Violin storage at constant high temperatures?

Edited: August 1, 2020, 11:06 AM · Hi, I wanted to know how good a violin can resist a constant hot temperature, like 86ºF at night up to 100ºF at noon, with a humidity of 19-25%.

I've read that, as long as the temperature and humidity stays more or less constant, and considering they are not extreme, violins can resist pretty well. I'm storing a student violin in an attic, which is dark but gets pretty hot (100ºF maximum).

It looks totally fine to me since trees get direct sunlight everyday, in summer they must get way beyond 100ºF, and they are OK with that. Also, thinking about human body temperature, which is about 100ºF, it looks like violins don't get wrapped over time due to our own hands.

I also wanted to know the opposite, how good a violin can resist temperatures that go from 46ºF at night to 57ºF at noon. Humidity staying between 35-55%. It's the same attic, but in winter.

Replies (22)

July 31, 2020, 4:58 PM · Please don’t store a violin in an attic.
Edited: July 31, 2020, 5:04 PM · Trees are not glued together.

Both my violin and viola had open seams after being in the temperature range you are talking about for just one day.

July 31, 2020, 5:12 PM · Varnish can melt and turn into something less Cremonese.
July 31, 2020, 6:30 PM · the glue will melt
July 31, 2020, 7:27 PM · That’s dangerously low humidity too. Why do you feel a need to store it that way? Isn’t there some other alternative?
Edited: July 31, 2020, 7:37 PM · Paul: The answer to your question is, no violin can survive those conditions. It looks like you have been reading an unreliable source, but you came to the right place here. Do not store your violin in the attic unless you can afford to have the pieces reassembled and the instrument re-varnished when you retrieve it. Do you have a friend who can store it over the summer under better conditions? The proper relative humidity for your instrument is 40-50%, at 60-70 degrees Farenheit. We all will be relieved to hear you have chosen a better location for your violin over the summer!
July 31, 2020, 7:56 PM · Go ahead. This is job security for violin makers and repair people.

We need the work.

August 1, 2020, 1:34 AM · Those conditions are not good for a violin. Especially at such low humidity, there is a significant risk of cracking. Varnish and glue can suffer at those temperatures as well.

Maintaining a constant temperature and humidity is good for the instrument, but those constants should be at safe levels. The best humidity for an instrument is from about 40%-50.% The temperature is best from about 60 degrees-75 degrees F. Yes, a violin might withstand an atmosphere that goes a little outside the ideal conditions, but there’s more risk of damage. The wood expands and contracts as temperature and humidity change, and since there are different kinds of wood together in an instrument, they won’t move at the same rate; that’s one of the biggest causes of saddle cracks on tops.

There’s a saying: if the atmosphere isn’t healthy for a newborn baby, it isn’t healthy for your violin.

August 1, 2020, 4:58 AM · The temperature actually stays between 87-95ºF most of the time, when I mention 100ºF, that is the maximum peak my thermometer has read. The violin is inside a wood case, and the attic is small and dark as it does not get direct sunlight. I asked because there's no easy alternative.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought cracks appear under high stress situations, that is, cold, when the wood wants to expand/contract but the glue is holding tightly all together, and the wood cracks. If the temperatures are hot, the glue allows "freely" the wood to expand, as the glue will be less tight, more fluid. May be that can cause a seam, but not a crack. Am I right?

Also, notice this is a student violin, it's not an old strad that needs to be taken care of and is highly affected by anything. With all due respect, I perceive some replies as extremely tight/intolerant about violin conditions. As in, "either it's under this perfect conditions or it's going to get broken".

As an example, humans ideal ambient temp is about 70ºF, but there's nothing wrong if your room temp is 84ºF. Don't get me wrong, but I understand many will play safe and say "if it's not in this perfect range condition, it's not safe".

One user said this conditions broke the violin in one day. OK, I've had this violin stored in this attic last summer as well, whole winter, and this summer as well, and I see no cracks or seams. I simply asked this to recheck my thoughts and experience. It occurred to me as I installed a thermometer last month and had the data to put it here.

August 1, 2020, 8:23 AM · Hi Rich... yeah..... enough of the smalltalk ;) Youre right!

I am not sure what the classical schedule is, buy yes, maintaining a cool and dry environment for Your instrument, is of course paramount.

On the other hand, research, not necessarily scholar, but empiric, is good in case of the history of the violin. I mean, spiritually it is good to know when it was constructed, what secrets there are, what are the parameters, and of course the era, and the history, of the violin.

Sometimes the spiritual aspects can also influence what the atmosphere is...

best, Krisztian

Edited: August 1, 2020, 9:41 AM · There can be no single answer to this question, as the effects depend strongly on how the wood was aged, the conditions during assembly, type of glue used, and type of varnish.

Standard hide glue will not "melt" at 100F and low humidity. It might soften at high humidity, but if the humidity is low it will hold until it decomposes at far higher temperature. Varnish depends.

The main issue is differential expansion of the wood parts with humidity changes, and an above-ambient hot place is almost always low humidity. The violin ribs and the top and back plates do not have the grain aligned in the same direction, which means that at low humidity the top and back shrink crossgrain while the ribs remain relatively constant. If this is severe enough, something has to let go... either a glue joint, or a crack.

So it depends. I'd rather have a violin in a 100F attic than left in a trunk of a car on a summer day where it can get to 140F. I have seen and repaired that kind of damage.

Edited: August 1, 2020, 10:40 AM · Paul,
I would not keep a cased violin in an attic.
However, it is a heat transfer problem:

( https://courses.physics.illinois.edu/phys101/fa2013/handouts/handout29.pdf ).

If you can insulate the outside of the case sufficiently, you can change the temperature range the instrument is exposed to inside the case because the diurnal cycle (day/night temperature change) will have a cooling period (almost) every 24 hours. However, this depends on where in the world this attic is. Heat conduction, convection and radiation must all be considered. For example if the interior of the attic ceiling is not insulated (and they rarely are in older buildings) radiation heat transfer to the case might be a major heating source, in which case the measured air temperature in the attic might be misleading. If the case is shielded from line-of-sight exposure to the ceiling this source would be effectively eliminated. Even so, wrapping the insulation-wrapped case with an aluminiumized "space blanket" would put the "icing on the cake." The violin within might be a lot better served than many of the instruments Luigi Tarisio trekked from Italy to London and Paris.

Edited: August 1, 2020, 11:11 AM · Andrew, Don, now those are the kind of answers I was expecting. Thank you for your time.

Andrew, are you a physics professor or something?
A pdf explaining heat transfer is the very least thing I expected from this forum, which users are normally familiar with arts, history, languages... not physics or maths.

The violin is inside a wood violin case, your typical oblong "big" case, with a small blanket on it, and also all the case wrapped with a giant plastic bag, stored in a small wood wardrobe, although the wardrobe is kind of open, it's not behind a door, that's what I mean. I thought it was fine since there were constant parameters in the attic, but after seeing a peak of 100ºF I asked myself these questions. As I said, it's been more than a year stored like this, and right now I see no problems, it plays fine.

By the way, I just read that hide glue starts to melt at 140ºF, although humidity might change that a bit. BTW, the humidity lowest end is 19% actually, but I just felt like typing 15-25%. I don't think those 4% matter at all, that's why I put a "good looking" range.

Edited: August 1, 2020, 11:30 AM · 140F is the standard temperature of water-saturated hide glue in a glue pot. It "melts" at lower or higher temperature, depending on the gram strength of the glue and the water ratio.

Dried hide glue, which is a protein, doesn't melt. Somewhere close to 300F it will decompose. I have seen the remains of a violin that someone put in an oven to "melt" the glue and take it apart. It was charred.

August 1, 2020, 12:53 PM · One of "my" violin makers told me that one of the cellos he made had to be glued back together after the purchaser moved from the California high desert where it was made to Seattle where the humidity unglued it.

I have had 3 of the violin/viola instruments he made there in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years with no problems - but they are always encased when not being played - and besides this is not a wet area like Washington state.

Never a professor, but did earn my living as a physicist for 50 years. But I'm done with that!!! So if you want the calculations done you will have to do them. Try using spreadsheet software such as EXCEL.

August 1, 2020, 1:54 PM · Fahrenheit? Bruh.
August 1, 2020, 2:53 PM · If the main issue is fluctuations in relative humidity rather than in temperature, then the obvious solution is to keep the moisture content of the wood constant, by packing the violin in a sealed polyethylene bag, maybe with a layer of paper or cotton to prevent any additives in the plastic from interacting with the varnish.

Pack the violin when it's acclimatized at a proper relative humidity (50%). No need to worry about condensation in the bag because the wood will keep the relative humidity inside the bag close to the acclimatization level within a wide range of temperatures (freezing to 50 °C/120 °F).

Make sure that it does not end up looking like a trash bag. :)

August 1, 2020, 3:20 PM · Hmmm.

I, of course would listen to the violin makers or restorers such as Don.

But it is a student violin. And regardless of what is ideal, many, many violins have survived in exactly these kinds of conditions. So what if the glue comes loose. It can be fixed as my student violin of years ago was many times.

And even when one listens to the experts (the violin makers and repairers), one gets different answers. The humidity that some decry above, would not even faze at all, the maker of one of my violins. Not at all.

August 1, 2020, 10:14 PM · Humidity is a big problem for instruments, even more so than heat. But it’s important to keen in mind that humidity is relative to temperature when measured in a room.

In the winter, you turn on the heat to take the chill off a room. The heater warms the air and the humidity drops. That’s how a huge number of saddle cracks happen. I’ve seen cello tops crack while just sitting on the racks in a showroom because of this.

Here’s a heat damage story:
A couple weeks ago the shop where I work for received a shipment of 40 white cellos. The heat had spiked during the time they were in transit and while they were sitting in customs. When the boxes were opened, 10 of them were falling apart—seams open, corners coming apart, blocks coming off, bassbars falling off, necks coming off the buttons. When I looked at them, I could see that the glue had melted enough to make things open up, then strings had formed as they cooled off. As a result, nothing would fit back together without being washed; the melted glue had solidified again with everything open. There were also a few top cracks.

Here’s a humidity story:
We had a violin from CO in the shop on consignment. It was problematic because its projection would change with the humidity. As the top absorbed moisture from the air the arching would change, raising or lowering the neck.

Anyone with experience working in a violin shop will be familiar with the effects of storing a violin in an attic.

Edited: August 3, 2020, 4:47 AM · What a coincidence, I've been asked to write a paper for a scientific journal on what happens inside cases from a thermo-hygrometric standpoint when exposed to cold or direct solar radiation.

I've been doing experiments on this subject for close to two decades now, but just Saturday I did another sunlight exposure test, involving a carbon fiber case and a wood laminate case of similar mass, dimensions, shape, and exterior color (black), in high ambient temperature (about 95°F).

I won't go into details now, except to state that every time I've done this test, depending on the initial relative humidity inside the case, the RH can even double during the first 20 minutes of exposure. You could easily wait for a tour bus 20 minutes under those conditions and that's what happens inside your case.

Saturday's test saw inside the carbon fiber case the relative humidity jumped from 52% to 75% in 15 mintues; the wood laminate case made it up to 70%. In previous tests, I've seen the RH jump from 40% to 80%, and I suspect that the increase could be even higher as the wireless sensors used have their own inertia.

Of course it's counterintuitive: heating up the air mass should reduce the RH value, not increase it. What happens is that two phenomena occur: one is the so-called "pressure cooker effect", where the air inside heats up, tries to expand but being trapped inside cannot, and therefore goes under pressure, increasing the dew point. (that is why I do not recommend air tight cases)

The second is that as the air heats up it becomes extremely thirsty for humidity, sucking it up where it can: the lining inside the case, an eventual humidifier, and - your violin.

August 3, 2020, 8:40 AM · Dimitri... Are you actually testing pressure-sealed cases? I can see some measure of sealing for waterproofing, but any pressure would distort the case and cause leaks. And wooden cases will leak through the wood.

While I don't dispute your humidity measurements, the explanation for the rise inside the case with rising temperature seems off to me. Rather than hot air sucking up moisture, I think the better description is that the case materials... wood, linings, and even carbon fiber composite... have a significant amount of bound water, which gets driven off as temperature increases. It comes out quickly, much faster than the air inside the case can exchange it with the air outside the case.

Edited: August 3, 2020, 9:34 AM · Don, I was looking forward to your interest in this subject. In my test last Saturday I used cases which were several years old, and had been left open for the better part of a week in my study (i.e. home office) in order to be acclimatized to the initial conditions indoors.

For this reason I would discount that there was any residual humidity from the manufacture of these cases, also because I have heat-tested the same examples before; rather it is likely that they absorb humidity in the lining from the environs when left open. The conditions of HR in my study were 51% and a temperature of 77.4°F.

And yes, one of the two cases tested claims to have an air-tight seal, and in fact that one showed a far greater increase of RH during the first minutes of the test. A few years ago I performed a similar test with two identical cases, of which one was equipped with pressure-release ports, and guess what: the increase of RH was reduced by half, although there was no difference in the inside temperature change.

Don, if you contact me by email, I can send you copies of the resultant graphs.


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