Cold Snap Survival Guide: Caring For Your Instrument in Winter
With the change in the seasons (summer to autumn and through to winter), the temperature and humidity start to fluctuate and affect our instruments. Strings may no longer stay in tune and your instrument may sound a little different. As our instruments are made up of many different types of wood that expand and contract at different rates, the cooler months can affect our instrument in many ways. Here are a few simple tips to help your instrument survive winter.
The pegs start to slip more in the cooler months as the pegs shrink in the dry weather. This, in turn, causes our strings to loosen. Sometimes the strings become so loose that the bridge collapses due to the lack of pressure.
It is important to keep an eye on our string tension as our tuning can be a problem and one loose peg can escalate into something much more serious! Pegs can also slip if the string is not wound correctly onto the peg.
When restringing, it is important to maintain the tension on the string and cross the string once over itself and wind towards the edge of the peg box. If you are unsure about restringing the instrument yourself, we will gladly restring any instrument with strings purchased from Simply for Strings for free. A small amount of peg paste can also assist in stabilising the lubrication of the pegs. We keep Hills Peg Paste in stock all year round to assist with peg issues and it is important to apply a minimal amount when restringing an instrument to keep it in tip-top shape!
The drop in humidity is one of the most common causes of string instrument problems in the cooler months. If you have come into the store during autumn or winter you will notice that we keep the store at a nice ‘humid’ level (approx. 40-60%) to ensure that our instruments remain healthy.
A drop in humidity can cause the seams in the instrument to come apart and cracks to form or a buzzing sound to be present. Whilst keeping your instrument out of the heat of a car is common knowledge in Queensland, most people don’t understand that just as much care is needed during the cooler months. A simple and inexpensive humidifier is all that is required to save your instrument from these harsh conditions. We stock a range of instrument humidifiers all for under $20!
These are soaked in water and then dried and inserted into the f-hole of the instrument. The difference to the sound after use is incredible and yes, you can leave a humidifier in the instrument when performing. Some of our cases and metronomes even have hygrometers that can measure the humidity for you to monitor!
It is important to keep an eye on the tension of the strings to avoid your bridge collapsing. The bridge is not glued into place. When your bridge collapses it is important to get it refitted by an experienced repairer. The amount of combined force that is placed on the bridge by the strings is 89 Newtons (equivalent to about 9 kg). When the bridge collapses, it is important to loosen the strings of your instrument completely so that these 89 Newtons are no longer exerted on the instrument without a bridge present! This will stop any cracks forming. The bridge collapsing will usually precede the soundpost falling over inside the instrument. This can only be rectified by a very experienced repairer. It is amazing to think that something as simple as checking the tension on your strings can prevent all of these problems!
So, instead of DR ABC, our String Instrument First Aid advice is Inspect and Humidify. Inspect your instrument every time you play (or if you are not a regular player, take the time to inspect it every week). Look for loose strings and open seams or cracks. Humidify your instrument when the humidity drops. Monitor the humidity and keep your instrument in stable conditions. Remember, the cold weather brings on the chills for your instrument as well a few simple steps can prevent an expensive repair job!