Violin cases: what is necessary for a good case and how much do you need to spend?

March 6, 2007 at 05:22 AM · There are a number of threads at this site on cases. Mostly, they are like the threads on strings; everyone has their favorite case and there is at least one vote for every type of case. I have a Bobelock that cost less than $200, is quite sturdy, has the suspensionair feature and room for two bows. My question is primarily directed to those at the site who make or sell instruments. What features are necessary for a good case for the vast majority of us who are not professional soloists travelling constantly all over the world? If you are not a dealer but have chosen an expensive case because it has a feature that is necessary to you, please feel free to explain why the feature is necessary and which cheaper cases you considered. This is NOT an invitation to tell us why you like your case.

Replies (27)

March 6, 2007 at 06:39 AM · Things to look into when choosing a case (from a performer's perspective):

1) Sturdiness

2) Overall weight

3) Music compartment of adequate size to fit standard sheet music. Preferrably, large enough to fit nonstandard modern works as well. A separated compartment within for passport and miscellany is appreciated but not essential.

4) Sufficient bow holders (I prefer 4, not 2)

5) Sufficiently large top compartment, at the scroll of the instrument, to hold a shoulder rest without unscrewing it.

Optional but desirable:

A) String tube with clips to hold it

B) Nice little fiddly bits that tell you the temperature and the humidity. They's purdy.

C) No funky colors inside or out. It's bad enough being regarded as a freak for speaking proper English (thank'ee Prof. Higgins!) but to have people averting their eyes from a hideously garish case is just soul-crushing.

Well, maybe not soul-crushing. But it's not...nice.

My lovely wife took all of the above into consideration last year when she made me a b'day present of an "Ambassador" case from Shar. I think.

March 6, 2007 at 08:11 AM · Anything the handle hasn't broken off of yet will work. It wouldn't be a bad idea if it's soft inside. Don't enunciate too clearly if it's a bright color.

March 6, 2007 at 10:30 AM · Tom, I usually recommend the upper level oblong Bobelock suspension cases as being excellent for the money. They seem to hold up well over time, and with the exception of the light weight cases, the protection is good....good enough that I use them as shipping cases with minor modifications. I'm not aware that spending more money will get better protection unless the case is custom fitted to the violin, has an interior layout which makes it less likely that a bow which isn't properly fastened will hit the top of the instrument, or is one of the odd ones made to withstand a car driving over it (you'll have to decide if that's important to you).

The biggest weakness in most of the suspension cases is that the piece fitted to the lid, which is intended to keep the bridge from hitting the top of the case, is too soft to do a good job in a severe impact (it's soft to fit a wide variety of violins and chinrests without undue pressure). Replacing this with something sturdier and custom fitted to the instrument is the primary modification I make on shipping cases.

Neck angles also vary, so I make sure the back of the scroll isn't touching the case, and remove and shim the upper block support pad in the back of the case as necessary for for scroll clearance.

A light colored cover is an advantage if you will use the case in direct sunlight. The case and the interior won't become as hot.

If you want to humidify the case, understand that those tiny bottles with a special cap don't really do much.

Accuracy of hygrometers that come with cases should be verified before being trusted.

Musafia has some special order options for extreme conditions, such as an optional seal on the lid to keep out water. Myself, I'd probably just cover the case with a garbage bag for a walk through pouring rain.

David Burgess

March 6, 2007 at 10:34 AM · I wrote something stupid here and then erased it.

March 6, 2007 at 05:53 PM · Mr. Burgess, could you recommend something other than the little water bottle? As you say, it doesn't seem to do much to the hygrometer. But then again, the hygrometer was never verified. Its needle moves, certainly, and I generally do feel the greater dryness or humidity that it indicates just from normal skin sensitivity, but no precision tests were ever done on the one in my case, as far as I know. Would you also have recommendations for where/how to test the precision accuracy of the thing?

March 6, 2007 at 07:05 PM · Emil - I have used both the Stretto and WAVE humidifier systems available from Shar, and they work well. I think the WAVE system is a bit easier to use.

March 6, 2007 at 07:37 PM · After happily using the Planet Waves humidifier I noticed last week as I was filling it slowly with the syringe brown smelly water was leaking out the bottom. Bleah. It reminded me of room humidifiers afte a season when the inside "sponges" turn disgusting.

The cure for this was to slowly put 8 to 10 syringes full of distilled water (used all the time anyway) and let the crap drip out until the water came out clear. Then, to be overly cautious, I talked a pharmacy out of a Tetracycline tablet and dissolved that in a glass of water and ran that through with the syringe. Bacteria thrive in those conditions. A day later I ran some more water through it and everything is decent smelling and clear.

Using a quality hygrometer the case humidity is hanging around 48%, +- 5%.

March 6, 2007 at 08:22 PM · Emil, I think he covers testing them on his website but I can't remember for sure. One way is to make a paste of water and table salt, I think, and seal it up. For some reason that results in a certain rh. Interesting. Compare that to your reading and either calibrate or add the difference to your readings. Not sure how accurate they need to be really.

March 6, 2007 at 09:01 PM · Jim, a case hygrometer doesn't need to be super accurate, but I routinely run into some which are more than 20% off. I'd hate to think of people doing nothing when humidity is actually 20%, or adding moisture when it's already 60%.

If you stick close to home, I still like the idea of keeping one room (storage or practice room) at the right humidity rather than trying to humidify the case. There's no great way to dehumidify a case either.

The "check your hygrometer" instructions are at

http://www.burgessviolins.com/calibration.html

March 7, 2007 at 03:23 PM · Thank you all!

March 7, 2007 at 03:58 PM · I personally don't trust the hygrometer in my Musafia case, but mostly because my violin is unbearably sensitive to changes in humidity. (He's a rather delicate fellow, everything always has to be just the way he likes it.) There was a while there when the needle moved barely a millimeter in either direction, meanwhile the weather had gone from bone-dry to tropical rainstorm and my violin made all its usual terrible sounds of sudden climate change. So basically, my advice is to listen to what your violin is telling you about the humidity, and take hygrometers with a small grain of salt.

March 7, 2007 at 04:34 PM · Maura - the problem is that the first thing your violin may tell you is when you see a crack in it because it is too dry.

March 7, 2007 at 04:58 PM · Well, true, not everyone's violin is as touchy as mine. Revised advice: don't trust hygrometers too fully, and if there is any doubt, err on the side of caution and humidify.

March 7, 2007 at 05:19 PM · maura, you have got a good point. i am "conducting" a silly experiement at home on this particular issue. stay tuned:)

March 7, 2007 at 07:36 PM · I love having a hygrometer - my first violin case didn't have one. I check it several times a day just because it's fun to know what the humidity is doing. (As I use very little heat in the room the violin is in, it usually helps me forecast the day's weather.) Was shocked, last August, to see just how dry the room/violin got.

Question to Those Who Know: are the Dampits effective, or is their effect minimal? I've also heard that it's better to use two than just one.

March 7, 2007 at 08:12 PM · Dampits: better than nothing. I've heard that at Aspen, people end up having to stuff four of them into their poor parched fiddles.

March 7, 2007 at 08:20 PM · You can make a giant, free dampit with a baggie, a sponge, and a pin if things are that extreme. I've heard of it.

March 7, 2007 at 08:44 PM · Does that go in the violin?!

March 8, 2007 at 09:47 AM · Yeah, but you need to either take the top off or enlarge the ff holes with a saber saw to put it in. :-)

Seriously, I'm not fond of Dampit-type devices that are inserted in the instrument. I've seen too much damage from leaking or not drying carefully (especially on cellos where they hang vertical) and they won't make any difference when the instrument is being played anyway. There's too much air moving in and out of the violin.

I'd much rather see some of the more creative solutions mentioned in the past, such as Jim's baggie and sponge, soap dishes with sponges and holes, string tubes filled with sponge chunks and drilled with small holes, etc.

Will someone please make and sell a string tube style case humidifier which fits in any bow holder, including the "spinner" type holder?

David Burgess

March 7, 2007 at 10:36 PM · In my experience Dampits are perfectly safe as long as you're careful to wring out the excess water and towel off the outside so it doesn't drip. And yesterday, Dampits were all that kept my violin from sounding like a cheap banjo at orchestra rehearsal...that room is SO dry...

March 7, 2007 at 10:52 PM · David,

Musafia makes exactly what you're talking about. I just filled it.

Apparently he just developed a better one which is more absorbant and works better.

PS. I wonder if a piece of bread works... it's an old trick that some of us use when a certain herb gets too dry to "bake" with... put a slice of bread in the baggy and in a few hours it's back up to par.

March 7, 2007 at 11:08 PM · I am not a great fan of dampits but agree with Maura that they are fine if you are careful about wiping them off before inserting them.

March 7, 2007 at 11:08 PM · I am not a great fan of dampits but agree with Maura that they are fine if you are careful about wiping them off before inserting them.

March 8, 2007 at 05:41 AM · I have a few cases here I've collected over the years. The most expensive was a BAM case I picked up in Frankfurt at the Musik Messe in 2003 (I got it for sample prices, but it's expensive retail). Most of my cases are Bobelock look-a-likes from China and do just fine. I've got a couple c1850 Markneukirchen's in them and I'm relaxed about it (cost $95).

March 8, 2007 at 09:35 AM · Pieter;

The Musafia humidifiers I've seen were a short tube which clips in the case lid. Is yours different?

I was thinking of a similar but longer tube with a fitting on one end which would allow it to fit in any bow holder in any case. If this is already being made, let me know.

March 8, 2007 at 04:50 PM · Thirty plus years of worrying about stringed instruments has brought a few observations.

More or less hermetically sealed cases can maintain constant humidity over long periods of time. Keeping an instrument sealed up for long periods may not be the best idea, however.

Humidity gauges are not particularly accurate. I was in a shop that sold stuff like that, and they had a wall-mounted display of perhaps a dozen different gauges. The readings varied from one another by huge margins.

The "old" dampits were much better than the new, green dampits. The inserts were better, and the exterior didn't get hard and decompose the way the green Dampits seem to do.

The tiny dampits that fit into violin soundholes hold so little moisture as to be worthless. Spending ten dollars for false peace of mind is not my cup of tea.

The humidifiers in the Musafia cases are better than dampits, and probably help to keep some moisture in the air in the case, but of course the cases are not airtight. Once you remove the fiddle into a room environment, the advantage is lost.

A large evaporative humidifier in my living room can keep the relative humidity in a survivable range; it requires about 12 gallons of water per day this week to do so. If I miss filling it and the water runs out, RH drops from 38-42% to 25% in a matter of hours. (My gauge is probably as inaccurate as any, but at least it is large and expensive, and illustrative of the swings that are possible).

The little vials for water that reside near the peghead in Bobelock cases do indeed help keep the pegs from slipping in dry weather, but they won't do much for the rest of the instrument.

Silk bags and pads do act as humidity buffers, retaining moisture and adding/removing it from the air in a case. This is the reason silk linings are used in top-line cases; it's not to make your fiddle feel luxurious in its resting-place.

Many violins have lasted for several hundred years under heating conditions much more severe than is common today. We must be very thankful for the tormented souls who went to extremes to preserve them. Hanging violins over bathtubs filled with water may have been the done thing a hundred years ago, but it is a method fraught with peril today.

March 8, 2007 at 05:14 PM · This is great information for me, everyone - thanks!

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