Health: What do humidifiers do for the violin?
From Kimberley Strong
Posted December 15, 2005 at 07:20 AM
My qustion is about humidifiers that in the violin case. What do they do for the violin and how do you know if you need one.
From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 15, 2005 at 01:51 PM
Your violin needs to be in an environment where humidity remains between 40% and 60% to avoid cracking, splitting and the like. Humidifiers do that. You also need a hygrometer in your case to tell you what the humidity level is at any time. You can purchase hygrometer/humidifer combinations at www.sharmusic.com. I use the Stretto combination.
I have a hygrometer which came in my violin case which I perchased from Shar. But my brother doesnt think they work because he says his never changes.
From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 16, 2005 at 02:03 PM
Does your hygrometer agree (more or less) with your brother's? If so, they probably work. IF not, that would be a bad sign. You should not get abrupt changes, but only very gradual ones as the seasons change.
You could take it to your local luthier and see what s/he says. Living in Washington, you may have little need for a humidifier because Washington (at least the western part of the state) tends to be humid.
yea..i got a hygrometer but no humidifier..and it's always around 30%...is that bad?
A hygrometer only measures the humidity. In order for you to see any change in the hygrometer, you must combine its use with a humidifier.
I would not recommend dampits. They drip and really aren't enough to change the humidity in the case. Try the Planet
Waves Instrument Humidifier.
From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 20, 2005 at 02:22 PM
Inna -- you need to get it up to 40%.
I have to disagree. I think its more important to keep your violin at a consistant humidity rather than 40%. Here in the southwest US, I keep my violins at 20-30%. Any higher than 50%, and I start having problems (pegs sticking, abrupt changes).
Also, I have figured out that when my pegs get loose and start slipping, you can put a dampit near the scroll. If you make sure it won't drip, there will be enough moisture to help, but not so much that there is a high risk of splitting the peg box.
Just my thoughts,
20%-30% is kind of low. You run the risk of the wood shrinking causing open seams and cracks opening. However, more damaging is rapid and drastic changes in humidity. And putting a dampit near the scroll isn't going to cause splitting so you don't have to worry about that. Splitting is more often than not caused by shrinking wood (drying out). But in the end dampits aren't really all that useful anyway as they don't change the environment in the case much at all. They dry out too quickly and don't hold much moisture inside them before they start to drip.
From Emily Wing
Posted on April 2, 2006 at 06:05 AM
Hm...I just got a new case today with a humidifier/hygrometer. And the luthier, as well as this discussion, said to keep humidity between 40% and 60%. And if the humidity is too low, put water in the humidifier.
But is there anything you can do to lower humidity when it's too high?
I second what Preston said: the Planet Waves deal worked really well and I liked
it...I don't know if my problem with it was unique or not, but the adhesive side of the velcro wouldn't stay in my case. So, I returned it to Shar, and they gave me the Stretto (? I think) system, and I'm very happy with it.
I have a Planet Waves, it works very well. The adhesive stuck to my case, so yours could have been defective Carley
Maybe, but I returned it once, got a new one, and it still didn't stay on well...and I promise I wasn't ripping it off like mad! ;) So, I don't know...
Mine fell off too. I don't care really. It just sits at the bottom of the case near the scroll.
From JOhn kim
Posted on November 22, 2007 at 12:54 AM
The Bam HIghtech violin cases doesnt seem to have humidifier/hygrometer. What would you do to properly humidify your violin in the Bam case?
Hygrometers (humidity meters) can be so inaccurate that I sometimes wonder if they do more harm than good.
I've recently had two of the same brand, side by side, showing a 40% difference!
You can do a crude accuracy check on the one you have by following the instructions HERE
From Wally Yu
Posted on November 22, 2007 at 07:26 AM
I am now using the Stetto humidifier with two "cheapy" hygrometers (an Artino and a digital one from Walmart) in my Continental Suspensionair case. The hygrometer readings are quite consistent with the third one I have in my living room. The humidifier was able to maintain the case at about 60%RH when the case is closed.
Speaking of the Velcro attachment, I find that the provided Velcro pad does not stick to the velvet lining of my case since the provided one is designed for applying on smooth non-porous surface only. I used the Velcro Fashion Fabric Fastener with heat-activated adhesive I have at home (available at Walmart for about 4 dollars). You need to use an iron with steam to activate the adhesive. The instruction states that you should apply the heat from the adhesive side through the back of the fabric. However, since I don't have access to the back of the velvet lining, I simply ironed directly on top with a piece of folded towel in between. The Velcro stays well and there is no sign of falling apart.
P.S. If you decide to experiment with this, make sure you empty your case first.....
From Bob Annis
Posted on November 23, 2007 at 04:12 AM
Bobelock cases frequently have little humidifying vials which supposedly keep the pegbox area humid enough to stop pegs from slipping. Maybe it works.
I was a slave to Dampits until the collection got too large. They have a tendency to leak water into the instrument unless you're scrupulous about squeezing the out before insertion. And the violin ones are so small they're nearly useless. Also they seem to decompose after a few years. The green plastic seems to melt or something. Disgusting.
I use a room humidifier which keeps things above 40% except on the coldest days. It puts about 12 gallons of water into the air on the worst days, which is rather amazing.
In summer, central air keeps the humidity below 50%.
The danger areas are when you must remove an instrument from a controlled environment. A good case is important. Some insulation and in-case humidifiers can be useful, if used with caution. It's also good if the place you're going to is about the same RH as the place you left. Sudden big changes in RH or temp are what does the most damage.
I've read numerous times how it is the sudden changes of humidity which can do the damage. But if the instrument is in a good quality case like a Musafia, how long would it take for anything damaging to take place? I.e. going from ideal safe humidity level inside to one much too low outside, then back to ideal situation inside again. So if you are only outside in the dangerous level for say, 2 hours - with violin in case with humidifier - surely that's too short a time for a problem to occur? Or maybe not??
Too much humidity is also very bad for an instrument. Lots of musicians are neurotic about humidifiers. The best place in the US for an instrument incidentally is Southern California where the weather remains quite consistanly good and not humid. Playing wise, it's much easier I think to play in "dry" climates.
From Bob Annis
Posted on November 23, 2007 at 07:01 PM
The main reasons I have Musafia cases have to do with temperature stability and instrument safety. They seem to make a serious effort to control as many variables as possible.
Silk linings act as humidity buffers. Their humidifier tubes do not seem to leak. They offer additional insulation, which moderates the effects of exterior temp extremes. Their construction seems to be very solid, yet not particularly heavy.
I'd say that short of arctic or equatorial conditions, a Musafia case will keep violins viable for several hours, especially with the additional thermal insulation. If you live in an area of continual rainfall the waterproof seals might also be worth considering, though they add weight to the case.
A little more to answer Kimberley's original question:
Wood is an organic material which exchanges moisture with the surrounding air. It swells and contracts depending on it's moisture content, and it's moisture content depends directly on the moisture in the surrounding air. This change in shape and size puts tremendous stress on the instrument. When it gets smaller, parts of the instrument are under tension, the perfect condition for the formation of cracks and failure of the joints and seams. When it gets larger, joints and seams can also fail, and at high moisture levels, the resistance of wood to bending and to permanent deformation goes way down. Excessive moisture can result in permanent distortion of the top and a permanent sagging of the neck height.
I don't worry too much about exposure to improper humidity levels for short periods of time, such as half-a-day. Different instruments from different makers vary, but generally speaking, the wood in an instrument will take a day or two to gain or lose a really large amount of moisture.
Just to give an idea of how much moisture the wood can gain and lose, according to Taylor Guitars, a guitar returned to them from a wet and rainy area lost 38 grams in weight when it was allowed to normalize to its original moisture content in their factory. They say 38 grams of water is enough to saturate four large, highly absorbent paper towels!
David,what should be the proper moisture level for a violin? Ive been told 50% is optimal but my fiddle sounds best at around 55 to 60%.Is that too high?
I concur with the 40-60% range mentioned by others, and that's where I keep my workshop.
Theoretically, keeping it precisely at one number within that range would be better, but in the real world, this is hard to achieve in most climates.
In Michigan where I live, if I were to add moisture above 40% during very cold periods, there will be a lot of moisture condensation around cold windows. If I were to remove moisture to go below 60% during our humid summers, energy used by the dehumidifier will go way up.
I also agree that controlling humidity in the room (when possible) is better for the violin than trying to control the humidity inside the case. Since cases don't have an air circulating fan or much space inside, the moisture level will be uneven, highest in the part of the instrument closest to the humidifier.
Just be careful what you measure with. Sorry, this is one of my pet peeves. I've found dial-type case hygrometers which were over 40% off, and some that didn't work at all (the sensing element had de-laminated).
I ordered one certified, "National Institute of Standards" digital type from a laboratory supply company, and it read 7% low. That's pretty good, but I wouldn't want 67% humidity when I'm trying for an upper limit of 60%. I think manufacturers get away with this because most consumers have no easy way to verify readings (or don't bother).
If you do the "salt test" I mentioned in an earlier post, you can at least verify that the hygrometer you have is somewhere in the ball park.
Thank you David!!
From Man Wong
Posted on December 2, 2013 at 05:56 PM
Thanks for the warning about excessive humidity, David.
Sadly, think the high humidity level of our house's ground floor may have caused some loss in neck angle on a cello I kept down there (for several years) even though I didn't usually keep the strings tuned at full tension. Fortunately, it's only an intermediate level cello that I bought used at a bargain price, not something much more advanced. We ended up getting the fingerboard raised some, but it's probably not as good as proper neck angle restoration, which would likely cost too much for the quality of this cello -- it's a roughly $2K-or-so cello when bought new.
Was going to try a Stretto digital hygrometer and humidifier for violin case, but maybe not now...
PS: My apologies about resurrecting this thread, but maybe some more recently joined v.com members will also find it useful...
I'm happy to see that D. Burgess has weighed in on this topic because I've been using a hygrometer and a cheapo Sunbeam humidifier that he recommended on his website. I have the humidifier plugged into a 15amp timer and find that having it run for 30 minutes every couple of hours seems to keep my music room about where I'd like it to be. It's hard to find two hygrometers that even come close to agreeing, so I'd never trust one unless I'd checked its calibration. So I used the salt method to calibrate my "best" hygrometer. My Planet Waves hygrometer seems to read 15% lower pretty consistently. I also live in Michigan and I've noticed the window condensation is pretty bad if I allow it to go over about 50%. In case anyone is curious about power consumption, I connected an ammeter to the Sunbeam humidifier to see how much power it was using. When it initially comes on it draws a little over 1 amp but this gradually increases to about 2 amps over a half hour or so. So at 120 volts AC I figure this little steamer is drawing up to 240 watts.