Winter Weather Woes

    During the Winter months, instruments are subjected to extremes in dryness and coldness. Understanding how your instrument is affected by these two factors can help you look out for any signs of damage in need of repair. 

     Since stringed instruments are made of wood, they shrink and swell with fluctuations in humidity and temperature. Although your instrument and bow will be affected in a variety of ways, the following are the most common Winter weather ailments: 

     In dry weather, pegs tend to shrink and their contacts in the peg box become loose and eventually slip. One solution is to use a friction-enhancing agent such as peg compound (peg dope) or peg drops (I prefer drops as you don’t need to remove the peg from the instrument to apply the product). The other solution is old-fashioned elbow grease: As you turn the peg, use mild to moderate pressure to “screw in” the peg into the pegbox. Take care not to use too much pressure, otherwise the pegbox can crack. Please be careful not to over-tune strings as they break more easily in cold weather. If you are not experienced with tuning with pegs, I recommend taking it to a violin shop or a teacher for re-tuning. 

     Another way low humidity affects instruments is cracking and seam opening. Many wood glues need moisture in the air to work. If left without moisture for too long, the glue tends to become brittle and loses its ability to bind. You’ll know you have a seam opening if you experience a huge drop in volume (which is most noticeable in the lower two strings). To prevent this, simply use a hygrometer (an instrument which reads humidity levels) and install a humidifier (such as a Dampit). Ideally, you are looking for a humidity level in the case of about 50-60%. If you end up having a seam opening or crack, it should be re-glued immediately. Simply take it to a reputable violin shop, and have a professional luthier repair it. 

     Don’t forget about your bow! Bow hair tends to become shorter in cold weather, and when you transfer your bow to a warm stage under hot stage lights where the stick expands, it can be overly tight and possibly break under the excessive tension. Monitor your bow’s tightness constantly, and make sure to always loosen it when you are not playing.