Finding the Perfect Violin or Viola Setup

Finding the right violin or viola setup is important for your physical health as a musician. Many of us begin with the same setup: whatever chinrest comes with the instrument and a foam sponge. However, what works for you as a beginner and what works for more advanced players are not always the same thing. The best place to start is by talking to your teacher; finding the perfect violin or viola setup for you can be complicated, and they will know the types of things you should look for. We also have a few suggestions to guide you in the right direction.

Know Your Body

This sounds obvious, but sometimes it’s the most basic things we forget to consider. No two bodies are exactly alike, and the same violin or viola setup is not going to work for everyone. The goal is to allow freedom of movement, reduce and hopefully eliminate tension, and work with your body rather than against it. This means taking into account things like your shoulders, neck, and jawline. Talking to your teacher about posture and position is a great way to figure out the types of corrections you’re looking for. If you want an even deeper understanding of how to eliminate tension and improve your playing posture, books like Playing Less Hurt are a good resource. Body Mapping and the Alexander Technique are also great options to investigate.

Chinrests

There are multiple types of chinrests, but a good place to start is to decide which feels more comfortable:

  1. A chinrest centered over the tailpiece (center-mounted)
  2. A chinrest to the left of the tailpiece (side-mounted)

There is no right or wrong answer: this is about what works best for you with your violin or viola. Once you decide which style you prefer, you can start trying out the different chinrests in that category. Take a look at the chart below to see what types of chinrests falls into each category: 

Check out our full selection of violin chinrests and viola chinrests

Shoulder Rests

When trying out shoulder rests, you want to make sure they fit the shape of your shoulder while also being high or low enough for your neck. Most people will start by trying out a more rigid shoulder rest like a classic Kun or Wolf Primo. Depending on what you’re looking for, you may want something with more give, a different shape, or that is more adjustable. Some of our more popular models are listed below: 

Check out our full selection of violin shoulder rests and viola shoulder rests.

Other Tips:

-ALWAYS try your violin or viola setup out. This isn’t something you can guess at; you won’t know if something works for you until you physically play with that setup. If you visit our storefront, we have examples of each chinrest and shoulder rest that you can try. If you’re shopping online, we accept returns within 30 days.

-Ask for help! This could be in the form of your teacher or one of our friendly front staff or customer service members.

-As your technique changes (especially if you are in school), your setup might as well. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see if your current setup can be improved. 

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Fake Strings and How to Spot Them

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Fake strings in the music world are an ongoing concern. String makers and shops take pride in the products they produce and sell; while imitations may be cheaper, they do not have the same quality as the original.  Here is what you need to know about fake strings:

How To Tell If A String Is Fake

  • Strange Packaging. If the package looks off somehow (not just a new design), there is a chance it’s a copy. Some things to watch out for are:
    • Blurry lettering or graphics
    • Missing inventory numbers
    • Badly sealed inner lining
  • Wrong Color Windings. Each brand has a specific color they use for their windings depending on which string it is and which variety. Many fake strings will have colors that are duller or are a close match but not exact.
  • Floppy or Bendable Strings. You are not supposed to be able to fully bend a string. If it feels different from what you normally buy, be wary.

This is all well and good if you already have the string in hand, but that means you’ve already purchased the fake string. What about avoiding buying one in the first place?

How To Protect Yourself From Purchasing Fake Strings

  • Only buy from reputable dealers. Any reputable dealer will only buy directly from the company or from a trusted distributor.
  • Check the price. Does the price look too good to be true? It probably is. While there are many honest dealers on these sites, Amazon and eBay sellers are the biggest culprits when it comes to selling fake strings. Check the seller’s Amazon or eBay stores to verify who they are. If someone’s price is drastically lower than what you’ve been seeing, there’s a good chance this is not a legitimate string being sold.
  • Buy your instrument from a reputable dealer too! Many cheap instruments that you find online keep costs down buy using cheaper fake strings. This typically happens with foreign factory-made instruments.

Johnson String takes pride in purchasing our strings directly from companies such as D’Addario, or their American distributor for companies like Thomastik-Infeld (Connolly Music).

To learn more about identifying fake guitar strings, check out D’Addario’s website.

Looking for strings? Browse our complete string inventory.

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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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