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Adjustment, Repair, and Restoration

When should you bring a violin to your luthier?

Obvious Repair: In most cases, the problem is fairly easy to notice. You see a crack, or the fingerboard falls off, or a peg keeps slipping. There's no question in your mind — it's time to visit your luthier for repairs.

Less-obvious Repair: The purpose of a repair is to restore function. Sometimes the loss of function is subtle. It's gotten a bit hard to play in the upper positions, or the action seems a bit high, or perhaps there is a slight buzz that comes and goes. These can be signs that the neck has settled, or the fingerboard needs planing, or there is an open seam.

Adjustment: Sometimes there isn't really anything wrong with the instrument; it's just that something about it doesn't suit you. It doesn't sound quite right, or it feels unresponsive. You feel you ought to be able to get more out of it. The violin may need adjustment.

Proper adjustment is not just a matter of setting up the instrument according to some objective set of measurements. The player, the bow, and the instrument must all work together. Factors such as bowing technique, fingering technique, type of music, and desired timbre play a role. Even a very slight physical change in the instrument, such as moving the soundpost 0.5 mm, has to be tested and evaluated by the player. It may take a fair amount of trial and error to discover the best configuration for a given player with a particular instrument.

Restoration: A fine violin, especially one made by a master maker, is a work of art. Repairs to such an instrument should be done in a manner that respects the original intent and artistry of the maker. This requires training beyond simple repair - the luthier must be able to discern the artistry of the master, and must know the appropriate methods to restore function in a way that does not conflict with that artistry.

Obviously, not all violins warrant museum-level handling, and not all luthiers are familiar with reversible, museum-approved methods. A good luthier be able to judge when such effort is warranted, and (as in medicine) will also know when to refer a customer to a specialist.

Next: Common Repairs

 

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