Tips For Taking Care of Your Instrument

I received this email and although it was marked as spam it has good advice to prevent cracking and issues due to climate changes.

from Gary Bridgewood, Bridgewood Neitzert Ltd., violinsbn AT


Top Tips For Taking Care of Your Instrument

With the autumn comes lower temperatures, rain and changes in humidity, and with that our minds often turn to keeping the cold and damp elements out of our homes and possessions. As a musician your most prized possessions are likely to include your musical instrument(s) e.g. your violin, viola or cello.  Although you may already take good general care of your instrument, is there more you could be doing?  When you’re out and about playing in autumn and winter how much should you be worried about the atmospheric effects on your instrument and what can you do about it?  You may find yourself in a cold or draughty venue in winter or playing at an outdoor or marquee event at any time of the year – so just how robust is your instrument and what are the main risks?

Water and Humidty

Shrinking, swelling and distortion of shape are all things that can ordinarily happen to wood. In short the more humidity in the air the more wood will expand, and the less humidity the more it will contract. Water, humidity and extreme temperature can also have a detrimental effect on the glue used in the joints of a stringed instrument like a cello or violin.  If your instrument has had a lot of repairs e.g. to cracks this could make it a little more susceptible to the effects of changes humidity and temperature.

Dry Wood, Varnish and Age

It is likely that your instrument was made from sufficiently dry and aged wood in the first place, and if it is an older instrument it is likely to have dried out even more over time.

One of the main ways that any wooden instrument could take in moisture is via the pores and the grain in the wood. Your instrument’s varnish effectively seals these and therefore creates a barrier to moisture, as well as protecting against other wear and tear, UV damage, and it also helps to create some visually appealing colours and finishes.

Varnish however is a coating that is itself subject to atmospheric effects and wear and tear over time as it is worn off and dries out.  It can peel and crack and expose the wood underneath to potential harm. A specialist stringed instrument repairer / restorer can make sure that your instrument’s varnish coating is fulfilling its protective role as well as making your instrument look its best.

The Size of The Instrument

In general it is larger instruments such as cellos or basses that tend to be most susceptible to negative atmospheric effects because they are essentially made of much larger pieces of wood.

Differences in Wood

Different pieces of wood however have different anomalies than can cause slight but different changes that are hard to accurately predict.  Different types of woods from different areas with different sapwood with slight differences in the grain and tension or perhaps minor defects could all add up to variations in the tone or the strength, and the resistance of the instrument to wear and tear and atmospheric influences.

Different manufacturers using different manufacturing processes and different glue may also mean that one instrument may be essentially stronger than another.  If it has been some time since your instrument was inspected by a specialist stringed instrument repairer / restorer it may also mean that it could be more vulnerable e.g. what may seem like minor issues could become major ones.

The Strings Themselves

If you have gut core strings it’s worth bearing in mind that they are more susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity.  This not only means that they are less likely to stay in tune as long as e.g. synthetic core strings, but that exposure to the cold and damp of autumn could have a detrimental effect on them. Metal core strings are more resistant to atmospheric changes, but in cold conditions they can of course go sharp, and it is possible that sudden heavy playing on an already sharp tuned string in cold cause a string break.

How To Play It Safe

To make sure that your instrument is safe from e.g. the worst effects of the elements this autumn and winter you may want to bear the following tips in mind:

  • The case is always the safest place.
    When you’re not playing it, keep it in the case. Make sure that case is also stored where it is not likely to get knocked over.  A note of caution though – be careful what you keep in your case with your instrument! Other sharp or solid objects could damage the varnish
  • Keep It Indoors With You
    Don’t leave your instrument in vehicles, cold outbuildings or venues overnight.  Keep your instrument indoors in the warm and dry with you.
  • Surrounded By ‘Constant & Moderate’
    A constant temperature and moderate humidity are best for your instrument. Some experts suggest a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity of 35% to 50% are the ideal conditions for the instrument. In reality this is not always easy to achieve, or comfortable for you.  Concentrating too much on humidity e.g. by using de-humidifiers is also not necessarily a good thing. Some players use a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels.
  • Be Careful Where You Lean It
    Leaning your instrument case against draughty window or door means that it will receive warmth on one side and cold on the other.  Be careful to not to leave your instrument near hot radiators or other strong sources of household heat.
  • Let It Acclimatise Before Playing
    When you are going to play or rehearse e.g. at a venue, leave your violin in its case in the room to acclimatise, and when you take it out of the case let is rest for a short while before you start playing.

About Us

Bridgewood & Neitzert are makers, dealers and repairers of fine modern and baroque stringed instruments. Our premises in Stoke Newington, North London has a shop, playing rooms and workshop. Customers are welcome and our clients range from beginners, students and working musicians to world-class soloists. In our workshop we undertake the whole range of repairs and restorations.  As well as violins, violas, cellos, basses and bows, we also undertake work on early and period instruments including lutes, viols and viola d’amores. All workmanship is guaranteed.

For more information visit our website, call us on 020 7249 9398, contact us online, visit our Facebook Page or drop into our shop at 146 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0JU.

Thank you,
Gary Bridgewood.





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