Monday, December 21, 2015

Want to Ruin or Lose an Instrument? Leave It In The Car!

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

Recently, an instrument valued at $1,000,000 (yes, that's one million US dollars!) was stolen. Well, actually, I'm not sure you could say the instrument was stolen. The car that it was in was stolen. The instrument just happened to be a sweet bonus for the car thieves.
Dude, Where's My Car? And my violin????
Think it's reasonable to leave a $1,000,000 cello in the car while you go in to a store, restaurant, or a friend's house? Hmmmmm. If you had $1,000,000 in  cash- $20s, $50s, and $100s, would you leave it in the car? Of course not! So, why would anyone leave an instrument valued at that amount?

The answer is DON'T! Here at Fein Violins we often say instruments are like children. Never leave them unattended in your vehicle. NEVER!

And, the cash is cash. In the very unlikely event the cash was insured, you wouldn't care how the money was replaced. But your precious, invaluable instrument that you've developed your sound and technique around? Not just any replacement will do. Some people mourn their lost instruments for the rest of their lives. Don't be one of them.

In Summer, instruments get too hot. In Winter they get too cold. In between times? They get stolen out of your car or with your car. Don't believe it? See our photos below. Pictures never lie.

The varnish on your violin, viola, or cello, is usually made from gums and resins that have a melting temperature of around 120F to 175F. Same with the glue that is holding your instrument together. The wood your instrument is made out of swells and shrinks with the temperature. A lot!

Violin with Case Imprints Due to Heat Damage

Think your car never gets that warm? Think again. On an average summer day in the US, even parked in the shade, your car is going to heat up to over 120F in a FEW minutes. A FEW minutes. Not in an hour, not in the sun, not all day. JUST A FEW MINUTES! And that precious instrument you left in the car is going to heat up too. The varnish is going to melt, the glue is going to let loose, and the wood might crack.

Melted Varnish on the Back of a Violin

The opposite actions will happen in the winter. You've warmed your car all nice and cozy before you drive to rehearsal or a lesson. You take your instrument out of your warm house, a few steps out into the cold, and then into your warm car. All those temperature changes are affecting your instrument. The wood is expanding and contracting with each change. But wait, you need to run into the store or a cafe and you'll be "right back", so you leave your instrument in the car or pop it into the trunk. OK. Your trunk wasn't heated at all on your drive, so now you've popped your instrument directly into the big chill. If it doesn't crack, consider yourself lucky. So.... you leave it in the car. Maybe cover it with a blanket. It slowly cools down with the interior of the car. The pegs let loose, the wood begins to shrink. Again, consider yourself lucky if it doesn't crack.

Cello cracked in a cold car
It's a beautiful day or a beautiful evening. You stop in to see a friend or meet them at a bar or restaurant. Who wants to schlep an instrument in? So.... into the trunk or the back seat your precious instrument that you love goes. According the the FBI, a motor vehicle is stolen every 44 seconds somewhere in the United States. Not even a minute goes by before a car is stolen. That doesn't even count the number of vehicles that are broken into and not stolen. Do thieves target your car because there's an instrument inside? Probably not. A radio, spare tire, laptop, or smart phone would probably be a more marketable commodity for your average car thief. But hey, do you think they care that there's an instrument too. Of course they do. An extra $20 to feed their habit? BONUS! Except your instrument is worth far more than $20. But they don't know that until the story is written about in all the papers, news outlets, and social media. Now those thieves have a free appraisal to go with the instrument they just stole. "Thank you very much" they say to you, the person who didn't want to lug their instrument in.

Is it worth the effort to bring your instrument in with you? YES IT IS!

Are you a string musician or interested in becoming one? Take a look a our Fine Violins, Violas, and Cellos!


  1. I think a Carbon Composite violin would be your best option.

  2. What if we leave the violin in the car in the case in a sleeping bag for a couple of hours? I realize that won't help protect the violin from getting stolen, but would that help prevent it from getting damage from the cold? Temperature outside would be around 30 degrees.

    1. Sleeping bags, and blankets, work by retaining or reflecting the heat generated by your body. Since your violin (or viola or cello) doesn't self generate any heat, that wouldn't be a very effective way of keeping your instrument warm. Better than nothing, but I wouldn't rely upon it for much longer than 5 minutes.