Wednesday, July 22, 2020

How to change your instrument's strings

Changing your instrument’s strings


With so many school systems going to an online/virtual model this fall, nearly all of the routine maintenance of musical instruments will be in the hands of students and their parents. Teachers often take care of small things like tuning the instrument, adjusting the bridge, and when disaster strikes…replacing a broken string!

The truth is, replacing strings is not hard, but there is a procedure that should be followed to make sure it is done correctly, and to make sure that the instrument doesn’t fall apart in the process! I am going to explore changing strings on a violin, but the same basics apply to all four string orchestra instruments.


Know how your instrument is constructed

Many beginners and their parents do not realize that there is no glue holding the bridge up, or the soundpost (inside the instrument) in place. In fact, there isn’t! The entire instrument is held together by the tension of the strings stretched across the top. If all four strings are removed, the bridge will simply fall off the instrument. Worse, with all the tension suddenly gone, the top and back of the instrument will move away from each other, allowing the soundpost inside the instrument to fall. Now you are up a creek: you usually need to take the instrument to a luthier (repair shop) to properly set the soundpost. This mess is easy to avoid: DON’T REMOVE ALL FOUR STRINGS AT THE SAME TIME!

Be prepared

The only equipment you need for this project is a new set of strings. There are no tools required. But, make sure you have the correct strings! Make sure your strings are for the instrument you have. Viola strings will fit on a violin, but it won’t sound right! Also, make sure that you have the correct size strings for your instrument. Finally, see how the strings are packaged. Sometimes they are in individual envelopes that identify the string inside. Other times they are all bundled together, but there is usually a code on the package that tells you which color is which string. Look for it and be prepared!


Study up

Take a moment and note how the strings that are currently on the instrument are wound. You should see that the strings don’t cross from one side of the pegbox to the other, and that the strings are wound neatly around the peg.


Time to start!

I usually start with the “G” string, on the left side as you look at the instrument from the top, scroll facing away from you. Trace the string to the pegbox to see which peg to loosen. (It should be the peg closest to you on the left-hand side.) Turn the peg towards the bridge to loosen the string and unwind the string from the peg. The peg may come out of the hole. That’s OK. Lift the string off of the bridge and slip the ball-end out of the fine-tuner/hole in the tailpiece. That’s it! One string off.


Replacing the string…

As I mentioned above, REPLACE the string you removed BEFORE you remove any more strings. This is critical to keeping the instrument together!!

Take the replacement string out of the envelope and unwind it so it is fully extended. Take the ball-end (so named because there is a little “ball” in a loop at the end of the string!) and carefully slip it into the fork in the fine tuner in the tailpiece. The ball pulling against this fork is what holds the string in place.

Then, pull the string toward the peg box. It’s going to flop around a bit because there is no tension on it yet. That’s OK. If the ball-end slip out as you start winding, just re-insert it. No biggie.

Place the peg into the pegbox, and locate the hole drilled into the peg. (Having a good light here is very helpful, as trying to find a black hole, in a black peg, in the dark pegbox is sometimes challenging!) Insert the string through the hole so that about a ¼” of the string comes out the other side. Then, start winding the string around the peg by turning the peg away from the bridge.

The string should wind tightly around the peg towards the side (not the middle!) of the pegbox. When done, the string should be closer to the side of the pegbox. As you wind, you will need to keep tension on the string with your other hand. As you continue to tighten, make sure that the string crosses the bridge in the groove cut for it. Continue to tighten until there is enough tension that you can tune the string with a tuner. When you reach the desired tension, push the peg firmly into the hole in the pegbox. The peg and the hole are tapered, and this “pushing” action “locks” the peg in place so it won’t turn until you want it to.


Continue with the other three strings

Repeat the above procedure with the other three strings, moving left to right across the instrument and finishing with the “E” string. Again, make sure to change only ONE string at a time! Also, take special care with the “E” string as it is very thin and the most prone to breaking.



That’s all there is to it! You have successfully changed your strings! Now get them tuned up, and tune them constantly for the next couple of days. The new strings will stretch, and it will seem like they are ALWAYS flat. As the strings stretch and adjust, this problem will subside.


Now, go practice!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Does instrument size actually matter??

Why does size matter?

I have spent over 20 years in the music industry, and during that time I have worked with countless music educators as they recruit beginners into their band or orchestra programs. One of the biggest differences between string programs and band programs is the size of the instruments. In band programs, it is literally one size fits all. Or more accurately, one size fits most as best as we possibly can when they are in fifth grade! Some students may not be able to play certain instruments at all because of their size!

In the orchestra, instruments come in different sizes to accommodate all different size players. A question I sometimes get is “Does the size of the instrument really make that big of a difference? After all, I have my dad's old violin that he can use, and we don't have to pay to rent another one!”

The short answer is: YES! Correct size is critical when it comes to stringed instruments. With violins and violas instruments range in size from very small to what is typically called full sized. Sizing a child for an instrument is especially important. If the instrument is too large, they will not be able to reach the proper string positions and will have difficulty playing the instrument. If the instrument is too small, their left arm will be folded up tighter than it should be, it will still be difficult to reach the correct positions, and fatigue and discomfort will set in quickly. Both will discourage a smaller player from practicing their instrument. Learning a new instrument is difficult enough already, adding these additional complicating factors just makes it that much more difficult.

“But how do we know what size instrument we need?” parents often ask. This is can be a simple to answer. Your child’s string teacher has the skills to measure your child to make sure that they get the correct size instrument. Often, teachers will hold events at the school, and will measure their child at that time so that when it is time to get their instrument, they already know exactly what size they need.

It is always important to rent your instruments from a reputable music dealer, but especially so with stringed instruments. Most major retailers offer rental programs, and when it comes to stringed instruments, exchange programs as well. This way, your child can rent a smaller instrument that fits them properly, and when it comes time for them to move up to a larger instrument, they can exchange it with no difficulty. This allows your student to have the correct size instrument throughout their career, without tying up unnecessary funds.

But what if you are in a situation where your teacher can't get you measured, and you're nowhere near a music store to measure your instrument properly. Measuring a child for an instrument is something that you can do yourself, if you take your time and make sure that you do it properly. The first step is to determine how long your child's left arm is in inches. Using a yardstick, place one end of the yardstick at your child's neck, and lay it flat against the inside of their arm such that it crosses the center of their palm with their hand outstretched. Note the measurement in inches in the center of their palm.

Then, using the chart below (thanks to, determine what size violin or Viola your child needs. Assuming that you were measuring your child yourself because you are not near a music store where you can get this done by a professional, you can then order the proper sized instrument.  If the number is right on the boundary, it is usually OK to go with the larger of the two sizes, but make sure to check with your teacher! 

When your instrument arrives, one of the first things you should do is take the instrument and your child to your child's teacher, so they can check for proper fit. If the fit is not correct, then you can you have a chance to exchange your instrument before classes start.

Measuring properly for cello is a bit more difficult, and a bit more subjective. It is nearly impossible to measure properly without an instrument on hand. Generally, with the student seated in a chair and the instrument in the proper playing position with the peg about halfway out, the pegbox should be just about level with the student's ear. There is obviously some room for error here, and with cellos and basses it is very highly recommended that you work with your private teacher school teacher or music store to get the correct fit.

If your child is just starting out an orchestra, getting a properly sized instrument is something that's just too important to leave to chance . Make sure to work with your teacher and music store to get the properly sized instrument before you start. In that way your student can have the right equipment in hand to maximize their chances of success!


As you continue your internet research, here are some great resources regarding proper instrument sizing:

Monday, June 22, 2020

Some information about Germantown Violin Co. student level violins

Some information about Germantown Violin Co. student level violins


What is a “student instrument?”

We often hear the phrase “student instruments.” What is that? What does that even mean? Often the term student instrument is used in opposition to “professional instrument” or “step-up instrument.” In general, a student level instrument is an instrument designed for someone just getting started as a musician, and/or an instrument that can be played as a student progresses through middle and high school. Obviously, the difference between a brand-new string player and someone who's played for five or six years can be pretty large, so the meaning of this term may not always be easy to understand. In our case, we use the term student instrument to describe instruments that are designed for beginners or players in their first and second year of playing.

Lots of choices!

When you do a Google search for student level violin you will find that there are a lot of instruments out there, and choosing an instrument for a beginning violinist or violist can be a daunting task. If you will indulge a small amount of self-promotion, I would like to take a small bit of time today to talk about the two instruments from Germantown Violin Co that are in the student level instrument category: the Wilhelm model 85 violin and viola, and the Gafiano model 105 violin and viola.

Fully carved construction.

These instruments are both fully carved instruments. That means that both the top and the back are made from one single piece of solid tonewood. This is a critical element of creating an instrument, as this single piece of wood is going to resonate much better than a laminate product will. Laminate construction definitely has its advantages: laminate is stronger and will tolerate getting beat up a little bit better than solid wood construction will. However, it is widely accepted that solid carved wood produces a much better tone than laminate construction. And after all, tone is what we're going for when we're trying to get new musicians off the ground.

The “Gafiano” instruments.

Let’s start with the model 105 Gafiano violin and viola. As I mentioned before, this is a fully carved instrument. This is a hand-built instrument with a hand-carved top and back. It is finished with a lightweight spirit varnish. Spirit varnish is lighter weight and allows the wood to resonate more freely. It allows the sound to project a little bit better. All the fittings on the model 105 instrument are solid ebony including the fingerboard and the pegs. Solid ebony adds a little bit of cost to the instrument, but it is absolutely vital to having an instrument that will last and perform for a long time. Many economy violins and violas have fingerboards made of pine or other white woods that have been painted to resemble ebony. These softer woods simply cannot tolerate the pressure from a player's fingers over time and will often warp and dent and make the instrument impossible to play correctly. Ebony is the standard material, and we make sure that all of our instruments have Ebony fingerboards. The pegs are also made of ebony and are custom cut to each individual instrument. It sometimes comes as a surprise to nonmusicians that pegs are not interchangeable between instruments. On a properly constructed string instrument, the shaft of each peg is tapered. This taper allows the peg to “lock” into the holes in the peg box and hold its tune. The holes in the peg box must be custom cut to fit the shape of the peg. Our luthier spends time on each instrument making making sure that the peg fit is perfect for each instrument.

The “Wilhelm” instruments.

The model 85 Wilhelm violin and viola are essentially the same as the Gafiano with two key differences: First, while the instrument is fully carved, it is more machine carved than hand carved. You still get all the advantages of a carved instrument, but the sound quality isn't quite as perfect as a hand carved instrument would be. Second, the 85 model has an oil-based varnish as opposed to a spirit based varnish. The advantage to an oil-based varnish on a student instrument is durability. The darker, reddish-brown lacquer finish tolerates bumps and dents more easily than a thinner spirit based varnish would. This makes the Wilhelm a perfect choice for fractional instruments designed for smaller players that are still learning how to handle the instrument properly. The oil-based varnish on the Wilhelm can tolerate these bumps and bruises more easily.

Set it up!

Finally, we need to talk about setup. All of our instruments are professionally setup here in the United States in our shop in Gaithersburg MD . This includes cutting and fitting of the bridge, shaping and fitting the pegs as mentioned above, and stringing the instrument with Preludes strings from D’Addario. The instruments are then test played an packed in lightweight cases with an accompanying brazilwood bow. Once the outfit is together it is ready to send off to your local music store for you to take a test drive!

We're extremely proud of our instruments. We take pride in selling instruments that, while affordable, are still genuine instruments that will help musicians from beginner to experienced along their musical journey. We invite you to visit our website at, or visit one of our local dealers where you can play the instruments in person. We are certain that you will be impressed with what you hear!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Now you can HEAR our Wilhem VLN-85 Violin!

We have been talking about our newest instrument, the Wilhelm VLN-85 violin and viola for the past several weeks across all of our platforms. Now you can have a chance to hear it played! Diana Traietta, an accomplished violinist, plays and discusses this wonderful instrument for beginners. It would also make a wonderful addition to any music store's rental inventory. Learn more here:

See the video here: VLN85 demonstration video

Recruiting is the MOST important thing you do as a music teacher!

Recruiting is the MOST important thing you do as a music teacher!

If you are a music teacher in any capacity where your class is an elective, then recruiting is possibly the single most important responsibility that you have as a music educator. Teaching music is incredibly important and, as we have all come to discover in the last 3 months, vital (along with the other arts) to sustaining our soul as we move through difficult times. If you are a fabulous educator, but you don’t have students to educate… you see where I am going here? Every time an administrator considers cutting back on a music class, every time a guidance counselor moves someone into “Tech Ed” instead of your class, every time a parent asks, “what is this good for anyway?” You can overcome nearly all of it with a recruiting program that excites students and encourages them to get themselves into YOUR music program!

So get cracking! Here are six ways that you can up your recruiting game. How do you recruit? What works for you? Let’s start the discussion and help each other out.



With all of the craziness that COVID-19 has brought to school districts and their calendars, making sure your plans are known to your administrators is absolutely critical. Whatever plan you have formulated to recruit this fall, reach out NOW to your admins and get them into the loop. They can help you get the resources you need to make recruiting a success.

If you will normally travel to schools to recruit, contact those administrators and their music teachers now as well. You may not be able to visit in person, but you may be able to set up remote sessions. In any case, not communicating with the schools involved will lead to disaster in the fall.

If you have not already, please reach out NOW to everyone that will be involved: principals, admins, cooperating teachers, custodial staff to get them involved in your plan. Once you are all on the same team, your chances of success increase exponentially!


Now that you have chatted with your admin, and gotten their blessing to recruit this fall, you have to get on the calendar. School calendars fill up incredibly quickly, and with all of the additional uncertainty that COVID-19 had brought to our lives, there is little doubt that they will get all the more crowded! Whether you will be able to recruit in-person or virtually, you need to select the times and dates now, and get on the master calendar. There are several dates that you will want to make sure are secured:

·         Date(s) of the in-school / virtual presentation for EACH school you will visit

·         Date that you will need a response from each student as to whether they will join your program

·         Date and location of your parent meeting, either virtual or in-person

If you are not on the calendar, you don’t exist! Make sure you are there!


As you continue to plan your recruiting for the fall, hopefully you will be fortunate enough to be able to recruit in person. If you are able to do so, I highly recommend that you use student performers to demonstrate the individual instruments. As music teachers there are some instruments that we are just better at than others! 😁 It is a great idea to use student to demonstrate these instruments for a couple of reasons:

·         They are probably more proficient on the instrument than you are. After all, they play it every single day!

·         They will be thrilled to be entrusted with such an important function. It is a great way to reward you high performers.

·         The students that you are recruiting will be better able to relate to the students demonstrating the instruments. After all, your students were recruits themselves just last year! Many of the students that you are recruiting will know your performers. It creates a more relatable demonstration and will increase participation in your program.

If you are going to use student performers, reach out to them and their parents now to secure their participation and permission. Send them some music you would like them to work on. You’ll have a fabulous demonstration! 🎻🎺🎷


Now that you have your admin on board, your dates set, and your student performers all lined up, it’s time to get your stuff together!

Seriously. Get your stuff together.

Start gathering your materials now. You will need more stuff than you think you will need, especially if you are taking the show on the road! πŸš—πŸš— Some things that you will need are:

·         Instruments 🎻🎻

·         Instrument stands

·         Student information cards

·         Letters to send home to parents

·         Posters promoting your program

·         And many more. Here is a pretty comprehensive list of items you may need:

Be Prepared!


Now it’s time to start preparing for your presentation. You have a lot of material to deliver in a very short time. When I have recruited I have had as much as 50 minutes and as little as 25 minutes! You still have to get ALL of the information out there. I highly recommend developing a script and practice, practice, practice!!! You would never give a concert without hours of rehearsal to make sure that it’s right. This is no different! Develop a script and put in the time to get it right. It will make a HUGE difference in the outcome! Here is a good example of a script that I have used many times:


Recruiting is arguably the most important thing that you do you to sustain your program. After all, you won’t have anyone to teach music to if there is no one in your class. Believe me when I tell you that this is YOUR responsibility. Your administration, your guidance department, and your students’ parents may all be very supportive, but recruiting into your program is all on you.

Because of this, I recommend calling in the professionals to help: your local school music dealer. Your dealer is often the best resource for recruiting. It’s in their best interest, just like you, for you to have a robust instrumental music program. Often, an educational representative will recruit for 10-20 programs each and every year. Multiply that by 10-20 years of experience (or more!) and you can quickly see that your local ed rep may have recruited successfully over 100 times! It’s not unusual for a good ed rep to do more recruiting in one or two years than an educator does in their entire career.

Many of our dealers are also excellent recruiters! I encourage you to reach out to them today. Also, please leave a note in the comments and we can connect you to your local ed rep.

Happy Recruiting!! May you have an incredibly successful 2020-21 school year!


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

String Theories!

When it comes to setting up your instrument, one of the most critical choices that you will make is “What kind of string should I choose?” Different types of strings are suited better for different skill levels of players, as well as the type of music that you will be playing. While the decision is ultimately a very personal one, you should absolutely consult with your teachers(s), as they will have insights and experience to further guide you in proper string selection.

The earliest violins (and other stringed instruments) used strings that were literally made from animal gut that was stretched, dried, and twisted to form a string. The term “catgut” is often used to describe this type of string, but no evidence exists that cats were ever used as the raw material. The most common animal used for string material was sheep. The first major technological advancement in string production came when luthiers began winding gut strings with thin layers of metal, often silver. The combination of metal and gut made the string denser and allowed it to be thinner while still increasing tonal production. 
The “G” string was the first to be commonly wound, but violinists shifted to wound and all metal (often steel) “E” strings soon thereafter. Then (as now!) the “E” string was very prone to breaking, and the added strength of the wound “E” string was a significant advantage.

In modern instruments, there are three basic types of string available today: gut, synthetic, and steel. Nearly all modern strings are wound with a thin layer of steel. These terms refer to the core of the string.

Steel core strings are the thinnest type of string available, and provide a simple, focused sound, with quick response. Steel strings holds their pitch quite well and are the least affected by changes in temperature and humidity. Because of these characteristics, they are well suited to beginning players, and often found on rental and/or “student” level instruments. Musicians who play rock, jazz, and country, as well as “fiddlers” often use steel-core strings as well. At Germantown Violin Co, our Wilhelm and Gafiano model violins and violas are setup with D’Addario Prelude steel-core strings. Our Patricio celli and basses are set up with Helicore steel-core strings, also from D’Addario. Other common steel core brands include Red Label Super-Sensitive and Chromcor by Pirastro.

Synthetic core strings have a core of synthetic material, often nylon and other composite fibers, wound with steel. The overall purpose of a synthetic string is to attempt to blend the tonal qualities of gut strings with the durability and reliability of steel. As such, they tend to produce a richer, fuller tone and are capable of more subtle tonal effects than steel. They hold their pitch quite well but need more adjustments than steel strings. Because of this combination of desirable tonal qualities and stability/durability, synthetic core strings are the most popular type of string sold today. At Germantown Violin Co, our Alfredo violin is setup with Thomastik Dominant synthetic core strings, while the Maestro is setup with Evah Pirazzi from Pirastro. Other popular strings include Infeld Blue & Red from Thomastik, and Pro-Arte from D’Addario.

Gut strings provide a very warm and rich tone quality. They also produce a very complex tone producing many overtones when played. Because gut strings are the “original” violin string, they are viewed as the gold standard, and their tone quality it what synthetic strings strive to achieve. Gut strings are available as pure (unwound) or wound with various metals. Gut strings are often used on instruments with Baroque setups, as that was the period when gut strings were in use. Because they are literally made from organic material, gut strings are extremely sensitive to environmental changes, and require constant tuning and adjustment. They also take the longest to “play in.” For these reasons, gut strings are usually not recommended for beginners and school-aged musicians.
Popular brands of gut strings include Chorda, Eudoxa, Oliv, and Passione, all produced by Pirastro.

While there is a dizzying array of string brands, packaging, colors, names, etc., it is important to remember that all commercially available strings fall into one of three broad categories: Steel, synthetic, and gut. I Make sure to work with your instructor to help you match the right string to your skill level and literature preference, and you will be sounding your best!