Violin Repairs: What you should and shouldn’t fix yourself

On the radio the other day I heard a delightful story about a movement called Repair Café, started in the Netherlands by Martine Postma – where you can have your things repaired by volunteering experts. It’s spread into a world wide café community of enthusiastic fixers and repairers. In an age of disposable goods and rapidly redundant technologies, it’s a breath of fresh air – and better than recycling. By coincidence, I happened to be writing this post about violin repairs.


If well cared for, violins are capable of very long lives and are remarkably immune from redundancy and the foibles of fashion. It’s quite satisfying to know that the most sought after violins are around 300 years old! It’s hard to think of any other item in daily use that comes close to their longevity.

I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with some talented string instrument repairers and luthiers during my teaching career. In my experience it is usually best to have even the simplest repairs done by an stringed instrument expert, yet there are some easier things that don’t require their level of skills.

4 Things you can and should fix yourself

1. Changing strings

Replacing strings is something every violinist should be able to do themselves. Violin strings are replaced one at a time, and the new string brought up to approximately the correct pitch before changing the next one, to maintain a constant tension on the neck and sound post, and to keep the bridge in position.

Here’s a couple of good videos about how to change strings. The second one, by Olaf Grawert of The Violin Studio, is particularly good for some lesser known important details.

2. Straightening the bridge

When you replace strings, it’s a good opportunity to check the straightness of the bridge. Some people recommend loosening all of the strings, but I’ve rarely found it necessary, especially with smaller violins. I’ve gently straightened and even stood them up at correct pitch for many years without mishaps.

When the bridge is bent out of shape a new one should be fitted.

The video below, again by violin expert Olaf Grawert, demonstrates a good safe method of straightening the bridge that almost anyone can do.

3. Unsticking pegs

There’s less likelihood of pegs sticking if they have been fitted correctly in the first place.

A little peg compound will help. It means taking the peg out before applying it, so is best done while replacing a string. When tuning up, start by turning the peg towards a lower pitch (loosening) to get it moving, before turning it upwards.


Photo by Milliot

Photo by Milliot

4. Changing the chinrest

Chin rests are more often changed for reasons of comfort than breakage. It’s always worthwhile trying out a few different types to find the right one, and the small tool shown below makes it an easy job.

Photo by Aaron Wolf

Photo by Aaron Wolf



7 Violin repairs that must be done by an Expert

1. Worn or loose fingerboard

Fingerboards wear at notes that are played often, such as D on A string (3rd finger in 1st position), causing fizzy (I meant to say fuzzy) pizzicato and vibrato. Planing and smoothing the fingerboard is a very exacting task that must be only done in the luthier’s workshop. The shape and curve can be irretrievably altered in the wrong hands.

If the fingerboard comes loose, it must be glued back on by the violin repairer, who will use the correct adhesive – animal/hide glue.

2. Fitting a new bridge

A new bridge has a profound effect on the tone quality of the violin and fitting one must be done by an expert, who will be happy to accommodate your preferences about the bridge’s quality, shape and height relative to the fingerboard.

3. Setting and moving the sound post

Luthiers and string instrument repairers cut and set sound posts all the time. It’s a quick and easy job for them, so why try to do it yourself? It’s a difficult and risky task I gave up long ago. A good time to check its position or make alterations is when fitting a new bridge. Sometimes the new bridge changes the balance of resonating frequencies of the violin, which can easily be tested adjusted at the repairer’s workshop.


4. Repairing cracks, chips and damage to the wood, and glueing open seams

These difficult and detailed repairs should be left to the experts. And remember, even severe damage is repairable by a skilled luthier.

5. Repairing the varnish – scratches

Tiny scratches can be polished out by the repairer. For everyday use, just clean the varnish with a soft cloth. Violin polishes should be applied sparingly and are best avoided, especially on older instruments.

Photo by Anthony V

Atelier d’un luthier  by Anthony V

6. Changing the height of strings at the nut

It’s rather common for the grooves at the nut to be too shallow on new student violins, so that a lot of pressure is needed for the first semitone – especially B♭ and F♮ on A and E strings. This is a small delicate task with a significant benefit for the player. Leave it to the repairer and test it out in the workshop.


7. Changing tailpiece and end gut

Since they are no longer made from ‘gut’, nylon tailguts are less likely to snap these days. Replacing an integrated tailpiece with fine adjusters is more common, when the adjusters malfunction.



Although changing a tailpiece or end gut can be done by non-experts, it requires standing up and repositioning the bridge and tuning the strings up again. If you’re not confident to do this, ask your repairer to help.

As a teacher, I’ve had to deal with all of these common violin repairs and part replacements, on student models of all sizes and good number of fine quality full size violins. As you’ll see in the post, How to choose a good student violin, I prefer older violins, especially ½ size and beyond.

Let’s take good care of our treasured violins, keeping them alive and healthy for those future generations of violinists.



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