Camping out of the question?

July 14, 2008 at 07:29 PM · Would you even consider taking a decent violin camping? The forecast is sunny, low 80s, high 40s.

I know it would safer to take a cheep instrument.

Replies (28)

July 14, 2008 at 10:31 PM · If it were me, I wouldn't. You might check out a composite carbon fiber violin, or some such.

They make those little portable jobs that fit into a piece of PVC. I can't remember what they are called, but I looked them up online and they look very well made and pleasing to the eye. I don't know how they play, but I want one none the less!

Are you hiking in, or driving in? How much do you want to carry? They say those carbon instruments can take some rough treatment. Just some thoughts.

July 14, 2008 at 10:54 PM · In response to the device that fits inside a PVC tube, it is:


July 14, 2008 at 11:10 PM · What do you mean by a "decent" fiddle?

If it's something you value for any reason, get a garbage fiddle for camping, bar fights, marital disputes which become physical, and outdoor gigs in direct sunlight. ;)

July 14, 2008 at 11:58 PM · I have one I bought specifically for campfire songs. The violin cost $30.00 on Craigs List.

The replacement bridge, the replacement strings, the replacement bow, they all cost more than the fiddle.... and it still sounds like kite string on a 2X4.

I would suggest not taking your good fiddle, but at least make certain it is something you are willing to play.

July 15, 2008 at 12:12 AM · This is what I did for my kids violins when we went on a roadtrip last month to the SW.

I used supermarket thermal bags. There are 3 layers in the thermal bag - a reflective outer layer, middle polyester foamy thingy, and the inner white plastic.

I inserted a piece of wool batting (I quilt) inside. I cut the bag to size, put the violin inside, close it with double side tape. Then I put the whole thing inside the violin case.

I got the supermarket thermal bag idea from Cushy, and the wool batting idea from roof insulation. I have tested it out and it actually does reduce the temperature by quite a few degrees.

All being said, these are kids' fractional violins, I am not so concerned about them being scratched, etc by the bags.

July 15, 2008 at 01:55 AM · I do geological surveys in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes practice back at camp by torchlight, moonlight or whatever I can get. Done this for years, on and off. Take a cheapy fiddle and bow with you is my advice, because on camps occasional unexpected contingencies must be allowed for. On my last excursion into uninhabited country up where the crocodiles live my colleague and I found out that we had no tents with us. The camping store back at the last big town about 500 miles away had forgotten to put them in our order. We were unpacking the 4wd and... no tents!

July 16, 2008 at 05:54 AM · Good advice. Thanks.

July 16, 2008 at 01:31 PM · The temperature swing that you refer to should not be a problem as long as you keep it out of direct sun for any extended period. I'd be more concerned about physical damage (like crushing or dropping). I think that most of us forget that most violins predate any kind of effective enviromental control by decades or even centuries. They survived hot summers, cold winters, and huge swings in humidity as the weather changed. I think a few days on the trail would not do any harm, a bigger danger would be being left in a car on a hot summer day.

July 16, 2008 at 01:54 PM · I was also worried about the car sitting in hot sun.

You could do an experiment. Put the violin case (without the violin, of course) inside the car. Park the car in hot sun. Put up the sun shade(s), wind down windows a little. Measure the temperature inside the case ( I put used 2 thermometers - one inside and one outside the case). After a few hours, I checked to see how hot it got.

Wrapping with my customised "thermal bag" helped. Also thermal mass - whatever pillows, laundry heaped on top of the case helps reduce the inside temperature too.

July 17, 2008 at 03:00 PM · Daniel Stevens wrote:

"I think that most of us forget that most violins predate any kind of effective enviromental control by decades or even centuries. They survived hot summers, cold winters, and huge swings in humidity as the weather changed."


True, but unless one has worked in a major violin shop, most people are also not familiar with all the repairs, restorations, correction of distorted archings, and neck resets these instruments have been through.

July 17, 2008 at 11:02 PM · I thought of that, but I doubt the instruments fell apart everytime it got cold or hot. I think we are discussing only occassional exposure. I think in general people are a little too pampering of their instruments (myself included), but that is probably the safe way to go.

July 17, 2008 at 11:30 PM · I wouldn't do it.

July 18, 2008 at 01:12 AM · Daniel Stevens wrote:

"I thought of that, but I doubt the instruments fell apart everytime it got cold or hot. I think we are discussing only occassional exposure. I think in general people are a little too pampering of their instruments......."


Musicians are pretty good at noticing dramatic, short term damage such as cracks, or "falling apart". What most are not trained to notice is deterioration over time.

I've made patterns of the arching shape of violin tops, then exposed the violins to high humidity. After only a week of exposure, there is significant permanent deformation.

Recently, I saw an EXPENSIVE old Italian violin with the top shaping deformed to the point that one could barely insert a business card between the top and the tailpiece. The maker of this violin never made archings even close to that. The violin has already been restored at least once. Correcting this again, along with peripheral work, will probably be a 20 thousand dollar job.

I have yet to meet a violinist who I thought was too careful with their instrument. As a purely practical matter though, if one has enough money and doesn't have a "relationship" with a particular instrument, I suppose it doesn't matter.

July 27, 2008 at 08:55 PM · I recently acquired a very neat retro trapezoidal violin (Savart design). It came to me reeking of campfire smoke--I believe it had done some hard time with a Civil War re-enactor. Other than the smell, which always makes my hungry for pit BBQ, I couldn't see any damage as the result of its treatment. However, it also had been stored in a cheap styrofoam-core case. There's only modest shock protection in those cases, but they have huge amounts of thermal protection.

But me, personally, I'd take a cheap fiddle and a $30-50 carbon fiber bow and leave my good violin at home. A used student violin, like a Scherl & Roth, is built on the thick side to withstand use/abuse, and it will put with a lot more punishment than a beautiful but fragile vintage Italian or French (or any) instrument. Around here, you can find a scratched and fugly but intact 1960s or early 1970s-era student violin for next to nothing. They play...OK, which is all you need when you're camping. Put a set of Helicores on it and you're good to go.

I also have a Wiplstix, and I think it's a hoot. However, even after upgrading the strings and bow, it has a sound that can charitably be called "whiny." Also, some folks never get the hang of the doughnut shoulder rest, and the instrument has a real tendency to roll out of playing position if you're not paying attention.

July 28, 2008 at 03:20 AM · I recently returned from another camping trip (with a replacement cheap violin). The first one never sounded satisfactory, but this one is at least OK; a bit bright sounding, but OK for campfires.

I just found out how poorly I play at night when I can't see my fingers! Maybe I need flourescent strings and a lighted bow?

July 28, 2008 at 09:51 AM · fluorescent strings and lighted bow? Someone going to Burning Man should take notes. that would look pretty gnarly.

July 29, 2008 at 07:26 AM · I know humidity is the big killer, but is tempature a problem too?

MR. Burgess, what is your opinion?

July 29, 2008 at 01:24 PM · Hundreds (if not thousands) of fiddle players camp out every summer at music festivals around the world. We all bring our fiddles and play, play play!

Just don't leave the poor thing in the hot sun. Or in the pouring rain. You simply need a way to protect it.

And don't forget about the fiddle that traveled all the way out to the Pacific and back on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

And don't forget about all those hundreds of years before air conditioning.

July 29, 2008 at 01:58 PM · My $200 starter fiddle has seen a lot of vacation action. Last month, it went from a 35% humidity environment here at home to 90% humidity. Temps 10 degrees warmer. I think the fiddle weathered it infinitely better than I. Have also taken the same instrument on a Yosemite camping trip where temps varied 40 degrees from day to night. Just don't forget the peg dope, that's my advice (along with echoing the others about bringing a cheap violin, but not one that's so cheap it brings forth little pleasure/sound when playing it).

July 29, 2008 at 11:17 PM · Norman Armenti wrote:

"I know humidity is the big killer, but is tempature a problem too?

MR. Burgess, what is your opinion?"


The most common and obvious problem I've seen from high temperature is varnish bubbling, or varnish sticking to the case or acquiring imprints from the case.

Keep in mind also that high temperatures make wood more prone to bending. That's how we bend the ribs on a new violin.

The most common problem I've seen from sudden temperature changes is micro-cracks in the varnish.

Bilbo, I can't begin to tell you how many "music camp" instruments, and how many which existed before the days of climate control I've repaired or restored.

As part of their contracts, a lot of major symphony players now have climate controlled storage and performance environments. I think it's helped a lot.

Where is the Louis and Clark expedition violin now? I'd love to take a look at it.

If I don't see severe deterioration from the trek, your next back waxing is on me! ;)

July 30, 2008 at 01:43 AM · David, thanks for your information.

It is interesting though, how many really valuable fiddles and mandolins I've seen at festivals: Gibson (Loar) F5 mandolins worth $50k or more, original Hutchins mezzos, Alf, etc but then again, the great players that are playing them often have great RVs with A/C!

Since I live without A/C, for me, festival conditions aren't all that different from ordinary life!

July 30, 2008 at 01:58 AM · I'd say most Strads used to go camping all the time. So go ahead with your fiddle! Just don't let some drunk throw it in the camp fire. That's the kind of thing that's funny when you're drunk.

July 30, 2008 at 03:55 AM · Hahaha.

I have a question - how would differing temperatures affect Strings? Like heat expanding steel... (Unless its just Gypsie Magic)

Would the durability be effected with sudden contrast in climate/humidity etc and also how would that effect tone production? I hope its very positive :D

July 30, 2008 at 01:11 PM · Hot steel is at lower pitch than cold steel.

But if the fiddle changes shape with temperature or humidity, it may increase rather than decrease the pitch. Depends on the fiddle really.

July 30, 2008 at 03:53 PM · I have a decent C F Albert violin formerly owned by the late John Hartford, and used by him for several decades. When the instrument came to me (in an aold double case) there were leaves in the case from the last time Hartford had played it at some (presumably outdoor) festival.

The instrument is in decent condition considering its former history. I don't know what efforts Hartford might have made to preserve the fiddle, but there's no doubt it was used on the road, and the chances are that it was used as much out of doors as in climate-controlled halls.

However, I suspect there's a difference between an organised festival and a camping trip.

If you must take a decent fiddle, whatever you can do to minimise wide variation in temp and humidity, and to slow the rate of change of these parameters, will go far in preserving the instrument's integrity.

July 30, 2008 at 04:50 PM · "by the late John Hartford,"


July 30, 2008 at 09:36 PM · "Gosh".

Yup. Aside from Jim Miller, I'd have expected more of "John who?". This place always surprises and (usually) delights.

July 31, 2008 at 01:09 AM · Lordy, back when cousin John was featured on banjo in the band on the Glen Campbell show he was hotter than a coal-fired corn squeezing machine. But when he went solo and took on that riverboat personna thing he sorta lost me.

Actually Bilbo is more folky than I am even, variety-wise at least. He knows more about different styles and wierd instruments than I do.

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