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Taking Care of Violin in Adverse Weather Conditions

Instruments: I moved from Texas to New York and I am looking for some help on the care of my instrument during winter time.

From Alex Cheng
Posted September 30, 2011 at 08:51 PM

I recently moved from Texas to Upstate New York. I have noticed that the weather is significantly drier and colder than where I used to live. I was planning on buying a humidifier once IĀ got settled down to my new apartment (about one more month). Is there anything else that I would need to buy or do in order to take care of my instrument? I have never lived or traveled anywhere in the northeast region so any insight would be much appreciated.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on September 30, 2011 at 09:40 PM

I lived through some Michigan winters while I was growing up, and I lived in the Northeast -- Boston, MA -- for part of the 1990s.  I used a humidifier in winter.

Keep your instrument away from exterior windows, doors, and walls -- in all seasons.  Avoid, as much as you can, subjecting it to sudden changes in temperature and humidity.  And keep it a good distance from the humidifier.  Check out this page on v.com member David Burgess's Web site: THE IMPORTANCE OF PROPER HUMIDITY.

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on September 30, 2011 at 10:59 PM

If you're traveling by car, make sure the car is warmed up before loading your violin.  You might want to invest in a case cover (check out the "Cushy" brand covers at Shar Music), or if you're good with a sewing machine you might be able to cut down a Goodwill-find insulated sleeping bag to the right size and shape.  If your violin has gotten chilled while en route, unzip the case when you get there, but allow several minutes (20-30?) for the temperature to equalize a bit before you lift the lid.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 02:40 AM

Humidity and rapid temperature changes are the biggest things for your instrument.  After a month or so, have your sound-post checked out and adjusted if needed, and be on the watch for your bow hair being too loose.  The rosin you are using now may or may not work as well in a colder environment as well.

But don't lose sight on taking care of your body!  In the winter, warming up is essential.  Also keep your skin moisturized so that it doesn't crack (esp. around your fingers).  When I lived in Oregon, the rehearsal space for my orchestra was always cold.  I used hand-warmers and invested in fingerless gloves that went up to my elbow.  

Oh, and get warm socks.  There is nothing worse than practicing or performing with cold feet!

From al ku
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 02:58 AM

in nyc, unless the hot air is centrally and optimally humidified-never the case in my experiences--you should start looking to get a portable humidifier.  a pain in the butt,,,adding water, changing filter, cleaning it,,,but it is a must.  get one that has large enough capacity for the entire living space.  you will feel better yourself breathing in more moist air.  my house has central humidifier but because of the violin, i also use an addn stand alone humidifier in the violin room.  the moment we turn on the heat for the house for the winter, i start getting the humidifier ready.  

you can research a bit about hot mist vs cold mist.  we have cold mist.

i don't have much experience spending a great deal of time in the cold with the violin, thankfully.  but if you have to commute daily with your violin outside, you probably need a sturdy cover over a well made case.  but i highly doubt if it makes much difference temp wise.  

in-case humidifier?  probably works well if your case is not opened often and if your case has a verified tight seal.  in a very dry public space, i doubt the little tube of moisture makes much of a difference.

 

From Sue Bechler
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 01:46 PM

I'm in the western Finger Lakes of upstate NYS. A case that seals tightly, possibly a case cover are in order. Humidfy your home, especially the room where you keep your instrument & where you practice. Keeping your house on the cool side also helps. The tube humidifiers really don't do enough. Go for one of the in-case ones. I tried an Oasis last year, and liked it better than the egg-shaped one. I have trouble knowing when that is filled (or dry), and have had those leak. The coldest days are also often very dry, so those are the days to watch out. Be careful about taking your violin out, tuning it up & going right to work. Let the violin acclimate a little. Loosen your bow quite loose. The worst for my instruments was the public school where I taught. Desert-dry. Even inside a closed closet with a room humidifier, couldn't achieve any safe moisture levels. Sue 

From Momoko Takahashi
Posted on October 6, 2011 at 03:39 AM

 I have lived in three countries and they all differ greatly in terms of weather, so I know what you're going through. 

What violin hates - as a wooden instrument - are sudden changes of humidity and temperature. It can handle gradual changes, but sudden drops and sudden jumps send most instruments into screaming agony. What I suggest is preparing well ahead of time for the season changes; I change my strings with the coming of Autumn now (I live in Chicago, where we have four seasons: cold, very cold, hot, super hot). In-case humidifiers really don't do much, I'm afraid. I keep dampits in my instrument (sometimes two), and wet towels in the case. 

What seems to work the most is my silk bag that covers my violin. Silk is a very good material that keeps temperature relatively constant and sucks up humidity to keep it constant. Linen seems a bit too coarse. Use a very sturdy case during the winter. I use lightweight during milder weathers (I commute quite a long distance), but during the winters a heavy case is a must. Carry your violin with you. Don't leave it in a cold room or car. 

My guess is, if I can live in it, so can my instrument. Wood is much more sturdy than human skin (of course, don't dump it in water or do anything stupid like that), but remember, a lot of good violins were constructed in 17th century Germany and it is VERY COLD AND DRY over there! Drastic changes are more harmful to a violin than anything else, according to my luthier.

From John Cadd
Posted on October 7, 2011 at 02:10 PM

A guitar site I read yesterday said that a large music store humidifier will use between 20 and 60 gallons of water -------a day.  The guitars start getting sharp sticky out frets if it gets too dry.

From Smiley Hsu
Posted on October 7, 2011 at 09:32 PM

On the link provided by Jim to David Burgess' site, you can order a hygrometer to measure the humidity.  I'd recommend getting one so you can keep track of the humidity level.  I try to keep my instrument between 50-60% RH all year round.  But the best solution is to move back to Texas :-).  I just got back from 2 weeks in Miami and I sure miss the beach and the warm weather.  They also have the best G strings down there.

From David Burgess
Posted on October 8, 2011 at 01:36 AM

I'll try to update the web site with a picture of various simultaneous hygrometer readings. The last time I checked, the hygrometers I have from various sources, in the same environment, gave readings ranging from 38 to 58% humidity.

There were some posts in the past about a a particular brand of hygrometer which could be easily calibrated with a salt solution. This was appealing enough that I ordered one to test. The calibration method appeared less than ideal, but basically sound. The hygrometer was pretty much dead-on initially, but six months later, it's about to 10% off.

This difference may sound small, but it's a huge danger if one has a valuable instrument. A violin is made from thin wooden parts, and they can distort badly  with only a 10 or 20% increase above your "target" humidity range, combined with the forces of normal string tension.

From Alex Cheng
Posted on October 8, 2011 at 09:32 PM

Unfortunately, the job market for my degree in Texas is not that great and won't be for a while :-(. It's quite specialized. However, I do not miss the Texas heat. This is kind of sad but I am looking forward to winter when it comes around. I am a polar bear in disguise.

I will take all of your advices and get a humidifier and hygrometer. As for extreme temperature changes, luckily, the apartment that I will be moving to has heat and hot water included. I don't plan on traveling out too much in the cold. Maybe like once a week.  As for summer time, I think there are generally, two weeks where the weather (Schenectady, NY) goes up to around 90-98F. Since I am living on the second (middle) floor, I don't expect that to influence the room temperature too much.

My other question would be: would too humidity for my violin be a bad thing? How much change in humidity would be generally recognized as "dangerous". What I mean by dangerous is cracks forming, diminishing sound, open seams, etc. Would the violin be affected just as bad say a 30% change from 40% (humidity) to 10%, 100% to 70%, or vice versa?

From marjory lange
Posted on October 9, 2011 at 12:57 PM

 I used to travel in the summers regularly from Arizona (nearly no humidity) to NYC (lots of humidity).  I tried to let my instruments adjust gradually, but that's not always possible (when I drove, it was; flying made things more complicated).

The worst that ever happened to me was an open seam.  Of course, they sounded 'groggy' and waterlogged for the first week or so when we went east, and tight, brittle and shallow on returning to the desert, but I expected that.  Wood is very accommodating; after all, it's a natural substance, and changes in humidity are part of the 'natural' world.  

If you've been out in the cold for a while, before you open your case all the way, feel inside your 'cushy' or whatever cover you opt for; if it feels ok--not bone chilling--you can probably rest assured your cover kept the temp/hum. fairly consistent with the last place you were.  If not, leave the cover partly unzipped and the case closed for a while to let the instrument absorb changes gradually.  

You'll want to watch your bow hair, too (don't remember if anyone mentioned this).  The NY weather's dryness will make it tauter.  If it was not really loose to begin with in TX, you may need a rehair to avoid undue tension when it's at rest in NY.

From David Burgess
Posted on October 9, 2011 at 06:16 PM

"The worst that ever happened to me was an open seam.  Of course, they sounded 'groggy' and waterlogged for the first week or so when we went east, and tight, brittle and shallow on returning to the desert, but I expected that.  Wood is very accommodating; after all, it's a natural substance, and changes in humidity are part of the 'natural' world."

Wood is a natural substance, but once it is no longer living, most of its natural defenses, including maintaining an ideal moisture level, go out the window. It typically deteriorates rather quickly in a truly natural environment, like laying on the forest floor. We are able to get remarkable durability by moving it to an ideal environment.

When someone comes into the shop with damage from improper humidity, it's very common for them to say something like, "But I've been doing it this way for 10 years, and never had a problem before."

Then I've got to say something awkward like, "I know, but that was also true for the last 20 people who came here with the same damage".

Weigh your personal luck against "the big picture", which primarily only well-connected restorers know.

 

From marjory lange
Posted on October 10, 2011 at 02:10 AM

 David, I'm certainly not going to argue.  All I did was express my experience, based on 15 years of annual trips between two climates.  If I was undeservedly lucky, so be it.  I hope the op takes your suggestions.

From Roland Garrison
Posted on October 10, 2011 at 04:25 AM

What about altitude? I live in Portland, Oregon, and the typical humidity is nothing like it is on the East Coast. My default atltiude is under 500' elevation.

I sometimes take a violin to play when I head to the mountains, around 600' in Eastern Oregon. The area is also a bit drier, partly because of elevation and because of typical climate (absolute as well as relative humidity).

Generally, when I am there for a number of days, I have no problems. I generally keep the violin in the case, and indoors during the day, only pulling it out in the evening to play.

That said, I recognize aside from moisture, there is a pressure difference. I try and accomodate the moisture, but is there something in the pressure difference I should watch for?

 NOTE: Right now, the difference is 88% in the valley, and 58% in the mountains

NOTE; For a US humidy map, try this site:

http://www.usairnet.com/weather/maps/current/relative-humidity/

From Momoko Takahashi
Posted on October 10, 2011 at 08:54 AM

 Violin generally tolerates dryness much better than humidity. Humidity warps wood quite easily, and therefore I tend to avoid humidity at all costs. Also, humidity tends to make the gut strings go haywire and that also has adverse effects on the instrument itself. 

I usually keep my instrument in an AC'ed room during the summer; you can hear the sound not resonating if it's left in hot, humid weather. The bow also takes quite a lot of hit. 

Again, silk bag generally absorbs most of humidity before it reaches my instrument, so that's a big protection for me. 


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