The world is full of violin cases: all shapes, sizes, colors and styles. Some of them are safer than others, others are downright dangerous, and still others are fine but are not compatible with your instrument.
During my research I have run into a lot of dangerous ones, but for obvious reasons I can not name them here. What I can do, and have done herewith, is put together a few simple tips for you to see if the case you own is offering at least basic protection to your violin, or if rather you may want to look for a replacement among the many well-made cases currently available on the market.
SUSPENSION SYSTEM/1 If you have a nice violin but don’t have a case with a suspension system, go out and get one. A properly designed suspension system will save your violin from very costly damage even in apparently small bumps. There is really no excuse any more for manufacturers to make cases without instrument suspension.
SUSPENSION SYSTEM/2 Suspension means that the scroll and back of the instrument are not in contact with the bottom of the case. Not all suspension systems are correctly designed, and even if you have a well-designed one the back of your instrument may be too arched for it to work. To find out if the back touches, put your case on a table and smooth out a 2 inch (4 cm) piece of masking tape lengthwise in the center of the back padding, with the adhesive side sticking up. Then place your violin in the case and fix the neck restraint. After a moment, remove the violin: if the tape is where you left it, all is OK, but if it has stuck to the back of the violin, that means that the suspension provides insufficient “lift”. Not good. Rock-hard suspension pads are also not recommended for obvious reasons!
BRIDGE CLEARANCE: A lot of cases have a stylish, streamlined shape that unfortunately brings the bridge too close to the inside of the lid, which often isn’t even padded. That can spell disaster both in the case of a bump on the bottom of the base, or on the top too. To see if your bridge has enough room, rub some chalk onto it and place the violin inside the case (sans blanket), tying it down as the case allows. Then close the case. If, upon reopening it, you see chalk marks on the lid of the case, that means there is direct contact. That in itself is not the end of the world, because if the lid itself is well padded, depending on the case model you may be OK, but if the chalk mark is extended and/or the lid is not sufficiently padded, that could be a problem.
BOW HOLDERS/ 1: All bow holders must have click-in-place detented spinners to hold their closed position firmly and not spin freely, otherwise during transport the bow could fall off and onto the violin. If the bow holders in your case are of the free spinning variety, not all is lost because today it’s not difficult to obtain replacement bow holders of the clicking variety, which you can screw in yourself.
BOW HOLDERS/ 2: Are they too close to the violin for safety? If the violin were to bounce inside the case during impact, or if the lid flexes under pressure, could they cause damage? Try taping a large pill (like a Tylenol, or a vitamin capsule) onto each of the bow holders and then gently lower the lid with the violin inside. If the lid doesn’t close as usual, that could easily mean that the pills are touching the violin, signaling insufficient clearance. If the case closes OK but it looks close, try carefully “bouncing” the lid open and shut a couple of inches at a time and listen for a clicking sound of the pills tapping on your violin. Bow holders situated too close to the violin, as is sometimes the case with those models featuring a raised bow panel within the lid, can be extremely dangerous.
LID RESISTANCE: The resistance of the lid of the case gauges how much protection your violin will get if someone inadvertently sits on it. And it does happen! Put your (empty!) case on a table, place both of your hands one atop the other in the center of the case, and press with your body weight. If the case offers firm resistance to your weight, that’s good. If the lid resists but makes creaking noises, in general that’s still OK. If it flops inwards, often with a sighing sound, that’s not good at all.
GOOD FIT: Does your violin fit firmly in place (but not too much so), so that in case of a bump it can move slightly to absorb the energy released during the bump but not bounce around and maybe hit something? With the neck restraint secured, your instrument should fit in it’s place with 1 – 1.5cm freedom of movement lengthwise, and about half of that widthwise. Less than that may mean the case is too tight: more than that may lead to excessive movement and possible damage in the event of impact, but can be remedied by using a scarf or other textile to fill in the empty spaces.
Naturally the simple tips I have illustrated are rather empirical, easy for anyone to test, but certainly not intended to be scientific nor millimetrically precise. In addition, there are a lot of other more technical aspects to instrument safety that can’t really be discussed here. What I’ve written has no pretense of giving definitive judgment or advice – if in doubt, consult with your violin shop.
The only purpose of this semi-serious guide is just for V.comers to weed out the worst offenders and take some steps that can perhaps save a few violins down the line from damage or even destruction.
More entries: September 2011
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine