Are Dampits dangerous or necessary?

October 9, 2009 at 04:59 PM ·

Greetings,

I notice in the tip section a Dampit is recommended in dry conditions.  I may be wrong on this but I am personally very against such devices.   I have seen photos of a cello that was damaged by repeatedly having water in the isntrument- Dampit too wet.  I personally concluded from this that in the lonmg run the same might well happen in a violin.   Nor do I like the ide aof pulling somethign in and out of the f holes.  maybe I am over emphasizing the dangers but I note that great violnists of the past fdid not have to use them.  Heifetz considered a glass of water near the case adequate. And withmodern measuing devices and room humidfiers or dries it seems a compeltley pointless risk.

Interesited to here if my rejection of said device is supported by makers experience...

Cheers,

Buri

Replies (37)

October 9, 2009 at 07:05 PM ·

Interesting question.  I use a dampit on the recommendation of my luthier.  If you are careful, you should not have a problem with water ruining your instrument from the inside.  I have no idea if taking it in and out of the f holes creates a long-run issue.   Heifetz solution will not do it, and I cannot use a room humidifier.  I do use a case humidifier, which may be the best alternative.  I would also like to hear from the luthiers out there on this issue.

October 9, 2009 at 07:22 PM ·

As a Luthier, I would not recommend or use a dampit. I've seen bad effects from misuse but also used well generally I do not like the concept involved of a of a localised damp source inside an instrument. Humidifiers that humdify the whole case are a better solution but probably still not ideal. David Burgess has some excellent stuff re humidity on his website which is essential reading.

October 9, 2009 at 07:33 PM ·

I was once told that dampits were bad but have also been told otherwise.  I think, like the violin itself, the dampit must be used with care, if at all.  before you put it in your violin squeeze out all of the water that you can and wipe the dampit down with a towel.  There will still be some water left in the dampit that will allow it to work.  also, putting it in and out of the f holes should not cause a problem so long as the f holes are large enough (they do vary slightly from one violin to the next) and again if it is used with care. 

IMO, dampits are best used as case humidifiers.  that is, put them in the case around the scroll of the violin.  Or better yet, only expose your violin to prorperly humidified environments.  Of course this is not always possible.

Additionally it has been my experience living near NYC that a dampit or other form of case humidifier has never been truly necessary.  but then again I have steam heat which might be keeping my house more humid than average.

October 9, 2009 at 07:38 PM ·

I don't care for dampits, either. Tending them is fussy work, and they can drip or leak. The cello ones fall into the cello pretty easily. The recent high-tech absorbent gel things are certainly better. We should keep in mind, in relation to players of the past not dwelling on this, the increased tension on instrument bodies & seams by many modern strings, the persistent & aggressive playing demanded of today's students & professionals, and the changes in heating systems. Even 20 years ago when I lived in northern Europe, we did not have central heating. OTOH, I could get the humidity up to just under 30% using a room humidifier in a closet I set up for instrument storage in my American public school. Sue

October 9, 2009 at 08:54 PM ·

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

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=8127

JUL/AUG 1993, No. 37  

Recording with Rostropovich
Learning to Let the Music Speak  By Eugene Drucker

Recording with Rostropovich
Accompanying a Musical Hero  By Joshua Koestenbaum

Finding a Balance
Ted Madsen on the Artistic and the Commercial  By Jim Wood

The Moisture Factor
How to Cope with the High or Unstable Humidity Levels That Can Ruin Your Instrument  By David Burgess

 

October 9, 2009 at 09:01 PM ·

I used to use dampits on my guitars and mandolins, but as the collection grew it got to be a problem keeping them watrered. Then I found that one had been overfilled, and was leaking water into a guitar body. Not good. It swelled the neck block as well, deforming the top of the instrument. I switched to an evaporative humidifier big enough to deal with the first floor of the house.

When my granddaughter got her violin, we got a dampit, but the thing is so tiny compared to the ones I'd been using it seemed to be a waste of time and money.

The original dampits form 20+ years ago were of a brown latex-type material, with a fiber core. The new green ones seem to suddenly dissolve after several years' use. The core material is also harder to deal with. Seems to hold less fluid, and tends to drip more.

Now it's strictly in-case humidifiers for instruments going off-site, in Musafia cases. IN-house instruments get the whole-room treatment, much kinder to them, and also helpful for the human contents of the house.

October 9, 2009 at 09:13 PM ·

I went to David Burgess's site a year and a half ago and I bought a Vick's steam humidifier per his recomendation.  Works for me!

October 10, 2009 at 12:35 AM ·

I've experimented with different case humidifiers, including using dampits for the case, and not inside the violin. Here's my innovation: I punched holes in the string tube with a hammer and nail in a pattern similar to a dampit's holes. Then I put the dampit in the string tube!

I have more than a dozen violins currently. In some cases I've tried Stretto humidifiers. They're OK, but a little fussy to use. And in one case it doesn't stick. What I like best is when a case comes with a built-in section for an included water bottle.

At home, nothing beats an effective room humidifier.

In the New York City area the past few weeks, it's been crazy, with wild fluctuations in humidity.

October 10, 2009 at 01:40 AM ·

Armpits are definitely dangerous.  I would even argue that they are unnecessary, but sometimes, you do need the moisture.

October 10, 2009 at 10:36 AM ·

 Greetings,

if you didn`t have armpits how could you put headlocks on your students?

Cheers,

Buri

October 10, 2009 at 02:04 PM ·

For reasons too lengthy to describe here, seasoned violin wood absorbs water slowly. Morton Hutchins did some experiments in the 1970s, and the results were astonishing. The amount of time it takes violin wood to become fully saturated with water vapor is measured in weeks; the amount of time it takes the wood to lose the moisture is measured in hours.

In my checkered repair career, I've seen my share of warped and buckled ribs and seams from dripping Dampits. One player had dampits in all four eyes of her cello's f-holes and complained that the instrument didn't sound good. Well, it wasn't the water dripping relentlessly into the body; it was the air that couldn't move through the stuffed f-holes.

The opening of the f-hole plays an important part in how well an instrument can produce its lowest notes. For this reason, I think that Dampits should be removed before playing, but constantly inserting and removing the Dampit produces another problem. I've repaired too many instruments with cracked  or missing f-hole wings caused by the rapid or careless removal of a Dampit via the "yank" method. These are PITA repairs and are totally avoidable.

You don't want to make the cure worse than the disease. A humidity-stable room is the best option, but the air must be moving. Even sponges in perforated plastic containers that are placed in the violin case rather than in the violin are potentially troublesome if you close the case and leave it in there for days.

Of course, I know that after twenty minutes all of you will remove your violin for another four hours of practice. :-)

October 11, 2009 at 01:02 AM ·

In my opinion which I came to from talking with various repairpeople, it is better not to use a dampit, unless you are scrupulously careful about keeping the humidity level constant. All too often, one may forget to fill the dampit and the humidity level will drop. Then the dampit will be refilled and it humidity level will go up. This constant fluctuation can be damaging; dry to wet to dry. I think its better just to stick with the natural weather patterns which tend to be more gradual.

If you are going to use this useless device, make sure that it doesn't drip inside the instrument.

January 29, 2014 at 02:30 AM · Dampits have been good to me over the years. I am a luthier and they bring in monies for my repair business on a yearly basis.

Dampits have affected a number of instruments that found their way into my shop and I was paid really well to fix them.

Several instruments in one person`s violin collection was brought in because several seams were open. The areas that opened up were in the same location for both instruments. I asked if there was a furnace closeby. He answered no. Was there a moisture source nearby? Just the dampits, he said. It turned out that both dampits had been leaking for a long time. This person kept adding water to them, because he thought they were simply soaking up the moisture.

Many times in my 40 years of doing string instrument repair work, I have experienced excessive moisture problems in string instruments.

In dry areas, the dampits may have merit. Although not where I live in MN. The best way to control moisture is by mechanical means, on a room by room basis, and not directly into the instruments.

40 to 60 % is ideal. Above and below this range, for short times, is not always that critical. Just so things are not long term and excessive.

Dampits also plug up the sound chamber.

Glue melts to its liquid limit around 135 to 140 degrees. So outside temperature is usually not a problem, because we do not typically get temperatures that high. Except in a closed car or trunk. In these cases, dampits cannot help these situations because the heat melts the glue, regardless of any moisture added inside an instrument. As a matter of fact, the Heat melts the glue and moisture accelerates the seam separation process. Actually that is the way I open violins up to do repair inside them. Heat and moisture is definitely an enemy to animal glue, which most luthiers use.

A dampit will work if you live in a really dry area and you are willing to watch it closely to keep it full, if necessary and catch it quickly if it accidently leaks.

I do not know what to tell a user about how much sound a dampit diminishes by pluging the sound hole. He or she will have to decide that for themselves.

For what it is worth.

January 29, 2014 at 09:04 AM ·

January 29, 2014 at 06:43 PM · It's crisis time for fiddles here in the US, with the cold temperatures we've been having.

Here, at the moment, it's 13 degrees F and 62% humidity outside. When you bring that outside air in and heat it to 70 degrees without adding moisture, the humidity becomes 7 percent! Luthiers will see a rash of repairs.

First choice is to humidify the building, or the room where the instruments are kept. Second choice is to use a case humidifier (needs to be monitored regularly, because some case humidifiers don't do anything, and others can over-humidify). Dampits don't even make the list for me.

So remember, the outdoor humidity (like from the weather report) does NOT tell you what the humidity is in your heated space.

January 29, 2014 at 07:28 PM · OK, I'll respond, flame away!

David, I completely agree with your criticism on your web page that "the user has to be VERY CAREFUL to make sure this device is not too wet before inserting it in the instrument, or it will drip."

I believe the key, as you say, is to be VERY CAREFUL: the Dampit Instructions clearly state "Pinch end of DAMPIT to remove excess water. Gently wipe outer tube dry. " I do that exactly that: squeeze the entire end of the Dampit to get rid of all the water, and then wipe dry the entire rubber tube with a towel.

Another possibility is using a "Humidipak" (brought to us courtesy of our guitar-playing bretheren). This has the advantage of absorbing excess humidity as well.

Best regards, Leon.

January 29, 2014 at 07:36 PM · I no longer use a dampit... plenty of violins have survived hundreds of years without em. With newly manufactured Chinese fiddles, the dry air might actually do them some good!

I wonder if the moisture of the performers breath raises the humidity level around the instrument... if so, then indeed, practice is the best remedy.

January 29, 2014 at 07:40 PM · Leon, other potential problems with insertable humidifiers have already been brought up in this thread, so I didn't think it was necessary to repeat them.

The Humidipak was once marketed for violins, and then they pulled them off the market. I suspect that this had to do with liability concerns. There aren't as many multi-million dollar guitars, as there are fiddles.

January 29, 2014 at 07:55 PM · Evan wrote:

"I no longer use a dammit... plenty of violins have survived hundreds of years without em."

________________

Whether "dammit" was deliberate or a typo, people would do well to be informed about the extensive repairs and restorations which most Strads (etc.) have undergone. To the best of my knowledge, almost nothing of that sort is around today which hasn't had major interventions from highly talented repairmen and restorers. So I'll still assert that climate control is important, as do museums.

Leon, a quick Google search (stimulated by your comments) reveals that you may be an attorney, and I don't have any wish to do battle with an attorney who might have some connection with Dampit.

I just want to make good fiddles, and help people make good choices, the best I know how.

January 29, 2014 at 09:25 PM · As Raphael mentioned earlier, a much better alternative is to get a good humidifier. There's a similar new type of humidification (dampit-like) device now for pianos, which attaches directly to the sounding board, and according to a Steinway technician I know, this device has caused irreparable water damage to the sound board and internal parts of the instrument, on several pianos he's seen.

Violins weren't built to withstand these extraneous contraptions and devices like dampits and shoulder rests to be put on or inside of them, which have the potential of injuring the body and interior of an instrument.

January 29, 2014 at 10:19 PM · What about those humidification elements they use for cigar humidors?

They are made of some form of water absorptive gel or something.

Anybody give one of those a try?

January 29, 2014 at 11:01 PM · I used Dampits for years and years and I never had a problem. I think the key is insure that outside is COMPLETELY DRY, and the inside of it none too wet, either. More (water) is emphatically not better. Burgess is right--low humidity does creates a lot of problems for wooden instruments. I can generally tell when one of my instruments is too dry by the sound--they get shrill and oddly harder to play, i.e. less responsive. I am speaking of v. good modern and antique instruments that in other ways could not be more different. I recently switched to an external humidifier that sits in the case. It seems to do the job well enough, too.

January 29, 2014 at 11:09 PM · I personally like the Precipitube humidifer, from Lashof violins - for my spare violins, I use Dampits, but I never put them in the violin itself; I just leave them somewhere in the case.

Room humidifiers are, of course, still the safest and most effective option...

January 29, 2014 at 11:13 PM · Hi David, no worries.

Yes, I am an attorney, but I do not represent Dampit, I'm just a user of their products when I'm OUT of the office, and want to make sure I'm taking good care of my dear violin. Your input is greatly appreciated and I will certainly reconsider my habits.

I'm also a new v.com member, so most of the earlier posts were hidden from me (sorry, user error).

Best regards, Leon.

January 30, 2014 at 03:32 AM · The humidification packet that I believe you're referring to Seraphim, for cigar humidors, is called 'Boveda.' They come in different degrees of humidity from 69% - 84% according to your preference. I would imagine keeping one of those packets in the violin case is safer than a dampit. They seem to do a good job with my humidor.

January 30, 2014 at 11:19 AM · Yes to Darrett's comment. I also use the Precipitube. Seems like a safe and practical solution. You wet the tube every 1-2 weeks and clip it in the case in place of the spare string tube. I have one of David Burgess' hygrometers and when humidity is 30% in the house, the humidity in the case is about 50%.

January 30, 2014 at 12:01 PM · I have used a Dampit on and off. The key is to wipe the whole thing, and squeeze out excess water (before wiping). I prefer the ones that slowly release water, but those also sometimes leak. I had a mess in my case. I have switched to an Oasis. What is wrong with something like a Stretto? And DB, why was the guitar humifier withdrawn from the violin market?

Nate, I do not understand why you had to throw in a completely thread irrelevant comment about shoulder rests. They were built to save players' physical well-being; modern shoulder rests have soft rubber tips to prevent scratching and wear. Alternative ones, like the Acousta Grip, work by an entirely safe, different mechanism. And Dampits are reasonably safe if used carefully. Now, there are different, even better humidifcation systems. Most LA luthiers have whole room humidifers and electronic humidification control, which is the best (no need to worry about individual cases or fiddles) but not all of us can do that. Cauer's setup is awesome.

January 30, 2014 at 12:14 PM · I'd advise caution with the humidifiers marketed for cigar humidors. Some of them are fine, similar to what's marketed for violins, but others contain some pretty potent chemical stews.

Also, those which are designed to chemically maintain a certain moisture level for cigars are typically targeted toward a higher level (70-75%) than recommended for violins.

January 30, 2014 at 12:34 PM · "And DB, why was the guitar humifier withdrawn from the violin market?"

Those self-regulating packs for instruments were originally a "joint venture" type of thing between Humidipak and D'addario (a string and accessories manufacturer). They were on the market for a while, and then completely withdrawn. My understanding is that there were concerns with the durability of the chemical-containing envelope. After some redesigning, they were reintroduced for guitars.

As I mentioned earlier, my guess is that there were liability concerns about putting packets of chemicals in the case with super-expensive, irreplaceable violins. There may be a few guitars which have sold for over a million dollars, but there are a lot of violins in that price range.

(Website for the product:)

http://www.daddario.com/pwProductDetail.Page?ActiveID=4115&productid=523&sid=7b136886-16aa-4534-bd67-535be73dead8

January 31, 2014 at 05:51 PM · Run the dampit three times in a bowl of water. Squeeze it under a towel, then it's safe to use.

January 31, 2014 at 08:04 PM · Would John McEnroe have something to say to us about Dampits?

February 1, 2014 at 12:17 AM · Not sure I'm able to make much sense of, or derive applicable value from the prior post.

February 1, 2014 at 01:39 AM · Wow. Fascinating discussion. I gave up on dampits when I had cats who thought they were the best toy in the world. One would play with it nicely. The other would stand with his paw on one end, put the other end in his mouth and pull. The dampit kept ending up in 1/4" pieces. For years after I quit using them, the cats would try to open the interior case pockets looking for their toy.

My luthier told me that some people like to maintain the humidity levels and some opt for letting the instrument adjust to its surroundings.I have adopted the let the instrument adjust to its surroundings. It was just too difficult to attempt to maintain constant humidity levels. Not sure that is a good thing to do as every couple of years there are open seams to be repaired. (Part of why I find this thread so interesting.)

I can tell from how my instrument sounds how much humidity is in the air though. Occasionally, it will tell me there is too much humidity around.

A lot of people in my area use whole home humidifiers on their furnaces to keep a constant humidity. I am reluctant to put do that because I am paranoid about mold.

February 1, 2014 at 11:04 AM · David, by "prior post", do you mean John Cadd's post or mine. If mine, I can't guarantee its "applicable value", but if I tell you I'm referring to McEnroe's OTHER catch phrase, you should be able to make some sense of it.

February 1, 2014 at 07:26 PM · John C, it's not that builders don't know about "breathable houses". Almost all houses are built to allow some degree of water vapor permeability.

Sometimes newer homes are so tight though (for better energy efficiency) that special arrangements need to be made to prevent excessive moisture buildup inside, and provide adequate air exchange, such as the installation of energy recovery ventilators.

Porous walls usually aren't the best option to maintain indoor air quality in areas with a cold season, because as water vapor reaches cooler outside walls, it can condense on the cooler surfaces, becoming liquid water. This is one of the situations which can contribute to rotting of wood and mold.

Roof timbers are typically protected by venting that area to the outside air, and using a vapor barrier between the living area and the roof.

February 3, 2014 at 05:17 AM · Armpits are necessary but dangerous.

I use Stretto humidifier, it works well in my climate ... we do not have strong extremes here.

February 4, 2014 at 06:22 PM · I have an oasis case humidifier. I keep mine floating around near the neck wear I store my rosin and SR, but i wanted it in a more specific spot i can use the magnetic clip to put it almost anywhere. It probably wont raise the humidity as much as leaky dampit, but should help and be safe. The entire time I had mine has never leaked.

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