Humidity and Your Violin

Many violin players do not need to worry too much about their precious violin cracking. The old saying...the bigger they are, the harder they fall fits more for bass players than fiddle players, but still violinists should take some precaution in the dryer winter months, seasonal changes and travel.  On a bass or a cello, these instruments change (shrink in dryness or expand in humidity), at the same ratio percentage as a violin.  The only problem for our bigger "brothers" is that while we may all only have to worry about 2% change (in size), this very same 2% on a bass can me 1/4" difference!  This is precisely why there are more crack issues on basses and cellos, and why these very same players worry more about it.

Still though, violins crack!  Here are some thoughts and precautions to take to minimize the risk.  First, keep in mind that during the cold winter months with the humidity at the lowest levels, players may notice a few of its telltale signs:

  • your strings are lower, or maybe even buzzing on the fingerboard.  They may tend to buzz easier when you are playing hard into the violin, whereas before, they didn't do this
  • the instrument might start sounding edgy (too bright, maybe shrill and your E or A strings, start 'whistling' even though strings might be fairly new and didn't do this before
  • the instrument is not responding or "speaking" as it used to (you remember how it sounded before!)
  • you see more rosin dust on the fiddle top while you are playing or afterwards (this is because the instrument is playing 'tighter' and not responding as it can or did before.  The strings are more resistant to vibrating freely, ie, the bow cannot pull or vibrate that string as easily and leaves more dust than before because of the resistance with the string
  • sometimes one can actually see the f-holes twist a little.  Meaning, the treble side f-hole can torque upwards and at the same time, the bass bar side, can twist a little .  If you see this, take it into a good violin shop and have it checked out (just don't buy any strings there!)  It's good to have a sense of humor!!

With extreme dryness and the fact that every violin is different, there are some things you can do to guard against cracking and also just to make it sound much better.  Even if you feel that your violin has easily 'weathered' the dry months in the past, you can never be sure that it will be safe this time around. 

What you can do:

  • get a Dampit or two to put in the f-holes.  Buying two will make it easier to humidify the inside of the violin (remember the inside is not varnished and easily absorbs the moisture) and you will not be pressed to over saturate with just a single one.  You can take these out when you are playing, but they really help when they sit inside the violin with the case closed.  Just a little added humidity should be enough to keep the fiddle from freaking! Don't over do it as there is no need for this and you don't want to create extreme dryness to extreme humidity back to dryness.  Less is more for violins!  (Only buy the green colored "Dampit" brand).  They're cheap enough and just more reliable.
  • In the colder dry months, often different strings can make a difference too.  If you are using a gold or steel e, try the aluminum (warmer) gauge.  If you are using heavier gauge, maybe try a medium gauge.  Have you tried the Evah Pirazzi violin strings yet?  These have the synthetic core and seem a little more accommodating in this way.
  • with a good luthier, you can find that happy medium that with the proper sound post adjustment, he can find a good bridge height and sound post fitting that should work all year round.  This is especially true if you have a new violin or 'new' to you or to the area.  For example, you bought the violin on the west coast and brought it home across country to a new and different climate.
  • with a good luthier, you can find that happy medium that with the proper sound post adjustment, he can find a good bridge height and sound post fitting that should work all year round.  This is especially true if you have a new violin or 'new' to you or to the area.  For example, you bought the violin on the west coast and brought it home across country to a new and different climate.
  • Don't leave your violin open outside of the case.  During breaks in rehearsals or concerts, take off the shoulder rest, and put it away.  Don't leave it out all night on your desk or whatever, you're just asking for trouble.
 

Here's helpful information for customers unsure about which violin strings would best suit their needs and more related links: