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Humidity and Your Musical Instrument

Humidity and Your Musical Instrument

The Impact of Humidity on Wooden Instruments

Instruments made of wood; violins, pianos, guitars, etc., react to changes in humidity thus significant swings in temperature and humidity levels play havoc with instrument health. Summer humidity makes an instrument feel sluggish but is rarely a serious risk and a simple soundpost adjustment will restore an unresponsive instrument.

Cold Weather and Instrument Health

But during colder weather, heated interior air causes the relative humidity to drop and instruments dry out, causing minor service issues such as open seams. But serious and costly damage like top cracks is also caused by dryness. I recommend humidity levels between 40% and 50% and always monitoring the humidity by double-checking with an inexpensive electronic hygrometer (humidity gauge).

Benefits of Humidification for Health

An additional benefit of humidification is your health- since installing a large humidifier in my bedroom the room is more comfortable and the number and severity of winter colds has dropped dramatically.

A Two-Part Strategy for Instrument Protection

A two-part strategy is the best way to protect your instrument: humidifying your case as well as the room where your instrument lives. Room humidifiers will keep it safe at home, but may not penetrate a case quickly enough to keep your instrument healthy. And, if your instrument travels, it will need protection when out of your home. I recommend several different case humidifiers such as Boveda (and other humidity control products) which has the advantage of never needing refilling, and the Stretto which needs to be refilled periodically. 


Humidity Control Products

Recommendations for Room Humidifiers

As for room humidifiers, after owning different models and types over the last 40 years, I only recommend large console models such as this model by Aircare. They are dependable, easy to maintain, and simple to clean after the heating season. They have significant water output, large storage capacity, and don’t need to be refilled every day; even during periods of extreme cold. It will not take long for you to be very happy to have these features.

The Nature of Humidity and Humidifiers

Humidity is constantly escaping because water vapor is a gas. It passes through the walls of your house and permeates everything in your home. A humidifier will operate nonstop in a dry room until the humidity cooked out of the environment by central heating is restored. Keeping your case closed whenever possible will allow a case humidifier to do the same, creating a humidified island of safety for your instrument.

Avoiding Ineffective Humidifiers

After many repeated accidents, I cannot recommend small cool mist or ultrasonic units that spray a fine fog. These don’t have the capacity to make a meaningful difference in the humidity, have to be constantly refilled, and they make a mess. They leak, and will ruin whatever they are spraying on.

The Convenience of Large Humidifiers

Humidifiers, like the Aircare, can be put anywhere in your house without having to worry about wood finishes, paint, floors or anything being spoiled. Bonus: spring cleaning is very simple- let them run dry, clean all the components and follow the manufacturer’s directions to clean out the tiny reservoir and put it away until next year.

Essential Supplies for Humidifiers

The only other supplies are an extra set of wicks and a bottle of bacteriostatic liquid to keep mold from growing on the wicks. We generally get through a heating season with one set of wicks. Please be aware that without bacteriostatic liquid, the humidifier will very soon give off a dreadful smell.

Conclusion: Protecting Your Instrument

These opinions are the result of observations over 50 years in the violin trade. While you must decide what works best for you and your instrument, I hope you will take some steps to avoid extreme dryness, the source of much sorrow to instruments.

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Charles J. Rufino is a violin maker in New York. Since 1974 he has been immersed in the world of the violin, as apprentice, journeyman, and today, as master craftsman creating concert instruments.

To learn more about Charles Rufino and explore his exceptional violins, visit his website at rufinoviolins.com. There, you can delve into his craftsmanship, discover his unique approach to violinmaking, and explore the world of music through his creations.

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