Possible setup changes for lower humidity?

April 7, 2006 at 07:38 PM · I recently went to Seattle where the humidity was quite high. My violin loved it! I came home to Alaska where the humidity is 40 to 45% in my studio and my violin sounded great for a little while and then started to deteriorate.

My violin seems to be very sensitive to humidity less than about 50% and prefers about 70 to 80% (I think).

Here is my question:

Might there be a setup parameter that could be changed to make my violin sound better in a lower (not excessively so) humidity. Perhaps a different length post or a thicker or thinner bridge...or?

When the humidity is lower what happens to the violin? I know the wood has less moisture and the plates will be less dense but what else happens?

So, if anyone has suggestions for adjustments for a lower humidity I would be extremely anxious to try them. Thanks.

Replies (19)

April 10, 2006 at 03:04 PM · Help, help! surely someone out there must have an idea what happens when a fiddle gets drier.

Any ideas how to compensate even a little bit?

Thanks.

April 10, 2006 at 03:29 PM · At least for me, older violins sound better in low humidity environment - whereas, newly made violins tend to sound better with some humidity. This is my personal opinion, and others might argue...

You can use Dampit, Stretto, sponges, etc. I'm sure you can adjust your violin, but there isn't much drastic measures you could take. Or is there?

April 10, 2006 at 06:32 PM · I am not sure if age has anything to do with it, but maybe. The last major setup (post, bass bar, and bridge was done is Seattle(where it was humid) at least 15 years ago. Since then just minor stuff.

I was specifically wondering if post thickness might have anything to do with it. How long does a post last?

When everything is right my fiddle is responsive sounds rich and warm and the feel of the bow is sort of "leathery" over the strings.

When it gets a little dry and/or cold it sounds harsh and "tinny" and the bow feels slippery and skittish on the strings like playing ponticello.

I have paid attention to strings, rosin, temperature, humidity...everything. The only consistent factor influencing when it is "good" vs. "not good" is humidity less than 50 or 60%.

April 10, 2006 at 08:43 PM · Michael,

humidity is indeed important to your instrument. The ideal humidity for violins is between 40 and 70%, and normally older violins prefer a humidity which is a bit higher, somewhere between 50 and 70%. A humidity lower than 40% is dangerous because this can cause opening seams or even small cracks. There are special humidifiers for rooms, but I don't know a lot about it actually. A lot of piano or organ players have it in the room where they play their instrument.

April 10, 2006 at 08:49 PM · pegs tend to become smaller in relation to the peg hole when it's really dry...would a soundpost tend to react the same way?

April 10, 2006 at 09:45 PM · Final conclusion today. When the humidity in the case is 50% the 1919 Alfred Vidoudez violin sounds strained. At 40% it is rich, warm, and responsive.

If there is too much humidity I guess you could put those silica pads in the case to absorb the moisture.

April 10, 2006 at 10:19 PM · I've wondered from time to time if humidity's effect on the bow, bow hair or rosin might also be a large part of what people notice in the playablity and sound of a violin when moving between different degrees of humidity.

I can see how a violin would be affected as well but suspect the bow would be influenced first.

April 10, 2006 at 10:44 PM · Victor, I agree about the bow. A drier climate will create less friction with the bow hair, which can be helped by using a stickier rosin.

I just put Olivs on today, and they are giving me back my pianissimos, which I can't seem to get with Visions. They are perfect for chamber music, and work well in dry climates. On Visions and Evahs, I seem to scrape along the surface without being able to get smooth contact. Ugh, I hate that raspy sound, and dry air always makes it worse.

April 11, 2006 at 04:41 PM · emily, how is your new violin adjusting to alaska? did you notice any change from seattle?

April 11, 2006 at 11:23 PM · Hi Michael;

In evironments with less humidity, wood tends to contract (shrink). Because of this, a setup produced in a higher humidity may contribute to the instrument sounding "tight" in lower humidity.

What happens to different components of the setup varies. The post will tend to get "tight" (under too much tension) when the plates contract, but the neck may (and often does) rise do to the contraction (causing string heights to be "low" over the fingerboard).

You may have heard of (especially) cellists who need a "winter" (dry weather) and "summer" (humid weather) bridge and/or post. The winter post is usually a bit shorter, the winter bridge is usually higher.

In addition, lower humidity can cause some stress to occur in the body itself. In some cases, this is illustrated by seams that pop open, or worse, cracks that form... but sometimes the stresses don't manifest in visually obvious ways. The instrument just ends up sounding strange.

When purchasing older instruments that were used (and sounded well) in places like England or Italy and transporting them to Michigan, I often noticed a rather large difference (negative) in the performance. I asked Charles Beare about this and he mentioned he also notices this when tranporting instruments from dryer environments into England (the reverse). He told me that in some of the more severe cases, his shop will take "down" the instrument, release the top seams (the top tends to contract and expand more than the back does) and let the instrument acclimate to the new environment in his vault; then glue things up again. I've done this a number of times when I've run into certain humidity related issues with very good results.

J. S. Holmes Fine Violins

April 11, 2006 at 08:40 PM · Michael, the main difference I could tell was in the friction and in not being able to get the strings to articulate without having to dig into them with the bow a bit more. At the driest humidity, the sound becomes thinner, too.

I played on Olivs for my husband, and he said I wasn't projecting as much (I think he liked the Vision/Evah combo better), but I want to blend for the chamber music. I hate having to choose between bright sound/heavy hand, and soft/subtlety. I don't think this would be as much of an issue in a more humid climate.

This is the only thing I've noticed. At least all violinists are at the same disadvantage. And no one in the audience can really tell a difference, anyway. Their ears are too affected by the dry air to work properly. ;)

April 11, 2006 at 11:13 PM · Most violins can be easily adjusted to compensate for humidity changes. How? The answer is something I have about two hundred thousand dollars invested in, so it's not something I'm willing to give away right now.

What can you do yourself? You can alter the string tension. If the violin sounds better with higher humidity, put on lower tension strings. If it sounds better with lower humidity, put on higher tension strings.

Most violin strings are available in three tensions, with the thickest usually being the highest tension.

Violins are very sensitive to tension, so you might start by tryng just one string. For example, a "stark" Dominant A has higher tension than a "mittel". Try replacing one string first, and if the violin doesn't get happy, try two, and then three. If you replace only one or two, which string(s) you replace (A,D or G) will be determined by experimentation, finding which has the least detrimental effect on the balance.

When you get this right, you'll hit a "sweet spot" and the whole violin will open up.

Let us know how you do.

David Burgess

http://www.burgessviolins.com

April 12, 2006 at 12:53 AM · That's a good point, exactly what I was trying to get at with the string thing. The thought hadn't occured to me to try the same strings with a different tension (stark vs. mittel). So, it may be possible to order a set of Evahs with less tension? That would be nice.

April 12, 2006 at 02:07 AM · It's interesting about the Evah strings Emily. My experiences with them have lead me to believe that they work better in dryer environments (within reason) than more humid ones... One of these experiences, about 5 or 6 years ago, I recall switching out the Evah's nearly every instrument I had with me that had them installed (about 6; old and contemporary) on a trip to Meadowmount. If it had been only one or two of the instruments, I'd have suspected the fault was less due to the strings... but the problem was present with all the fiddles with Evah's and not on those without them. They seemed to be slower to respond in the "wet", and were a bit unfocused (fuzzy). To be fair, the humidty was quite high there that summer... but I don't ever recall such an accross-the-board reaction with any other synthetic string before. A number of players I've discussed this with also mentioned that they switch to other strings during the summer for similar reasons as I've described above... I'll have to look up the tension ratings as I don't remember... but I seem to recall that they are higher tension than Obligato but lower than Dominant... ???

Ahhh... got it. A tension chart for Obligato and Evah strings is available here:

April 12, 2006 at 02:09 AM · Strange... the edit function only took part of the link. I'll try again:

Ahhh... got it. A tension chart for Obligato and Evah strings is available here:

April 12, 2006 at 02:11 AM · OK... I give up...

The information (string tensions) I was trying to link is available on the Pirastro site in the form of a pdf download and on the Thomastik site within their listings.

Emily, 3 tensions are listed for Evah strings, but I'm not sure all the suppliers carry them as yet.

April 12, 2006 at 03:00 AM ·

Ha, what did you do, Jeffrey? Thanks for the direction to the site, anyway. Honestly, I don't know if tension is what I don't like about Evahs and Visions. I just don't like that I can't play pp and keep the tone even and pure--at least, not here. I really need that for my chamber music. I suppose it's possible that this could be due to my own technical shortcomings.

I'm dealing currently with 38% humidity. What do you typically see? I'm actually curious what ranges people from all over the place typically see, so anyone feel free to chime in.

April 12, 2006 at 03:27 AM · Don't know what I did, Emily, but whatever it was, I'll try not to do it again!

I try to keep my shop humidity between 45 and 50% in the winter. In the summer, I try to maintain as close to 50% as possible.

April 12, 2006 at 11:15 AM · Mr Burgess,

any clues on your $200K secret research?

Regards

Michael.

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