More than you ever wanted to know about humidity!

December 26, 2005 at 04:22 AM · I've noticed a number of questions about instrument environment and humidity lately.

The site below has tons of information, and also has a quick, easy and fairly accurate way to check the accuracy of your hygromenter. They're often way off!

Instrument humidity information

Replies (20)

December 26, 2005 at 02:23 PM · Thanks. Very helpful.

December 30, 2005 at 06:25 PM · The issue of temperature has come up too, and the

"instrument humidity information" link in the first post doesn't have much on that, so here goes.

First and foremost, NEVER leave your violin in the car on a sunny day. Temperatures can reach 150 degrees!

What can happen?

(1) Varnish can blister or soften enough to stick to the case, or both.

(2) Any rosin residue can fuse with the varnish, making it difficult to remove without removing some varnish, even if done professionally.

(3) The instrument is more susceptible to permanent distortion at high temps. Violin makers use heat to bend the ribs on a violin.....

(4) As the temperature increases, the capacity of the air to hold moisture increases. In other words, even though the quantity of moisture in the air may be the same, the relative humidity goes down as temperature rises, and this will draw moisture from your violin. Cracking and open seams can be the result.

It would be best to keep a violin below 100 degrees if possible.

What is the lower temperature limit? I don't know. I don't think I've ever seen an instrument damaged by low temperature, other than microscopic cracks in a very brittle varnish. I don't consider temperature ranging between 0 and 100 degrees as much of a danger as humidity fluctuations, because changing moisture levels cause a much larger dimensional change in the wood than temperature.

To quote from the humidity article "a guitar top will change in width about 1/8 inch with a 20% change in humidity."

Even though some of you have found that your violin sounds best at a humidity outside the recommended 40-60% range, it's not good for your violin. A good luthier can adjust the violin so it sounds almost the same within this safe range. It's also possible to adjust for seasonal fluctuations in sound.

Hope this helps.

December 30, 2005 at 09:25 PM · I've been having problems with the humidity levels in my room lately. My hygrometer says it's too humid, and it probably is, because everytime I pick up my violin, it is WET at the neck. It feels disgusting. I don't know what to do. I turned a portable heater on in my room and left my case open, maybe that'll help. Any suggestions?

December 30, 2005 at 09:58 PM · Light a candle? My mom always light a candle to get rid of humidity in my house (Georgia is a rather humid place in the summer).

December 30, 2005 at 10:47 PM · You might as well bite the bullet and get a dehumidifier, $150 or so.

That's assuming your hygrometer is correct. You can check it using salt, water and a sealed container.

Instructions to do this are at http://www.burgessviolins.com/calibration.html

December 31, 2005 at 03:50 AM · Excellent website, thx!

January 17, 2006 at 10:52 PM · I had an interesting experience with the effects of humidity when I went to Hawaii, from Alaska, last year. It is very dry in south-central Alaska. (Unlike the rainforests of southeast Alaska). I have a "traveling" violin that I took with me to Hawaii in October, and left it there when I returned home since my good instrument was still in Alaska and I knew I would be back and wanted to play again in Hawaii. That saved me from dealing with TSA so much at the airports. When I returned a month later I absolutely could not tune the instrument. The pegs were frozen and nothing I did would unfreeze them. I brought the instrument back home to Alaska and within a couple of weeks it dried out and everything seems fine. Fortunately it did not crack the peg box, but in the future I will definitely loosen the strings and back out on the pegs when going to a humid climate to avoid potentially bigger problems. I feel like I learned a lesson and was very lucky I did not sustain serious damage to my instrument.

January 17, 2006 at 11:32 PM · Hi Clyde. Interesting bio. Several people here of the Alaskan persuasion. If a peg is ever dead stuck you can try knocking it from the small end, which should free it, because of the taper. I just play guitar at this point. I have one good new but relatively inexpensive guitar that I'm not humidifying like my others. I assume maintaing ideal humidity is a fairly recent idea, and I have a feeling that letting it humidity cycle naturally might be an important part of breaking in, maybe causing the same kind of micro-stressing as vibration from playing. I don't advise this with anything one is trying to maintain as-is, or that you're afraid to damage. It can always be glued back together is my attitude toward it. It's very liberating :)

July 16, 2008 at 01:30 PM · Sorry for the bump of this thread. I've came across this problem today.

I live in a humid country, and it's everyday humid summer. It was rainy days yesterday and today, and the air was pretty humid. So I brought my violin to my friend's house to play, in a living room to be exact. It was a sunny afternoon after the morning rains, and temperature in the living room was a little warmer than normal.

My violin sounded awful, it sounded like it's dampened/closed in the mid frequencies and yet it sounded metallic on the high frequencies at the same time. Compared to just 5 days ago, sounded much more open and smooth.

I just wondering how much damage can be done on my violin this way? I've read about higher temperature can have absorb more moist from the instruments but at the same time the air was pretty humid, so this actually saved my violin from a potentially more damage?

July 16, 2008 at 05:27 PM · Nevermind the above post. I've search with different keywords and found several topics about humidity and how it can affect the sound. I'm worrying too much.

...maybe this thread can help those who're new to violins. :)

February 16, 2010 at 01:05 PM ·

I'm glad I saw this. After spending  a chunk of cash on a violin whose sound I love, only to find it weak and horrid sounding a couple days later, it turns out the humidity level in my house is way too low, somewhere barely north of 20%. I have an in-case humidifier but it's not doing the job. I like the idea of humidifying a single room, that makes the most sense. Thanks Dave!

February 16, 2010 at 03:48 PM ·

Awesome :)

February 20, 2010 at 01:52 AM ·

Great article David.I just had the Aprilaire model 500 installed two days ago on our furnace.Im trying to get the humidity up to 40% for the violin but you write  this may cause structural damage in the house (i.e inside the walls).What can I do to keep the violin  moisturized and not trash the house?

February 20, 2010 at 03:00 PM ·

I was surprised to see this thread from 2005 come up again, but I suppose it's good that it has. Most of the better repairmen I know don't need any more business. ;-)

Peter, I'm afraid I can't give you a recommendation on what humidity level is safe for your building. There are too many variables, such as outdoor temperature, how tightly the building is constructed, how well insulated, and the pressure differential between the inside and outside of the building.

For instance, in the winter, my house has lower pressure inside than outside. As a result, outside air with lower total moisture content will work its way inwards, and I can keep the indoor humidity pretty high. If the direction was reversed, and humid indoor air was working its way outwards, it will eventually reach a cold surface, and may fall below the dewpoint temperature, releasing its moisture as a liquid on the cold surface, just like it does on the outside of a glass of ice water.

A quick way to check the pressure is to slightly open an upstairs window, and see if outside air is rushing in. It's important to use an upstairs window, because checking on a lower level might show lower pressure on the inside, while at the same time, the pressure difference can be reversed on an upper floor. See how complicated this can get, and why I'm hesitant to give a number? :-)

In my house in Michigan, built around 1956, the airflow is from outside to inside in every part of the house, so I can get away with winter indoor humidity of 40% without a problem (I've checked some wall cavities for signs of moisture). However, I have the original aluminum windows, and water will condense on the inside surface of these when it gets really cold, so I run the humidity a bit lower in whole house, and only push my workshop and instrument storage area up to 40% with a separate humidifier. Actually, this separate humidifier is the only thing I use, and there's enough air circulation between those rooms and the rest of the house, that the rest of the house never falls below 30%.

February 20, 2010 at 08:09 PM ·

Thanks for that thorough answer David! My house was built last August and is "Saran wrapped" with a moisture barrier .The house is basically "tupperware" sealed and the only way to circulate air is with the HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation) System.The problem with this system is takes air (and moisture) from inside the house and blends it with outside air in an exchange box.If I want air exchange then I must take moisture out of the house as well.The newly installed Aprilaire has the house now at 36% RH.Is that close enough to keep an instrument humidified?

February 21, 2010 at 12:36 PM ·

36% sounds reasonable to me.

February 21, 2010 at 04:29 PM ·

Thanks David.I would like to share with readers on this topic how good these Aprilaire humidifiers are.I paid $462.00 for it installed(took the guy about three hours to put it in).It has an outside probe that automatically adjusts for fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity .Once you set the dial you just walk away .The only maintenance is to  change the waterpanel once a year (I think they're about $22.00) It was installed on Tuesday and the house is now at 38% RH on dial setting #5 so I'll just leave it at that...

  Although $462.00 is a pile of dough,it does the entire house and I don't have to go around filling water tanks all the time with room sized humidifiers.Besides,you can capital cost it on your taxes since it is a necessary part of instrument maintenance,especially here in Canada.....

February 23, 2010 at 11:56 AM ·

"Although $462.00 is a pile of dough,it does the entire house and I don't have to go around filling water tanks all the time with room sized humidifiers."

Quite reasonable, considering that console type humidifiers need regular (weekly?) cleaning, can run out of water, may need to be replaced frequently, and tend not to maintain an accurate humidity level. The Aprilaire will probably last a lifetime. If it prevents one crack, it's paid for itself.

Keep an eye on the humidity for a while though Peter, and see if it stays at the same level. Some of the humidifiers with an outdoor sensor are designed to vary the indoor humidity, depending on the outside temperature.

February 23, 2010 at 12:15 PM ·

Yes,good point David. .It seems to fluctuate between 36 and 42 per cent RH.The outside temperature has been jumping around these past few days.

March 25, 2011 at 06:23 AM ·

Well, I may have a new solution to the humidity question.  I bought a Lewis and Clark carbon fiber violin!  It seems to be less sensitive to environmental influences, although I still have only limited experience with it.   It is definitely different than my wood acoustic violin(s).

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