What's the harm with dry air?

November 7, 2010 at 10:40 PM ·

I don't store my violin in it's case.  It has a peg on the wall where I can see it and easily access it when I am ready to play.  Trying to avoid  "out of sight out of mind" since I am just a beginner.  With winter on the way, we typically reduce the heat in our house and start using the ventless heater in our library so we have a couple of warmer rooms that we dwell in.  The ventless heater really dries out the air in these rooms and this is the room my violin lives in.  Last night it was flat, flat, flat, flat.  Very out of tune.  Am I harming my violin by keeping it hanging on the wall in a dry room or do I need to start storing it in it's case with a humidifier?   I can't use a humidifier in the library as they tend to trigger my asthma after a while.

(I almost tagged this under the "health" heading since my question refers to the health of my violin!)

Replies (29)

November 8, 2010 at 12:28 AM ·

Keep your fiddle in the cooler areas of the house. The change in humidity is far more troublesome than temperature changes, and the cooler air will have a higher relative humidity.

The low humidity can cause seams to open, the soundpost to fall, and cracks to form in the plates. Going out of tune is the least of it.

We keep our house in the high 50s low 60s and live near the water; in the winter, we rarely go below 40%, which is still lower than you should be, but is survivable.  When the humidity swings from 70% summer to 15 or 20% in winter in a heated house, you find lots of trouble.

Keeping your fiddle in a case also slows the rate of change, which is also healthier for it. And it keeps the dust off. But it is nice to have it out and ready to play:)

November 8, 2010 at 12:43 AM ·

A cooler spot?  How cool is too cool?  We hardly heat our bedroom at all and that's where I often practice.

The library where I keep my violin was VERY dry today and we had spiked the temp.  New heater.  When I went to practice just now the A string was wildly out of tune and I had to use the peg instead of the fine tuner.  Then I turned to the D and it went twaaannnggg.  Oh, not good.  I turned the peg and it slipped back.  I turned it again and the string popped out of the fine tuner.  So I loosened it up and placed it back in.  As soon as I turned the peg to tighten it back up the string broke.  I could see where the twining was frayed before it broke.  I am not happy  :-(  This is a rental, I plan to either purchase this Saturday or trade this one for a classical set up if I don't find one that I want to purchase right now.  The place I rent from is 45 minutes in the wrong direction from where I am working the next few days so I'll probably go to the local guitar store for a violin string and hope I am a quick learner for stringing my own instrument.  Can I say bad timing????

But I digress......... I think my instrument just answered my question for me  :-(

November 8, 2010 at 12:49 AM ·

There really isn't a "too cool" inside a house. The one downside is that if the instrument is much colder than you, your body heat will cause condensation on it. But in practice, we've never found this to be a major problem. **The chinrest protects the violin, and the neck warms up under the hand very quickly. I see much more condensation on the ukuleles and guitars and the lacquer finish does a fine job of preventing any trouble. Like I mentioned above, even at 50 something degrees, there just isn't a problem. And there is a fair amount of outdoor playing here, too, in chilly weather and it just doesn't cause any trouble.

Keep the fiddle inside its case, closed, in the cooler rooms, away from heaters if sunshine, and you won't have such wild swings.

Your heating system is definitely a bad match. Moving, dry air is terrible.

Also, I wouldn't buy just yet. See if you can get the conditions stabilized in your house first. You don't want to plunk down money on something that you damage and have to fix....experiment on the rental:)

 

NOTE THE EDITS/.

November 8, 2010 at 02:25 AM ·

Thanks!  The bedroom will be much more stable.  We generally keep the house at 60, the library at 72 and the bedroom somewhere in between but it's pretty steady.  We had a heating guy blow the board on our furnace and that accounts for our temp swings at the moment.  We have to supplement with space heaters until the new board comes in.  I'll be able to keep my violin in it's case, on top of a grooming table so my dogs can't step on it and it will stay in the bedroom.  It should be ok but I wonder if a humidifier in the case would be helpful?  I am always very careful to wipe down my violin after use and I will be double careful now.  A thin rag over the chin rest will probably help when I am playing?

Please don't say don't buy yet!  I have a window of opportunity where i have the money.  If I have to wait another month, something may break besides the "D" string and there goes my funds!

Just curious - should my husband have the same concerns with his guitar?  He doesn't seem to think so.

November 8, 2010 at 04:30 AM ·

What you're going through on top of frequent travel between hot/cold/dry/humid is what finally persuaded me to buy a Luis and Clark carbon fiber instrument.  I'm a beginner, too -- just finishing Suzuki book 3.  But I'm in love with the violin and I knew that whatever happened down the road I'd want an instrument that could handle the elements.  And the sound is phenomenal -- the responsiveness is encouraging me in my proper bowing techniques and sensitivity in a way I never experienced with my student model.  Best of luck to you!

November 8, 2010 at 05:30 PM ·

Just to be accurate here, there is no reason to give up on a wood instrument on account of normal seasonal and diurnal fluctuations in North Carolina. Fiddles have been built, played and maintained in that place for a couple hundred years without undue difficulty.

Carbon Fiber instruments are different instruments. They don't sound like wood instruments. They should be called "plastolins" not violins. To my ear, they are powerful, loud, piercing and strident. Can you get a good tone out of them? Sure, if you ignore what you can get out of a good $5000 wooden fiddle. Even the CF bows play and sound different. While some may choose the plastic fiddle to solve some perceived difficulty due to weather, the real problem is probably more specific to the lack of understanding how to take care of a wood fiddle.

To the original poster: you need not give up on a wooden fiddle because of your present problems. I think we've pretty much figured out that it is caused by your HVAC and storage methods. Good luck with your purchase of a new fiddle.

As far as humidifiers go, be very very careful! Avoid putting one inside the fiddle. You can humidify the case, but be sure to buy an electronic hygrometer as well as the old-fashioned kind. Try to keep the case humidity at 50%.

 

 

November 8, 2010 at 10:02 PM ·

Dry air.......................aaaaaarrrrrrgggghhhhh!!!  My old conservatory violin went through a VERY bad week last week.  I was a little slow on the uptake on getting the Oasis humidifier bottles back into my violins' cases when the furnace started running more frequently.  The humidity in the house dropped more quickly than I thought it would.  First all the pegs on my old violin slipped, and wouldn't stay put when I tried to tune it.  I e-mailed my luthier about what had happened, and mentioned that I was going out to buy some peg drops.  He called me and said, "Don't use peg drops!  Just bring it over and I'll take care of it."  He cleaned a bunch of old goop out of the peg holes, and then applied whatever the local luthier-approved peg dope is.  Problem solved.  At least THAT problem.

While he was working on it, he noticed a 2-1/2 to 3-inch crack in the top!  Low humidity strikes again!  So he kept it for a couple of days, did a great repair job, and now I'm back in business.  The Oasis humidifiers really work great, but you have to be on top of things enough to get them installed in time!!

November 9, 2010 at 12:17 AM ·

What are the best type of humidifiers to use?  It looks like it will be added to my shopping list VERY soon

November 9, 2010 at 03:08 PM ·

Humidifiers..........

I've only tried two, so I'm no expert.  Initially I used the "Dampit" tubular sponge thingies.  They were impossible to keep moist for even a day, and my luthier told me they could really harm my violins.  I found the Oasis humidifiers last Winter, and have really been pleased with them.  I only have to add water every 3 to 4 days, and both my violins made it through last Winter totally unscathed by low humidity issues.

November 9, 2010 at 11:55 PM ·

So I just bought the tube over the Oasis.  LOL!  I'll give it a try but I might go back and get the other.

One the bright side, while I was there I looked at the violins they have for sale.  I already had plans set with more experienced friends to take a look on Saturday but a broken string gave me an excuse to scope things out earlier.  They only have new student violins and about 6 violins that they have refurbished and now have for sale.  2 are well within my budget.  Both Eastman and Shen.  Two are a little out of budget but not enough to kill the deal.  One is Chinese and was workshop made in the 1990's.  The other is handmade.  Both are beautiful to look at and one feels nice to play but my friends will have to judge sound quality for me.  The other two were too far out of my price range to consider.  So I have 4 to play this weekend.  I'm getting excited - but still ready to go home with my rental if none of these are the right ones.  

November 10, 2010 at 01:24 AM ·

Tubes are dangerous. They spill. Be very careful not to get water on your fiddle or bow.

November 10, 2010 at 01:26 AM ·

What is your price range? Why aren't you looking at more older fiddles? Use your "country fiddle connections" if you can come up with some, to look for fiddles that way, too.

November 10, 2010 at 02:10 AM ·

Someone earlier posted a link on humidifying which I read.  I talked about all of my concerns with the shop owner today and ended up with the tube.  He told me to soak it, wring it out then let it sit for about 10 minutes to make sure any exterior water was gone and it wasn't dripping.

The place I am renting from rents for $30 a month and the first four months rental can go towards a purchase plus 10% off your bow and case.  I currently have 3 months in to it = $90 credit coming.  I've got $700 in cash but can add to it if I really need to.  So, I'm trying to stay with Acoustic Corner and they do come highly recommended.  Two of my fiddle friends have bought there.  Right now, rent is due.  So I'll shop on Saturday and if I don't find one I like, I'll rent for another month and try again in December and hope I don't have any emergencies that eat up my funds in the mean time.  Every once in a while I have gone in and played what they had.  Their new violins are mostly Eastman and Shen.  My rental is a Shen.  Everything else is either consignment or something that their luthier has refurbished and is now selling.  Last month they had a roughly 200 year old violin that just sent me to heaven when I played it.  The tone was beautiful and it seemed so easy to play.  I didn't have the money then and it still would have been just out of my reach now but at least I know what it's like to play an instrument that really turns you on.  So for now, I'll try to stick with Acoustic Corner but that doesn't mean I'm not open to purchasing elsewhere if I find one within my budget.

November 12, 2010 at 04:06 PM ·

Just a bit of information if you do decide to use the Oasis humidifier in your case --

Apparently, the little water-absorbing crystals inside the bottles don't carry over from year-to-year.  The ones that came in the bottle when I bought it wouldn't absorb water this year.  It's possible to buy just the crystals at many garden centers (they were originally developed to mix with potting soil to cut down on the necessity to water plants so often).  The brand name most often seen is "Soil Moist" (I've also seen one called "Terra-Sorb").  I found a package of Soil Moist for about $3.00 -- it's enough to last for years!!  You can probably find an online source -- I just happen to like wandering around in garden centers.  :)  Just be sure to buy the crystals ONLY -- no fertilizer allowed!  Measure out about a 1/2 teaspoon of the crystals into a small container, and let them soak up water (DISTILLED water!!) for about a half-hour.  Use more water than you think you'll need -- you can always pour off any extra.  Then transfer them into the Oasis bottle, tapping it on a hard surface to get them to settle.  If you need to use more crystals to fill the bottle, just moisten a very small amount at a time (but give them plenty of time to fully absorb the water).  They'll be about the consistency of little pieces of Jello.  As the moisture evaporates through the membrane that makes up the sides of the bottle, the sides will begin to crumple in (the crystals are shrinking).  Add water to the bottom of the bottle's neck (I need to do this every 3 to 4 days), the crystals will re-hydrate, and the whole process will begin again.  Pretty nifty!!  :) 

November 16, 2010 at 10:59 PM ·

 I've always wondered about this... I was strictly told by my first teacher to NEVER EVER leave my violin by a radiator, anywhere water could get etc... Which I have stuck to because I know what that can do to violins. But in my house we don't keep everything at one set temperature. Some days it can get really hot, others mega cold. And some rooms can be extremely cold and others really hot, so if I move from a cold room to a hot room, could this do a lot of damage quickly? 

I'm very protective over my violin... I never leave it in the school instrument storage room because it gets stupidly hot and scolding pipes run along the edges of the walls next to the shelves to put your instruments on... instead I carry it around or put it in a cooler store cupboard. 

Also, my last thing is hygrometers! When I got my first case with a hygrometer, it seemed to be broken from first-off. It was stuck at 80 and never moved. I wondered for years whether it was broken or not. My current one just stays at 60... are they supposed to move? I haven't a clue whether my hygrometer is working or not... I also don't know what level it is supposed to be at and what it basically is trying to tell you... what is good and what is bad? 

November 16, 2010 at 11:32 PM ·

Most hygrometers don't even work, but I have this one from David Burgess and it seems to be pretty accurate.

Hygrometer sold by David Burgess

November 16, 2010 at 11:53 PM ·

When I was case shopping this weekend the shop owner showed me a case with a hydrometer inside.  I asked how accurate it was.  Not very - but isn't it cute?   My friend told me her case had one and it was never accurate.  

November 17, 2010 at 03:57 AM ·

"Most hygrometers don't even work, but I have this one from David Burgess and it seems to be pretty accurate."

____________________

Yes, I sell hygrometers which are individually tested and calibrated to be pretty accurate. There's not a lot of joy in it, and probably no profit, but somebody's got to do it, right? The hygrometers are about the cheapest looking thing I've ever seen, but they have tested better than the rest.

The top concerns are moisture levels which cause deterioration of instruments, and ways of monitoring moisture levels which actually work.

I'm not a big fan of  case humidifiers. I'm even less of a fan for tube-type humidifiers. I'm an advocate for controlling humidity in a larger environment. If it doesn't work out for the whole building, it can still be done in a single practice or storage room, or hotel room. This is what I do myself, and also what a lot of people in my business do, so maybe it's worth looking at procedures used by those who have expensive inventory (including customer instruments) on their premises. Or look at how museums control the environment.

November 17, 2010 at 12:24 PM ·

Every time my husband and I try to humidify a room, before long I end up with asthma.  We can never get the humidifier clean enough.  Right now a case humidifier seems to be my only option.  I keep my violin in a cool room, the one I practice in, in hopes of keeping the atmosphere a little more stable for it. 

November 17, 2010 at 03:36 PM ·

Susan, that problem isn't uncommon. Many humidifiers are a pretty good environment for growing mold and other goop. You might try one of the cheap steam types, like Sunbeam or Vicks, and see if that works out any better. It did for me (allergies). The downside is that they aren't automatic, but there are work-arounds for that.

November 19, 2010 at 02:11 AM ·

My new violin case has plenty of room so instead of the tube humidifier I thought I would try something else.  I took a small tupperware container, cut a sponge to fit exactly, wet the sponge so it is wet but not dripping.  I cut 4 - 3mm holes in the top and secured the lid.  I placed the container in my violin case.  The water in the sponge is not drippy so I would think this would work well for containing moisture but humidifying my violin. The moisture should last longer than the tube.  Thoughts?

November 19, 2010 at 06:42 AM ·

Susan, when I was in school up North, my teacher showed me a similar system, but with a damp sponge in an open plastic baggy.  It worked great. 

 

November 19, 2010 at 07:07 AM ·

Susan - are you understanding the posts?  Re read what David wrote above.  Its best to NOT humidify the case because of the danger of over doing it and getting wood rot (look that up here too - it can be the end of your instrument).  Instead humidify the room.  I learned this here from a topic I started on exactly the same question - I assumed a case-humidifier was the way to go because of a dealer that knew very little about the subject.

On getting a new violin.  Before just buying one in the store that you rented the current one from - and limiting yourself to just a few instruments - get online and look up the violin luthiers in your area.  Even if a hand made violin is out of your price range now, you get to learn so much about the instruments and they might be able to link you to a far better  prospect than in your dealers.

November 19, 2010 at 12:19 PM ·

Elise - I can't humidify the room.  We have tried several different methods in the past and it always triggers asthma.  So the case is my only option.  I did read above and my first attempt - a tube - was nixed.  So I am trying this method.  As soon as we can turn the heat off in the house I'll get rid of any attempt to humidify because the relative humidity in our area is generally high in the summer.  In the winter, with the heat on, it gets kind of dry and my violin was protesting.

I did purchase last Saturday.  Yes, I could have shopped around and prolonged things but money is tight, I had saved enough to get the one I really liked at the shop I was renting from, and the longer I waited the higher the chance my computer would finally blow up (it's very old) and eat up my funds saved for my violin.  Also, I have a husband who was all for renting longer and shopping around at different places where I didn't have $100 credit waiting wasn't sitting well with him.  I was prepared to rent longer if this shop didn't have what I wanted this month because their inventory moves pretty quick.  I do really like the one I got.  My friends, who have been playing for a long time, approved before I bought it.

Besides, I am such a klutz that I was afraid I would damage the rental, have to pay to replace it, then I had no money to buy one of my own and the shop wouldn't rent to me anymore.  I actually had nightmares about this!  Renting is a little stressful for me!

November 19, 2010 at 01:12 PM ·

Ah, it all makes sense - perhaps it was I that should have read more above not you :)

How about humidifying a closset and keeping the violin in there?  Perhaps where you keep your cleaning things or something?  Just a thought...

Whatever you do, be careful not to over do - thats the mistake I was making.  Good luck with your new friend - does s/he have a name yet ;)

November 19, 2010 at 01:59 PM ·

The closet is a good thought, and one that i had not thought of.  Thanks!  My husband has the same issue with his guitar so it's a mutual problem in our house.

November 19, 2010 at 03:20 PM ·

Susan, in North Carolina, you may be able to get away with no humidification at all. Part of this will depend on how tight your house is, and how much things like cooking and showering contribute to the interior moisture levels. A bigger concern in your area might be humidity levels which are too high in the summer. If you don't go much below 40% in the winter, I wouldn't worry about it. Yes, a seasonal drop from 60 to 40% will cause some temporary issues like pegs slipping, but probably nothing harmful to the instrument.

Flat topped guitars can be more sensitive. Whereas dimensional changes in the top of a violin can be somewhat accommodated by the arching (it will bulge when wet, and get lower when dry), most guitars don't have such a built-in safety mechanism. I have a couple in the house though, and just try to keep them between 40 and 60%, if that's of any use to your husband.

November 19, 2010 at 03:49 PM ·

David, thank you (and thank you for your insightful bridge comments in another thread).  I have moved my violin to it's case and now keep it in our bedroom which is minimally heated.  Our house is not very air tight.   I know that's the trend in saving energy but there is something to be said for a house that breathes.   I was wondering myself if humidifying the case was overkill.  We live in a heavily treed area and even though we don't have the humidity of the deep south, it is higher than in Northern Illinois where I use to live.  I have talked to musicians in our area and they all agree that they humidify in the winter.  How much is too much though?  Right now, on this beautiful sunny day, it is 62 degrees in my bedroom, 52 degrees outdoors and the humidity is 21%  Too low I believe.  I like my sponge in a jar idea as it seems the safest for my violin in terms of direct contact but maybe it's too large of an object?

November 19, 2010 at 06:08 PM ·

21% is pretty low.

A sponge in a container can work fine. Replace it when it starts to get moldy or smelly. Be sure to monitor the humidity inside the case so it doesn't get too high, and to make sure the humidification is effective. Cases vary in how well they will hold water vapor, so you may need to experiment a little.

How much is too much? I consider 60% the upper limit for instruments I care about. Not that anything sudden or dramatic is likely to happen above this level. It's just that wood's resistance to bending and distortion goes down dramatically with higher moisture levels, and repair people spend part of their time correcting this distortion.

Example: A violin kept at 40% might go for 100 years without needing the neck reset. A violin kept at 90% might go 5 years.

Another example: There are probably very few (if any) Strads which haven't had the arching reshaped on the top. Depending on complications and previous repairs, and given the level of care put into such an expensive instrument, this can easily be a ten thousand dollar job.

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