Humidity - Violin arching and soundpost change

Edited: March 28, 2018, 8:55 PM · Hi all,
My violin was born and raised :-) in Madrid, which is a fairly dry city. When I came to Saigon (RH>70%) one of the things I started to notice the first months was the loosening of the soundpost. From being a normal -snug but easily movable- fitting without the strings, it came to the point of falling just by changing the E string. As this has happened so much I have become by time, sweat and tears really good at putting it back.
At the beginning I was not so concerned. I prefer a slightly loose soundpost rather than too tight. However with this process I noticed a decrease in playability in high positions, 5th and above, in the GDA. I realized that in order to make it "stay" I was more and more moving the soundpost towards the trebble f-hole. We all know that such position is supposed to brighten the violin, but it should also be said that it makes the higher positions less responsive in the strings closer to the bass.
I just cut a new soundpost for the height of the spot that I know works better in the violin and, voila, I got back the balance I remembered and the playability in high positions.
But now I am concerned that this soundpost works for an extreme humidity environment such as Vietnam but if I travel to a drier place, like back to Madrid, I fear that it would be too tall and it might damage the violin. But how long would that take? Should I change soundposts to the "Spain friendly" one for a one week trip or that is not long enough to shrink back the plates and reduce the arching?
Has anyone any experience about the speed that the violin arching takes to react noticeably to extreme humidity changes?

Replies (10)

March 28, 2018, 10:36 PM · This is a question for David Burgess...
March 29, 2018, 10:35 AM · I think it depends on too many factors to answer. The amount of arching, the thickness, age, and other characteristics of the wood. Sure you can go back and forth between sound posts for short trips, but it seems excessive to me. Even if you are in Saigon, where are you staying and/playing? Outside? In air-conditioned hotels or venues? I don't see professional soloists switching sound posts that often. They just deal with what the fiddle does in different locales.

Edited: March 30, 2018, 2:19 AM · Carlos, that's a tough one to answer with precision. As Scott Cole says, soloists travel all over the world, many without taking special precautions. However, when their instruments undergo repairs or restorations (and they do), people outside the restoration trade are unlikely to ever hear about it, or know it ever happened. It's not like there aren't problems.

My guess is that you'll be OK, but if you want to be extra-cautious, put the shorter post in about 2 days after arriving in Madrid. That should give the violin time to shrink enough to support the shorter post without it falling over.

The shorter post won't deal with all the dimensional changes a violin undergoes with changes in moisture content, but it's better than nothing.

At the moment, the relative humidity in an indoor environment heated to 70 degrees F in Madrid would be about 25%. That's a pretty wild swing from 70+.

A lot depends on your emotional and investment value in a particular violin. Some of our best-preserved Strads etc. have pretty much stayed in one environment, or been kept under controlled museum conditions. Others are a rather confounding amalgamation of repairs and replacement parts.

Edited: March 29, 2018, 3:46 PM · Carlos, If your "Madrid violin" is anything like mine (Fernando Solar, 1971, #157) it has a bit of a highish arch, and the sound is VERY sensitive to the placement of the soundpost - I can understand your problem. Fortunately the only places I have had that violin are fairly dry; the California desert (where I lived for the first 21 years I have owned the fiddle) and a mostly dry region 15 miles north of San Francisco, California for the next 23 - so the maker's original sound post is still working just fine.

I did visit Solar's shop in 1990 and played one or two Strad copies (of the Spanish Royal Famiy's quartet) and they had much flatter tops. With my other, flatter-top violins, there is a broader area over which the soundpost is utile, although for one of them the precise location is also critical for sound quality.

April 2, 2018, 7:16 PM · Sorry for late gratitude. I was travelling and is not always available outside the cities.

Thanks for your advice. @David Burgess: I cherish my violin and I do my best to have it as protected, cleaned and maintained as my environment allows me. The trips to Spain are a must, though, and they involve the violin. I will take the soundpost and the tool and I will monitor closely how it reacts to the change and switch them if necessary.

@Andrew Victor: My violin is the twin of yours, from the same luthier and same year. (Yours is #157, mine is #159). Your description applies very well to mine. The soundpost has one spot that brings an amazing instrument: colorful, balanced and strong voiced. But it has no fooling around with that position. If you change it, you lose one of those qualities. I am very happy now that I was able to detect the issue and find a solution.

April 3, 2018, 1:37 PM · If you want to keep the longer soundpost in, set it up a bit loose before leaving Vietnam. Then use a Dampit humidifier. One should never take a long flight without some kind of humidification system inside the violin case. Once in Spain, refill your Dampit as necessary, and only remove it from your violin when you play. That's what I would do for a trip of one or two weeks.
April 5, 2018, 5:37 AM · The snake-style humidifiers are my least favorite type.

While the air in an aircraft at high altitude can be extremely dry, the moisture level inside the case usually won't drop very much (depending on the case), as long as you don't open the case to perform for the other passengers. ;-)

If one wants to be extra careful, one can put the case in a plastic garbage bag.

April 5, 2018, 6:11 AM · Carlos, If you really want to preserve your Madrid violin, consider having a backup violin in Vietnam where weather conditions are extreme. CF violin seems like a good choice for such a climate. I just read a book about Heifetz... his Strad allegedly fell apart from humidity in Indonesia and he performed on a borrowed fiddle - nobody noticed a difference!
April 5, 2018, 9:55 AM · @David, among the things that I always have in the case, there are two neatly folded garbage bags... Because one never knows... When I travel, the violin is in its silk pajamas, and then inside 2 bags with the openings in opposite sides... It works very well.
@Isabell: I would not use the Dampit myself. There are many threads in favor and against it. In my case I have collected cigars for years and used all humidification systems available. There have never been one, based in filling with water, which sooner or later didn't fail making an expensive disaster. Even when they work well, around those sponges/beads, humidity is close to 100% and it just takes some days to develop mould in the areas touching it.
@Rocky: You are right, but things are what they are. Vietnam is my permanent home for the foreseeable future and I only visit Madrid from time to time. If I want to play that violin and not just store it, it needs to be here.
Things are different from Heifetz time, though. All houses and schools are equipped with air conditioning. The risk you describe is very real, and I am aware of it so I have another violin (made in Vietnam by a Vietnamese Luthier) for when I play outside. About the other, I can only be careful where I play, where I keep it and monitor it very closely, both by myself and a luthier.
Edited: April 6, 2018, 2:22 PM · For those who aren't already aware of this, the garbage bags can be really handy for slipping over a case if you need to be out in the rain. Highly recommended.

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