to humidity changes or from any kind of impact. In addition, new instruments will settle over time and may require a new soundpost. This adjustment or replacement should always be performed by a professional luthier.

Humidity and Temperature Concerns
Wood instruments are adversely affected by both extremes in humidity and temperature. Wood absorbs moisture from the air during humid conditions and loses moisture during dry conditions and responds by swelling or shrinking. Temperature is also an issue. Extreme hot or cold will also affect your instrument. Exposure to these conditions may affect the tone and structural integrity of your instrument.

Low Humidity - During dry conditions, moisture in the wood evaporates, causing it to shrink. As a result, open seams and cracks may occur. This is an issue in dry climates and during cold winter months in most places. When cold air is heated, moisture is lost, producing dry conditions. Many people find it useful to store their instrument in a room with a humidifier to compensate for moisture loss. In addition, a number of humidifying products are available for instruments and cases.

High Humidity - During humid conditions, wood absorbs moisture and may cause the instrument to swell and distort. High humidity is more difficult to control, but using an air conditioner will help to remove some moisture and help regulate indoor humidity.

Temperature - Exposure to extreme temperatures can also adversely affect your instrument. For example, cracks and open seams may develop from both extreme cold and hot temperatures. In addition, varnish is extremely sensitive to temperature and can melt or develop imprints from the case fabric during high temperatures. This is a common problem of instruments that are left in a hot car or in direct sunlight. It's best to avoid these situations. Also, if your instrument is exposed to large temperature differences such as coming inside from the cold, keep the instrument in its case and let it acclimate to room temperature. This may help to prevent damage.

Traveling With Your Instrument
Traveling from home to school or a gig creates another problem during winter. Even in a case, your instrument will still be somewhat exposed to the elements, especially while waiting for the bus or sitting in a cold car. To prevent cracking, keep from opening the case until it has warmed up to room temperature. This will allow the instrument to warm up gradually and keep it from being exposed to extreme temperature changes that could damage your instrument.

Other Concerns
Buzzing, cracks, and open seams are other situations you may encounter. Most sources of buzzing are simply a loose string adjuster, chinrest, or a string winding and are easily corrected by tightening the loose component or changing the string. In addition, finger tapes on the fingerboard of student instruments often cause buzzing. Other sources include loose purfling, cracks, and open seams. Open seams are a minor repair and are the instrument's natural response to changes in its environment. Most players will encounter an open seam at some point. Cracks can be minor or major repairs depending on location and severity. A professional luthier should repair any open seams and cracks. In addition, always monitor your instrument's setup for any changes in playability and sound.

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