School is out and the summer heat is here! Summer weather can have a number of negative effects on stringed instruments, so knowledge of how to properly care for your instrument is needed to ensure its longevity.
Stringed instruments are precious cargo! High temperatures can do a number on your instrument, so be sure you are not exposing your instrument to temperature extremes. Instruments and varnish are subject to damage from heat. Your instrument is held together with animal hide glue and high temperatures can cause the glue to let loose causing the instrument to come apart. Never leave the instrument in the car; not even for 5 minutes. Besides the chance of the instrument being stolen, summer heat inside cars can reach 120 degrees. Such temperatures can cause irreversible damage to the instrument, such as top and back cracks, melted varnish, and warped ribs and tops. Extreme heat also affects your bow. The heat can cause a bow to bend or twist, and rapid temperature changes (from a cold violin studio to a hot car, for example) can make your bow snap in half. If you do need to transfer your instrument between differing climates, be sure to leave your instrument in the case to allow it time to acclimate slowly. Sudden, dramatic temperature changes can cause your instrument to crack.
The humidity in the air is also an important aspect of your instrument’s well-being. Rapid fluctuation and high humidity can cause the wood of your instrument to contract and expand. Heat and moisture were used by the instrument maker to bend the ribs on your instrument, but excessive moisture can end up permanently warping the top and ribs. If you live in a dry climate, you should consider buying a humidifier. Maintaining humidity levels at 40% or 50% can help prevent cracks from forming or the seams of your instrument from coming apart. Excessively low humidity levels can also cause bow hair to shrink and in turn damage the stick. Purchasing a humidifier for the summer months will benefit your instrument and bow for many years to come. The best way to protect your instrument regardless of humidity is to keep your instrument in its case and at a constant temperature/humidity.
Be sure your instrument is well protected and stored in a safe location. Never set your instrument down on the floor, a chair, or anywhere someone might sit or walk. School is out for the summer so younger children are at home and if the instrument isn’t in its case then it’s in danger! Accidents happen and it’s up to you to prevent them. A nice alternative is a violin wall hanger or cello/bass stand. Although these hangers and stands do not protect the instrument against climate changes, they allow for easy access while providing a safety barrier and secure location for your instrument. Always set the instrument string-side up in a well-protected area as the bridge is incredibly sensitive to impact.
Play it safe this summer! Keep your instrument fit as a fiddle with these easy tips so you can enjoy your instrument for years to come.
Article by Kaitlin Higby