The War Against Winter

Winter is coming.

The citizens of Westeros are not the only ones who fear the coming season. Musicians can feel its icy claws reaching out in the form of slipping pegs and shrinking string heights. Humidity once again betrays us as it retreats from winter’s advance, leaving our instruments vulnerable. Rapidly changing environments, both outdoors and in, seek to wreak havoc. How can we defend ourselves against the impending storm?

Step 1: Know your enemy.

Winter has many weapons in its arsenal and wields them without mercy. As fellow survivors of Snowpocalypse 2015: Boston Edition, we remember its fury. The two most effective weapons winter possesses are humidity and temperature.

Humidity:  During more temperate times, humidity can be an asset. Wood expands and contracts depending on the humidity level; more humidity means expansion (swelling of the wood), lack of humidity contraction (depression of the wood). Winter is not a humid season in the northeast, which means the wood on your instrument is shrinking. There are a few specific consequences of this:

  1. As the humidity decreases, the belly will get lower. This lowers the bridge height and consequently the string height. This is most apparent on cellos—many cellists have seasonal bridges for this reason.
  2. Ever wonder why your pegs constantly slip when winter comes? It’s probably winter’s fault for driving humidity away. Pegs and the peg box are made from different types of wood that expand and contract at different speeds. This means the peg may suddenly be smaller than the hole.

Temperature: Like you (or unlike you), your instrument does not enjoy rapid temperature changes. This includes going from the frigid outdoors to the well-heated indoors and vice versa. It also includes switching between rooms with very different climates, like from the green room to the stage. Winter is diabolically skilled at making sure this situation materializes on a daily basis.

Step 2: Arm yourself.

Never forget you have your own arsenal with which to fight back.

Common Sense:

This is your most powerful weapon in the war against winter. Do not underestimate its importance! If you aren’t comfortable somewhere, neither is your instrument. Insulate and humidify it like you do yourself. The analogy ends here, because remember how we said rapid temperature changes were a weapon in winter’s arsenal? While we enjoy sitting by a heater or fire, your instrument does not. Don’t fall into winter’s trap—keep your instrument away from direct heat sources.

Humidity Control: We’ll say it one more time: lack of humidity is bad for your instrument. Humidify the case, just like you do your home or individual rooms. Ideally, you want to keep the humidity around 40%. There are many types of humidifiers you can use, but our recommendation is to stick to an in-case model rather than one that goes inside the instrument. Both work well, however in-case keeps direct moisture away from the instrument and requires less maintenance. If it goes in the instrument, it means drying it thoroughly, keeping track of it when it’s not in the instrument, and daily maintenance. You need to decide what’s best for you and your instrument.

Valuable assets to your armory:

Case covers

Case humidifiers and hygrometers

Peg Compound

Step 3: Find allies.

A luthier can be your greatest ally against winter. Despite your own preparations, winter can be a cunning adversary. Be on the lookout for these common battle wounds:

Open Seams: This is by far the most common issue seen during the winter. Thankfully, it is also relatively easy to fix. Keep an eye on the seams–even if you can’t see them, a tell-tale buzzing, pop, or sudden change in sound will usually let you know something is amiss. Again, this is something that a luthier can take care of relatively easily but DO NOT REPAIR THIS YOURSELF.  Any variety of glue you find at the hardware store should be nowhere near your instrument. Luthiers use hide glue as well as well-placed clamps to ensure everything is set correctly and have a trained eye to check for any other problems. Home repairs can mean more money spent in the future to undo damage. Don’t give winter the satisfaction—go see a luthier.

Cracks: Humidifying your case and protecting your instrument against rapid temperature/climate changes should minimize your risk of cracks, but sometimes winter wins and cracks appear. These should be seen by a luthier as soon as possible because they are more difficult to repair than open seams.

Now is the time to prepare for winter’s onslaught! Check out our newly re-vamped website at www.johnsonstring.com to find out more about the products mentioned here or visit us in person at 1029 Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls.

 

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

 

Update: The Johnson String Project

JSP Logo

 

For more information on El Sistema, please visit our previous post.

Formed in the spring of 2015, The Johnson String Project is a non-profit organization based on the Johnson String Instrument rental model and designed to offer the same level of service and high-quality instruments to children in under-serviced communities that all JSI customers have come to expect.

The efforts of the Massachusetts Cultural Council are what make this possible. Through their SerHacer initiative, the MCC was able to distribute grants to qualifying El Sistema inspired programs across the Commonwealth. The Johnson String Project received $30,000 through SerHacer as well as generous private donations.  This combination of public and private funding will be used to supply rental instruments for these programs.

Our mission at The Johnson String Project is supporting El Sistema-inspired string programs in under-serviced communities in Massachusetts. One of the largest barriers these programs face is obtaining high-quality instruments. Through the development of our instrument lending library, we strive to ease these financial burdens and provide access to this crucial piece of the musical experience.

To learn more about the Johnson String Project, check out our video

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Choosing Strings and the Thomastik Back to School Sale!

Choosing the Right Strings

Choosing strings for your instrument is a personal and complicated process. With so many options available on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, we are here to help!

Here are some important factors to keep in mind:

What style of playing do you do? What works for a classical player may not work for a jazz musician or fiddler and vice versa. Different genres call for different types of sound, which can be achieved with different kinds of strings.

How do you characterize your instrument’s sound? Strings have the ability to enhance or stifle the particular qualities of your instrument. In order for them to help rather than hinder, know how to characterize your instrument’s sound. Is it dark or bright? Mellow or piercing? This knowledge will help you work with your instrument rather than against it.

What are you looking for? Do you want to brighten the sound? Tone down the power? Speed up response? Slow it down? Knowing what you are looking for helps make sure your strings accommodate your needs.

 

There are three basic types of strings: gut, steel core, and synthetic core. Keep in mind that the majority of players today use steel or synthetic core strings. The basic differences are:

Gut

Steel

Synthetic

  • Warm, complex sound
  • Softer under the fingers
  • Unstable tuning
  • Long settling period
  • Shorter playable life
  • Sensitive to changes in climate
  • Stable tuning, settle quickly
  • Direct and cutting sound
  • Thinner sounding than gut or synthetic
  • Warmer than steel core strings
  • Stable tuning and settle quickly
  • More subtle tonal colors than steel
  • Most widely-used type of string today
  • Similar tonal qualities to gut

 

**Keep in mind these are generalizations. Each type of string will perform differently for different instruments, and the varying qualities of each will appeal to some and push away others**

Experimenting with strings involves trial and error. Now through October 9th, Thomastik is having their back-to-school sale on select string sets and bundles for all instruments, making this a better time than ever to try something new with your strings. As always, our string prices are up to 55% below list price.

For more detailed information about the different kinds of strings we offer and their differences, please visit our website.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

See the Johnson String Project in Action!

Johnson String Instrument is a proud supporter of the Johnson String Project. Our goal is to bring high quality, well-maintained instruments to under-served children throughout Massachusetts. See our program in action by watching the video below. For more information, please visit our website.