While there are many articles, blogs and chestnuts of wisdom passed down through the ages as to how to best care for your instrument, below are four general rules to follow:
Keep your instrument in the humidity range of between 35% and 60%
Expose instrument to only gradual changes in temperature and humidity
Never clean with any substance, or surface, that will scratch or damage your finish
Leave repairs to experienced, trained luthiers.
When wiping your instrument, always use a clean, soft cloth such as a lint-free, felt cloth or an old, clean flannel shirt that is free of foreign matter and particulates. Paper towels, while they appear to be soft, will scratch your finish. Even a tissue will scratch your finish.
Rosin should be wiped clean from around the bridge on a regular basis as rosin is a resin, one of the ingredients used to make the natural finish that covers your instrument, and over time, will attach and become part of that finish.
Depending on where you live, your instrument should not be exposed to, or stored in, conditions with less than 35% humidity. As always, avoid abrupt changes in temperature and humidity. Let your instrument case acclimate fully before opening. Exposing the instrument, inside the case, to outer temperature before it has time to slowly acclimate, may cause cracks and crazing.
Some musicians use devices such as a Dampit brand, instrument humidifier, to increase humidity in dry climates. Such devices may create excessive humidity. A barometer, to measure and keep track of humidity, is always a good idea. Your instrument is a living system that requires care and conscientiousness at all times.
Depending on where you live, your instrument, ideally, should not be exposed to, or stored in, conditions with greater than 60% humidity. Remember, your fine instrument is made of all natural materials. Natural wood, glue and varnish can attract mold and mildew. Take measures to regulate the environment in which your instrument lives.
Transition Between Climate
As already stated, avoid sudden changes in climates. Professional musicians will have specialty cases that are made to travel, and fly, around the country, and the world, and are made to help regulate temperature and humidity. These are well-worth the expense.
An instrument is made to be played. Its natural state is to be played. Neglect will create issues requiring professional attention down the road.
If you must store you instrument for periods of time, it best to do so in a case or in the GRS Luthier box. A closed case will protect the instrument from dirt and dust and will allow for gradual temperature changes verses being directly exposed.
Storing in an environment that is constant in terms of temperature, and humidity, is recommended. Humidity levels between 35% and 60%, and temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, are recommended.
When you purchased your original, hand-built Glenn Robert Stevens instrument, it was delivered to you in a specially-designed, GRS Luthier box complete with an open-cell foam membrane that is custom fit to your instrument. These boxes are exclusive to Glenn Robert Stevens Luthier, LLC and are designed to be light, strong and impact absorbent.
It is always recommended that you use this special box when shipping your instrument for either repair, or travel, using Fed Ex or UPS.
What if I scratch the finish?
Do NOT use Pledge, fill sticks, grease pencils, silicon-based polishes, or wax finishes. Do NOT clean with any substance that has alcohol, or solvents, as the finish is spirit-based. Any scratch exposes the natural wood. Adding foreign substances, such as those listed above, to exposed wood will attract dirt and will impregnate and saturate the wood such that a matching spirit finish may not ever again, adhere to, or be able to be made to, match that of the original finish.
What if a crack or open seam appears?
Best advice: when cracks appear and/or seams open, do nothing yourself, but call either Glenn or your nearest experienced, and trained, professional luthier. That said, pre-performance repairs are sometimes necessary and cannot be avoided. In such emergencies, use least evasive methods possible and at least call Glenn for advice.
Non-natural glues and adhesives such as wood glue, household Elmer’s glue, Gorilla Grip, caulk, and epoxies may affect the sound quality and resonance of your instrument. Additionally, such non-recommended adhesives are hard, if not impossible to remove. Removal of such may require acetones or other non-conducive solvents that may remove, or cause additional damage to, the finish on your instrument. Not only will this cost additional dollars to repair by a trained professional, it may result in the damaged area never being able to match the original finish. Epoxies, for example, are hard and inelastic and, thus, will not expand and contract with the wood causing additional cracking or may create new cracks.
Glenn makes his glues the old-world way and uses fish and animal hide-based, natural glues. This is NOT that same glue that you can find at a hardware store, even though it may appear to be labeled the same. Glenn has prepared his glue such that it is strong, elastic and can be removed easily, without damage to other parts of the instrument, should repair work be needed in the future. The preparing, application of, and removal of such glue should always be left up to a trained professional - preferably the original maker himself.
As the instrument naturally ages, the wood will shrink somewhat over time. As this happens, you may notice the spirit finish settling into the wood grain.
What if the varnish is soft?
First, a quick lesson in what old-world varnish is made of. The finish on your instrument is all-natural and made from age-old recipes, some of which are over 500 years old. The varnish Glenn makes for his instruments is made from three main ingredients: Resins, Oils and Spirits. Resins used may include Tanzanian copals, akraid rot, kamala, aloe, dammar, drackenblut, curcuma root, mastics, bee propolis, seedlac, elemi, benzoin and amber, to name just a few. Oils of various types, including Venetian turpentine, lavender, rosemary, spike, and eucalyptus may be used. The spirit used by Glenn starts out as 100% pure ethanol. Each recipe is based on historical recipes and is unique to each instrument.
Spirit finishes are superior to other finishes as they let the instrument breathe and vibrate more freely.
Oils in the varnish take time to cure depending on the recipe. A mature, and well-seasoned varnish, will shrink over time and will become a thin veneer. As the veneer thins, the instruments resonance improves and brightens, achieving a vibrant tone color.
Gradual drying of finishes is part of owning a fine instrument. As there are typically 35, or more, thin layers of varnish applied to your instrument, it will take time to cure middle layers. When possible, leave your instrument on a stand or hang the scroll from a wire; free from touching the finish. This will allow the instrument to aerate and will allow the middle layers of varnish to finish their natural curing process.
Glenn has already aged the finish up to three to six months prior to setting the bridge, setting up the instrument and making his instruments available for ownership. That said, the bridge is in constant motion and vibrating downward pressure may push the bridge into young varnish. When this occurs, the bridge will settle and leave an impression and varnish build-up around the bridge may occur. The best recommendation when this occurs is to leave it alone. Be patient, and wait until such time as Glenn or a seasoned, and trained, professional can polish it down and re-blend the finish. Such a build-up will not affect sound and it will not damage your instrument.
You own a living, breathing instrument of natural materials which is in a constant state of change and finding equilibrium.