Are cases bad for violins?

December 11, 2011 at 06:21 PM · Maybe it's just me, but I find if I leave a violin out in the open air for a few days or weeks, it sounds better than when its stored in a case. Even if its just sitting there, not being played, independent of weather and humidity-- a case just seems to choke the sound a bit. This holds true for both old and new instruments.

Possible theories: exposure to moving air dries out wood, ambient sounds in the room keep the instrument alive, or maybe outgassing of synthetic case linings change the molecular structure of the wood...or leave an invisible film on the violin.

Replies (26)

December 11, 2011 at 07:35 PM · If you go into any violin dealer's you'll see dozens if not scores of violins hanging on the walls or hanging in glass-fronted cupboards. Bows will sometimes be on racks, but the more expensive ones are likely to be in cases within cupboards. I could draw conclusions.

However, the majority of owners like to keep their instruments in cases. I know I do, for safety.

December 11, 2011 at 08:45 PM · Most violin dealers also keep the temperature and relative humidity of their shops under careful, constant control, and the very best instruments are usually kept in cases or safes (or both).

December 11, 2011 at 10:40 PM · There's more mundane reasons for the ways shops are laid out. Violins hanging on racks look good, and make for easy access. Ditto bows, but the expensive ones in drawers can be locked up easily, are less prone to accidents, and aren't obvious to a devious customer tempted to slip one into their case when unobserved. (I know of one shop which swaps their price labels around after closing each evening, so that if they get burgled overnight, they'll probably take the cheap instruments.)

Leaving an instrument out in a room means that it's gradually adjusting to humidity and temperature changes as they happen, rather than needing a few minutes to settle down after coming out of the case. Maybe try opening the case and setting up the violin well in advance, give it time to settle, then play, and see if it makes a difference to the 'playing in' time?

On the other hand, I'm fairly sure that my violin sounds much warmer and more powerful in damper weather conditions, whereas in dry weather (whether hot and sunny or cold and frosty) it is stifled. Not easy to prove, though!

December 11, 2011 at 10:42 PM · Apologies for the addendum...what I meant about opening the case and setting it up meant removing it from the insulation most cases provide, which will slow down any adjustment to the conditions in the room even with the lid open.

December 12, 2011 at 05:57 PM · I have owned a few NEW violins recently. These were not "antiqued". Leaving them out of the case, in subdued indoor lighting, quickened the browning of the wood and helped the instruments look less new. I'm not sure if that had any bearing on the sounds of the fiddles, but I gained a psychological benefit. Possibly it will help the resale value, though I am not selling right now.

Much the same applies to bows. Some look horribly orange when new - and extended periods in the open stops the newness being too glaringly obvious.

There have been instances (I nearly wrote "cases") where the varnish of new fiddles stuck to the case interior. I understand that quite a few violins from Cremona, circa 1970, had to be revarnished because they had been delivered to the UK in normal cases, before the varnish was stabilised, rather than in those crafty crates sometimes used in which the instruments are suspended in mid-air.

Anyone with an old instrument would be well advised to keep it in the case, IMHO.

December 14, 2011 at 07:50 AM · I only lock up my violin if I'm going somewhere. The rest of the time, I either leave it lying in the case with the lid open or on the piano bench. I had to think for a moment about why I do this. Probably because I go back to it so many times during the day that it's quicker to leave it out. Plus, what the others said about being already at room temperature/humidity, so less retuning.

When it's locked up in its case, I feel like it's safer, but more distant from me.

Personally,my violin would sound more resonant from being left out because it is exposed to music students all day long, so it's always ringing sympathetically. Music is always in the air, and music begets music, just like the yeast in the air in old bakeries begets more yeast. You can actually sit a mixture of water and flour out on the counter and the yeast will come make a home there.

(Random side note: if you ever get a chance to buy your bread or pastries from an old, old bakery, see if you can taste the age.)

December 14, 2011 at 09:19 AM · Unless I'm going somewhere, my violin is always laying in it's open case with some king of textile on it to avoid sun contact. If the case is closed, procrastination overcome me and I let it in =x

December 14, 2011 at 03:06 PM · It's funny, with my student violin, I always left it out on a stand. I would walk past it and have to pick it up and play. (along with my regular practices) Since I bought my new violin, I have been leaving it in the case, zipped up. Someone told me that I should always leave it zippered in the case, not as easily accessible...I may try leaving it in the case, with the cover unzipped. Great question :)

December 14, 2011 at 04:19 PM · It's probably changing with the weather, MOST but not all violin shops have an indoor Humidifier around so the wood won't crack. I leave mine in my case because it's winter time and I don't like cracks. It's a personal thing just like rosin and strings. Might be good for others, might not be for the rest.

December 14, 2011 at 05:17 PM · The weather where I live in the UK is "temperate" so my new violin doesn't come to any harm being left out for the wood to gently brown. However, were I in a different climate, the ball-game would be different. I guess that if I lived in the Arizona desert, for example, I'd need to put the violin in the case when not in use with a "Dampit" humidifier. In some very hot climates old violins can collapse, presumably when glue from old repairs passes the sell-by date. And I have heard of players needing metal cases to protect from termites. For those in the USA there should be a website on which, when entering your zip code, you get the appropriate advice !

December 14, 2011 at 06:02 PM · As a former repairman, I like to see violins put in the case with the top latched. Repairmen see the results of accidents which musicians don't always like to share with their peers. ;-)

If greater convenience is desired, how about dedicating a drawer or cupboard, and installing some padding?

December 14, 2011 at 09:22 PM · I know of a player who was granted the privelege of using a fine Girolamo Amati II belonging to a well-known and old-established Symphony Orchestra in my neck of the woods.

The story goes that while taking a break he simply left it on top of the piano. The cat jumped on it, and the consequences were disastrous. The restoration cost magabucks.

I imagine that's one of those stories this fiddler wishes had never become shared amongst his peers .........

Look after your violin, just in case.

December 14, 2011 at 09:51 PM · One story musicians don't like to share is when their instruments have been sat on. After the fact, I guess it seems obvious that they shouldn't have left it on a couch or a chair or a bed.

I purchased one of these instruments a couple of years ago (one of mine) from an insurance company, which had payed the owner for a "total loss". At least it appeared to have been sat on. I spoke a few times with the owner, but never got the story myself on what had actually happened.

December 15, 2011 at 05:37 AM · In 40 years of playing in Symphony Orchestras I heard of very few "on the job" accidents, but bows being sat upon happened a few times. Doubtless many such events (not the violins !) would be swept under the carpet. I wonder what is the ratio of claims for accidental damage of this nature as against theft or loss, e.g. by leaving instruments in taxis and pubs, or by having the case snatched by a passing train ? Maybe insurance firms have statistical charts !

A case cannot be 100% efficient at protecting a violin. I know of one Postacchini violin that disintegrating in the case when the owner tripped and the case fell.

December 15, 2011 at 02:26 PM · I believe that new violins will benefit from being left out quite a lot for a number of weeks. The varnish can completely dry faster and oxidize, and the entire fabric can mature and breathe. That said, the dangers of leaving it out are obvious, and the benefits of the case are clear, and we need to make sure that a left out instrument is in no danger from children, pets - or even ourselves, accidentally knocking into or sitting on it.

The DVD, "In Search of the Messiah" includes a scene in the home of the great collector, David Fulton. He's very knowledgeable, and it looks like he usually keeps all his highly valuable violins in a number of double cases.

December 15, 2011 at 04:48 PM · I have a friend whose strings seem to stretch if she leaves it beneath warm lighting, so at least in her case, I'd say a case would be a good idea.

On the same note...I left one of my fiddle cases open for several days recently in a cold room, and that violin was severely out of tune when I returned to it.

December 15, 2011 at 07:58 PM · I wonder, all those centuries, most violins were probably hung on the wall, on a table, or in a drafty coffin case somewhere. The weather conditions were unstable and unpredictable, but they aged very nicely nevertheless.

Protection against damage is a clear advantage of a modern violin case, but at what (tonal) expense? I think Emily Grossman noticed what I am referring to. Also, PLEASE send me loaves of fresh baked bread to further my research :-)

Not too risky to air-out an inexpensive Chinese violin for a year or so, while another similar one is locked up safe and "sound". A good analog recording before and after aging would be interesting.

December 15, 2011 at 08:44 PM · I slipped a short leather strap over the D and A tuning pegs and hang my violin on a hook on the wall with the shoulder rest attached. When I feel like playing, I grab my violin off the wall, the bow off the shelf next to it, and I'm ready to go in seconds. If you have only a few minutes to spare it makes it much more likely that you'll spend them playing.

December 15, 2011 at 09:18 PM · Evan wrote:

"I wonder, all those centuries, most violins were probably hung on the wall, on a table, or in a drafty coffin case somewhere. The weather conditions were unstable and unpredictable, but they aged very nicely nevertheless."

_____________________

Despite what you might think, they haven't aged all that nicely. Most of these instruments got majorly screwed up, and we owe what they are today to several generations of hugely talented restorers. These restorers did their job so effectively, that most people can't see their footprints.

I've been involved as a program director in the "cutting edge" instrument restoration workshops, bringing in some of the best restorers in the world, so that's the background for taking issue with you.

December 15, 2011 at 09:47 PM · Charlie-- do you find your D and A strings need retuned a lot? I'd expect that with the uneven stress on those two pegs.

December 15, 2011 at 11:29 PM · No, I haven't had any trouble with that. I think the violin is light enough that the stress is neglegible. It's my E string that keeps going out of tune, but I think that's because it's solid steel.

December 16, 2011 at 04:12 AM · That's amazing...if I did that regularly I'd expect my pegs to slip!

December 16, 2011 at 11:58 AM · No way, Rob, the static friction of the pegs is much higher than the weight of the violin.

December 16, 2011 at 02:04 PM · On both my violins the steel E is the most stable over a long period of time. In fact, I now use it as reference as much as I do my A tuning fork.

December 16, 2011 at 03:30 PM · I cringe every time a student sets an instrument on the floor while standing. That's pretty much not allowed.

I've never been concerned about either of us sitting on our violins. I guess it's because I'm always code orange in the presence of a violin. I get the same awareness one gets when crossing the street. No matter where your violin is, you are his bodyguard. Watch his back!

December 16, 2011 at 04:27 PM · Cases are good! Just be careful getting your violin there!

After church last week, I put my violin in the Ingles stand while I got my case and opened it on my lap. Grabbing my violin by the scroll, I was lifting it out of the stand when it hit something, I guess on the stand. It fell straight down less than 12 inches and landed on its end pin. It involuntarily cried out in pain as the end pin was pushed in and the strings loosened with the impact. I immediately grabbed it by the neck so it didn't fall over and cause more damage. It will require a new block and fixing of a small crack in the side by the end pin. That is the first time I have ever damaged a violin and I felt terrible, it's been a week before I could share this with you guys here.

So be careful ALL the time!

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