Repair and Restoration

A musical instrument, like any sophisticated machine, needs attention from time to time to make sure that it is in the best working order.

It is a good idea to have your instrument looked at every now and then to make sure that existing minor problems do not turn into a major expense at a later date. Anything that seems ‘not quite right’ can only get worse with the passage of time. If your instrument is beginning to make funny noises, or you begin to feel that it is not responding as well as it used to, it would be a good idea to have it looked at by one of our trained restorers.

As the largest violin shop in the west of England with nearly 200 years of combined making and repairing experience, we are in an excellent position to undertake all stringed instrument repairs from minor scratches to major rebuilds. Some jobs have a fixed price (such as bridges and soundposts) while others may vary considerably as they have to be assessed on a time basis (crack repairs, all new wood, retouching etc.).

No job is too big or too small. Some will have a fixed price (such as bridges and soundposts) while others may vary considerably as they have to be assessed on a time basis (crack repairs, all new wood, retouching etc.).

If you are in need of informed and impartial specialist advice on any aspect of your violins needs then please contact the shop to arrange an appointment.

If you are interested in the maintenance, repair, and the correct working of your violin, please take a look at our knowledge centre.

What the player can do

Keep the violin, fingerboard, strings and bow hair as clean as possible. Rosin dust, sweat, and atmospheric dirt in combination can have a clogging effect on both strings and bow. Dirt on the body can inhibit the vibration of the instrument and therefore contribute to a dullness of tone. String sound begins under your finger, so rosin and dirt on the fingerboard can interfere with the vibration of the string before it even hits the bridge. Sometimes just cleaning a finger board can have a noticeable effect on tone production

Although there are proprietary cleaners, some leave a residue or contain solvents. Use them sparingly. Having the instrument and fingerboard cleaned professionally can make a difference to the quality of sound.

What we can do

Fingerboards and neck elevations

Fingerboards wear with use, especially now that increasing numbers of players are using strong metal strings. Planing or “shooting” the fingerboard (shooting comes from the Old English word meaning to pass over … as in “shoot the rapids”), can eliminate the buzzes and dead areas that come from having ruts in a fingerboard, and make the instrument considerably easier to play. It can also correct faulty intonation. When a fingerboard is shot the top nut will need to be reshaped to the correct height, which is about the same as the thickness of a credit card. Sometimes the nut is so badly worn and uneven that it will have to be replaced…

The elevation is the measurement you would get by placing a straight edge on the fingerboard and measuring the height of the bridge position. This often necessitates the removal and resetting of the neck to get the right angle. If the elevation has become too high or low, in addition to the technical problems involved in fitting a correctly shaped bridge, the tone may suffer. The higher the elevation the greater the string tension down on to the front of the instrument and the louder and coarser the sound will become. If an elevation is too low the strings are under less tension and the instrument can sound soggy and unfocused. We now replace the fingerboards on most of the old instruments we sell.


A bridge has a tonal as well as a technical function. Although it has very few tonal qualities itself, the correct shape, placement, and fitting of the bridge is vital for the transfer of string vibration to the body of the instrument. Old, broken, warped, or ill-fitting bridges all have an effect, not just on the sound, but also the technical playability of the instrument.

All bridges will warp over time due both to the pressure downwards, which is in excess of 20 kilos in some cases, and the pull exerted towards the pegs and tailpiece during tuning. Bridges are now lasting for shorter periods of time due to the greater modern string tensions and, in particular, the overuse of adjusters. For centuries bridges used to warp towards the nut, but the widespread use of adjusters has caused bridges to pull backward. Since the tailpiece of a violin is only about 2” from the bridge this can happen very quickly. Bridges that could last for decades a couple of generations ago may now last just a year or two if the instrument is tuned only from the adjusters. Check that the feet of the bridge sit down properly on the front of the instrument and that the back of the bridge is at approximately 90 degrees to the front of the violin (this is measured behind the bridge) The front of a bridge is curved and the back is flat, so when the bridge is upright it may appear to be leaning back slightly. If the bridge looks like it is leaning forwards then it is. Check that the strings have not cut their way through the wood at the top of the bridge, as this can seriously inhibit their vibration if they are pinched by the wood on either side. A string should be “proud of the bridge-wood by at least 50%. Strings that have cut into the bridge can cause problems for both fingering and bowing. A large proportion of the instruments we see have bridges that are badly curved on the top causing problems during string crossings when the bow will “foul” another string. If the bridge curvature is incorrect then players can also have problems of intonation, especially double stopping, as the strings are not being pushed the same distance down on to the fingerboard and are then being “bent” out of tune


Pegs, these will of course wear, and are also affected by temperature and humidity changes. Pegs have an entirely technical function and they don’t affect the sound in any way…but it doesn’t matter how good an instrument is, you can’t play it if you are unable to tune it. Because the pegs are made of wood, the original tapered cylinder (usually a 1:30 taper) will gradually turn oval with time as the long grain will expand further than the short grain. This is a perfectly natural occurrence. Pegs also push through the pegbox over time, becoming gradually shorter until there isn’t enough wood left to refit. Pegs can seize up or get loose depending on temperature and humidity conditions. If this happens, they may be “doped” to work better, with the application of propitiatory pastes. If this does not work, new pegs usually have to be fitted. If the peg holes are too large or badly worn, new wooden bushings may have to be put into the holes and new pegs fitted through them.

Pegs should be fitted so that the top of the strings go straight from the instruments nut, at the end of the fingerboard, to the peg, without touching any of the other pegs. If a string touches another peg then it can be pulled out of tune when the other peg is turned. Strings fouling on the other pegs in a peg box can have a serious effect on tuning as the peg a particular string is resting on is now acting as a secondary nut. This can be very frustrating.


The soundpost has an entirely tonal function. The job of the soundpost is to create a node or “still point” around which the violin front oscillates. If too tight or too loose the quality of sound suffers. Think of it as a drumhead. If the post is tight (or too far out towards the edge of the bridge foot) the sound will be tight and brittle…a stringed instrument with a tight post will quickly go into overtones. If the post is loose (or too far in towards the centre) the sound can become unfocussed and “soggy”. A post needs to be well fitted and in the correct place for the instrument. This will vary from violin to violin and may need to be adjusted if a new type of string, or a new bow is purchased. Adjusting a post calls for a balance between focus to warmth and treble to bass.

Soundposts often become tight over time, especially in new instruments which have not been under pressure before, and recently overhauled ones that have had a period with the tension relaxed. A tight soundpost is a potential danger as well as having the effect of over damping down the vibrations of the front.

Bass Bar

In a high percentage of cases old instruments will already have had new bass bars fitted to improve tone, we too replace the bars in those instruments that need it. The bass bar is a shaped wooden strut that runs down the inside of the front of the instrument, roughly under the lowest string. Its purpose is to support the front of the instrument and stop it from sinking and it also dampens down the vibrations of the belly to enable the instrument to sound, much in the way that a drumhead only works when it is under tension. Old instruments can have bars that are too long, short, thick or thin when compared to the modern ideal. In the past there was no standardisation and bars were often fitted to the theory (or whim) of a maker, who lived over 100 years ago to instruments made for a very different set of musical sensibilities. Players today are expecting more and more from their instruments and the bass bar is a major contributor to tone production. Replacing the bar can have quite a significant impact on tone, but it is an irreversible process and this needs to be understood by the player. Sometimes, if a bass-bar must be replaced as a part of a repair procedure, the customer has very little choice in the matter.

Cracks and seams

The only guarantee-able repair is one where, not only has the crack been properly glued, but it has also been held with carefully shaped little wooden studs on the inside. Crack repairs tend to be priced by the inch.

Any obvious damage to the instrument should be sorted out to as soon as possible. Cracks do not glue themselves, and will only get bigger if left unattended. A small crack in an instrument, which is under several kilos of tension will quickly extend, and, even worse, warp, making it a much harder job to get it back into register for gluing. Under no circumstances should damage be handled by the player as the sweat and chemicals in the body will have the effect of making cracks or chips much harder to glue and retouch. Handling damage also rounds the edges of areas of damage, again compromising any restoration. Occasionally one see’s an instrument where what should have been a simple, and probably invisible, repair has become an expensive and time-consuming item because the instrument had not been attended to by a competent craftsman in time…

Violin glue is hygroscopic, and is subject to changes of temperature and humidity. It is made from animal skins and is a glue that fundamentally hasn’t changed in thousands of years. The heat and sweat of the players hand and body can contribute to the seams of an instrument springing open. Very often, if this happens, the instrument will rattle or buzz on all, or sometimes just on specifically resonant, notes. Open seams should be glued as soon as possible to avoid complications.

Varnish will wear over time and can be chipped off if knocked. Varnish is not just cosmetic, it protects the violin from the sweat, rosin and dirt that soon affects exposed wood. It is a good idea to re-varnish damaged wood as soon as possible. Do not touch areas of chipped off varnish as the chemicals in your hands can make the job harder to do.