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Violins and wintertime

Tips for transporting and acclimatizing your instrument

Winter is an unpredictable time of year, at least in central Europe: we may have a green Christmas and an even more temperate January but sudden frost in November or deep piles of snow well into March – all of this has happened in the past several years. And on top of the everyday changes in the weather, people who play stringed instruments also have to keep other issues in mind, such as perhaps a freezing-cold church where the door is left open to let some fresh air in (cold humid air, that is) just before the Advent concert starts …
Many of you are familiar with these situations and know how demanding it can be to handle your violins / violas / cellos / etc. properly. And it’s more than just the irritating need to re-tune, since pegs can develop complicated routines of their own as they become acclimatized. Instead, the real concern here is how to protect your instrument most effectively from temperature-related damage. That’s why we have listed a few helpful pointers about how to get through the cold season safely.

1. A well-insulated violin or cello case

If you have to walk longer distances or change trains often while transporting your instrument, you should make sure that your case is properly insulated. As a rule, higher-end cases protect their contents from external temperatures better than cheaper ones. Unfortunately, catalogues do not usually provide this kind of information, so the best thing would be to consult with an experienced musician or talk to someone at a good music store. Protective covers can be recommended as well, even if they do not insulate the instrument as well as a solidly-made case.

2. Do not use special sources of heat

Some musicians swear by putting pocket warmers or little heatable cherry-pit pillows in their instrument cases to keep them “cozy,“ but we cannot recommend this approach. Wood is very sensitive to heat, and if your violin is exposed to warmth on one side and cold on the other, it can create a dangerous tension that causes cracks or loosens glue at seams.

3. The best tip: planning!

The greater the temperature differences and shorter the amount of time you have to adjust, the more problematic it is for your instrument. So it’s always better to give your violin a longer period of time to adjust to the new ambient temperature. The best way to proceed here is to place the closed instrument case in the room where you will be playing and leave it untouched for a half-hour before you get it out. In the winter, whenever possible please plan in enough time so that your violin can have the opportunity it needs to warm up. And avoid spending too much time outdoors when it is very cold so that your case doesn’t catch a chill. That’s why it’s also a bad idea to leave your violin in a parked car. As you plan your musical schedule, think about ways to keep your instrument in temperatures that are consistent as possible. Another factor that can have almost as much of an impact as heat and cold fluctuations is differences in humidity, which is why the standard equipment for your case should include a humidity regulator (a Dampit) as well as a thermometer; make sure you have both.

4. Do a safety check if the pegs are loose

Nearly anyone who plays a string instrument has had this experience at least once: you open your case and find out that a peg or two has loosened. But if all of a sudden all of your strings are flopping loose over the fingerboard, definitely take a look at the inside of your instrument before you re-tune. If the soundpost is vertical as it should be, then everything is fine, but if not, do not tune yet: without the support of the sound post, the pressure of the strings can damage the top. So if the sound post falls, the first thing you have to do is have it repositioned properly.


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