Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Time to Get Your Instrument Ready For Summer Fun Is Now!

Off to Music Camp?

 Playing Outside: Tips to Summer-ize Your Stringed Instrument

By Diane Houser, Office Manager at Fein Violins, professional violinist & violist 

and Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins

Summer is right around the corner in the Upper Midwest, and if you have plans to play outside over the next few months, now's the time to get your instrument ready for the heat and humidity.

Playing outdoors is fun! Treat your instrument well! 

Stringed instruments are made of wood, a material that expands when it absorbs moisture, and contracts when it dries. To make matters even more complicated, there are two different types of wood used to make violins, violas, and cellos - Spruce for the top and Maple for the back and sides. These two woods expand and contract at different rates, so the best advice is to try to avoid extremes in temperature and humidity

Here's a list of things to make life easier in the broil of summer:

1. Get your bow rehaired well in advance of your time in the great outdoors, and ask for short hair! Bow hair can absorb so much moisture from the air that it can affect the balance and weight of the bow, and long bow hair makes it hard to get the bow tight enough to play.

'Magic' 3-G formula rosin for violin & viola,
and 'Magic' Ultra formula for cello during the summer months

2. Purchase a dryer, harder rosin for humid climates - these are usually the light or clear rosins. The soft, sticky rosins, which are generally dark in color, are great for low humidity and winter months. Also make sure that you have a fresh clean cloth handy to keep that rosin from building up!

3. Change your strings. Ditch the gut strings! Unless you specialize in period instruments and early music performances, use strings that won't stretch and become difficult to keep in tune. Helicore (From D'Addario) steel strings are great on both violin and viola in the summer - they break in quickly, remain stable, consistently sound good for months on end, and are easy on the fingers.

4. Do you have trouble with pegs that swell up and become impossible to turn? Visit a luthier and have them install Wittner Finetune Pegs that never slip or stick. Spend more time playing and less time tuning! These pegs are fabulous year round for pitch stability and reliability.

5. Avoid direct exposure to the sun, even if your instrument is inside the case. If you have to play outside, play in the shade! 

6. Don't store your instrument or the case near an air conditioner, and unless your home is well insulated, don't store your instrument near an outside wall.

7. Never, ever leave your instrument in the car or in the trunk! Besides the possibility of theft, on a hot sunny day the temperature in a closed car can quickly rise to 140ยบ F or more. The hide glue that holds your instrument together will melt at that temperature, as will the varnish. The varnish can streak, blister, and stick to the fuzzy lining of your case - what a mess! 

How Quickly Does Your Car Interior Rise To Over 100?

8. Strings break! Have an extra set in your case. Usually, the highest string breaks most easily. So, at the very least, have a couple of extra E strings for violin, and an extra A for violas and cellos. 

9. A spare bow won't hurt and will probably come in handy! Carbon and Carbon/Hybrid bows are excellent for playing outdoors. Remember, for the summer you'll want a bow with hair on the shorter side. Bows from Fein Violins

Flying in to play for a week at a rustic, outdoor music camp? Consider renting an instrument when you arrive - it will save you the worry. And for cellists, the expense ($$$!) of an additional plane ticket for a cello.

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