violin tone changes according to weather?

January 4, 2019, 3:25 PM · Does violin tone and playability change according to weather (humidity, temperature, breeze, summer, winter, etc?)

My violin seems more responsive some time and less some other times. I suspect that my feeling's right as wood respond to external conditions too. Do you also experience this or it's just a product of my imagination (e.g. the change would be too small to notice)?

Replies (31)

January 4, 2019, 3:30 PM · Yes, it changes. More moisture in the air -- more absorbed by the violin and by the bow hair. Moisture in the air also affects the acoustic properties of the air through which sound travels to our ears and everyone else's.
January 4, 2019, 3:32 PM · Temperature, moisture, and perhaps other factors I'm not considering seem to affect a violin's tone and playability. I've noticed this for a long time, and I suspect everyone else here has as well.
January 4, 2019, 4:12 PM · For sure it's a thing.
January 4, 2019, 4:16 PM · Yup. More the case with some instruments than others. String brands, too, I think.
January 4, 2019, 5:25 PM · I've seen many times my violins respond differently in the timespan, for example, of a couple of days, when weather changes. Especially in 1-2 strings. Usually one string.

Solution? Personally i tweak a little bit my tunable tailpiece's elements, for one string, in order to set the afterlenght in a millimetric way.
It solves all problems.

January 4, 2019, 6:20 PM · I find that the better the instrument, the more it will change with the weather changes.
Here in the PNW, humidity is the most difficult variable.
January 4, 2019, 8:32 PM · In my experience, all of the violins I've owned have sounded their best at relative humidity levels of 50-60%, in a temperature range of high 60s to mid-70s. Dry heat is the worst.
Edited: January 4, 2019, 11:19 PM · Yes, my girls 1/8 and the previous 1/16 change a lot according to weather conditions, even though we have a good humidifier. They are about 500 euro good quality chinese. instruments. But my own 3/4 (about 500 euros chinese too) doesnt change so much. Ive not yet figured out what conditions are the best and the worst though.

An interesting thing is that they do not use humidifiers in the luthiers we have bought the instruments. Ive asked the reason and they explaned that they have to sell instruments that tolerate and are good at our normal conditions, because if they have a humidifier and trim the instrument for that, they will inevitably crack when broight to houses without one. The air is very dry here during the summeer time as its freezing cold and houses are warm.

January 5, 2019, 10:44 AM · Maria, I am glad you have a good humidifier! That luthier has a good line of BS; any fine shop will have a humidifier. Of course, it takes work to refill it and keep it mold-free, so not everyone is willing to take the trouble necessary to keep their instruments in good shape!
And my violins complain when the weather changes; I can really tell.
January 5, 2019, 11:23 AM · I think it is dangerous to try to artificially maintain a shop humidity balance that is radically different from what the instrument will experience out in the real world, whatever that is.

I encourage owners to bring in their instruments at least twice a year when the seasonal humidity change has stabilized and more often if they feel like the instrument is unhappy, for the good of the instrument. And I don't charge for adjustments until I have to cut something. Most adjustments take about five minutes and some regulars don't even take off their coats. The inconvenience for keeping the tools in order and safe is minimal for everyone.

Edited: January 5, 2019, 12:37 PM · Erin, the luthier is the best in my country and sells expensive instrments (even up to 100 000-1 000 000 euros) too. They said they cannot affort that the expensive instruments break after they have been sold because of our climate. After all, instruments have to be moved even in -25C and +30C, even though most players have humidifiers at home.

They said they actually pull many instruments apart and let the parts find their shape before putting them back together before selling. Once we were there (they sell also good quality chinese students violins about for 500-700 euros) we heard a loud bang. It was wintertime and they explaned that it was a sound of a cello cracking that they had not yet had time to pull apart.

January 5, 2019, 1:32 PM · Yes, violin tone, playability and volume are all affected by weather changes, particularly humidity. There was an article years ago, in the New Scientist, I think, that implicated pectin as the main cause of this, and claimed that violins made from wood from which the pectin had largely been leached out with water tended to be relatively free from this effect. It suggested that the old Italian masters used to have their wood brought over by ship, and the salt water from the sea crossing would have removed most of the pectin. The author also thought that Guadagnini's dying answer "Use old wood" to the question "What is the secret?" might have been a bitter practical joke - I have not been able to find this quote from Guadagnini anywhere on the internet. For myself, I wonder whether he might have meant wood from old trees, rather than wood that had been stored a long time.
January 5, 2019, 6:12 PM · My neighbour from one floor down said my flute playing sounded great. I couldn't respond.
January 5, 2019, 8:05 PM · Wood changes changes with humidity... measurable changes in weight, damping, and dimension, all of which imply changes in acoustics and playability.
January 5, 2019, 8:07 PM · Indeed. Very much. But bear in mind that a lot from the tonal and playability changes comes from the bow.
The bow hair (as the human hair) is the fastest in ch?nging characteristics according to the weather.
Edited: January 5, 2019, 8:30 PM · In the winter, there is less sunlight and, by consequence, the violin is not able to produce as much vitamin D. Vitamin D has been well linked to various brain functions, and being vitamin D deficient can cause crankiness and blueness, and just feelings of being down overall.
Your violin is trying its hardest, but it can't help being in a bad mood when there's no sunshine. Maybe give it a break until summertime. Or some D-drops.
January 5, 2019, 10:35 PM · I notice my violin hates when it's not humid enough. Buffalo NY winters are inconsistent at best. This winter has been real mild (almost 40F today) and somewhat humid, but last year the average temp was in the teens.

It's usually happiest in the mid to late spring or early to mid autumn. The extremes make it a bit grouchy. I keep a humistat in my case in the winter.

January 6, 2019, 6:51 AM · Careful, Mather, or you might have people opening vitamin D capsules and rubbing the contents on their violins. ;-)

Stranger things have happened...

January 6, 2019, 2:14 PM · I have owned a variety of antique and modern instruments, which were all affected negatively by low humidity. In general, they became shriller, thinner sounding and sometimes harder to play. One 200 year old Austrian violin sounded warm, rich and beautiful during the warm part of year when we have high humidity. (I live in the eastern USA.). I used to dread winter cold waves, when it sounded tinny, even with humidification. IMHO modern violins are affected less than antiques, Burgess and other experts may differ with me on that point.
January 6, 2019, 2:40 PM · FWIW, in the winter, dry weather, everything shrinks except the length of the post. The body tightens around the post, the result is a tighter post. The result of that is exactly as you say, and additionally, a lack of immediate response (I measure this by playing very gently with the tip of the bow, on the G string. If the string doesn't start right up with a full tone, the post may be too tight). A tighter post isn't always a bad thing--some players like the sound and characteristic response on their particular instrument, and don't like it the other way, and the opposite. In a general sort of way, orchestra players like tighter than quarteters, heavier arms like tighter posts. If you feel like you are up against one wall in dynamics, that's another indicator that post tightness may not be optimal. Just be aware that when the weather changes the instrument can probably be adjusted to act well in the new weather.

Many of my clients come in twice a year for this to be adjusted, once when the wet summer weather has stabilized for a tightening, then again when dryness has fully hit, to loosen the post at bit. It's a quick thing to fix.

Some instruments are more stable, some are incredibly fussy.

January 6, 2019, 3:32 PM · Stranger things? Now you've got me excited.
January 7, 2019, 12:46 AM · It reacts in a huge way. I have a very humid flat and I can see reactions in the days. But also a quick reaction like yesterday. My violin sounds best around 55% humidity. But we have around 70% these days. We were gone and I let the windows opened and as we return I started to play, it was colder until the flat was heated up again, but the humidity was lower, around 50%. And my violin sounds so perfect and much more beautiful. I think it was caused by horse hair humidity because wood has a slower reaction. I must sometimes readjust bowhair stretch during practice. (I have a daughter so I am taking breaks during playing, I practice around 1 hour but my violin is out for 3 for example).

I am looking forward for summer time when we have lower humidity, and I have a great sound :)

Edited: January 7, 2019, 10:19 AM · OK Michael I am really surprised that you don't humidify...I could swear (maybe I shouldn't?) that I saw a humidifier when I last brought my cello to your shop for a new post. After all the incidents I have seen due to low humidity (fingerboard pops off, seam opens, plate cracks, I wonder how no humidification in downtown Chicago can be better than what I have always believed is optimal-- the Burgess recommendation of ~40%? Why would a change from 5% to 40% be dangerous? Please explain to your ignorant customer...
January 7, 2019, 10:48 AM · I should explain. In our building the humidity runs under 10 percent because there is a massive input of outside air that we can't control. We have a humidifier in the vault to get it closer to reasonable, but not too much. What I object to are green snakes and other case humidifiers or attempts to over humidify beyond what one would normally encounter. The snakes are particularly bad in that respect. I wouldn't object to 40 percent if you can live in that environment consistently.

For contrast, my home, without humidification, hangs around 30 all winter. To me that is completely reasonable if not ideal.

January 7, 2019, 10:53 AM · Thank you! (Those snakes are to be avoided; they 'bite' by leaking...)
January 7, 2019, 11:52 AM · Exactly! I'm dealing with a cello right now that is almost 200 years old and nearly new, but for where the puddle in the bottom end collected dust, turned to hairy mud, etc. Fortunately, the cello is OK, in spite of this. Often the bottom rib will be a warped mess.
January 7, 2019, 12:26 PM · The dampit is meanwhile recommended by other luthiers including Dalton Potter. What I've learned is that you need to squeeze them out well. Everyone knows that, but I squeeze mine out into another absorptive material like a paper towel so that it does not have any liquid water, anywhere. Oh boy I've got a good idea. I'm going to replace the top on a VSO with plexiglas so we can see what happens inside the violin when the Dampit is put in after various types of squeezing.
Edited: January 8, 2019, 4:04 AM · I don't recommend the "snakes" either. Even if one is extremely careful that they aren't excessively moist, they can produce a severe moisture gradient. Where the device is laying against the interior of the violin, the humidity will be close to 100%. Elsewhere in the case, it might be 20%, depending on the humidity outside the case, and how vapor-tight the case is.

Are they better than nothing? I'm not sure.

January 8, 2019, 7:33 AM · The same could be said for something like a Stretto except on the outside of the instrument, couldn't it David? And I wonder if the moisture gradient is even larger with a cello where the case is several times larger. (I just picked up one of these for my daughter's cello because her teacher insists on something even though we have a whole house humidifier and add more moisture with a room humidifier when the outside temperature gets into the teens...the piano is much happier too. So I still debate whether to use this.) She's in performance and rehearsal spaces where the air is quite dry though.
January 8, 2019, 9:51 AM · "The same could be said for something like a Stretto except on the outside of the instrument, couldn't it David?"
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I don't think so. Presumably, it wouldn't be in contact with the instrument, and preferably as far away as possible, so the humidity gradients on different parts of the instrument to wouldn't be as severe.

But any type of in-case humidifiers aren't my first choice.

January 8, 2019, 1:52 PM · What if I put a snake in the case but not in the instrument? I got one, but it doesn't fit in my instrument's F hole (it's the right size, don't worry) but after researching, I decided it's best not to put anything in it, so I set it under the scroll where I keep my should rest (I've got a Concord pro case).

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