How Dry I Am. Humidity tricks.

February 9, 2016 at 05:39 AM · I know that if I had a question about the consequences of extreme low humidity, I would get a few lectures about cracking and I know that is good advice.

However, (if the violin survives) do very dry conditions affect the SOUND quality? I think so. At least, my violins sound definitely "brittle" in the Winter. Are Summer conditions better?

My indoor hygrometer reads 47 with 55 being nominal. My room humidifier(s) never go off unless I turn them off.

So, I wonder about what I think I hear (or is it just cabin fever?)

Replies (64)

February 9, 2016 at 11:01 AM · Yes, moisture levels in the wood will alter the sound by changing the flexibility and the mass of the wood, both of which are factors which violin makers manipulate when making an instrument to try to get a certain sound and set of playing characteristics.

Some instruments will sound better when the moisture level is higher, and others when it is lower. To some extent, instruments can be adjusted (sound post location for instance) to make them happier at a certain moisture level.

February 9, 2016 at 02:50 PM · I keep suggesting this...and keep getting ignored...but that's okay...I'm making it a mission. ;)

Aquariums!

I run two...in part to act as humidifiers (we live in very dry, sandy patch of the world)...but mostly because I like fish...

Potted plants are also great.

I also have a nice-looking open-evaporation jar of water that I use to monitor the humidity levels of my music room...(since the aquarium isn't actually in it)...and it's not evaporating rapidly - so I know I'm okay.

And I just bought a very small personal humidifier to play around with - but it has its own limitations. I don't know that I'd want to rely on a humidifier - unless it was a very expensive model.

My pegs are also holding well...another sign the ambient humidity is stable.

Overall though...I think the aquariums do a great job.

Win-win! ;)

February 9, 2016 at 02:53 PM · Do fish ever complain about your intonation?

February 9, 2016 at 02:56 PM · Never! Best audience ever!

February 9, 2016 at 03:13 PM · 47% RH doesn't sound like conditions that will crack your violin.

February 9, 2016 at 04:18 PM · Mr. Mohr, an aquarium might do the job, depending on where one lives, how cold it gets, and how dry it is indoors.

In mid-winter, I might need to evaporate a couple of gallons of water per day, and I haven't been able to get close to that with an aquarium bubbler in a reservoir of water. I was actually quite surprised to find how little water it evaporated.

How much water is your aquarium losing per day?

February 9, 2016 at 06:06 PM · My present routine is to always have my violin in the case with a very small piece of damp terry cloth. This seems to help.

Extreme Dampit.

Why should I believe that 100 square inches of fuzzy case lining leaves any moisture for a violin?

My humidifier puts out about 3 gallons a day if I run it but the house is big and the heat is forced air.

February 9, 2016 at 07:56 PM · I actually haven't ever measured the evaporation from the aquariums...but I top them off on a regular basis. I should check.

I find it odd...that the aquarium wouldn't do the trick...unless your aquarium is just not large enough for your particular space?

I sense a study in the future...:D

February 10, 2016 at 12:50 AM · It's not a complicated study. You said you top off your aquariums. How often, and roughly how much water do you add? If you add a gallon every week (which seems like a lot) to each of two tanks, that's still well below what David says he needs to keep his house humidified. Your recollection of current practice is probably adequate for a rough comparison.

On the other hand, if Dimitri is watching this conversation then he's probably already in the process of designing a custom violin case that has a fish tank built right in, next to the rosin compartment.

February 10, 2016 at 01:10 PM · I have had encouraging results with my bathtub.

February 10, 2016 at 03:20 PM · Does the violin sound better in there, Darlene? Like singing in the shower?

February 11, 2016 at 12:02 AM · Bathtub with fish or not?

February 11, 2016 at 02:03 PM · My humidier filter element starts to blacken after only a few nights use. However, the filter stays much cleaner if I use distilled water!

I wonder if tap water may carry chemicals hazardous to violins? No tap water in my case!

I did experiment with 2 bathtubs but not much happened on the living room dial. (Tap water problem?). No fish.

I am on the verge of a new great violin purchase and I'm

already paranoid.

Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me.

February 11, 2016 at 09:43 PM · You should not use a "cool mist" humidifier, if that is what you have. Use a standard steam-type humidifier. These can blacken and build up deposits inside from the corrosive effects of small amounts of salts in ordinary tap water but the vaporization process is akin to distillation and the water vapor will be pure. Cool mist humidifiers just spray the water through a fine nozzle as liquid droplets. These droplets then vaporize as they are dispersed, and any dissolved solids will gradually deposit all all of the exposed surfaces in your home. However unless you have really chunky-hard water, so long as you are wiping down your violin with a cloth every day, and so long as you keep your violin in a closed case (not hanging out in the open on a hook), then the risk to your instrument from a cool-mist humidifier is pretty minimal. It's the risk to all of your other stationary belongings (e.g., original paintings, good quality furniture) that should concern you.

February 12, 2016 at 04:18 PM · My violin(s) spend most of the time in the case so it seems to me that a Dampit, or similar, should be effective The truth is that I have a tiny cup that holds a slightly damp piece of terry cloth and this will stay damp for many days, and, of course, the violin shares that environment (i.e. humidity). I guess I could use a Dampit but I just don't like messing with f holes.

My humidifier is strictly evaporation from a fan vented filter. No mist.

However, I have to think that the little case-confined terry cloth concentrates more humidity than even a metered ambient?

But I still hear a difference from Summer conditions. Not dangerous perhaps but annoying.

Come to think of it, I have one of the little case hygrometers which should show trends even if inaccurate.

February 12, 2016 at 06:44 PM · Don't let the slight changes in your violin's temperament from summer to winter annoy you. Have fun with it instead. Think about having a winter vs. summer repertoire! I suspect, however, that your listeners will not notice much difference.

The problem with the dampit-type devices is that they can drip a little and you really don't want that inside your violin. The idea that your in-case humidifier needs to be inside your violin is just not true.

February 13, 2016 at 12:52 AM · Darlene - assuming your hygrometer is accurate (questionable since one of mine runs 10% higher than the one that is digital and seems accurate), 47% is quite acceptable. Anything between 40% and 60% is the range you want. I use dampits for my violin and viola once the humidity as measured by the digital hygrometer goes below 40%, and I have never had any trouble with the dampits.

February 13, 2016 at 01:14 AM · There are two dampits for violin on Amazon? One called "moistener" and one is "humidifier".

Not sure about any differences?

February 13, 2016 at 01:58 AM · I doubt there is any difference. I have used dampits in the past too, and never had any trouble. But I'm aware of luthier horror stories, probably from people not squeezing them out properly or failing to dry off the surface first.

February 13, 2016 at 11:25 PM · In London or Paris, winters are damper than summers.

I have differnt bridge for winter and summer.

February 14, 2016 at 05:20 PM · In addition to things we've seen, like dripping water; damage such as cracks when the thing got caught on the ff hole when trying to remove in hurry; impressions in the varnish from the rubber washer resting there; wear on the ff holes from repeated insertion and removal:

Keep in mind that with the snake-type insertable humidifiers, the humidification will not be even. There will be severe moisture gradients. For instance, even if the average moisture level inside the violin is 40%, the part where the humidifier is resting will be close to 100%, from proximity to the "wick" that holds the moisture.

For these reasons, I'd rather see a case humidifier, or better yet, a room humidifier when this can be arranged.

February 15, 2016 at 09:42 PM · David - what sort of case humidifier do you recommend?

February 15, 2016 at 11:25 PM · Wow, no wonder the violin sounds bad. My hygrometer this morning read 29. (We had a snow front blow thru last night.)

Only rose to 31 all day. Forced air gas heat is big problem along with actual weather.

Need extreme remedy. I plan to make a humidity chamber using a plastic bin that is for storage under a bed. Plenty of room for water container/wicks and violin without risk to violin.

This routine will be a chore but I just can not ignore what is going on. I will have the violin in the chamber all night and most of the day.

February 15, 2016 at 11:38 PM · I don't think that's a good idea. Changes in humidity are worse than a constant humidity. So if you store it at a high humidity and then take it out and play it at a low humidity... over time that will cause issues too.

I suppose if it's not a drastic change it might not matter...

February 16, 2016 at 12:14 AM · I agree but it probably takes longer to "dry out" than my daily (practice) sessions.

I have to wonder what touring pros do ? Nothing?

February 16, 2016 at 12:50 AM · Hi Darlene-I am nowhere being a pro, but here is what I do. Take a plastic soap container that's used for traveling, drill or punch some small holes in it. Then cut a small sponge to fit. Wet the sponge and squeeze out the excess water. Put it wherever it will fit in your case.

It never seemed to get rid of the winter shrillness on my violin, but I don't have to worry about the wood cracking.

Also, when you do take it out, there isn't the drastic change in humidity that N.A. warns about.

The best part is that it only cost two dollars!

February 16, 2016 at 01:35 AM · Leon's solution sounds good to me. Where violinists fall all over themselves is needing a "spiffy" solution, some kind of humidifier that is neatly secured to the inside of the case, in a special holder, etc.

February 16, 2016 at 10:43 AM · Tom wrote:

"David - what sort of case humidifier do you recommend?"

Tom, it's really hard to say, because cases vary so much in how much air they leak, and how permeable they are to water vapor. Leon's idea sounds about as good as anything, and is very similar to the Planet Waves small instrument humidifier (which is only about 8 bucks, if someone doesn't want to go to the trouble of making one).

http://www.amazon.com/Planet-Waves-Small-Instrument-Humidifier/dp/B00839Z3MA

The humidifiers which seem to do almost nothing are the ones which look like a small bottle with a porous cap. There's just not enough evaporative area to do much of anything with most cases.

Whatever type of in-case humidifier you use, be sure to also put an accurate hygrometer in the case. It is possible to over-humidify, as well as under-humidify, so you need to keep track of what's going on.

I personally don't use them, much preferring to control the humidity in the room where the instrument spends most of its time (and I can dehumidify too when needed here in the summer), but I realize that's not practical for everyone.

February 16, 2016 at 01:35 PM · Darlene, what is the new violin that you are considering?

February 16, 2016 at 02:54 PM · I'm not good with computers so please forgive me for not putting a link here. I forgot that there are videos that show how to make these humidifiers.

Go to you tube and type in "guitar case humidifier." you don't necessarily have to use a soap container. There are many small plastic containers that might fit your case better. I use a small plastic container that fish hooks use to come in. I put some Velcro on the back and on the side of my case and it's very secure.

I usually remoisten the sponge every three days when the humidity is really low.

February 17, 2016 at 04:27 AM · Leon S. I will probably wind up with your scheme.

Bob I will identify and explain about the violin in a P.M.

I did put the violin in my crude chamber overnight. So, on the second day there was not much to see except it was out of tune. BUT WAIT .... all 4 strings were flat by almost exactly 25 musical cents AND I think that the sound recovered a little. This synchronized behavior I think is a real result of the restoration of humidity.

Stay tuned.

February 17, 2016 at 08:22 AM · Darlene, please be careful. It's not good to overhumidify an instrument either. The highest I'd go in your chamber is 60 percent, and that's presuming that your hygrometer is accurate, and isn't reading 60% when it's actually 80%. Even expensive, certified, "NIST traceable" hygrometers can be quite far off.

February 17, 2016 at 05:00 PM · Last night I set my violin on top of the humidifier (same as Darlene's) and this morning all strings were 1/2 step sharp. The sound (after tuning) was better, but still not as good as it can be. I will de-tune and put it on the humidifier again tonight. I would not suggest anyone else trying this,,,my violin is special.

Darlene, I will look forward to the PM and thank you.

February 17, 2016 at 10:01 PM · You folks are scaring me!

February 17, 2016 at 10:24 PM · Not to worry. The worse is over.

(I acquired a hygrometer and it seems to make sense.)

Bottom line ...... I will be using one of the conventional gadgets designed for case humidity but my main concern has been sound quality.

Did I hear worthwhile differences? Yes.

Now I have to figure out how to monitor it but maybe the racket under the ear will be enough.

February 17, 2016 at 11:10 PM · BOB C

No big deal and I can't figure out the PM routine.

The super violin is an Eastman 305.

Unbelievable at the price point.

I almost sound good.

February 18, 2016 at 06:14 PM · David, please don't worry. I'm not putting my violin anywhere near my room humidifier. I won't put it in the vapor degreaser either ...

February 18, 2016 at 10:40 PM · I saw the light.

My overnight room humidity dips below 30 thanks to increased gas furnace time.

I may upgrade to two in-case devices for extra protection.

Even the daytime room readings are struggling to reach the low forties.

Note: I now am able to verify readings with a mechanical and/or LCD meter.

February 19, 2016 at 11:33 AM · Darlene, the type of heating system used (such as gas forced air) doesn't matter very much. When air is warmed by almost any means, its capacity to hold moisture increases, so the RELATIVE humidity (which is how much moisture the air contains, compared to the maximum it can hold) goes down.

If the violin is in the case, that should buffer the changes you are getting between day and night. Also, as I mentioned earlier, be sure to check the humidity in the case, not just the room, because with the in-case humidifiers, it is possible to have the humidity in the case way too high, even when the room is low.

February 19, 2016 at 11:34 AM ·

February 19, 2016 at 05:26 PM · I think the culprit (if any) of natural gas heat is that it is typically forced (moving) air compared to the static rooms/radiators of my youth.

Anyhow, I expect to source a small dial meter today and I understand your caution about over-kill with the humidity. I'm just making do for the moment in panic from the room low of last night of 25!

The violin is in the case with a bottled sham wow wick and the violin still is sounding OK. (Good in fact. Need to get that in-case meter.)

February 19, 2016 at 06:42 PM · Bingo!

My search for a hygrometer led me to PetSmart (terrariums).

The local store was showing about 4 models and I bought the most expensive one ($16) BUT it was the only one with specs. Temperature was +/-3%, humidity +/-5.

And the item was sponsored by National Geographic.

So, by tomorrow morning I should be much smarter about ambient conditions.

February 19, 2016 at 07:03 PM · Darlene, unfortunately, the claimed specs on hygrometers don't mean much. I've tested lots of hygrometers, including many which claimed that kind of accuracy, and they were off by as much as 39% off.

If you're in the US, message me with your mailing address, and I'll send you a Boveda calibration pack, which will at least tell you if it's accurate at a 75% reading (although it could still be off at other readings).

I don't know how hygrometer manufacturers get away with selling so much junk. I guess it's because they realize that most people just take their word regarding the accuracy, and don't have an easy way of testing them.

February 19, 2016 at 07:25 PM · Would it be a reasonable idea that if 2 hygrometers agree then the odds favor their accuracy?

Or, might it be useful to check an outside reading with local airport data?

I now have 3 hygrometers. Something must work ?? :)

February 19, 2016 at 10:27 PM · No. I've had up to ten hygrometers agree, and all were 15% off.

Airport data? Humidity and temperature will vary by location. Just in my little town, there are three of four weather collecting stations, and they will often have quite different readings for both temperature and humidity. The one at the airport tends to have the lowest humidity readings, because there's not a lot of moisture-releasing vegetation around the airport.

I've offered to send you a calibration pack for free (and I will also offer to do that for the next three people who ask), so I hope this will start to make some headway.

February 20, 2016 at 01:08 AM · I hear you and welcome the offer but I don't know how the PM works compared to the last time I used it years ago. Are you able to e-mail(PM) me and I could then REPLY with the information?

The afternoon results. Devices within 6" of each other:

Drug store unit 27. LCD

Pet Store unit 34. LCD

Wall unit (not on wall) 46.

February 20, 2016 at 06:17 AM · David, why do you use the Boveda 75% calibration pack rather than the 32%? I got the 32% packet because that's closer to the target humidity I want for my instruments (about 40%), and calibration only assures that the the hygrometer will be accurate at the one percentage point.... the readings could become progressively more skewed farther away from that point.

February 20, 2016 at 11:26 AM · Katherine, I don't use the 75% calibration packs myself. I just happen to have a bunch on hand that were sent as a promotion by the company I used to purchase my hygrometers from.

What I have for calibration of the hygrometers I sell are two different salt solutions, which produce environments of 33 and 55% respectively.

I agree that calibration, or checking at 75% alone won't assure accurate readings in the range we're most interested in, but at least it might let someone know if their hygrometer is in the ball park, or way off.

By the way, the Caliber IV Digital Hygrometers tend to be pretty close right out of the box (although there are some outliers, and some that have other defects). You can get them on Amazon for about $25. I test and calibrate each one, and sell them for 30 bucks.

As I mentioned earlier, I've purchased and tested a ton of different hygrometers, and this is the best I've found overall so far, as long as the defective units were weeded out.

Darlene's experience of putting several side-by-side, and getting readings like 27, 34 and 46% is not unusual.

Darlene, I can't get the messaging function to work either any more, and I don't want to post my email address because at one point, I was getting several hundred spams per day. Call me at this artfully disguised phone number (ha ha):

xxx734x668x7803xx.

February 20, 2016 at 02:02 PM · Morning line

Drug store unit 27

Pet store in case. 44

Wall unit 46

Indoor/Outdoor console. 41(indoor)

Why have I not heard "sling hygrometer" ?

I feel better that I'm not likely to be

Doing damage on the high side.

I wonder just how long it takes for one of these meters to

Reach a plateau under changing conditions?.

Reading this post I would say my sham wow in a vented pill bottle is not having a worthwhile effect !

February 20, 2016 at 03:03 PM · I have just snail-mailed my address info to you in a virus proof envelope.

I am wondering if Dew point is more appropriate as a useful number versus the dimensionless RH ratio?

Image Permanence Institute

Dew Point Calculator

????

February 20, 2016 at 11:08 PM · Uh oh, I may need to start opening my mail more than twice per month. :-)

Dew point needs to be converted to relative humidity, in order to correlate easily with the moisture levels in wood. A "relative humidity" hygrometer automatically does the math for you.

Regarding sling psychrometers, or wet/dry bulb thermometers, they aren't considered as accurate as saturated salt calibration of a decent hygrometer. A US Army study found an average error of 9% when using sling psychrometers.

February 21, 2016 at 01:49 AM · Not to worry. I will soon be searching for some possible Easter/church music which is always on the edge of my abilities (that always happens).

Also I'm working on an incredible violin acquisition.

February 21, 2016 at 06:45 AM · OK, so this is just curiosity, I know you can get 75% humidity in an enclosed space using NaCl, and MgCl2 will give you 33%. How do you get 55%?

February 21, 2016 at 12:43 PM · Magnesium nitrate (the moisture level is rather temperature sensitive though). I rounded off the numbers a bit. It's actually 54.4 at 69 degrees F.

February 21, 2016 at 01:25 PM · I would conclude this morning that 3 of my 4 hygrometers agree within +/- 10% that being low forties.

Unable so far to raise case much above ambient.

February 21, 2016 at 01:28 PM · All of these calibration methods using various salt solutions are well grounded in principles that one learns in a decent first-year chemistry course. But their accuracy assumes that you are establishing a true vapor-liquid equilibrium, which will naturally depend on the temperature, which must be well regulated throughout the solution and the testing chamber.

Here is a relatively complete data set provided by a reputable instrument manufacturer:

http://www.omega.com/temperature/z/pdf/z103.pdf

February 22, 2016 at 02:14 AM · I removed my violin from the case and put in a saturated cosmetic

sponge along with a hygrometer of useful accuracy.

My trusted weather center said it was 74 degrees in the house with 49 RH.

The case hygrometer read 45 RH.

After 3 1/2 hours the RH was 43.

Using a very large wide mouth jar in a previous test the RH rose to 90 in 3 1/4 hours?

I'm not sure that Shar sells a humidifier that's big enough! Time to check out cello accessories.

February 22, 2016 at 10:08 AM ·

Alright, dang-it, I'll also send you a monstrous in-case humidifier. (It may be too large to fit in your case. You also may need to put tape over part of it to keep it from over-humidifying.)

What the heck, I'll throw in one of the calibrated hygrometers too. Send me 35 bucks if you feel like it.

Burgess Instruments

February 22, 2016 at 01:12 PM · Overnight.

Acuriite weather station. (Indoor). RH 49. T 73.

Case. RH 49. T67.

Pad is still damp but not saturated.

Acurite in good agreement with usual media sources during 2 years monitoring.

Case hygrometer is National Geographic sponsored.

Do violins float? (Without shoulder rest)

What set-up or gadget will give me the desired result?

(And fit in the case?)

That's the bottom line.

February 22, 2016 at 02:05 PM · VIOLAS make better flotation devices. And sharks tend to avoid them! ;-D

February 22, 2016 at 07:58 PM · Violins will float for a while, if you place them in the water face-up, it's not raining hard, and the waves aren't too high. ;-)

We've supposedly got a fiddle from the Titanic, which must have floated for a while. :-)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RcVzevWX4U

February 23, 2016 at 02:33 AM · Fortunately I don't think I will need radical measures for humidity control management. I think that I'm in control now with help from this thread.

Now I have to do something about my 6 bows. A fickle bunch indeed.

(Violins will HOLD water. It is sound posts that float.)

February 23, 2016 at 03:41 AM · Then there was the "Red Diamond" Strad...

February 23, 2016 at 01:55 PM · Incredible story!

(Just as I am preparing to apply my new humidity knowledge, it is raining for 2 days.!)

:)

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