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Protect Your Instrument in Cold Winter Weather

Winter is fast approaching, and changes in temperature along with it. As temperatures drop, it is important to take the proper precautions to ensure that your instruments survive the holiday season. Wood absorbs moisture from the atmosphere, causing it to expand and contract. As your instrument moves between the comfortably warm interior of your home to the cold weather, the moisture level changes which can produce cracks in the wood. If you notice buzzing or rattling sounds coming from your instrument, this may indicate a crack has formed or a seam has opened.

While most instruments easily survive through the winter with the help of a sturdy case, harsh weather conditions and extreme temperatures can put stress on the wood. Here are a few recommendations to help you maintain the quality of your instrument and prevent damage in spite of the changing seasons.

Man walking away down a path in winter with a soft-case on his back

What You Need

Wooden stringed instruments thrive in an environment with roughly 40-60 percent humidity. To check the relative humidity of your home or studio, consider purchasing a stringed instrument hygrometer. An accurate digital hygrometer can cost between $30 and $45. You can also purchase a case with a built-in hygrometer to ensure it’s always being kept at the correct humidity level.

If you intend on traveling with an instrument or storing it in a space that falls below the recommended humidity level, be sure to keep it in a water resistant case to reduce the amount of moisture it comes in contact with.

Though instrument humidifiers are also an option, they are only useful if operated consistently and correctly. Additionally, there is the risk of over-humidifying an instrument which can have as many adverse effects as under-humidifying. If you choose to use a case humidifier, a case hygrometer is a necessity.

Time is Important

Knowing how and how long to let an instrument warm up is a crucial part of instrument care. When you bring your instrument from one climate to another, be sure to leave time for it to warm up before using it. It is recommended to let the instrument gradually acclimate to the new climate inside the case. Opening the case too quickly can let condensation build up on your instrument which may warp or discolor the wood and rust the strings. Plan to arrive early to give your instrument plenty of time to adapt to room temperature. Keeping your instrument in a silk bag or insulated cover can also help retain heat within the case, allowing your instrument to warm up faster.

These simple tips are designed to help you care for you instrument this winter. Protecting your instrument against cold weather and temperature changes is crucial to preserving the sound quality and structural integrity of your violin, viola, or cello. With the help of a hygrometer, you can monitor and adjust humidity levels when storing your instrument or transporting it between locations. A humidifier, water resistant case, or protective cover can also help retain warmth when traveling with your instrument to ensure that your instrument stays in top shape during the holiday season.

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