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Michael H

Effects of higher elevation on plate tops

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It has been brought to my attention by a potential client that certain topographical elevations can affect the construction of instruments. The concern was that a cello that has lived a young life at 1,500ft will be affected by a new life at 7,000ft.  I was told by this potential client that luthiers in high elevations dismantle the cello and reglue the top plate and neck.  I have never heard of this practice, but am interested. It makes sense, in theory, but have no experience in the matter, though, I will say that have I had no complaints.  Can anyone shed some light on the subject?

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If the instrument had no f holes, and was hermetically sealed, it could be a problem. However, since  the instruments don't fit either condition, I'd say the client is full of c**p. Perhaps they should take up tuba instead, to get rid of wasted breath.

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4 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

Theoretically, what might happen?

I am glad you called me out on that portion.  My lack of knowledge on the subject led me to a tongue-and-cheek claim with the sarcasm lost in my poor writing skills. Let my question stand sans “it makes sense, in theory.”  I have little sense and no theory. 

 

4 hours ago, FiddleDoug said:

If the instrument had no f holes, and was hermetically sealed, it could be a problem. However, since  the instruments don't fit either condition, I'd say the client is full of c**p. Perhaps they should take up tuba instead, to get rid of wasted breath.

I wanted to say, “I would love to know the name of the luthiers that do this work and discuss it with them,” but, in the moment, was a bit speechless and realized I had no claim on the subject aside from “I have never had any issues with that problem.”  

 

1 hour ago, James M. Jones said:

My major concern of elevation would be more moisture related vs elevation , I,d expect over all drier conditions at seven thousand feet vs 1500 , or sea level. 

Could this humidity difference pose enough of a problem to take apart a cello? I have shipped with a dampit for next day deliveries in colder weather, but do not see the point for longer ground shipments. 

 

My main objective here is to avoid making a mistake through ignorance. I have certainly made ignorant mistakes in past.  It does sound like my client’s claim is less than accurate. 

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I did hear from one luthier here in Canada that in their shop they reglue the top plates on all of their instruments coming from Europe or eastern Canada but that is entirely humidity related. 

Here in western Canada and up in the mountains we can have a humidity as low as 0-4% in the winter,  their idea was to reduce the risk of damage if the owner forgot to fill the humidifier etc 

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12 hours ago, Michael H said:

It has been brought to my attention by a potential client that certain topographical elevations can affect the construction of instruments. The concern was that a cello that has lived a young life at 1,500ft will be affected by a new life at 7,000ft.  I was told by this potential client that luthiers in high elevations dismantle the cello and reglue the top plate and neck. 

I don't know of any such standard practice related to elevation. However, this is sometimes done when an instrument is moved to a location with a different humidity. Humidity differences have a lot more to do with region, than altitude. For example,  the low humidity in Aspen Colorado today will be 26%. The low humidity in Big Horn Washington today (approximately the same 8000 foot altitude) will be 83 percent.

The thing that makes this more complicated is temperature. Big Horn will reach a high of 43 degrees F today. So if we take that 43 degree outside air at 83 percent humidity, and heat it to 70 degrees in a building for comfort, the relative humidity inside that building drops to 31 percent, or close to that of the outdoor air at Aspen.

That's why in Michigan, where I live, we can get indoor humidity as low as 5% in the winter, even though the outside humidity might be 70%.

In other words, your client was under-informed, having just enough information to be dangerous. :D

Of less practical value, but of geek interest is that all other things being equal, air at higher altitude will have lower density. Marty mentioned this. There have been some interesting studies where the inside of a violin was flooded with a lower density gas, like helium, which changed the air resonances. Think what happens to the sound of your voice after inhaling helium. :lol:

Take this less dense air due to altitude, and heat it, and the density drops even more.  I would expect this change in the sound of a violin to be perceptible, at least to some, but loosening and re-gluing parts of the violin wouldn't fix it.

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So proper humidification will alleviate this worry? I most likely would not have to say anything due to humidifiers being needed in many environments, but at least I know it was not a complete BS claim, just “under -informed.” :) 

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34 minutes ago, Michael H said:

So proper humidification will alleviate this worry?

Yes, proper humidity control will take care of it. But keeping the humidity within a certain range can be a real chore in some climates, and some building structures won't tolerate much area-humidification. If an instrument will go to an area where the humidity is constantly too high or too low (not fluctuating from one to the other seasonally), and the instrument will stay there, I can see a viable argument for releasing and regluing various parts.

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