In an exclusive video premiere, violinist Daniel Kurganov and violin maker Andrew Ryan discuss tips and tricks on instrument care, maintenance, acoustical understanding, tonal adjustment, proper string care, with the aim to share a practical understanding of how the violin works, and important practices every violinist should know
The great Russian cellist Daniil Shafran once took his beloved 1737 Amati to Paris for a host of minor repairs, and upon arriving at the workshop of luthier Étienne Vatelot, he was told the repairs would take two weeks. Shafran returned to his hotel, and the next morning he was suddenly overcome with a feeling of loneliness and despair. His Amati was an extension of his soul (we can hear that in his recordings) and two weeks would be the longest time they had ever been apart. He could stand it no longer and returned to the shop, unsure of his plan. As he waited for Vatelot, he noticed in one corner a pile of wooden planks resembling an instrument. He wondered whose it might have been. Suddenly, he saw a birthmark–the same one found on his own Amati! Indeed it was his cello, and upon seeing his life partner just lying there in deformed disarray, he became light-headed and ill. Vatelot, noticing Shafran’s deathly pallor, quickly turned him around and showed him the door– ’Monsieur! Return immediately to Moscow! Come back in two weeks!’
Maybe there’s something inextricably linking our love for our instrument to the absolute fear of seeing its inner workings and treating it like the glued wood planks that it is. Unfortunately, from that fear and mystery sometimes arises a reticence to care for it properly. In some sense, it’s like avoiding checking your bank account in fear of the number you might see. I can’t tell you how many times colleagues have asked me to check if their bridge is straight and to adjust it. I even have a colleague who never changes his own strings!
For the latest installment of my BestPractice Masterclass Series on YouTube, I aim to remove some of that fear and mystery with a violinist’s practical guide to proper instrument care, maintenance, acoustical understanding, tonal adjustment, and string care. I have a special guest for this task: violin maker Andrew Ryan. Andrew is passionate about giving musicians a ’best practices’ understanding, and even those who feel they have a good grasp of these topics stand to improve their workflow and habits.
For example, did you know that after tuning up a new string and periodically throughout its life, you should briefly lift it out of the bridge groove? This equalises the pressure on both sides of the bridge, the balance of which is gradually thrown off as the bridge is tugged back and forth during tuning. Or did you know the sound post works like the pivot point of a see-saw mechanism, and much of the ‘magic’ of tonal adjustment is getting the ends of the see-saw to be in perfect balance? And how about finding the ideal material to clean the strings with? It turns out that fine-grade synthetic steel wool is hard to beat! You can also bring new strings to stable pitch faster through several rounds of pinching and rubbing them with a cloth. The heat generated will stretch the string and even out the winding. These are just some of the things I learned from Andrew on a recent visit to his shop.
From diagnosing the buzzing coming from your violin, to understanding how the wolf tone works and why you don’t necessarily want to ’get rid’ of it, I hope you, too, learn something vital about your instrument. And don’t be fooled: understanding how the violin works and taking a hands-on approach to its care will not spoil the magic and sanctity. On the contrary, it will only enhance its charm and cultivate a more intimate relationship.