Five Repair Tools Every Orchestra Program Should Own

Mike Lawson • String Section • July 15, 2020

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When we inevitably return to the classroom, due to the extended closures in many areas, some of our school-owned instruments and student-owned instruments might need some minor attention. Hopefully you have a good luthier in your area for any major repairs, but there are several things that are minor, and easy to fix that you can do on your own, if you have the right tools.

Soundpost Setter A fallen soundpost is one of the easiest things to fix with the correct tool and a little practice. There is a knack to this, but the key is to press down as you pull back on the tool. I also suggest getting soundpost tools in two different sizes, one for violin/viola/cello, and a larger one for bass.

While I have in an emergency set a bass soundpost with a violin setter, it is much easier with the proper sized tool. My rule for student- and school-owned instruments is I will set it up twice in a two-month period; if it falls more than that, it is likely the soundpost needs a more extensive adjustment, and needs to go to the luthier.

Chinrest Wrench This inexpensive tool can often fit on your key ring or badge holder, and will prevent you from sacrificing your never-enough paper clips.

Bass String Winder Consider it your arm workout the day you change the bass strings, but you might as well make your job easier (especially if you are changing a string in an emergency). If you are brave, you can get one that hooks into a power drill, and make changing bass strings that much faster.

Dremel Tool/Power Drill Sometimes through wear and tear, the string hole in the peg gets too close to the pegbox and that string will no longer hold tension. A Dremel or a power drill with a thin bit easily fixes this, and you can drill a new hole. This is not something to be afraid of, just make sure you don’t drill the new hole too close to the old one. Try this on a cello first, as the pegs are larger, but I have done this on half-size violins. I would also be very careful about trying this on a “Violin-Shaped-Object” peg, as it is more  likely to shatter/break. Bonus for the power drill, you can use it to change bass strings.

C-Clamps and Hide Glue Gluing a fingerboard is one of the easiest (more advanced) repairs for you to try on your own. I have glued many fingerboards on school instruments using this method, and most of them are still holding strong.

Make sure you get C-Clamps in various sizes from 1-inch to 3-inch so you can service all instruments in your fleet. If you are worried about marking up the fingerboard with the clamp, a small piece of felt can help prevent that while still getting adequate pressure on the instrument. I also suggest using at least two clamps and most basses do well with three clamps. Make sure you sand both surfaces lightly first and wipe off any dust/debris for a long-lasting repair. Again, I have a rule, I will glue a fingerboard once, If it comes unglued again, I send it in for repair, as there may be something going on with the neck.

Repair can be daunting in orchestra, and some things are better left to the professionals. There are many things that you can take care of yourself, and these tools can help you along the way. Just like your instrument, you have to practice these things to get better at them, so choose what you feel comfortable with and take care of those things yourself.

Lesley Schultz teaches orchestra and secondary general music at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelors of Music Education from West Virginia University and her Masters of Music Education from Ohio University. Schultz is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Schultz keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME and serves as OMEA Conference Liaison for OMEA and on the conference committee for TI:ME. Schultz is a columnist for SBO Magazine. In her copious amounts of spare time, she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports and spending time with her family.


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