Don't put violin near the heater to open it up?

Edited: August 19, 2017, 3:27 PM · Hi,

I have this very interesting question. Is it advisable to put your violin near high/varying temperature to open it up / or break it in?


Due to recent cold weather in my area Sydney, last month I turned on my portable heater when I am sleeping. Due to limited space, my heater happened to sit near my violin (a Gliga Gama). The f-holes of the violin directly faced the heater. This proximity makes the temperature around the violin around 30 degrees - for 6 hours during my sleep. Being close to the heater also probably mean drier (less humid) exposure. In the morning I turn off the heater, and the temperature goes back to daytime normal of 10-12 degrees. So the violin was exposed to a range of temperature 10-30 degrees, and some bigger-than-normal changes in humidity within 24 hours.

I notice that after 3 days or so, the violin seemed to be more responsive, and has slightly warmer tone. This change was very noticeable. Also, probably due to wood reaction to varying temperature (probably mainly in the peg and bridge areas), I had to tune my violin more often. Sometimes in the morning after a full night of being close to the heater, the strings nearly get off the bridge.

After these three days, I put the violin far away from the heater so that the f holes stop receiving direct heat, and to my surprise, the sound nearly went back to normal around 3 days after.

Curious enough, I put the violin near the heater again, and this warmth of sound and responsiveness again, happened.

I have heard of stories of people playing their violins outdoors to open them up - would similar temperature/humidity factors be at work here?

Should I continue doing so for my violin to reach full potential? Do you have any experience on this?

P/S Sydney where I live has low humidity.

Replies (45)

August 19, 2017, 2:09 AM · Won't there be a huge risk of the plates splitting, or with luck, coming unglued? I saw a new, hand-made vioin with two top-to-bottom millimetre-wide cracks in th belly after a winter of dry heat. I don't know how well-seasoned is the wood used by Gigla.
Your improved tone could be very short-lived!
August 19, 2017, 3:45 AM · Will, what you have probably managed to do is temporarily lower the water content of the wood in your violin. Since you describe the area where you live as having low humidity to begin with, I'd say this is very risky. Wood undergoes significant dimensional changes as moisture levels change. Adding to this risk is the speed of the humidity cycling you have induced. Given a slow enough change, violins can often acclimate to different levels of moisture, but If I were to do this to try to acclimate a violin to a semi-permanent change in environment, I'd want to do this over a much longer time frame than three days.
August 19, 2017, 4:21 AM · Putting a fragile string instrument near a heater is a very bad idea.

Your feeling that the sound "opened up" may just be an illusion. Maybe you just played better at that moment.

August 19, 2017, 4:29 AM · Your violin will split if you continue doing this. If you prefer the sound of a tighter fiddle, get the sound post moved closer to the bridge.

Cheers Carlo

Edited: August 19, 2017, 4:39 AM · I'm going to echo everyone else, reading this I instantly started worrying about cracks and seams opening.

Is that Sydney, Australia? Low humidity on the water? Australia really is upside down! ;)

August 19, 2017, 4:40 AM · Are you being serious, or are you just pulling our collective leg? If you are being serious, then you should know that temperature and moisture variations are TERRIBLE for string instruments. If you are joking, then HA HA.
August 19, 2017, 5:09 AM · OMG - NO!!!!!!!!

If you want to try to break in your violin a bit when you are not playing it, you can put it close to speakers as you play some recordings. It's debatable whether this will do anything but it can't hurt - and you'll have music to listen to, and your violin will get to know some repertoire!

Edited: August 19, 2017, 5:20 AM · Raphael can the speakers be playing Coltrane? Or does it have to be Mozart?
Edited: August 19, 2017, 5:57 AM · Years ago I read of cycling the humidity to break in a violin more quickly. Still, I refused to take my violins into the bathroom with me when I shower.

There is no doubt that the violins my father and I had must have struggled with large humidity changes when I was growing up on the east coast of the US. One of those violins survived to spend the next 33 years living with me in California's Mojave Desert - even surviving some outdoor concerts at 100°F (38°C - not in direct sunlight).

Don't cook your violin!

The violins I have that "broke in" nicely were nice from the very beginning.

Edited: August 19, 2017, 6:12 AM · Yes, putting a violin near a heater to open it up will very likely open up a seam or two or a split, probably even causing one. So don't do it.

Mercifully, we generally don't have these problems in the UK, although temperatures can easily climb into the mid-30s in the southern parts, as they have been doing for the last few weeks. However, a few days of heat are soon alleviated by the dying breaths of the previous Caribbean hurricane as it crosses the Atlantic.

We just avoid doing silly things like leaving a violin to cook in direct strong sunlight.

I'll leave members in continental Europe to talk about any environmental problems that may affect the violin, but Belgium and Holland don't seem to have any.

Edited: August 19, 2017, 8:11 AM · I understood that Strad used to hang his fiddles in the sun to dry the varnish - but then what did he know about fiddle making?!

Instruments should be kept between 45% and 60% humidity if possible - and that goes for pianos as well. (David B will correct this if I'm wrong or out a bit) But that's where we (in the UK) like to keep to. We have all heat turned off in the room where the piano and fiddles are kept. Enough warmth percolates from the rest of the house in winter to keep the temperature at about 65 degrees and humidity at 50% (Aprox. 17C-18C)

If you want to open up the sound on the violin then play it a lot and regularly. If you want to open it up so you can see what's inside. then put it in front of a heater. (But don't blame us when you have to spend a LOT of money getting it put back together again).

August 19, 2017, 9:47 AM · Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler. If that doesn't work, a little Elvis. If all else fails, practice on it!
August 19, 2017, 9:56 AM · I'm lucky, I guess, that I bought my violin from an excellent pro who was using it to teach with. It's had all kinds of wild stuff played on it. Not that I personally believe that does any good...
Edited: August 19, 2017, 10:10 AM · Raphael, Elvis works OK, but nothing works as well as placing the violin next to a speaker, while playing Porky Pig's version of "Blue Christmas" through the speaker.

August 19, 2017, 10:44 AM · OMG do not do this.

There really needs to be a way for Laurie to red flag the posts that could give lurkers such terrible ideas--maybe a banner across the top that says VERY BAD IDEA. I worry that not everyone takes the time to read the comments.

August 19, 2017, 3:20 PM · Hello!!

Thank you all very much for your suggestions. The unanimous consensus is that this idea is crazy and I should never put my violin near high temperature again. And ... I didn't expect that I even seemed to offend someone here :^( ... I am sorry if this is the case.

I do have one question though.

Is varying temperature a normal thing for the nature of playing violin? For example, when violinists play in an outdoor concert on a hot day, or when you put your violin case inside a car trunk on a long drive (bad idea but there are people who do it, and sometimes you can't avoid doing it), the temperature could realistically get much higher than 30 degrees. And when you transport your violin from places to places, alternating between air-conditioning halls and theatres, and hot weather outside... you obviously know your violin case cannot make the violin immune to drastic change in temperature and humidity with long travelling time. Last but not least, when you travel from country to country (especially when they are in different hemispheres), I believe the variations in humidity, pressure (thanks to height when flying), temperature must be much more drastic.

I admit that there are badly made violins that don't last a dry winter. But can I dare to ask, if a violin cannot withstand a 10-30 degrees within 24 hours, shouldn't it be played in a lot of countries?

Edited: August 19, 2017, 3:28 PM · Just to update my post and avoid someone copying this idea when it could be dangerous to their violin (especially if done carelessly you can cause a fire!), I have modified the title from 'Putting your violin near high temperature' into 'Don't put your violin near...' This is according to Mary's suggestion. However I hope I could still continue this discussion with you with my new reply above. I put a question mark in the title to signify this.
Edited: August 19, 2017, 4:17 PM · Thanks for the original post edit. :-)

Violins should never, ever travel in the trunk of a car--what if you were rear-ended?--and most especially not on unusually hot or cold days. Keep the violin inside the climate-controlled car where the humans are. I can't imagine any circumstances under which putting one's violin in the trunk is "unavoidable."

Cases actually do mitigate big temperature swings somewhat. It's best though, if your violin case has been in a very hot or very cold space despite everyone's best advice, to give it time in a temperate space before opening the case, exactly so the instrument isn't exposed to an instantaneous extreme temperature swing.

Most people who play outdoor weddings have a "picnic fiddle" that they use in place of a valuable instrument. I play outdoor gigs on a high-end Chinese student violin worth about $1600.

Many, many years ago I played in a Japanese orchestra for six months and lived in a small apartment that lacked any kind of central heating. We had space heaters for daytime use but we couldn't leave them on overnight due to the risk of suffocation. On very cold nights, I would put my violin case at the foot of my futon, under the top futon along with me but not where there was any risk I would roll over on it, so that it wouldn't get as cold as the air temperature in the apartment.

August 19, 2017, 5:40 PM · Don't put a violin anywhere you wouldn't put an infant. But the converse is not true. You would never bathe your violin, but alas, infants need to be baptized now and again.
Edited: August 19, 2017, 5:55 PM · Mary, most people who play outdoors have a cheap 'picnic fiddle' is true, but I doubt whether this applies to famous violinists. If you have watched youtube videos of Midori Goto, Janine Jansen, Renaud Caoucon and many other famous violinists playing outdoor noon or night - the violin they play in these occasions could well be their best one (though this is debatable) but cannot be even close to intermediate ones either (since these televised events affect their reputation).

I swear that I have seen many such videos. This Janine Jansen Thais is just one example among them:

If suddenly it is raining, I don't think concert performers would rush somewhere to protect their violins from humidity before finishing their jobs (unless it rains too heavily).

In places where temperatures get below zero in winter (which represent practically all western societies where violins thrive) I think not all professional violinists stop bringing their most previous instruments into a concerts and rehearsals, though the range of temperature applied to their violins would be greatly adverse.

My thought is if exposing an instrument in varying temperature of 10-30 degrees (which can be found in so many regions on earth) cause such catastrophe to it, then protecting it, at the same time utilizing it, would be an utterly daunting job.

At the end of the day, to each his own and they bear consequences to whatever risky decision they made with their violins, but really I am still not absolutely convinced that what I did is of utmost craziness to my violin (though I believe it is not a good thing to do with the violin), and I am still looking for more insights into this ...

August 19, 2017, 7:45 PM · Not to belabor the obvious but in your linked video, Janine Jensen and the entire orchestra are under a tent. I can't imagine any scenario in which a soloist and orchestra would NOT be under a tent for an outdoor concert--it isn't just the soloist's instrument that would be at risk. Even at that, there's a good chance the soloist at a lawn concert is playing on their 2nd or 3rd instrument, not their Del Gesu. And nobody is going to let their instrument be exposed to even the slightest drizzle of rain, no matter what. I once played a concert under a leaky roof with a heavy rain, and while it wasn't dripping where I was sitting, unbeknownst to me it was doing so behind me. At the bows, I looked behind me to see my entire section had scattered on stage to get away from the drips. First and last time I have ever seen a violin section seated in the shape of the letter O.

At any rate, I promise you that neither Midori, Janine Jensen, nor any other soloist you can think of from the top tier down to those patching a living together soloing with community orchestras, are playing outdoor weddings. And those of us who do play outdoor weddings have clauses in our contracts stating that our instruments cannot be exposed to moisture or extreme temperatures.

A temperature variance of 10 - 30 degrees is one thing when it takes place over days or weeks. It's another thing entirely to make a sudden shift in a matter of minutes by placing a violin by a heater. The other posters have already elucidated exactly why this is so dangerous for your instrument.

August 19, 2017, 8:36 PM · Hi Mary thank you for sharing your view further :-)

Of course there must be a roof if a concert is to be held outdoor. But even a roof like the one in the Janine video would make me shocked. I mean, if you look at it, just a tent hung up and that's it. Far from what I would expect what a roof to cover all these precious instruments should be like.

I think it's common sense that there be clauses in the contracts that protect the instrument.

I really agree that my experiment takes place in a more abrupt temperature-changing setting. But in an instrument life there can be sudden changes like that, like someone walking out of the air-conditioned hall and into hot air, or vice versa in winter.

I think, especially in the sphere of delicate instruments like the violin, it is easy to dismiss something non-traditional outright and think 'that's crazy'. Like, I never thought a wing suit can let you glide until someone prove it, of course with greatest risk involved (check youtube video and I am sure you would be shocked like I did :D).

Thanks a lot for sharing with me :-)))

August 19, 2017, 9:57 PM · That "tent" is actually a permanent canopy; it's the Waldbühne in Berlin. You seem to be thinking of it as a sort of tarp when actually it's more like a building with one side open to the outside.

Nobody with any sense walks with an uncased instrument out of an air-conditioned hall into hot air, or vice versa. We just don't do that. That's one of the functions of a case--to protect the instrument from sudden temperature changes.

I don't know what else I can say to try to convince you that sudden changes in temperature or humidity are a very bad thing for a violin, are NOT common or inevitable, and are avoided by the use of cases, roofs overhead, and a little common sense.

Edited: August 20, 2017, 3:57 AM · Will, while violins on the world-traveling concert circuit may be exposed to harsh conditions from time to time, that's quite different from doing it deliberately. You'd be amazed at the amount of repair work many of these instruments have had. It's no coincidence that the best-preserved examples of the work of Stradivari and Gaurneri are kept in carefully-controlled museum-like environments, and are not exposed to the risks and rigors of regular concert duty.

Granted, your violin probably isn't as valuable as these. However, people can become very emotionally invested even in instruments which others might consider inexpensive enough to be disposable. You'll need to decide your own level of risk tolerance. Some of the risks have been described in this thread, by informed and well-meaning people, to assist you with that.

Edited: August 20, 2017, 4:32 AM · It is an intriguing question whether Janine Jansen (and other top soloists whose Strads are fetishized in the programs and interviews) is using a replica violin that looks 99% like her supervaluable Strad. Not just in that Berlin open air concert, but there's also that Delft chamber music she used to curate, which I don't go to any more because it just gets too freaking hot under the glass ceiling - where she is playing with other musicians on highly valuable 18th C instruments..

People expect her to play the instrument that is invariably mentioned in every single piece that's written about her, she says she loves the instrument, so what is she going to do?

Edited: August 20, 2017, 7:36 AM · "Standby" instruments, or instruments to use in place of ones expensive old Italian are part of the market for copies. With a good quality bench copy, the audience is unlikely to know or suspect the difference.
August 20, 2017, 7:33 AM ·
August 20, 2017, 7:50 AM · I am with Mary Ellen, I think their ought to be a warning for a post like this. This has got to be one of the most outrageously ignorant thread questions I have ever seen here. I would definitely assume that the OP is a beginner. I hope no one is inspired by his idea.
August 20, 2017, 7:57 AM · I know it's mean to add salt to the wound even more. But.... XD. As someone who reads a lot on violin making and maintenance and who talks kd to a lot of luthiers. (even though you don't need that much experience to say this). NOOOOOOOOOOO. you got lucky you didn't break it literally separating the pieces of wood because of the glue heating up and the wood expanding.

Please. Take care of your instrument. You owe it some cleaning.

August 20, 2017, 1:44 PM · I recently witnessed a folk player throw his upright bass in the bed of a pickup truck--without a case. That's folk musicians for you. The feeling that gripped my heart when I saw that was similar to the feeling that gripped my heart when I just now read about the idea of using a heater to "open" a violin. There's no need to forcibly "open up" a string instrument. Just play it and that will do the job admirably.
Edited: August 20, 2017, 2:38 PM · Hi all, thank you for your advices/opinion.

If a 30 degree environment would break the violin 'literally separating the pieces of wood', half of the violins in this planet would be broken by now.

IMO it is now only debatable whether the range of temperature the violin was exposed to, and the speed of change in temperature by the heater are enough to harm it.

As my heater is an oil heater, which takes up to 30 minutes to heat up, I don't believe the speed of change is too abrupt.

If the admin feels the need to close or delete this thread, it is entirely up to her to do so. However, I am not sorry that I post this and let my opinion be heard. What is more, it is entirely a question to be asked, rather than a statement to be believed.

Edited: August 20, 2017, 3:19 PM · Will wrote:
"If a 30 degree environment would break the violin 'literally separating the pieces of wood', half of the violins in this planet would be broken by now."

Will, my estimate would be that easily half the violins ever on this planet have been broken. Likely a lot more. That's why the vast majority of people in the fiddle trade are "repairmen". ;-)

August 20, 2017, 2:48 PM · Will.

If you want to be sure go ask a luthier near you.

It's because it was for 6 hours.

We control the temperature and the humidity around our instruments.

Walk into a luthier shop you'll a find a humidifier or a de.

Concert halls are purposely cold to allow playing.

We truly fear for the instruments so much that we wouldn't even think about what you did because they are fragile things.

We love them so much. It's like my baby. I wouldn't put my baby near the heater for 6 hours.

Besides I'm just following laws of physics on matter.

Heat up a glass of water then put cold water in it and it'll shatter because all of the energy from expanding disappears.

Don't be sorry.

We all ask questions and make mistakes. I recently got corrected on baroque violins.

Love thy instrument.

Maybe it's just us with our old timey instruments that fear uncommon things.

Edited: August 20, 2017, 6:01 PM · Will, you have gotten responses from several very experienced violinists, several more dedicated amateurs, and one extremely well respected luthier. And in a rare show of unanimity, we are in 100% agreement that your experiment is a bad idea. I do not understand why you continue to hold onto and argue for this idea of yours. At the beginning, it was a reasonable question from someone who is not very experienced, but now you are just being argumentative.
Edited: August 20, 2017, 6:43 PM · I'm just baffled that someone would try to argue that placing delicate wood with a delicate finish with glue that unbinds when exposed to heat while the entire construction is under tension intentionally in front of a heat source that it doesn't need to be in front of is a good idea. (intentional run on sentence)

The 30c environment is actually a problem for a lot of violins. Open seams are an issue. They are a pretty common issue.

August 20, 2017, 7:06 PM · Not a good idea - I live in Sydney too and someone I know did something similar - it resulted in small cracks in his violin which then lead to VERY loud and noticeable buzzing every time he played a single note. It cost $2000 (AUS) to get it fixed.
Edited: August 20, 2017, 8:10 PM · Mary, I tried to be convinced, but to no avail. It seems the consensus is that not only a change in temperature, but also a sustained 30 degree environment would wreck havoc to the violin, which means people in tropical countries and most other parts of the world shouldn't play the violin at all. I come from a country in Asia, and during summer, it is pretty normal for the temperature to stay above 35 degrees for weeks. Yet as far as I know, violin studies are alive and well there, people don't rush to luthiers fixing them after an extremely hot summer. I know in Europe are are times when the weather get to 40 degrees, but if that means a good enough number of violins and other string instruments become broken, much would have been written about this. I'm not argumentative in all honesty. I'm at work now so sorry for this brief reply. Sorry if any of my posts give an air of obstination or overheated argumentation. Will,
Edited: August 20, 2017, 8:14 PM · Right, Will.

Except you're intentionally accelerating that process. Instead of taking days, weeks, months, it's taking 30 minutes.

Think about a light bulb. It isn't being turned on that causes a light bulb to burn out. If you never shut the light off, that bulb (incandescent) will burn for years and years and years. But when you turn the light off and on it weakens the filament, because you are constantly heating and cooling it. Eventually it snaps and you need a new light bulb. A normal incandescent light bulb might last a year or two of normal use. What you are doing is flicking the light bulb off and on over and over again., instead of just when you need light.

A normal light bulb lasting a year or two is the same as a violin lasting a decade or two. To take the analogy one step further, the Strad's, amati's, and other antiques of the violin world have been taken care of. That's why they're still around and still playable. In the analogy they wouldn't be a regular light bulb with regular wear and tear, but the Centennial Light, which has been turned off a handful of times since 1901.

August 20, 2017, 8:22 PM · I'd love to know where u get your light bulbs....
Edited: August 20, 2017, 8:23 PM · I work nights, they're so very rarely used... ;)

Although I now use LED lights anyway, so irrelevant.

August 20, 2017, 8:23 PM · If i may add. I was born and raised in the hottest country on the planet.

. That's where i learned to play the violin.

50 degrees Celsius.

Make that air conditioning work

August 20, 2017, 8:24 PM · Ack Ahmed! I've been in a greenhouse that was 54.3C before. It was hell. I barely lasted long enough to finish pressure washing it.


August 20, 2017, 8:50 PM · 17 years 17 years xD. It's an odd place it deserves a visit just to see another planet.

They guardian dubbed it hottest country.

Well my teacher would always ask for ice cold temperature when he came like 20 lol otherwise we'd sweat.

Odd country you can get snow rain hail dust storms fog sometimes in the same day. Violin never went outside the house. That's the safest thing

August 21, 2017, 10:59 AM · Yes, of course you *can* play a violin outside in 35-40 C weather. If you live in such a climate and don't have air conditioning, then that is obviously your only option. That doesn't mean it's good for the violin. It isn't. What you are proposing is to purposely expose the instrument to those conditions for absolutely no valid reason when you could just as easily not do that. It's your violin and your money to burn, I suppose, but any community of violinists will rightly be horrified.
August 22, 2017, 10:20 AM · Just received a link to this in an email from Kolstein this morning:

It relates mostly to basses - but would be applicable to all wooden string instruments.

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