The weather in New England can fluctuate very rapidly. Both temperature and humidity can change on a dime. As bad as these changes can sometimes be for us, it can be even worse for stringed instruments. Violins, violas, ‘celli and basses are incredibly sensitive to humidity changes, more so than temperature. You know how the doors of your house swell in the summer and creak and crack in the winter? The same thing is happening to your instrument. Since your instrument is constantly under tension from the strings, getting too dry can lead to extreme (and expensive) damage.
Here are six tips to help you protect the integrity and quality of your stringed instrument this winter:
1: If you aren’t comfortable, neither is your instrument.
Are you prone to chapped lips and dry skin during the winter months? Your stringed instrument feels just as dry. If you are able to make yourself comfortable at home, you will be helping your instrument’s comfort as well.
The ideal relative humidity level to keep stringed instruments safe is anywhere between 40-60%. To measure humidity levels, We recommend purchasing a hygrometer. In-case digital hygrometers are cheaper and more readily available than they used to be, and a valuable tool for your instrument’s well being. Some tuners and metronomes even come with a hygrometer built in!
3: Keep your instruments away from heat sources and windows.
Many homes in Vermont use wood stoves for winter heating. While it is nice and cozy for you, the air around the stove is much dryer than the rest of your house, which can lead to cracking and open seams. If this is the only room you feel comfortable storing your instrument, try to keep it as far from the heat source as possible. The same applies to drafty windows in older homes.
4: Invest in a humidifier.
There are many different humidification options. Whole room humidifiers are great, especially if you have more than one instrument. After a lot of research and review reads, we settled on the Vornado evap3 vortex humidifier for our shops (www.vornado.com). It is reasonably priced, does a fantastic job of evenly distributing humidity and isn’t as noisy as other whole room humidifiers.
If a humidifier seems like too much for your home, the next best option is an in-case humidifier. They range in price from 10 to 30 dollars, and do a good job of keeping the environment inside of the instrument case well regulated. The Stretto brand humidifier does a great job of keeping instrument humidity regulated and can conveniently Velcro to the inside of any hard shell case.
In-instrument humidifiers, such as Dampits, are much less reliable than in-case units, and can lead to mold/mildew inside your instrument if not used properly. Our advice is to get rid of your Dampit and transition to an in-case humidification system if possible.
5: Make checking your humidifier a regular habit.
Your humidifier will work great as long as you check it regularly. During the driest months, humidifiers need to be re-soaked/filled nearly every day. Ideally, you want to keep your humidity level fairly constant (see #2). Drastic changes in humidity are what can do the most damage. If you forget about your humidifier and only check it every couple of weeks or once per month, the roller coaster of humidity levels will lead to cracking. It takes only a few minutes to check and fill, and your instrument will love you for it.
6: Notice open seams or cracks? Bring your instrument to your trusty violin shop.
It is common to find open seams on stringed instruments during the winter. The worst thing you can do is leaving it unattended. When a violin dries out, it is designed to separate at the seams to prevent top and back cracks. Seam gluing is a cheap and easy repair. The longer you wait, though, the more expensive and drastic the repairs can be. Being diligent and prompt with getting repairs done will protect the quality and longevity of your stringed instrument.
We hope this article sheds some light on proper winter instrument care. We would love to see you in our shops, but would rather it not be for pricey, preventable problems.