Thursday, August 20, 2020

Oh $#&%! my bridge fell down!

“My bridge fell off!!”


This exclamation could be heard from nearly any beginning string player from coast to coast. It’s usually accompanied with a tone of sheer terror: the student is convinced that they have irreparably damaged the very valuable instrument that they have been told several times is “very expensive!”

Turns out, this really is not that big a deal. It often happens when a student has loosened all four of the strings on their instrument, and discover that in fact, the bridge is NOT glued on! As long as the bridge is intact: no cracks or chips, no missing parts, it can usually be stood back up with very few problems.

First take a close look at the bridge: There is usually printing on one side, and this lettering should be visible to the player when the instrument is held in playing position. You should notice that the curvature of the bridge is not symmetrical: the right-hand side is much lower than the left-hand side. This will help in the orientation of the bridge: the thin “E” string is on the lower side, while the thickest “G” string is on the highest. If the bridge is damaged or cracked, STOP. It is time to head to your repair shop for a proper repair.

Second, take a close look at the instrument. The soundpost inside the instrument should still be standing. It sometimes falls, because the release of all of the string tension will allow the top and back to expand, and the post will fall. If the soundpost is down, STOP. Head to your repair shop!

Continuing with the instrument, take a close look at the top. Are there any cracks or warps that may have caused the bridge to slip and fall? If so, STOP. Off to the shop you go!

Assuming that everything is A-OK to this point, look at the two “F” holes in the top of the instrument. Notice the two small “notches” in each hole. These are directly across from each other and create the line that the bridge will rest on. There may also be small marks in the finish that will also show you where the bridge should go.

So, loosen the strings (but do not remove them!) so that you have enough room to stand the bridge up. Holding the bridge with one hand, turn the pegs so that there is enough tension to hold the bridge in place without it falling. Don’t worry about the exact position of the bridge just yet. Now apply tension to the other three strings.

By this point, the bridge should be standing unassisted. Take a moment to make sure that it is oriented properly: printing facing the player, and the low side on the right when viewed from the chinrest end of the instrument. Now, gently move the bridge into the correct position: centered on the instrument, and between the notches in the F-holes. Make sure the feet are standing flush on the top of the instrument with NO gaps. Once you have the bridge in the correct position, make sure that each string is seated in the notch designed for it. Now you may tune the instrument to pitch.

If, during the tuning process, the bridge slips and falls, you may reset it and try again. There is tremendous pressure on the feet of the bridge, so it MUST be flush to the top. If it continually slips out, there may be another issue that a luthier will need to adjust. Take it to a reputable shop to have a new bridge cut and fit to the instrument.

A final note: you CANNOT buy a ready-to-play bridge from a music store. Each bridge must be custom fit to the unique curves of your instrument. It is not a hard or costly job, but it is something that only a trained luthier can accomplish. A new bridge is NOT a DIY opportunity!

Now that you are all set…go practice!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Rosin Explained!

Rosin Explained


“What the heck is rosin anyway?” 

This is a question that many new musicians and their parents may have. If you rented your instrument from a local music store, chances are that you received an “outfit” that includes the instrument, a case, and if you look inside the little pocket inside the case: a small square thingy, either yellow or brown, and often in a wood holder. What is this anyway, and why do I need it?

Simply put, rosin is tree sap or resin. It usually comes from pine trees and other conifers. It is heated and then cooled until it becomes solid and develops a rich, colored, glassy look.

Rosin is sticky when warmed. This rosin, once applied to the hair of a bow, is what allows the bow to “grip” the strings of an instrument and set them in motion as the hair is drawn across. This sets the string vibrating and produces the sounds that we are all familiar with.

In fact, if a student opens up their brand new violin and bow, and proceeds to play the instrument without applying rosin to the bow, the bow will simply slide across the strings with no friction at all, and no sound will be produced. It can be very frustrating for a beginner to experience this, as all the excitement of getting a new instrument evaporates when they cannot produce even a squeak!

The solution is simple: apply rosin to the bow hair. To start, the shiny surface of the rosin cake must be roughed up to expose the raw rosin. This can be done with a small piece of sandpaper or a coin scratched across the surface. In a pinch, I have even used a car key!

Then, with tension applied to the bow hair, the musician should simply rub the bow back and forth across the rosin until some of the rosin transfers to the bow hair. This is most easily accomplished by working in thirds: from the frog about 1/3 up the bow, the middle third, and finally from the tip down about a third of the way. A new bow will need a good amount of rosin before it will play as expected.

As the musician plays, rosin wears off the bow, and the dust flies everywhere! The dust should be wiped off the instrument and strings each time the student finishes playing, otherwise it will build up and deaden the sound of the instrument. Fresh rosin will need to be applied to the bow each time it is played, but not in the amount used initially.

Rosin comes in different sizes and colors: dark and light, hard and soft. In all cases the purpose is the same: to provide friction so as to create sound. It is highly recommended that you follow the advice of your instructor in the selection of rosin. (Basses for example typically use a much softer compound than a violin or viola.)

And that’s about it! Take care not to over-rosin the hair, don’t touch the bow hair, and clean the instrument each time it is played.

Now, go practice!