Top 5 Ways to Keep Your Viola Clean and Looking New

Playing the violin

Viola belongs to the stringed instrument family and resembles the violin with the only difference is that it is longer and wider, which produces lower tones. While the quality of the tone produced by a viola highly depends on the design of the construction and materials used, keeping the instrument healthy and clean is an ideal way to prolong its life while preserving its sound.

It is imperative to realize that a new viola comes with a lustrous shine, which is very appealing. However, after playing it for a while, this glow begins to fade gradually. Rosin dust, oil, sweat, and other impurities from the fingers combine and build-up to form a dirty surface on your viola or bow. Luckily, with a little TLC, you can keep your viola looking new with some ongoing maintenance.

Dirt can build up on the instrument’s strings which can shorten a viola’s lifespan, and interfere with tonal quality. So, what do you do to keep your viola in top-notch conditions?

Different Types of Wood Used in Making a Viola

For excellent tonal quality, the process of making a viola requires excellent craftsmanship. And this scenario calls for the creator to know exactly what type of wood to use, and where to use it on the instrument. For ages, production of the viola has been limited to the wood species listed below, including:

  • Spruce
  • Maple
  • Ebony
  • Poplar
  • Rosewood
  • Lime
  • Boxwood
  • Willow

cleaning a violaDifferent type of wood is used to construct different parts of viola depending on the properties of the wood in question. Some of the parts of the viola include:

Top Plate (Front)

Materials that make the top plate need to be light and resonant, but hard at the same time. The type of ideal wood for this undertaking comes from the Spruce tree a member of fir family. In fact, the wood from this tree has been traditionally used to construct viola front, sound-post, bass-bar, top, corner, bottom blocks, and lining.

European Spruce, in particular, provides an exemplary material for making a viola sound-post, viola front, and bass-bar. The species of this Spruce has an ideal density of 470 kg/m3 at 15 percent moisture content.

More importantly, a good craftsman knows that the front quarter should be sawn to maximize its strength. Since Spruce as the best acoustic properties, it helps in converting the viola’s string vibrations into the body amplifier.

Back and Bridge

The trees from the Maple family have always been traditionally used to construct a viola’s back, scroll, bridge, and ribs. The most commonly used in this species are the Bosnian or European Maple.

This because they have an optical effect, which gives a viola’s a lustrous glow. The wavy pattern of the wood provides an ideal surface for light reflection. This process is also known as the “Flame” effect.

In terms of density, the Bosnian and European Maple has a density of 660 kg/m3, at 12% moisture content. This density gives the wood from these trees ideal mechanical properties. The scenario is excellent as it allows a craftsman to make a low-weight instrument while maintaining excellent acoustic properties.

More importantly, when a viola’s back and the bridge is made of Maple, it becomes very responsive. The process involved in making a bridge involves cutting the outer portion of a Maple tree, which is thicker than the inner portion. Then by introducing the left and right side with the outer ring being in the middle you form the bridge.

Ribs

A rib is made by cutting the Maple on the quarter. This because a maker has to ensure the growth rings run in the same direction as the front. If not cut on the quarter, it would otherwise prove difficult to bend the ribs

Scroll

For a long time, the scroll has always been made of the Maple due to its mechanical properties. This feature allows “Pegbox,” a process that involves integrating a hollowed wall to better accommodate the string turning by the pegs. This orientation is crucial for the functioning of the viola and in crack prevention.

1. How do you keep your Viola Clean and Looking New?

As we have just discussed, a viola is a sensitive instrument that requires to be handled with great care. However, for beginners using the instrument, understanding the correct way to clean, polish, and take care of it to increase its longevity and tonal quality, can be daunting.

If you are among this group, here are five insights that will help you keep your viola clean and looking new.

  • Use the Correct Cleaning Supplies

To keep your viola clean, you’ve to do so regularly. Remember, there are many ways and cleaning products to remove dirt on the instrument. Most of the viola owners have never understood that using cleaners that integrate lemon juice, silicone oils, and high alcohol concentrates are detrimental to their instrument.

While choosing the right cleaner is a daunting undertaking, one of the best ways to learn about the best cleaning products to use on your voila is by consulting with the local string instrument dealers. This group of professionals has profound knowledge of specialized cleaners for most of the instruments under their possession.

If you don’t trust your skills, asking for help is never a sign of weakness. You can always take you voila to your local music instrument dealer so that they can help you with the undertaking. This way you guarantee professional services that will really go a long way.

For those who love to go the DIY, try and look for customized viola’s cleaners and polishes that are recommended by the manufacturer. Also, you may opt for other organic methods for the instrument cleaning. Some of them include:

  • Using your Breath

One of the best organic methods involves holding the instrument close to your mouth, blowing air onto it, and rubbing the viola gently with a soft cloth in a small circular motion

While this method may seem archaic, it is one of the best methods to clean and maintain your viola. This is because the moisture in your breath provides the right amount of dampness for the instrument’s surface.

  • Using Saliva as Cleaning Solution

Another interesting fact is that saliva is an excellent viola’s cleaning solution, even though it may seem disgusting. By applying saliva on a dirty surface and following the same procedures as when using your breath, you get to wipe off grime, dust, oils, and other impurities, with just a simple procedure. Saliva acts as a solvent that loosens dirt on the surface of your viola and works better than any commercial cleaners.

  • Using Xylene

Sometimes dirt may accumulate in large amounts making the organic methods unsuitable for cleaning. This scenario calls for the big guns—Xylene, in particular. Xylene is an inorganic cleaning product found in almost all the local hardware stores and it plays a crucial in getting rid of large deposits on the viola’s surface.

While the cleaning product is very effective in cleaning, it may pose several health hazards. Its fumes are toxic and it should at any time come into contact with the skin. Being this dangerous, Xylene should never be used in enclosed spaces or lightly.

To make things worse, if it is not used in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications, it may strip the varnish off the viola. That’s why the use of Xylene in Viola cleaning is an undertaking best left to the professionals.

If you are unsure, you should take your viola for cleaning to your local music instruments dealer who is conversant with the processes involved in cleaning the instrument.

2. Polishing after Cleaning Gives your Viola a New Look

Now that you’ve overcome the big giant—cleaning your viola, what’s next? Polishing is a process that gives your instrument a fine finish and leaves the surfaces shiny with a luminous glow. Remember, we learned that quality violas integrate a varnish that provides that amazing shiny luster that everybody wants to see on a new product.

These new looks should not always be the case with new violas. Some of the methods you can use to polish your violas include:

  • By use of Breath

This is a method that doubles as a cleaning and polishing technique. While the moisture in the breath helps to loosen dirt on the surface of the viola, it also helps the varnish achieve its shiny luster. The process is just like the one used in cleaning, where blow your breath over surface of the instrument and wipe gently using a soft cloth in smooth circular motions. However, to achieve that shiny surface, you will have to rub it more vigorously than when cleaning it.

  • Use of Special Viola polish

Sometimes, breathing may not provide that perfect shiny luster you wish for. Then you should consider special viola polish. The process of using this product includes adding a small amount of special viola polish on a lint-free cloth. Then use it to rub your viola in small concentric circles until you achieve the shiny luster.

Remember, the household polish should never be used for polishing a viola as they impact negatively on the sound and may leave deposits. On the other hand, over rubbing may tarnish the varnish.

  • What about the Use of French Alcohol?

French polish technique is an effective way of polishing a viola. However, it requires some levels of expertise. If you know that you’re not 100 percent familiar with the basics of the procedure, it is best to consult a professional.

French polish integrates the use of ethyl alcohol and mineral oil in the cleaning process. The procedure to polish a viola includes folding a small lint-free cloth into a square and then apply enough ethyl alcohol to make it damp. Never at any time let it drip. Add 2 drops of mineral oil at the center of the pad. Keep the pad moving over small areas while polishing. Also, avoid staying in the same area for a very long time as it may lead to oil build up.

In the process, alcohol helps to soften the outer layer of varnish removing dirt on the surface. Once, clean you may polish your voila using the natural methods.

3. Try as Much as Possible to Isolate your Viola from the Elements

Weather that changes drastically, especially, during fall can be detrimental for you voila. It is always recommended you be very cautious of cold weather. Remember, the organic materials that make-up your instrument obeys the laws of physics—expansion, and contraction.

If the weather changes from a crisp day to a frosty night, be sure that the strings which are made of good conductors of heat will undergo tremendous changes. A good example to prove this point is the sagging of electric wirelines. When these lines are installed they are usually tight.

However, the rapid expansion and contraction make them change with time and it’s no different with viola strings. That’s why you should try as much as possible to insulate the areas where you store your viola.

More importantly, humid weather causes the wood of your instrument to absorb moisture from the air. Damp wood is prone to cracks, warping, and seams. Even worse, humidity causes a voila to lose its varnish and eventually its shiny luster.

Regarding this scenario, always use humidifiers in spaces where you store your instrument to keep it sounding best and looking new. When not using your voila, don’t remove it from its bag.

4. Make Adjustments Regularly

A well-adjusted viola always sounds better. This is one of the reasons that you should have your instrument regularly adjusted by a respected luthier. As we have mentioned earlier, weather elements interfere with the setting of the viola.

Therefore, it is always recommended you have your viola adjusted during transitional seasons—this is when the instruments are most volatile.

Some of the things a luthier undertakes during the adjustment process include:

  • Inspecting the sound system
  • Checking for open seams
  • Checking for placement of the bridge

This initial examination may reveal more problems that may call for comprehensive maintenance work. Some of the complicated adjustments include:

  • Replacing the sound post
  • Placement of pre-existing sound post
  • Out the sound of unbalanced strings

By making these routine adjustments to your viola, you improve its responsiveness, enhance its playability, and improve its tone, making it as good as new.

5. Don’t Forget the Bow

As much as it is a part overlooked by many violists, the bow is an essential part of the viola. That goes without saying for a well-maintained viola, there must be a well-maintained bow. This part is critical in a violist’s sound production.

Therefore, to take care of your bow follow these basic, but important steps.

  • Avoid touching the horsehair– No matter how clean, your hands may seem, they contain oil and other dirt. These contaminants will absolutely ruin the horsehair to a point that it no longer produces sound. This because the hair absorbs residue interfering with its ability to applying rosin. The stickiness of the rosin allows the voila to draw sound.
  • Loosen the bow after playing– Please, please, please, always loosen the bow after playing as it helps to release the tension of the bow. This process helps to prevent the wood from warping.
  • Don’t over rosin– It is always imperative to know the amount of rosin application you need to make you voila speak. In order to understand how much rosin you need, you may gently bounce your bow on an open string. If too much rosin is discharged in the air, just know you are over rosin. Remember, you should always clean rosin from your bow every time you finish playing.

Final Takeaways

As a violist, if you want your voila to serves you better, it deserves all your love. The adage says “a tool is as good as at its user.” This statement has never been truer taking into account a voila can serve you for a very long time if well-taken care of.

Always remember, a well-maintained viola instrument produces great tonal quality, its appealing to the eyes, and fetches good returns when reselling, Therefore, it is imperative to keep your instrument in top-notch conditions.

For more information on ways to keep your viola clean, contact us.

Josh Olswanger

I've been playing and writing music since the age of 13. My father is a piano tuner/technician of 40 years, and I've been musically involved in all aspects from composing, to recording, producing and playing live for most of my life. I've always had a fascination and appreciation for all types of music and musical instruments, so creating this site is a perfect outlet to share my knowledge.

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