Why String Instruments Are Sensitive To Weather
It is inevitable. Your wooden instrument has gone through a lot of change this winter. Wood is a hygroscopic material, meaning that it absorbs water from the air. This water is stored in the wood pores and is called free water because it can be absorbed back into the air. This means that when humidity levels drop, your instrument loses this water content because it is absorbed back into air. This is complicated even more by the fact that most violins and string instruments are made of spruce, maple, and ebony. Each of these woods responds differently as the weather changes.
How To Check Your Instrument For Damage
First, find the top of your violin (or other string instrument). The top has two "f" shaped holes and is the part that faces upward when playing. Make sure that there are no cracks. Cracks are easy to spot, but they can be overlooked - especially when you do not know how to look for them. When you are done with that, turn your violin over to inspect the back. If you see a crack, immediately call us and check your instrument into our shop for repair.
Next, you will need to find the ribbing of the violin. The top and bottom of the violin are joined together by this thin piece of wood which most would call the "side" of the violin. Look at where the top and bottom of the violin would be glued to the rib. Make sure that neither top nor bottom are coming loose. If there is an opening, you have an open seam. Open seams are a common problem and nothing to worry about. Because of the changes that your instrument goes through during the winter, there is an extra risk for cracks (which are a very serious problem as mentioned above). In an effort to prevent cracks, Violin makers use weaker glues on the ribs to ensure that the top and bottom pull away from the rib as the violin changes. This ensures that the violin doesn't crack. Bring your instrument to the repair shop when possible.
Slipping pegs is the most common issue that violins have in the winter. If you are unfamiliar with the anatomy of a violin, the pegs are small pieces of wood with knobs that hold the strings next to that ornately carved scroll at the end of the neck. You have probably noticed that you have black pegs (this is not the case on all violins, but it is the most common). That is not paint. It is the natural color of Ebony. Ebony is a bit more resistant to the dry weather than the typical woods used for the peg box. Because of this, the openings for the pegs get wider as the wood contracts and the pegs slip. If you want to ensure that you won't break a string, bring the instrument into our shop where we can tune it for you. If you know how to tune your instrument, loosen the string, apply and hold pressure on the peg going into the peg box, and tune the string.
One Last Thing!
Once you have inspected for these other problems, pick up your instrument and start playing it. Does it sound okay? If this is the case, you can rest assured that your instrument made it through the winter weather without any issues! Do you hear a buzzing sound? Does one or more of your strings seem to be touching the fingerboard? Perhaps the bridge has changed in size and needs adjustment. Does the instrument sound choked and unresponsive? This could be due to you leaving it in the car all day and not taking it out (not advisable), in which case the instrument is just cold and needs to acclimate to the room. However, if this is an ongoing problem, you might have sound post issues. Both of these issues can be assessed and addressed by our local repairmen.
These are the most common issues that can occur with your instrument during the winter. If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to contact us!