Properly caring for your instrument is always important, because doing so will extend the useful life of the instrument and often increase the time between more serious maintenance or repairs. But in severe weather, this is even more important. Extreme temperatures can seriously harm your instrument, especially stringed instruments.
I’m sure you already know that the solid materials used in our instruments tend to shrink as they get colder, and expand as they are warmed. Over time this back-and-forth action can seriously warp the instrument, rendering it unplayable. Keeping our instruments in an environment where temperature is constant is best, but of course this is often difficult to achieve. There are many reasons our instruments get exposed to extreme conditions. You may have to transport your instrument to a lesson, or take it out to get repaired. You might be playing a show or going to jam with friends. Sometimes you simply can’t avoid exposing the instrument to hot or cold conditions.
One of the best things to have is a case of decent quality. Most band instruments are kept in cases because they are broken down into smaller pieces for cleaning, transport, and storage. Likewise, most stringed instruments are also kept in cases that protect them from the elements.
I often see guitars that are unnecessarily subjected to extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, the guitar is an instrument that is often left out of its case (if it is kept in one at all), or it is kept in a cheap bag which offers little to no real protection from very hot or very cold temperatures.
I realize that the better cases are more expensive, but I look at it as a protection of your investment. Why pay hundreds of dollars on an instrument, but not bother to protect it? Maybe you have that kind of disposable income, but most of us do not. Regardless, many folks don’t realize that their instruments change as the surrounding environment changes. Ever been outside and stood in your swimsuit for 20 minutes on a cold day where the temperature is below freezing? I bet you aren’t used to that, and neither is your instrument! Be realistic. Understand that not protecting your instrument may cause it to become difficult to keep tuned, or even play. If your instrument doesn’t have a case, get one now! Make it a priority if your instrument is valuable to you.
Really good cases are "hard shell" cases and offer a padded interior that is often lined with a soft surface. Some even have built-in temperature and humidity gauges to help alert you to any changes in conditions inside the case. This is the best type of case. The next best option is to find a padded "gig bag" that has a soft outer shell, but still has padding for protection on the inside of the case. Cardboard cases are often seen with cheap guitars, and these cases are pretty bad. They're unreliable, often don't fit the form (shape) of the instrument, offer no protection from temperature, and very little protection from rain and humidity. Avoid this type of case unless you have no other choice. Even a case like this is better than no case at all, especially if it's snowing and 28 degrees outside! The worst type of cases are flimsy vinyl or polyester bags with no padding. NEVER buy one... in fact, if anyone ever offers one to you, I suggest you take it and immediately drop it in the trash.
Besides a good case, remember not to leave your instrument in your vehicle for long periods of time. On hot days, the sun can heat the vehicle and melt plastic and the finish or coat on your instrument. Yikes! On extremely cold days, the instruments can become brittle and even crack. If you are transporting your instrument on such a day, make sure you take your instrument inside with you, or drop it off somewhere it will be safe before you go elsewhere. I have often taken my instruments inside with me, whether it was work, school, meetings or whatever I had going on. Just remember to take it with you when you leave!
Does your instrument have strings? Detune all the strings while in transit in extreme temperatures. Colder air will tend to make the strings contract, which will put more pressure on the ends of the instrument. Cold air can also dry out the cork rings in your wind instruments, so be sure to grease the fittings if your instrument uses grease.
Vocalists, take care of your body. Do not breathe in very cold air if you can help it. Try breathing through a scarf instead. Colder air is generally drier, and will dry out your throat and vocal chords. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, but be careful - if you drink too much cold water on a cold day, you can lower your body temperature and thus lower your performance ability, not to mention increase your risk of getting sick. Take smaller breaths in cold air.Breathe through your nose if you are out in cold air; the nasal passages warm the air as it travels to your lungs. Having a hot drink will warm the larynx, but avoid beverages containing caffeine because they act as a diuretic and will dehydrate you faster.
When traveling in your vehicle, avoid the temptation to place your instrument in a position with the heat or A/C blasting on it. Extreme and sudden changes in temperature can ruin instruments just like prolonged exposure can.
Finally, remember that you want to gradually warm or cool your instrument once it is safely indoors. Open the case and let the instrument return to room temperature on its own before you play it. If you are a vocalist, spend 20-30 minutes allowing yourself to get warm before you attempt to sing.
How do you protect your instrument from extreme temperatures?
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