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How Much Does Humidity Effect Violin Sound?
Acoustics
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (6 votes) 
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ELCBK
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March 9, 2021 - 10:46 pm
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Okay, I'm the 1st to admit I didn't know humid air actually weighs LESS than dry air. 

I've heard the term, "the evening air is heavy" - just always thought that was a stifling hot and humid Summer night.(lol)  Guess that's why I was confused. 

Anyway, living with aircraft flying overhead for many years and in places with different climates, one thing that's always been noticeable is - the helicopters and jets sound louder/clearer/closer on humid days. 

How does humidity effect what we hear from our instruments? 

  1. Dry air absorbs sound energy - we don't want this.
  2. Sound travels thru humid air faster and degrades less. 
  3. Warm air holds more moisture than cold air, so sound will travel thru warmer air faster and better
  4. Warm air rises, even in our homes, which means sound waves travel at different speeds, at different heights within a room.  
  5.  Too little humidity drys out a wood acoustic instrument - larger the instrument, the more of a problem.  It won't sound as warm, wood can crack, pegs (not geared) can slip, bow hair can become brittle and rosin won't stick well.
  6. Too much humidity and a wood acoustic violin might just come apart, pegs (not geared) can stick, bow hair can over-stretch and rosin doesn't act right.

https://topicimages.mrowl.com/large/mr_bowman/booksforkids/folktales/goldilocksandt_1.jpg 

So, we need Goldilocks here - to find what's "just right". 

I've seen recommendations for from 30% to 60% relative humidity.  

Maybe raise your mic for recording in the house and check the humidity levels at different heights if recording outside? 

 

Now, what about Carbon Composite instruments?  

Everyone says they aren't supposed to be effected by changes in humidity.  They still have wood sound posts, bridges and usually horse hair on the bow - that uses rosin.

I'm here to tell you that after leaving my "Mortimer" and bow out of the case over this whole Winter, I notice a huge difference! 

It's been cold out, humidity inside usually between 30% and 32%, but it got warmer out this week & humidity rose up inside to 40%. 

I was surprised what happened! 

  1. I needed much less of my rosin and
  2. the same rosin lasted much longer on my bow - more than an extra day! 
  3. the sound was much fuller under my ear!  I haven't checked while recording, yet.

Is the humidity effecting just my bow hair and rosin to make this change, the soundpost and bridge, the sound traveling thru the air - or all of it?

I'm now thinking that 40% to 50% is realistically more of an ideal humidity level for sound - even for my Carbon Composite violin and bow! 

 

Here's an article humidity and live sound.

https://www.sweetwater.com/ins.....ive-sound/

Here's a couple other threads to visit here. 

https://fiddlerman.com/forum/t.....climate/ 

https://fiddlerman.com/forum/t.....umidity-3/

 

giphy.gif

 

Btw, thanks go to @ABitRusty and @Mark for the tip on changing mic position to get a better recording sound - for what ever the reason!  

- Emily

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ABitRusty
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March 10, 2021 - 8:21 am
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40-50%... you are correct.  

https://blog.taylorguitars.com.....y-tips  

 

the mic thing.. if using a dedicated mic its easier to experiment.  Using something like a phone or tablet makes it more difficult because youre tied to the video. Its kinda a geeky thing to mess with when there are so many other variables like our playing, the instrument, and things more obvious...but you can get slightly different results with mic placement.  And.. Dont forget room acoustics..The room seems to have as much of an affect as mic placement.  Things like that are something to think about when everything else seems like you want.  also, if youre able to set the gain when recording either in a DAW or phone app....setting it to high can cause distortion or clipping of the recording.  all that depends on what you use.   You may not have those adjustments available.    phones and tablets are just pretty much frame your recording and go with auto settings.

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ELCBK
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March 10, 2021 - 2:42 pm
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@ABitRusty - 

Thanx!

Appreciate that info. 

Hope I can set up something better soon, maybe I'll ask Kevin to help me try things out for whenever the next Fiddlerman Group Project comes about. 

Currently, not real happy trying to balance my phone on the bed next to me. (lol) 

giphy.gif

 

...all ears - for music.  

- Emily 

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stringy
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March 10, 2021 - 3:23 pm
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Dont know about humidity but the cold definately affects mine.

Bit more, bit more, snap #*÷?×[email protected]?#[email protected]

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Sasha
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March 10, 2021 - 9:33 pm
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I am inclined to think that while humidity can have an effect on sound in the air, when it comes to playing and recording, it is so minor compared to the effect it can have on bow/strings/rosin it might as well not exist, and changing mic distance/angle by a couple of centimeters will have much more effect than the 'air' itself will have. 

Angle and distance are huge, and even just a degrees, few cm, whatever can change the EQ curve by a lot.  It's why it's *so* easy for people to record rock and EDM at home these days, and put out recordings that rival million dollar recordings in the 80s.

Although that is things that are close mic'd, but even in my 'studio' (which I use as a fancy term for my living room) which direction I face when recording my acoustic violin changes the sound radically on the recording even though the mic is only a foot or two away, room ambience makes a huge difference.

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ELCBK
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March 11, 2021 - 1:53 am
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 Thanx, for more great info about the mic position! 

The article I linked talks about how humidity and temperature effect sound, but not even enough to be of concern for a live, outdoor performance!

Guess sound waves have to travel a little more distance before effected... 

So, the wood of an acoustic instrument is effected, but the surprising factor (I think) might be the bow hair & rosin. 

 

giphy.gif

 

...at my age, even dry skin (on fingers) kind of ruins the sound of the strings. (lol) 

- Emily

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ELCBK
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April 2, 2022 - 12:02 pm
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Drastic weather/humidity changes again this last week - house still stays between 68°F - 70°F... had me thinking of this thread. 

My new carbon composite (CC) Viola, "Edgar" has a CC bridge AND CC sound post, this time. 

I'm surprised I still notice a difference with these changes in humidity - so a lot must still be attributed to the bow hair & rosin! 😏  

 

More about humidity & instrument care here: 

Humidity Thread

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stringy
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April 2, 2022 - 3:20 pm
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apparently very high and very low humidity can affect your instrument, constant very high humidity can cause the wood to warp, in the article I read though it doesnt mention how high or for how long, maybe fiddlerman could posy his expert thoughts on this.

Bit more, bit more, snap #*÷?×[email protected]?#[email protected]

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Tim317
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April 5, 2022 - 2:06 pm
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I've only had one violin that I can say ever gave me trouble with low humidity and  with elevated humidity.

But in a way it was a hard knock lesson I'm glad I learned I believe there are many things that get effected with a violin as far as humidity at least with violins that are of all wood construction.

But the one I had that gave me lots of grief was constructed of some really low quality wood and I even believe bass wood was used for the back plate instead of maple and the bridge was fat and spongy so when the humidity would come up I would get a muted sound out of it. which I always associated with the bridge.

And it would get harsh sounding in low humidity to the point to where I couldn't stand to play it I soon came to appreciate the old adage of the 2 best days of a boat owners life which is the day they bought their boat and the day they sold it, I became a boat owner real quick like and moved right on to day 2 of boat ownership.thumbs-up 

I've not had that sort of trouble out of the 2 I purchased after getting rid of that one, I now use a regular room humidifier and dampits if needed during the winter and I haven't had any trouble during the summer other than real slight variance in sound when the humidity is up.   

    

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ELCBK
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April 5, 2022 - 3:54 pm
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Tim317 said
 

But the one I had that gave me lots of grief was constructed of some really low quality wood and I even believe bass wood was used for the back plate instead of maple and the bridge was fat and spongy so when the humidity would come up I would get a muted sound out of it. which I always associated with the bridge.
And it would get harsh sounding in low humidity to the point to where I couldn't stand to play it I soon came to appreciate the old adage of the 2 best days of a boat owners life which is the day they bought their boat and the day they sold it, I became a boat owner real quick like and moved right on to day 2 of boat ownership.thumbs-up 

 

@Tim317 -

Really makes a lot of sense that you noticed such a huge variance in sound in reference to the wood quality. 

Still kinda blows my mind that's a perceivable difference in mine - without any wood being involved.

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Tim317
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April 6, 2022 - 1:56 am
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ELCBK said

Tim317 said

 

But the one I had that gave me lots of grief was constructed of some really low quality wood and I even believe bass wood was used for the back plate instead of maple and the bridge was fat and spongy so when the humidity would come up I would get a muted sound out of it. which I always associated with the bridge.

And it would get harsh sounding in low humidity to the point to where I couldn't stand to play it I soon came to appreciate the old adage of the 2 best days of a boat owners life which is the day they bought their boat and the day they sold it, I became a boat owner real quick like and moved right on to day 2 of boat ownership.thumbs-up 

 

@Tim317 -

Really makes a lot of sense that you noticed such a huge variance in sound in reference to the wood quality. 

Still kinda blows my mind that's a perceivable difference in mine - without any wood being involved.

  

I've never had the opportunity to get my hands on one of the CC instruments sadly the closest place to me that sells our type of instruments is quite a ways off from me and I have no desire to deal with the traffic in that area but it would be interesting to see the insides of one of the CC's.

I mean do they use wood blocks in the neck tail, and C bouts? 

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ELCBK
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April 6, 2022 - 3:33 am
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@Tim317 -

I was told the body of my Glasser 5-string Viola is all carbon composite and I believe my 5-string Violin is also, but it has a wood sound post & bridge. 

But, that's a great question, so I grabbed my flashlight & 'Edgar' (being easier to see inside a Viola) & took a peek! 

Looked through to the other side from the F hole and appears the C block is made from the same black CC material like the neck/scroll & fingerboard.  And, unlike the block, I can see the CF weave on the rib.

I'm assuming the rest of the blocks are CC, also. 😊 

So, back to my original discussion, looks like any difference in sound, on my 'Edgar', comes from the effect of humidity (or lack of) on my bow hair, strings, or rosin - because temp is fairly constant.  Bow is CC. 

 

...now, you have me wondering if a matte finish holds more air moisture than a gloss finish and if that has any effect on sound(?) 🤣 

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Fiddlerman
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April 6, 2022 - 10:57 am
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Obviously not all instruments are affected as much depending on the wood density, years seasoned, and whether they are coated with a penetrating sealer of some sort on the inside.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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