From Richard Davis
Posted May 25, 2011 at 10:11 PM
First, what's the ideal level of humidity to maintain for a violin? I understand maintaining proper humidity is especially important for older wood; does that include 40 or 50 years old, as well as 200? Second, since I like to pick up my violin and play for 10 minutes whenever the mood strikes me throughout the day, and the violin won't fit in its case (certainly with the lid closed!) unless I take the shoulder rest off each time, maintaining the humidity solely through a humidified IN THE CASE doesn't seem very practical. My house has a humidifier, but that only comes on in the winter when the furnace comes on. I'd be interested in knowing what other folks do? Isn't OCCASIONAL humidity, then back out into dry air, actually worse for the wood than just letting it adjust to the ambient humidity?
I don't think there's one ideal humidity level that will suit all violins; but if you have something like 40-50% in winter, that's probably quite safe. I keep my place in that range in winter. It works fine for my three vintage instruments, built in 1869, 1883, and 1921.
Here, below the 34th parallel, Mother Nature provides plenty of humidity more than half the year. This afternoon, it's about 55%, with an outdoor temperature of 90 F./32.2 C. -- actually quite pleasant. At this time of year, though, 60-65% is fairly common; yet my instruments are fine with it. They sound great, and I appreciate the instant grip and reliable traction I get from having enough heat and moisture.
I would be careful to avoid: 1) sudden temperature changes; 2) any condensation inside the case. I've never used an in-case humidifier and have never been comfortable with the idea of using one -- although others report that they like the device.
BTW, I often play evening sessions in the garage -- typical temperature 85 F./29.4 C. and humidity 60-65%. As long as I maintain good air circulation, everything's fine. I keep my instruments in their cases when not using them; but I also take out and tune and play each one daily -- not just the primary instrument at present in the rotation. I'm more concerned about what could happen to an instrument that sits undisturbed in the same environment day after day.
Hope this will be useful.
I doubt that you will find anyone who knows more about the issue of humidity and its effects on instruments than does David Burgess (who often posts here.)
I'd suggest that you visit http://burgessviolins.com/humidity.html for really interesting information.
All the best,
Thanks for both posts. The website was very informative. And Jim, I'm at the opposite end of the humidity spectrum. We hardly have any here in Calgary, and the little we have drops to almost nothing in winter when the air is cold. (I think I almost died of too much humidity and heat in Austin last fall, and all the Austinites were enjoying the break from a hot, humid summer! At least I didn't have my violin with me).
Its the changes in humidity that causes problems, as it will cause the wood to expand an contract perpendicular to the grain. well made wooden furniture tolerates the movement in wood due to various construction techniques. examples are frame and solid panel wooden doors (the wooden panel "floats" in the frame, and solid wooden table tops are NEVER glued to the typical base of 4 legs and an apron (the table top is held on thru various means that allow the top to move.
The violin is poorly constructed to deal with wood movement on the top and back panels, as the ribs are glued on and will "fight" the woods tendency to expand and contract in the perpendicular to the grain direction.
So we are therefore all doomed to keep the humidity constant.
Given your location I would bet that it ranges from 10 to 30% (the 30% being in your house with the furnace humidifier running). So you have it pretty good. If you ever move to Chicago, you have to deal with humidity ranges from 100% to 10%. I'm sure your violin is quite content with your location.
It is important to remember that "humidity" is not the only thing to be concerned about. The real concern is "relative humidity", which is "relative" to air temperature. As a result, relative humidity levels change when the air temperature changes. That is why relative humidity levels fall so low inside heated building in dry winter conditions. The best way to prevent damage to have a case that actively controls its own internal temperature and humidity levels. At the very least, you should keep your instrument and bows inside a case that insulates extremely well. Humidifiers may provide some relief from low humidity levels, but they do not protect against high humidity levels, and they cannot respond or adjust to the temperature or humidity levels inside your case. If you are looking for a reliable long term solution to temperature and humidity issues, please feel free to contact me I will be glad to recommend an appropriate case.
For example (winter scenario), if you keep the humidity @ 50% at your home and attend a weekly 2-3 hours orchestra rehearsal where the humidity is only 10% or 20% and the temperature 10 degrees Celsius lower than your home.... it would be wiser to lower the humidity and temperature in your home to be a bit closer (not exactly the same) to those extremes.
(The same goes for summer scenario -> move it closer to whatever is out there, outside your place.)
On the other hand, if you are a home musician, play and practice at home and have an occasional chamber music session at your friend's house where those 2 parameters are similar to you place, no reason to lose your sleep over it.
The same paradigm applies to in-case and out-of-case humidity. Your violin probably sleeps most of the time within the case....
In case your violin has many cracks (especially delicate ones, close to the sound post), and you have little control over the humidity, violin seams should be glued tight just enough to hold the plates under normal circumstances, but open before cracks do.
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