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How to Protect Your String Instrument in Cold Weather
String instruments are delicate and sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. Cold weather, in particular, can pose significant risks to the structural integrity and tonal quality of your instrument.
Some issues that violins, violas, cellos and double basses experience in cold weather are: Strings breaking or going out of tune, pegs popping out, seams opening up, necks dropping or becoming unglued and cracks forming on the body or ribs of the instrument.
To ensure the longevity and optimal performance of your prized string instrument, it is essential to take proactive measures to protect it during cold weather conditions. In this blog post, we will explore 5 valuable tips to help you safeguard your string instrument from potential damage during Sydney's winter months.
1. Use a Humidity Regulator to Maintain Ideal Humidity Levels for Your String Instrument
In many climates around the world, cold weather often brings dry air, which can lead to a decrease in humidity levels. This can result in the drying out and shrinking of the wooden components of your string instrument, leading to cracks, warping, or even open seams.
In Sydney however, this is not the case, and according to the Bureau of Meteorology the mean relative humidity levels in January (middle of summer) are pretty well the same as the mean relative humidity levels in July (middle of winter) at 71%. So why then do we recommend a device to help maintain adequate humidity levels for your instrument?
Well, in winter we are often using air conditioners to heat our indoor environments, which in making an environment warmer, also drys out the air. This can wreak havoc on your instrument if you practice at home with the air con on and then take it outside that environment to school, a lesson or a performance where the conditions might be completely different.
To counteract this we recommend the use of a humidifier or better yet, a two-way humidity control product inside your case. Boveda two-way humidity control products are fantastic as they have a permeable membrane that releases moisture when the air is too dry, and suck in moisture when the air is too saturated. If you're new to Boveda we recommend purchasing a starter kit.
The Boveda is a great 'set and forget' option as opposed to a humidifier which was to be regularly filled with water. The only downside to the Boveda is that their satchels need to be replaced approximately every 6 months however, this is definitely better than spending time and money repairing your precious instrument!
You may also want to invest in a room humidifier to regulate the overall humidity levels in your practice or storage area. Either way, be sure to keep a hygrometer inside your case or in the room so that you can keep an eye on levels and use a humidifier or dehumidifier when necessary. The ideal humidity level for a string instrument is between 45%-55%.
2. Avoid Sudden Temperature Transitions
Extreme temperature changes can cause rapid expansion or contraction of the wood of a string instrument, leading to structural damage such as cracks or seams opening up.
Seams opening up will often produce a buzzing noise when playing, and if left untreated can affect the instruments structural integrity. Below are common spots where open seams will occur: Image credit - The Strad.
Extreme temperature changes can also cause strings to break. If your instrument is tuned in a warm environment and then the temperature drops significantly overnight, your strings will contract, making the tension and pitch higher.
If the pegs don't pop out overnight and release the tension, and you apply more tension to the strings in the morning by playing your instrument with a bow, the strings can snap.
To avoid these issues, ensure that your instrument undergoes gradual transitions between temperature extremes. For example, if you've been playing your instrument in a cold environment, allow it to gradually acclimate to a warmer indoor temperature before removing it from its case. Certain cases will allow for better thermo regulation which we'll discuss in the next point.
3. Invest in a Quality Instrument Case
Invest in a high-quality, well-insulated instrument case that offers good thermal protection. Look for cases with a solid construction, adequate padding, and insulation to provide a barrier against cold temperatures.
GEWA Air cases have a specially developed thermoplast shell which offers excellent insulation - only 0.025 W/mK thermal conductivity. This helps to regulate the temperature when going from one extreme temperature to another and is favoured by professional musicians who do a lot of travel.
It is also useful to have a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels, as this will enable you to take immediate action with a humidity regulator if the levels become too low or high. The RAAN violin case is one example of a case that comes with a built-in hygrometer.
4. Avoid Exposure to Direct Heat Sources
While it might be tempting to warm up your instrument quickly by placing it near a heater or a fireplace, this can have detrimental effects on its well-being. Direct heat sources can cause rapid drying, leading to cracks and damage to the varnish. Instead, allow your instrument to gradually warm up naturally by leaving it inside its case at room temperature for a reasonable amount of time.
For more tips on how to care for your violin, viola, cello or double bass generally, check out our YouTube video:
5. Ensure Your Instrument is Booked in for Regular Maintenance and Inspection
Schedule regular visits to a qualified luthier or string instrument technician for maintenance and inspection. These professionals can identify any existing or potential issues with your instrument and provide necessary repairs or adjustments. Regular maintenance will help ensure that your instrument is in optimal condition to withstand the challenges posed by cold weather.
If you'd like our trained workshop staff to service your instrument, please book an appointment via our online booking form.