Humidity Control Is the Next Step in Instrument Evolution

Humidity Control Is the Next Step in Instrument Evolution

It’s strange to think of inanimate objects passing through a process of evolution, becoming better at what they do and finding their own little niche, but when it comes to musical instruments that’s exactly what happens. You only have to compare today’s piano to the old harpsichord to see how instruments progress. The twangy keyboard on which Mozart wrote his symphonies has nothing on the flexibility of the pianoforte that allows musicians to vary strength as well as pitch. The same is true of the development of the violin. According to recent research, the shape and length of the holes in the violin’s body are as much a result of the evolutionary process as a giraffe’s neck or a piano’s softness. The earliest violins date from the tenth century and were known as fitheles, a corruption of “vitula,” Latin for “heifer” from whose guts the strings were made, and the origin of “fiddle.” The holes drilled into their soundboxes were simple and round. It wasn’t until the sixteenth centuries in Cremona that things started to change. First, the Amati family, then the Stradivari and finally the Guarneri families changed the shape of the hole to the long f-shape with which we’re now all familiar. That shift didn’t happen by accident. As the hole grew in length, it also increased the degree of sound amplification until under the Guarneri in the early eighteenth century, the shape and size of the hole reached its maximum efficiency. As Cremona’s luthiers found new ways to increase the volume of their instruments’ sound so they picked up more buyers and the violin-makers who were...
Piano Maintenance: Is it really that Difficult?

Piano Maintenance: Is it really that Difficult?

You Can’t Pack A Piano, But You Can Protect It When it comes to looking after their instruments, owners of guitars, violins, cellos and other instruments made of wood have it relatively easy. Sure, when they carry their instruments around, they run the risk of exposing them to different levels of heat and humidity. Travel from New York to a concert in Florida, for example, and your guitar won’t thank you for it. But they’re rarely exposed for long and when they’re not being played it’s relatively easy to store the instruments in a place with stable humidity and to take appropriate measures to keep the humidity levels around the instrument even. Piano owners have it harder. Their instruments don’t move and they can’t be carefully packed away inside a case. They stay in the same place day after day, even as the seasons change and the humidity levels rise and fall around them. In time, that will have an effect. There is, after all, far more wood in a piano than in a violin or a guitar.   Your Piano Is (Almost) Back To Normal You can see it mostly in the soundboard. A length of wood about 3/8 of an inch think, the soundboard is shaped like a crown and connects to the strings through a bridge which presses against them tightly. When humidity levels are high, the wood in the soundboard absorbs more moisture, expands and pushes the bridge even more tightly against the strings. That raises the pitch of the piano, especially in the middle of the soundboard. If you’re getting higher pitches in the...
Your Guitar’s Perfect Nature Makes Nature Its Enemy

Your Guitar’s Perfect Nature Makes Nature Its Enemy

…and That Goes for Any Wood Instrument Whichever kind of wooden instrument you play, there’s always a special place to play it. Acoustic guitars might sound great on stage, but they fit so much better at the edge of a fire on the beach or on a rocking chair on the porch. Violins might be more usually thought of as instruments to be discovered in the orchestra pit, but they really come to life in in the corner of an Irish pub when the Guinness is flowing and bow is flying. The reeds of clarinets and oboes always bring them to the edge of lakes, at least figuratively, and even pianos, despite their weight and complexity, feel warmer between wooden walls. Unlike the brass section or modern electric instruments, wooden instruments sound natural, feel natural and give the player a unique link to nature. They’re made of material that used to live — and like the tree the wood came from, that material continues to change and develop in response to the atmosphere around it. Just as you would expect a tree’s branches, leaves and trunk to change in hot, dry weather and to shift again in cool, humid weather, so you would expect the wood taken from that tree to respond in a similar way, even after that wood has been cut and treated and turned into a musical instrument. That doesn’t just affect the way a wooden instrument feels. It also affects how it sounds — and how long it lasts. Your Instrument Continues To Breathe — and Drink The wood in a guitar that’s stored in...
Set a Good Example for Your Kids: Be a Caring Guitar Owner

Set a Good Example for Your Kids: Be a Caring Guitar Owner

By MusicSorbOnLine.com In “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” Amy Chua describes how she would force her children to sit at the piano and practice. It’s an account that reads like something from a horror film and you wonder how, left alone to practice scales, the children didn’t stuff newspaper under the lid, set it alight, and burn the instrument of torture to the ground. And yet, we can’t help but also feel some sympathy for the author, however tyrannical. We know that learning an instrument is best done when we’re young and we know too that young people have a long list of things they want to do when they’ve finished their homework — and that blasting aliens, watching YouTube, and beating up their siblings feature much higher on their list of priorities than touching keys and plucking strings. That’s why it’s so important for parents who also play music to set a good example. Children should see people they respect pulling out their guitar or their violin or sitting at their piano, and playing. They should hear them playing music that they want to play and they should hear them practicing, making mistakes, and doing all of the things that we have to do when we’re trying to play a new piece for the first time. If we expect our children to put up with the difficulties and challenges of practicing music, it helps if they can see us suffering through those difficulties and challenges too. But that good example stretches beyond practice and playing. It extends to instrument maintenance too. A guitar or a violin is...
5 Places Not To Store Your Guitar (or Let’s Look at that Closet Again)

5 Places Not To Store Your Guitar (or Let’s Look at that Closet Again)

If you’re not going to use it for a while, the best place to keep your guitar (or other instrument) is inside a hard case, detuned, and with something to maintain a steady level of humidity. For those of us who prefer to reach for our guitars and practice a tune at a moment’s notice, that’s not very practical. We like to have our instruments close to hand and ready to play. That means storing them in the right place, a place that’s not just practical and can hold the instrument, but which also takes care of it and protects it from damage. Not all musicians choose the right places. Here are five places you should avoid: 1. The trunk of a car. In general, you shouldn’t keep your guitar anywhere you wouldn’t want to stay yourself — and that includes your car’s storage space. During the day, it’s hot and at night the temperature can drop. Those big changes in temperature can cause the wood to swell or crack. The back of the car is better — but only when you’re traveling. 2. The baggage hold. And if you are traveling long distance, the baggage hold of an airplane is about as bad as the trunk of a car. If your instrument survives all that tossing around by baggage handlers on minimum wage, you’ll have no idea what the temperature down there will be or the humidity. During a long flight, your guitar could be going through all sorts of changes and a short flight can mean rapid shifts in temperature and humidity. Neither is good for the...
About Throwing Your Acoustic Guitar across the Room

About Throwing Your Acoustic Guitar across the Room

By MusicSorbOnLine.com Pick up an acoustic guitar and you can’t help but notice how fragile it feels. While an electric guitar might have a solid body that looks it can take a few knocks, an acoustic guitar is all fragile wood, thin lacquer and impossibly subtle joins. Knock too hard on the soundboard and you can imagine the wood splitting and the guitar dying. An acoustic guitar is something that needs care. That care, though, doesn’t just mean not tossing it across the room when a string breaks in mid-session and avoiding setting fire to it on stage. It also means avoiding the dangers you can’t see, including rapid changes in heat and humidity. Guitars made at the Martin & Co. factory are produced at a temperature that varies only from 72-77 degrees Fahrenheit and at humidity levels that range between 45 percent and 55 percent. The company states that outside those ranges the acoustic guitar is “in danger.” That’s likely to happen quite a lot and if it happens quickly, you can see the damage fairly quickly too. When temperature and humidity change fast — when you move from an air-conditioned room to a sultry New York street, for example — the finish can start to crack. A quick lacquer check for fine cracks on the surface of your guitar should help to tell you whether you’re caring for your acoustic guitar properly.   While My Guitar Gently Toasts The real problem is that many of those dangers occur when you’re likely to be using your acoustic guitar the most. Jobbing musicians might spend a lot of their...

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