Advice for Snowbird

January 1, 2018, 3:37 PM · So the holidays are over and my wife and I are heading to our Florida home for the winter. With this arctic weather in the northeast, we can't leave too soon. My #1 fiddle is headed south with me, but #2 fiddle is staying home for the winter.

We leave the house thermostats set at 55 degrees F. with no humidification possible when we are not here. The question is do I leave #2 fiddle in the house (where the air is heated), or put it in the basement which isn't heated but stays in the range of 50 to 60 degrees from being below grade, and generally seems to be more humid from contact with the soil. Any thoughts on this?

Replies (11)

January 1, 2018, 4:52 PM · If those are your two choices, I'd probably leave it in the basement...but honestly I would go for option "C" which is take both violins with you. Or option "D" which is take your second violin over to the home of someone you trust who is staying in town for the winter.
January 1, 2018, 5:13 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen, but of the two options, I would choose keeping it in the house where there's heat. The humidity should be okay as long as you're not leaving it near a heat source. Hopefully you have a good case.
January 1, 2018, 5:31 PM · My reasoning on choosing the basement is that there isn't a huge difference between 50 and 55 degrees--both are bad--but some humidity is better than none. But I wouldn't do either one.
January 1, 2018, 7:59 PM · Just bring both.
January 1, 2018, 8:29 PM · Violins were invented, stored, played and spent their lives in places without central heating or humidity control. If you are certain your basement remains above 50° or so I would put it's case, wrapped in plastic down there and not worry about it.

The only reason for the plastic, in my opinion, would be to avoid mold/mildew and "bugs." If your basement does not have that problem, just leave it down there in the case.

Edited: January 2, 2018, 4:27 AM · "Violins were invented, stored, played and spent their lives in places without central heating or humidity control."

So were lots of things, and they have suffered from it, violins included. That's why most museums are carefully climate-controlled.

Of the two options, I would choose the basement, as long as there have never been any water, flooding or other problems, because the slightly lower temperature alone will result in slightly higher humidity.

You haven't specified where in the northeast the house is located, so I'll take Boston as an example: Currently there, it is 5 degrees F, with an outdoor relative humidity of 54%. That 54% sounds OK for a violin, right? But the humidity at higher indoor temperatures will be vastly lower, around 9% at 50 degrees. At 70 degrees, it would be closer to 4%. That's significantly lower than the average humidity in either the Mojave Desert, or Death Valley!

This unusual cold spell in much of the US will have serious consequences for many instrument owners. I was in the instrument repair business for many years, and the increase in repairs due to low indoor humidity accompanying low outdoor temperatures was quite predictable.

Here in Michigan, I'm currently vaporizing about two gallons of water per day to keep the relative humidity in my shop from falling below 40%. (I always keep it above 40%, and below 60%)

January 2, 2018, 4:36 AM · @Andrew Victor: Violins were invented in northern Italy and for most of their history, most of them have been kept in Western Europe.

In Western Europe we have a very different climate to most of the US except for the west coast. Thanks to the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream, we have consistently mild winters, cool summers, and humidity all year round. By contrast, North America has more extreme seasonal temperatures and less humid air (because winds blow west to east, and most of your rain drops on the Rocky Mountains.... unless you're in one of those swamp states in the bottom-right corner of the continent)

So violins might survive reasonably well in a box in an attic Venice or London or Paris or even Berlin or Barcelona, but it doesn't follow they will cope with that level of treatment in most of the USA!

January 2, 2018, 7:12 AM · Thanks for all of the responses - I'll leave the violin in the basement, which my nose/sinuses tell me is a more friendly environment than the heated house in winter. I suppose that my ultimate option is to liquidate fiddle #1 and #2, upgrading to fiddle #3 and keep that one with me at all times!

January 3, 2018, 1:58 AM · Have to agree with the Burgess on this one. Violins weren't invented to keep well in a particular environment; they were invented to produce a particular sound. And just like human beings once lived in huts and lived 30 years on average, but now live in houses with medical care and better nutrition, violins will last longer and be preserved better if the harsh conditions they're exposed to are limited.

Still, I'm assuming that they fact that you're considering leaving a violin unattended for that long means it's not very good/valuable anyways. I'm talking from the perspective of someone with an instrument that's quite valuable, so I would never considering leaving it in a damp basement.

Edited: January 3, 2018, 4:21 AM · Not a lot of experience with violins and dry weather, but I have had for years an expensive cigar collection.
What you want is that the RH of the violin wood (40%-60%) doesn't evaporate to the drier atmosphere (as you don't want the tobacco to lose its 65-70%). Just wrap the violin in a sealed plastic bag instead of the silk pijamas before putting it in the case. The little air inside the bag will get the RH of the wood fast, and if properly sealed, it will stay that way.
January 3, 2018, 8:54 AM · Do you have a luthier who normally services your violins? If so, why not ask to leave the violin with them in their likely climate controlled space for the winter? Offer to pay for the accommodation, of course.

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