Surviving Holiday Gigs

Holiday Gig Season

That time of year has arrived! It’s holiday gig season, when you live in orchestra pits and churches while Tchaikovsky and Handel reign supreme. Whether you are a seasonal veteran, a newcomer on the scene, or just wondering how many more times you have to play the Hallelujah Chorus before your brain starts trying to escape through your ears, it can be a stressful and exhausting ordeal. Here are some tips to help keep you both healthy and sane:

  1. Get organized as soon as possible. Calendars are your best friend, whether electronic or hand-written. Make sure to note call times and repertoire to avoid confusion the day of.
  2. Use the commute to decompress. You may be traveling quite a distance for these gigs. Have some coffee or tea, something unrelated to your gig to listen to, and bring plenty of snacks.
  3. Prepare for your venues. Orchestra pits can be dangerous places for your instrument; it’s a small, cramped space and accidents happen. Bows especially are in danger of damage, so whenever possible it’s advisable to use a carbon bow or at least not your best bow for these particular gigs. For churches, make sure you bring layers because it tends to get cold. Hand warmers and even long underwear are both invaluable at a frigid midnight mass.
  4. Take care of your instrument! It’s working hard too. Have extra rosin and strings on hand, and humidify your instrument. Each gig is in a different environment, which means your instrument will need time to adjust. It’s your most valuable tool, so treat it as such.
  5. Take care of yourself. Plan meals ahead of time, drink plenty of water, and sleep whenever/wherever you are able. Don’t try to suddenly change your lifestyle either–if you need to play a week’s worth of Nutcracker performances and then some, now is not the time to try and kick that caffeine habit.
  6. Be safe. If you are too tired to drive after a gig, consider staying overnight somewhere or taking a quick nap/caffeine break before heading on the road. Stay on the lookout for inclement weather and adjust your travel plans accordingly. Leave enough time to get to and from gigs as well so you don’t have to rush.

Good luck to all in the holiday hustle. We wish you a safe holiday season!

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Best Holiday Gifts: 2015 Edition

The holidays have arrived!

Whether you are celebrating your favorite time of year or waiting for the term “holiday cheer” to disappear, we have what you need to survive gig season and spoil the musician(s) in your life. Here are some of our top recommendations here at Johnson String Instrument from our holiday sale:

 

GALAXY CASES

Galaxy Comet 300SL Shaped Violin Case: ON SALE $337.00

Galaxy Comet 300SL Shaped Violin Case: ON SALE $337.00

Adjustable Galaxy 400SL Viola Case: ON SALE $558.00

Adjustable Galaxy 400SL Viola Case: ON SALE $558.00

These are a JSI exclusive! An economical alternative to the popular BAM, these cases are lightweight, durable, and come in a variety of fun colors. Browse our entire offering of on-sale violin, viola and cello cases.

YAMAHA ELECTRIC VIOLIN OUTFIT

Yamaha SV130 Electric ViolinYamaha SV130 Electric ViolinYamaha SV130 Electric Violin

One of our most popular items! This instrument can either be amplified or used with headphones for silent practice, and comes in a variety of colors. A Johnson Artist bow and either a gig bag (red, blue, or grey) or Core case are included in the outfit. Take a look at our complete electric violin sale here.

JSI FOLDING STANDS

JSI Folding Music Stand: ON SALE $12.95

JSI Folding Music Stand: ON SALE $12.95

Possibly one of the most useful products on sale! These stands are light, compact, and come with a stand bag. They are also available in a wide variety of colors from the standard black and the not-so-standard pink. Check out our entire sale selection of music stands and accessories here.

FOLK, FIDDLE, JAZZ, AND POP (AND HOLIDAY!)

Classic Rock Instrumental Solos for cello: ON SALE $11.99

Classic Rock Instrumental Solos for cello: ON SALE $11.99

The Wizard of Oz for cello: ON SALE $11.96

The Wizard of Oz for cello: ON SALE $11.96

All folk, fiddle, jazz, and pop books are 20% off! Yes parents, this includes all Taylor Swift and Frozen sheet music as well as film scores, fiddling styles, jazz real books, and folk compilations. Have holiday gigs coming up? All of our holiday music is also 20% off.

 

Looking for stocking stuffers? Your search is over!

JEWELRY

Sterling Silver Treble Clef Earrings

Necklaces and earrings for all musicians who want to show off their passion for music with style.

ROSIN

Bernadel Rosin: ON SALE $6.95

 

Now’s the time to upgrade your rosin! Select brands on sale now.

SELECTED STRINGS

Jargar Violin Strings ON SALE

 

Whether you need to replace your own strings or they’re for your musician, they will be 100% appreciated. Select brands on sale now.

 

Now through December 10th, take 10% the ENTIRE store (excluding instruments, bows, and strings) as well as online. This means an additional 10% on top of already discounted products. Visit us at 1029 Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls or online to take advantage of holiday savings.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram to stay up to date with all of our sales, promotions, and goings-on. Happy holiday shopping!

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

AJ Guitars at Johnson String Instrument

The holiday sale has arrived, and our AJ Guitar Series is on sale! Check out this post from our guitar specialist Justin Davis to learn about this exclusive collection offered solely at Johnson String Instrument:

The AJ Guitar Series is a line of guitars that has been specially designed by The Guitar Shop of Johnson String Instrument. With three half sized guitars and three full sized guitars in the series, there is an
affordably priced guitar for any player.

Each of the half sized AJ Guitars has a unique tone and appearance. The AJ200 has a Spruce top which is lined with beautiful abalone inlay and Sapele back and sides. The AJ205 is a similar guitar that features a Sapele top in addition to its Sapele back and sides. The AJ205 offers a slightly woodier tone when compared to the AJ200. The true star of the AJ half sized guitars is the AJ300. Featuring a Solid Sitka
Spruce top and East Indian Rosewood back and sides, this guitar has a full, rich tone with greater projection. The AJ300, as well as the AJ500 and AJ550CE that we will talk about later, features a bone nut and saddle. This is a great improvement over the common plastic variety and gives this guitar a nicer tone while being a natural and more durable material. When comparing the AJ300 to other guitars that are made by famous makers and are priced over $1000 that do not use a bone saddle, this instrument is clearly not just another toy guitar. Perfect for a player with smaller hands or for travel, the half sized AJ Guitars are a welcome addition to any guitarist’s collection.

Watch this video for close-ups of each instrument and more information:

There are three full sized AJ guitars. Inspired by the renowned Martin D-18, the AJ400 features a Solid Sitka Spruce top with Sapele back and sides. This classic wood pairing and dreadnought shape
contribute to this guitar’s great volume and full bass tone. There are also two slightly smaller bodied grand concert style guitars in the AJ Guitar Series. Perfect for finger-style playing, the AJ 500 and
AJ550CE have Solid Engelmann Spruce tops and East Indian Rosewood backs and sides which accounts for their brighter and well balanced tone. Both of these guitars have a beautiful high gloss finish. The main difference between the AJ500 and the AJ550CE is that the AJ550CE has a cut-away design for easy access to the upper frets and a pre-installed Fishman Presys pickup, making this guitar ideal for playing
at your favorite coffee house.

Have a look at this video for more info:

We are confident that the AJ Guitars are the best possible instruments for your money. Unlike many other shops, we perform a full set up to each and every guitar prior to it being sold. We adhere to a strict set of specifications that ensures each guitar both sounds and plays to the best of its ability.

Please call or email if you have any questions, justin@johnsonstring.com or 1-800-359-9351 ex.103.

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Justin Davis

The War Against Winter

Winter is coming.

The citizens of Westeros are not the only ones who fear the coming season. Musicians can feel its icy claws reaching out in the form of slipping pegs and shrinking string heights. Humidity once again betrays us as it retreats from winter’s advance, leaving our instruments vulnerable. Rapidly changing environments, both outdoors and in, seek to wreak havoc. How can we defend ourselves against the impending storm?

Step 1: Know your enemy.

Winter has many weapons in its arsenal and wields them without mercy. As fellow survivors of Snowpocalypse 2015: Boston Edition, we remember its fury. The two most effective weapons winter possesses are humidity and temperature.

Humidity:  During more temperate times, humidity can be an asset. Wood expands and contracts depending on the humidity level; more humidity means expansion (swelling of the wood), lack of humidity contraction (depression of the wood). Winter is not a humid season in the northeast, which means the wood on your instrument is shrinking. There are a few specific consequences of this:

  1. As the humidity decreases, the belly will get lower. This lowers the bridge height and consequently the string height. This is most apparent on cellos—many cellists have seasonal bridges for this reason.
  2. Ever wonder why your pegs constantly slip when winter comes? It’s probably winter’s fault for driving humidity away. Pegs and the peg box are made from different types of wood that expand and contract at different speeds. This means the peg may suddenly be smaller than the hole.

Temperature: Like you (or unlike you), your instrument does not enjoy rapid temperature changes. This includes going from the frigid outdoors to the well-heated indoors and vice versa. It also includes switching between rooms with very different climates, like from the green room to the stage. Winter is diabolically skilled at making sure this situation materializes on a daily basis.

Step 2: Arm yourself.

Never forget you have your own arsenal with which to fight back.

Common Sense:

This is your most powerful weapon in the war against winter. Do not underestimate its importance! If you aren’t comfortable somewhere, neither is your instrument. Insulate and humidify it like you do yourself. The analogy ends here, because remember how we said rapid temperature changes were a weapon in winter’s arsenal? While we enjoy sitting by a heater or fire, your instrument does not. Don’t fall into winter’s trap—keep your instrument away from direct heat sources.

Humidity Control: We’ll say it one more time: lack of humidity is bad for your instrument. Humidify the case, just like you do your home or individual rooms. Ideally, you want to keep the humidity around 40%. There are many types of humidifiers you can use, but our recommendation is to stick to an in-case model rather than one that goes inside the instrument. Both work well, however in-case keeps direct moisture away from the instrument and requires less maintenance. If it goes in the instrument, it means drying it thoroughly, keeping track of it when it’s not in the instrument, and daily maintenance. You need to decide what’s best for you and your instrument.

Valuable assets to your armory:

Case covers

Case humidifiers and hygrometers

Peg Compound

Step 3: Find allies.

A luthier can be your greatest ally against winter. Despite your own preparations, winter can be a cunning adversary. Be on the lookout for these common battle wounds:

Open Seams: This is by far the most common issue seen during the winter. Thankfully, it is also relatively easy to fix. Keep an eye on the seams–even if you can’t see them, a tell-tale buzzing, pop, or sudden change in sound will usually let you know something is amiss. Again, this is something that a luthier can take care of relatively easily but DO NOT REPAIR THIS YOURSELF.  Any variety of glue you find at the hardware store should be nowhere near your instrument. Luthiers use hide glue as well as well-placed clamps to ensure everything is set correctly and have a trained eye to check for any other problems. Home repairs can mean more money spent in the future to undo damage. Don’t give winter the satisfaction—go see a luthier.

Cracks: Humidifying your case and protecting your instrument against rapid temperature/climate changes should minimize your risk of cracks, but sometimes winter wins and cracks appear. These should be seen by a luthier as soon as possible because they are more difficult to repair than open seams.

Now is the time to prepare for winter’s onslaught! Check out our newly re-vamped website at www.johnsonstring.com to find out more about the products mentioned here or visit us in person at 1029 Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls.

 

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

 

Upcoming Dates at JSI

We have a lot of exciting things happening in our shop during this upcoming holiday season! Be sure to mark your calendars for the following dates:

 

November 21st-January 2nd: Our annual Holiday Sale is back! Keep an eye out for flyers arriving soon with more information. The sale begins this Saturday and runs through the first Saturday of 2016. Deals can be found both in store and online, so be sure to keep us in mind when shopping for the musician in your life this holiday season!

November 28th: Small Business Saturday is back and nationally recognized by Congress! Come in or visit us online to support local business.

 

Please also note will have abbreviated hours coming up as the holidays approach:

November 25th: Open 10-4pm

November 26th: CLOSED

December 24th: Open 10-4pm

December 25th: CLOSED

December 31st: Open 10-4pm

January 1st: CLOSED

 

Those of you who’ve visited our shop in the past few months may have noticed our new cello case decor. We’ve switched up in honor of Thanksgiving:

Ghost Cellos!

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Stop by to snap a picture with our current turkey cello!

 

 

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Departments of JSI: Rental Workshop

Departments of JSI is back! This is a series that highlights the different people that work within our company. We’re able to run such a large business through the expertise of and collaboration between our different departments. Everyone has a skill that they utilize to accomplish everything from coordinating rental trips to selling instruments to repairing instruments to shipping things on time and safely. This series will help you get to know the variety of people and jobs that are done here at JSI.

If you have ever rented an instrument from JSI, you’ve reaped the benefits of our in-house rental workshop.  Our head luthier, Sef Gray, agreed to answer some questions about what he does:

How did you become a luthier?

I played violin growing up and when it became time to go to college I was looking at woodworking/sculpture. My violin teacher’s husband made her violin and he helped me find a bunch of local luthiers to talk to. They all seemed like they did the sort of work I could see myself doing. I decided to I wanted to make/repair instruments because of the hands on nature of the craft and I also found it very interesting to do work that would support musicians. I applied to 2 violin making schools and went to North Bennet Street School. While studying at NBSS I built 8 instruments and learned some repair techniques.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I find it rewarding that the work I do helps musicians do their job and bring music to their communities. I build instruments outside of my job at JSI and I am always amazed that I can make a tool for musicians to play. It is so exciting to hear an instrument for the first time after all the work you have put into it.

What advice would you give to someone looking into becoming a luthier?

I would encourage someone  interested in becoming a luthier to reach out to local makers or repair people to see what the work environment is like and what the work is like. It is challenging work and takes a long time to get comfortable working with the level of detail and patience that is required to be a luthier. Go to a violin making school and take a tour.

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Cello Stands and Other Accessories

We all know the basics needed for playing cello: instrument and bow. But what about all of the other available products? What is necessary for you or the player in your life is subjective, but there are some helpful accompanying products on the market. Here is a sample of our offerings at Johnson String Instrument:

Endpin Rests

These are by far one of the most popular accessories for cello. This product is used to keep an endpin from slipping on the floor when playing. While the endpin is generally sharp enough to anchor the cello, this product is useful for slippery surfaces or when you can’t poke holes in the floor.

The Xeros Anchor for Cello is the most popular endpin rest we carry. The Xeros has a strap attaching it to a chair, adding an extra level of security and ensuring stability. This model is particularly used in schools.

 

Another popular endpin rest is the Rock Stop. The rubber base grips the floor and works for a variety of surfaces without needing to be attached to a chair. Our complete inventory of endpin rests can be found here.

Cello Stools

These are useful for cellists who are looking for a specific chair height and/or a portable seat for gigs.

Adjustrite Tall: $209.00

Adjustrite Tall: $209.00

The Adjustrite brand has chairs with a back and adjustable height. These are portable but tend to be heavier. They have a regular height, tall (pictured above), and junior size. This last size accommodates smaller players, making them a good option for young cellists.

The adjustable folding chairs, such as the easy adjustable model pictured above are perfect for gigs. They fold/unfold easily, making them highly portable, and have many height options.  For cellists who prefer stools, we also offer multiple types of collapsible stools. Our full selection of cello chairs can be found here.

Cello Stands

This product is for when you would like to display your cello or store it outside the case.

The Boston Cello Stand is the most economically priced. It is collapsible and easily stored, as well as able to accomodate different sizes.

The Ingles stand can be adjusted as well and also has support for the neck of the instrument. In addition, these products have a hook for the bow, unlike the Boston model.

We also carry our own JSI brand wooden stands. These are supportive and made with different finishes to fit any room’s décor. Some models, such as the Deluxe, offer a spot to store the bow as well. These stands are designed for full sized cellos only. Our complete selection of cello stands can be found here.

Wolf Eliminators

When you find a wolf on your cello, there are a variety of wolf eliminators that are available for your instrument. The best thing to do is to work with a luthier or your teacher to find what works best for your instrument. A full selection can be found at our website here.

As the holidays get closer, we hope that you keep us in mind when finding gifts for the musicians in your life! All of the products listed here and more can be found on our website or in our Newton Upper Falls storefront.

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

How to choose the right violin bow for you

VNB Blog Picture

Congratulations, you found your violin! Now for the hard part: finding the right bow. This task can be an even more daunting than finding the instrument itself. With so many options and factors to consider, it can feel overwhelming. Luckily, we are here to help! The best thing you can do is to connect with a knowledgeable salesperson who can guide you through the process, but here are some things to keep in mind before you begin:

The first step is to know your budget. If financially possible, a good rule of thumb is to narrow your search to within a 1/4-1/3 of the value of your violin. You want the bow to compliment the instrument, so compromising  on the bow will not help your violin sound its best. Customers often ask us what they can expect to find within their price range. The chart below will give you an idea:

 

Price Range Types of Bows
Under $300 These are mostly composite bows or other materials such as fiberglass. This is a good range for students and beginning players.
$300-500 These are workshop-made bows with some wooden options available but mostly carbon fiber. Serious beginners and some intermediate players will do well in this range.
$500-1,000 These are both wood and carbon fiber workshop-made bows. These are ideal for intermediate players, as they allow for extended technique.
$1,000-3,000 These are mostly top-level contemporary workshop bows with some antique workshop and personal work included as well as top-tier carbon fiber. Advanced and professional players will benefit from looking in this range.
$3,000-6,000 This range consists mostly of professional level contemporary bows and some high quality antique German and English bows.
$6000-10,000 Here you will find top-level living makers and exceptional antique French and English bows.
$10,000 and above These bows are sought after by collectors and professional players.

 

The next step is to consider what type of playing you do. Are you a student, professional, or somewhere in between? Do you mostly play in one genre or in many? A player who tours with pop musicians will be looking for something different than an orchestral player or an amateur fiddler. Know what your priorities are for the type of playing that you do.

Choose the violin first. Have you not found the right instrument yet? Then that should be your first priority. The bow needs to match and enhance the violin, not the other way around. If you do have the instrument, make sure you bring it with you when trying out bows. You’re looking for a match for your violin, not one the shop has provided for you.

Finally, use your time wisely and trust your instincts. Be sure to try a large variety of bows with different characteristics to help narrow down your choices. While going through this process, test bows with a wide range of articulations you use in your playing. Include long, legato strokes as well as short, quick ones. Remember: if something feels wrong, the bow may not be a good fit for you. Be patient and go with your gut. You will know when it feels right.

Some final things to be aware of:

eBay: These bows are not always vetted by a professional shop, and you have no way of verifying authenticity or trying the bow out before purchasing. Proceed with caution if you are thinking of going this route.

Old vs. New: An older bow is not necessarily better than a newer bow. Neither is 100% perfect, but don’t pick something simply because it’s older. Newer makers can often rival or outperform older ones and be more affordable (see “Types of Bows,” above).

Fancy Fittings: These are mainly ornamental and include things like tortoiseshell frogs, gold fittings, and inlays. Their primary purpose is to add both aesthetic and monetary value, so you should focus on how the bow plays rather than how it looks. If it contains materials like tortoiseshell, make sure to verify that it is legal. Any reputable shop will only carry legal materials.

Ivory: This is currently a contentious issue in the US. The current laws in place ban the sale and use of elephant ivory, with some exceptions for antiques. Any modern bows sold by a reputable dealer will use either imitation or mammoth ivory, which is completely legal. To learn more about the current laws, click here.

When you are ready to begin your search, we are here for you! Our salespeople have an in-depth knowledge of our violin bow inventory and will work to help you find the right bow for your instrument. Call 617-262-0051 to schedule an appointment and visit us online to check out our inventory. We hope to see you soon!

 

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Rentals at JSI

With over 40 years of experience, Johnson String Instrument is the largest string instrument dealer on the east coast. The cornerstone of the company is our extensive rental program. We pride ourselves on our attention to detail—everything from setting up our fleet of instruments to managing your account is designed to make your rental experience easy and enjoyable.

Our rental program is so successful because we listen to what our customers need. Students need high-quality, affordable instruments that will make their experience enjoyable. Parents want staff that are well-informed, insurance to cover inevitable child mishaps, and convenience when it comes to managing their accounts. Finally, teachers want to send their students to a reliable place and know that each student has the right tools. It is with these things in mind that our rental program has evolved and expanded over the years into the household name it is now. Start a rental today by visiting us in-store at 1029 Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls, online at www.johnsonstring.com, or by phone at 800-359-9351. Watch our newest video to learn more:

 

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Applying to Music School

Applying to Music School Photo

It’s that time of year: college application season. Deadlines may seem a long way off, but do not be deceived;

They will sneak up on you.

If you are looking to study music, now is the time to begin if you have not already. Some things to keep in mind when you’re applying to music schools:

Decide what kind of program you want. Do you want a conservatory where the sole focus of your studies is music, or a music school within a university/college so you can take outside classes as well? There are advantages to both, but ultimately you need to decide what works best for you. This is not to say you can only apply to one or the other–many people apply to both, and some variety in your options down the road can be a great asset. When you are vetting prospective schools, it is a good thought to have in the back of your mind.

Be careful of how many schools you apply to. Remember, as a musician you will need to audition at all of these schools and possibly send in pre-screening materials. That friend who’s looking to study political science and is applying to twelve schools? That friend does not have to do ten auditions at ten different schools with ten different repertoire lists on top of the regular application process. Know how much you can handle, and don’t schedule so many auditions that you are overwhelmed.

Know which application you need to fill out. Some use the Common Application, others a common conservatory site, and still others have their own application process. Double check each school’s website you are applying to if you aren’t sure what materials are required or on what platform they need to be submitted.

Get your prescreening materials in on time. If you are a violinist or cellist, most if not all schools will have some sort of prescreening process. The best case scenario is to have all of your repertoire learned by the beginning of October so that you can be ready to send recordings in November/December. Make sure you follow the guidelines detailed by the school–your recording could be incredible, but if it’s not the repertoire or the format requested you could be shooting yourself in the foot. This is the easiest way to weed out applicants: if you don’t follow directions, they won’t waste their time.

One last thing about prescreening recordings: do not cut in the middle of the piece. Most schools are fine with a cut in between pieces, but they do not want to hear or see any editing during. Think of it like a live audition: you don’t get to stop in the middle and start over. If you’re ever unsure, check the school’s website or call the admissions office.

If possible, visit the schools and attend performances. This will give you an idea of what kind of repertoire, caliber, and school culture to expect. If you can’t go in person, many schools have performances recorded on their websites, YouTube, or Vimeo. If you can, talk to current students or recent grads to get an idea of what the program is like. You will have questions about what is important to you in a school, so don’t hesitate to ask for answers.

 

When the time comes, visit us at our store in Newton Upper Falls or online and www.johnsonstring.com for all of your audition needs. Short of practicing for you, we have everything you need to do your best at your auditions. Good luck to all, and stayed tuned in December for another post specifically about college auditions!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons