|Goodrich Violin Shop, LLC|
When violinmakers speak about "acclimatization" of instruments we generally mean the execution of a procedure which, when correctly done, can greatly reduce the chance that a particular instrument will develop cracks or a back bowed neck, or sustain undesirable changes to the sound and playability.
With so many of the intermediate and advanced student instruments being made in climates generally of greater humidity than that of the American West, and often made with wood that has perhaps not been aged as long as is optimal for dimensional stability, it is generally advised that the following procedures be performed:
What are the dangers of not having this procedure done?
Typically what we see within the first few months, besides open seams, is a change in the elevation or projection of the fingerboard and neck as a unit. The string height, as measured at the end of the fingerboard, will be too low and the strings may "buzz" against the fingerboard and mute the sound. Along with this, the fingerboard will often "back bow", which in effect creates a high spot for the strings to rattle against about midway down the length of the fingerboard. This is caused by both the maple neck and the ebony fingerboard bending in response to the dry climate. As well, we see the sides bulging out or buckling in the areas of the lower block and the neck block. It is not the sides that are changing dimension but the top and the back shrinking across their width, thus reducing the circumference of the top and the back. Tops will often develop cracks on either side of the lower saddle. These can develop into soundpost or bass bar cracks if not repaired. Both of these cracks will devalue the instrument and sometimes cause an undesirable change in the sound, even if professionally repaired.
Another initial change that we typically see (or more properly hear, in this case) is the development of a sandy, gritty sound usually accompanied by a loss of resonance overall and particularly a shrillness on the E and A strings. As well, the G string usually becomes less responsive in the upper positions and lacks clarity.
To "correct" a warped or back bowed neck/fingerboard, some repairers will offer to simply plane the fingerboard level again. This should be avoided. It creates a thinner neck/fingerboard unit which can create tension problems for the left hand as well as making the neck more likely to bend further. If it is too thin, the instrument may be difficult to sell or trade-in at a later date. In many cases where the fingerboards have been planed in an attempt to alleviate the back bow, the neck and fingerboard will slowly begin to warp upwards creating a greater-than–desired longitudinal "scoop" to the ebony fingerboard, a condition which often necessitates both straightening the neck and replacing the ebony fingerboard. In some instances simply planing the ebony fingerboard allows the neck to continue to back bow further.
Will the sound and value of my instrument be adversely affected if I simply have the fingerboard planed when it warps or have any cracks repaired from the outside?
If you are considering purchasing an instrument from a retail violin shop, find out if the instruments you are looking at have been acclimatized. If they have not and they crack or the necks back bow, you may not be able to trade in or sell your instrument to any other person or firm other than the one you purchased it from (or possibly not even with the firm from whom you made the purchase), particularly if any subsequent repairs were not correctly done! This will greatly limit your selection when you want to trade up. This is particularly true if, as part of their warranty, the shop agrees to repair cracks from the outside, without removing the top and repairing correctly with reinforcements on the inside, or to simply plane the fingerboard as I have mentioned above.
The noted Strad magazine published an issue several years ago discussing the instruments now being made by various makers and firms in China. This article included an interview with Mr. Peter Prier, violin maker and founder of the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City, Utah, who stated that he would open up the seams in several areas and leave them open for an extended period of time in order to reduce the possibility of cracking.
As the old saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" certainly applies to your beloved violin, viola or cello.