What do I need to do to make my old violin playable again?Are you learning to play violin as an adult? If you’re starting violin later in life (or restarting), you might already have an instrument hiding out in your closet. Here’s how to set up a violin that might need a little TLC after a long time in the case. This violin restoration guide gives a few beginner violin maintenance steps you can take yourself. We’ve made notes on any of the more involved steps so that you can find a trusted violin luthier to complete those repairs.

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  1. Assess your fiddle. Carefully inspect your violin for any visible damage or issues. Check for cracks, loose seams, and any obvious missing parts. We don’t want to see anything hanging off the instrument or rattling around 🙃
  2. Clean your fiddle. Clean your fiddle gently with a soft, dry cloth to remove dust and dirt. Avoid using any cleaning solutions unless they are expressly made for violins.
  3. Check your bridge. Your bridge should be aligned between the f-holes near the notches in the center of them. From the side profile, you want your bridge to look relatively straight with just a very slight curvature on the side that faces the scroll. If you notice your bridge is warped or has a pronounced arch, you may need to get it replaced by a luthier. If your bridge has fallen over and isn’t held in place on the instrument anymore (or if its placement is off in relation to the f-holes), you’ll need to have a luthier set it up again for you. Don’t worry—bridge resets and replacements don’t take long and are relatively low-cost.
  4. Check your sound post. This is the little dowel that goes between the top and the back of your instrument on the inside. It should be upright and wedged into place near your bridge on the E string side. If it’s rolling around inside your fiddle, get a luthier to reset it for you (again, it’s very quick and shouldn’t cost much).
  5. Replace the strings. If your strings are old, tarnished, or damaged, replace them. We recommend Prim strings, but you can use whatever you like or have on hand. Here’s a video guide to changing your strings. If this step intimidates you, it’s okay to take your instrument to a music store or luthier and ask if they will show you how to change the strings and do it for you the first time.
  6. Tune. Use an electric tuner (we like D’Addario’s clip-on tuners but any will do) to bring your strings to the correct pitch. As you face the front of the fiddle, your strings will go lowest to highest. Their pitches should be G, D, A, and E in order from left to right. Use your pegs (in the scroll at the top of the neck) to get the strings as close to in-tune as you can, turning them gradually as you apply pressure inward toward the scroll. Then use your fine tuners (if you have them) behind the bridge to make any small final adjustments.
  7. Check your pegs. If the pegs are slipping or stiff when you tune, you may need to apply a small amount of a special compound to help them do their job. Here’s a link to help you find an appropriate peg lubricant or gripping agent. Don’t be afraid to apply pressure inward towards the scroll if your pegs are slipping. If the pegs still don’t hold well, have a luthier take a look at them.
  8. Rosin your bow. Here’s a video on how to tighten and rosin your bow. Rosin helps create friction on your strings, producing sound when you play. If you pull out your fiddle and try a couple notes only to find that it produces no more than a stubborn hiss, an unrosined bow is the most likely culprit.
  9. Evaluate your bow hair. If your bow hair is old, worn, sparse, or damaged, it’s time to get a rehair. Your luthier can do this for you. I recommend asking for extra-long hair since fiddlers tend to play with their bows a bit looser. When you’re just getting up and running on your fiddle again, you don’t have to wait until you get a rehair to start playing. Just try to schedule one sooner rather than later.
  10. Play and test. After these steps, it’s time to try out your fiddle! Join Fiddle School for a comprehensive walk-through on how to start from scratch or return to your instrument after a hiatus. Or join our free Returning Fiddler webinar.

Remember: you can always take your instrument to a luthier for a comprehensive restoration and setup after you do these initial steps (in fact, we recommend it!) But don’t let the state of your old instrument keep you from playing—odds are, if you spend 30 minutes getting your violin back into shape, it will be ready for you to play! Your luthier can address any structural issues and make adjustments to improve playability and sound quality later.

Now go get that violin out of the case. What are you waiting for? Happy fiddling!

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