did I kill my violin?

December 3, 2005 at 09:01 PM · I've heard that the quality of playing of the violin can affect the violin's sound. I saw Hilary Hahn a couple of weeks ago and after that I was inspired to practice on open strings, especially bow changes and string changes. For an hour every day. I also upped my scale practice.

All of a sudden my violin sounds dead. I tried changing the strings. It still sounds dead. My teacher suggests it could be due to weather changes and dry air in my house. The humidity in my house is 15 percent. So now I'm boiling lots of water and have the violin in the kitchen where it's warm and humid. It still sounds dead.

I also just bought this violin six months ago and haven't seen the luthier since. I don't think it needs a bridge or soundpost adjustment but it just might.

It certainly was complaining during vibrato exercises. Instead of wa wa wa, it said: whine whine whine.

Any suggestions? Is there any kind of violin cpr I could do?

Replies (39)

December 3, 2005 at 09:22 PM · 15% is too low. 30% is about minimum, for your own comfort too. It's easier to humidify a case than a room. You can just improvise with an ashtray of water, for instance. Besides the direct effect on the wood, the geometry gets temporarily screwed too. The best room humidifiers are those vaporizer things that blow out steam. They're also the least expensive (<$10).The ultrasonic kind is too fragile, and the wick and fan type blows out cold air which causes a draft and fights your heating.

December 3, 2005 at 10:26 PM · Thx! My teacher told me it has to do with humidity and showed how to improvise a case humidifier which I did. It made a huge improvement. I am also boiling lots of water all the time.

Can you explain what you mean about the geometry also going off?

Thx, Nick

December 3, 2005 at 11:41 PM · Check the seams all around, between top and ribs, and back and ribs--see if they're all glued tightly.

December 4, 2005 at 12:09 AM · Nick, by that I just meant things are liable to temporarily change shape with humidity changes.

December 6, 2005 at 12:46 AM · hehe one time i simply didn't have enough rosin...that was a weird time...

December 6, 2005 at 10:24 PM · thx everyone, violin is sounding much better now. it just took a couple of days using the humidification in the case and in the house. I didn't think I'd killed it......

December 7, 2005 at 05:38 AM · Be consistent with the humidity when you can. Your violin takes a couple of days, but it adjusts. Consistency will allow it to settle.

December 7, 2005 at 02:39 PM · My violin is too experiencing a personality change at the moment....I am wondering if anyone knows with any certainty what specifically changes with humidity levels versus what changes with string age or just mal-adjustment of the bridge/soundpost? I am not sure my violin is having humidity problems or if it is other factors.

The sound is unfocused lately and I cannot seem to tune it to my satisfaction but I just put new strings on two weeks ago (possibly the new strings were false because they were old--as in sitting in the envelopes too long). But it seems there is more hissing than normal from the bow...hense the unfocused sound.

Any thoughts?

Edit: I have checked for open seams, and humidity level in my house is around 50%, and I am as sure as I can be without visiting a Luthier that the bridge is in the right place and on straight.

December 7, 2005 at 05:23 PM · Ideal humidity level is supposed to be 40-60%. You cannot easily have that in your house in winter, but with the Stretto or Waves systems offered by Sharmusic.com, you can at least maintain it in your case.

December 9, 2005 at 04:39 AM · Sarah,

is your case humidified? in my case, humidifying the case worked better than the house humidity level. going in and out with the violin and playing in different places with different humidity levels also plays a part.

December 21, 2005 at 06:34 PM · Remember, your bow needs care with humidity also. Differences in humidity affect the hair (too long, too short) this also is affected when players travel from one part of the country to another. The humidity (or lack thereof0 in Salt Lake or Phoenix is much different than in an area such as Miami, Seattle, or Raleigh. Plus the bow could potentially be more prone to warping if the humidity level is not regulated for long periods of time.

December 22, 2005 at 07:42 AM · You guys are all lucky...I live in Hawaii and the average humidity percentage here is...above 80%...EVERY NIGHT...one time it went to 100% for about 3 days....and everyone's violins went hay-wire!!! talk about near-death experiences...;D

December 22, 2005 at 08:02 AM · I want to emphasize that it's important to keep the humidity as constant as possible, as Emily said. Jim, where do you buy a humidifier for <$10?

December 23, 2005 at 12:14 AM · Hi,

All violins go through personality changes depending on weather and humidity. Some are more stable, some less; depends on the wood.

Does playing affect a violin?! You bet. A well played instrument will sound better. That is just a fact.


December 23, 2005 at 12:22 AM · Pauline, this. I think I got one for $8 at Walmart.

December 27, 2005 at 12:39 AM · now it looks like my bow is warped. is there any way to fix it? help????!!!

December 27, 2005 at 01:22 AM · Nick, I hate to throw a wet blanket on this conversation, but I agree with Brian and think that one thing that should probably be checked is the soundpost. However, more importantly, it sounds like it would be worth your while to invest in a one-on-one training session from a reputable luthier or other appropriate expert on how to care for a violin and bow and what can cause what to the sound and the instrument.

December 27, 2005 at 01:38 AM · sander, yes, yes, certainly. however, i have a second bow and the violin sounds fine while playing with that. (So I don't think it is the violin at the moment) I noticed the warping on my first bow only today, but I have a feeling it has been doing that for a few weeks now. I have never had these kinds of problems before and I am always very careful with my instruments. I suspect it may be due to the extra traveling I have been doing to and from Philadelphia in the cold weather. I have an appt with both luthiers (one for the violin and one for the bow) after the holidays.

In the meantime, if anyone has any info or suggestions they can give me about the warping of the bow--is this something that can be repaired? Or is it ruined? Thx.

December 27, 2005 at 01:46 AM · Hi, Nick: I really didn't mean to be flip. You know, most of us learn to play the instrument but learn very little about the instrument itself, except when things like this happen. And then it is just trying to learn as we go. We really probably all need a good, basic course in the what a violin is and how to take care of it. And I really do sympathize; when something happens to my fiddle, I don't know the first thing about what to do.

Anyway, good luck, and I hope you get it resolved.

Cordially, Sandy

December 27, 2005 at 05:41 PM · Use a Dampit, picked up at any music store, in the violin. I also use a small guitar case humidifier. It's a small plastic cup with holes in it the jar and a gooey wax like thing inside that holds water.

Two professional symphony friends were howling about their Old Italian million dollar, plus, violins sounding like crap last month. Major weather change and low humidity.

December 28, 2005 at 06:28 PM · Your violin is new and your new found enthusiasm has accelerated the break-in period. It is normal that it neeeds an adjustment, possibly a new sound post and less likely a new bridge. A new violin will change shape as it is being "broken in". This is the first of a continuous process. As playing time goes on the changes slow dramatically. It is time to take it in for the first regular maintenance.

December 30, 2005 at 05:35 PM · Please be careful about using guitar case humidifiers. Some of them are derived from humidifiers used for cigar humidors, and contain propylene glycol.

While this is fine for cigars, propylene glycol vapors will permeate the wood of an instrument, causing it to absorb excess water from the air as if it were in an 80% humidity environment, which is too high for your instrument. These vapors will also mess up the calibration on humidistats.

December 30, 2005 at 07:57 PM · Thanks, Ray and David, for this info. And Sander.

About the Dampit: for what it's worth, that is what I used to use, but my teacher believes that humidifying the wood from inside the instrument is not as good as humidifying the case.

btw, my violin isn't "new" exactly, it was made during WW II. I am its second owner, but it's true I've only owned it since summer.

January 7, 2006 at 03:25 AM · I didn't kill my violin after all. There were five open seams :-P The luthier has mended it and it sounds back to normal again. Whew! Thx for everyone's input.

January 8, 2006 at 11:56 PM · DO NOT use a dampit, unless you feel like making a luthier rich. The result is extremely expensive repairs. Use a case humidifier, or a house humidifier--NEVER have moisture drip inside the wood.

January 9, 2006 at 12:54 AM · I now have a new humidifier (thank you santa claus) and it works well. It is a Planet Waves Small Instrument humidifier, size small, sold by Shar catalog for $12. I already had a hygrometer. The Planet Wave comes with a syringe and you just inject the water into its sponge. It attaches inside the case with velcro.

January 9, 2006 at 12:59 AM · I've had more trouble with my planet waves leaking than my dampits. At least you can squeeze the dampits out. You have to sling the planet waves toward the bathtub a few times after you syringe it and it's still kind of iffy. Maybe yours doesn't go into the insrument through.

January 30, 2006 at 05:40 PM · Nick,

If your bow is warped, it should be repairable by a reputable shop using an alcohol lamp. Obviously, this depends on the extent of the warping. Some slight warping to the players side is actually requested by some players, but any warping away from the players side is never a good thing.

January 30, 2006 at 06:41 PM ·

March 7, 2009 at 08:27 PM ·

I hope this may be helpful for maintaining case humidity.  I bought the Planet Waves humidifier and it didn't last very long, even with distilled water.  I opened it up and found it simply had a piece of green rigid foam inside, the kind you can buy for soaking in water for plant arrangements.  I went out and bought some of the same rigid foam, and got some plastic 35 mm film casette cases.  I drilled them with several 1/8 dia holes and them pressed the casette case into the block of foam.  The casette case ended up with a neat plug of the foam inside.  The cap was then snapped back onto the casette case and I stuck some velcro pads on the outside.  I placed a couple of these inside my case and my Stretto hygrometer stays at around 45%.  I would suggest always using distilled water.  You can change the plug of foam whenever it stops absorbing water.  I find it best to drop these into a jar of water for a few minutes and then dry them off.  Haven't had any problem with dripping.  Two seem to be adequate.  They stay moist for about a week or so. 

March 7, 2009 at 10:59 PM ·

Deleted (out-of-date response to old thread).

November 19, 2009 at 07:08 PM ·

Hey guys and gals I've been a long time reader and finally a 1st time writer.  I came across this post when looking for a 'solution' to the problem my violin's experiencing lately.  It just seems 'dead' - the sound is un-focused, one volume and the response seems poor at the moment.   I'm thinking it may be the 6 month old Passione strings (about 1 or 2 hours playing per day).  Although I just had a new bridge and soundpost fitted as the previous bridge was said to be too thick on top and too thin on bottom - my luthier said the bridge ought to be thinner on top and thicker on bottom.  I also thought the bow, which I've had for a year and half, might need re-hairing.  It may be that both the strings and the bow need attention but what-ever it is it's really annoying me right now.  I really don't know which to try 1st as I am slightly low on cash so looking for some help from you people.  Incidently, I've tried different strings like Dominant which sounded great for about 2 days then went dead - lots of ringing over tones but these went away within two to three days.  Maybe its the humidity levels.  The violin is about 5 years old and is only a student fiddle but it's a well made one and does sound really great when things are working ok with it.

Anyhow, I hope someone can suggest where the problem lies.





November 19, 2009 at 10:54 PM ·

It's about time to change the strings anyway, and since that isn't ridiculously expensive, that might be a good place to start.  I just changed my strings last night and my violin is sounding a lot nicer.

November 19, 2009 at 10:56 PM ·

Smiley is right, 6 months is a bit old for Passiones.  Eudoxas are a little more inexspensive.  You can always try a luthiers recomendation, but if you have a budget student violin then putting a little money aside for a step up instrument.

November 20, 2009 at 12:20 AM ·

15% of humidity is far toooo dry!! The violin may crack easily! The normal humidity should be 40-60%. I would recommend you to get a dampit from concordmusic.com or gositrngs.com or your local luthier as soon as possible to avoid furthur damage to your violin. best wishes~


November 20, 2009 at 01:03 AM ·

after reading all this, I dug out my dampit :)

November 20, 2009 at 03:10 AM ·

I've read some bad things about dampits on this site.  Mostly having to do with dripping water inside the instrument -- not good.  Unless you want to invest in an elaborate humidification system, I think the easiest and most practical solution is a case humidifier.  We had a cold snap a couple of weeks ago and the humidity in my practice room was down to the low 40's, but the humidity in my case (with a case humidifier) was 56%.  This is what I used to check the humidity:


November 20, 2009 at 03:10 AM ·

Alan - Check for open seams first. I used to have the same problem, everything just seems to be dead without apparent reason - humidity has been stable in my country which will not go extreme, no knocking on the violin, no nothing. So I bring my violin to a luthier to fix it, apparently it require a soundpost adjustment. My violin was 2 years old that time, so it might be settling as a new instrument, and it need a new position. But it was strange, it happened virtually the next day out of a sudden. Nevertheless, I kept my finger crossed and it was all good after close to 2 years.

November 20, 2009 at 09:32 AM ·

Thank you good people for the the advice/suggestions.

Casey, it's funny you should mention the seams - when I took it to my local luthier, he noticed the back coming away near the chinrest and this was fixed as the new soundpost and bridge was fitted.  All in all I had £98 worth of work done to the instrument.  When I got the violin back with original 6 month old Passione strings on it really did sound and respond much better. 

However, I'm convinced now that it's the strings that have literally died after having so much playing done to them etc.  So a new set of medium gauge Passiones are round the corner!!

I've had a hygrometer in the room where I practise recently and the humidity level has settled on 60% - I guess this is ok for violins.

Once the new strings are on I will also save up and get the bow re-haired so as to eliminate possible problems.

The rosin I use is the box standard Hidersine  - the previous rosin I used was dark Hill which left much rosin dust on the bridge and violin.  Maybe I need to try some different rosin for the new strings and bow and then evaluate the sound and response afterward.

I will report back again to let you know how things go.

ps - perhaps it's the right time to save and save and purchase a 'real' violin -  I've been playing for 20 years now and I did have about 7 years off from playing becasue of other commitments etc   In that 7 years I sold my beloved David Littlewood becasue I needed the cash.  Now that I am back my father purchased this really good student violin to get me going again but I really do need a decent violin because I feel the student one I have is holding me back.

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