Traveling with an Instrument?


Mike and I left July 1st for a 6-week trip to see friends and relatives. As you can see, at the back of the car there is a mini-fridge our granddaughter gave us, but Mike forgot to unplug it the night before we left. And so, we weren’t surprised to discover the car's battery was dead when we were ready to leave.

We have a portable battery charger for dilemmas like this, so we were back in business in no time. Then Mike asked if there was room to bring the charger along, in case we did that again. Of course there was, but I hadn’t packed my instruments yet!

Would they fit?

I certainly found room, but finding space to squeeze your favorite instrument in the car is not the most important consideration when packing during the hot summer. I learned this the hard way when we moved to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in August of 2000. I had packed all my instruments carefully to send on a container ship. And most made it safely, even the hammered dulcimer, but my Alvarez guitar was toast. I had forgotten to loosen the strings and they tightened, the glue softened, the wood bulged - bowed - cracked and, sadly, the guitar I had taught on for so many years was beyond repair.

So here are some traveling tips for you.

  • Never leave your dulcimer in a hot car. Bring it inside with you. The interior of a car can easily reach 170 degrees on a hot day. A stringed instrument could maybe withstand heat up to about 110-degrees (F), but beyond that, watch out. Also, avoid storing your dulcimer next to a window (in the house or car) where it can be exposed to prolonged direct sunlight.

  • Avoid leaving your instrument in a cold car as well. The problem is that, when you take the dulcimer from the ice-cold trunk of the car and then begin to play in a warm room, the wood can crack from such stress. Give your instrument time to warm up by opening the case just an inch. Allow at 15-30 minutes for it to gradually come up to room temp, and then tune.  Steve demonstrates his travel strategy in the Habit for Your Healthy Music Habitat:

  • Conventional wisdom versus Specific wisdom.  Downtune, if your instrument needs that. Few people realize the pressure that strings exert on a stringed instrument. Actually, it’s a miracle my hammered dulcimer didn’t crack with the pressure from its month in a storage container on a container ship. On instruments with a neck, like a guitar, the joint where the neck meets the body is particularly vulnerable—the strings exert a combined pull of more than 100 pounds on the bridge of the guitar – like hanging a 100-pound weight off the side of a bridge.   In contrast to conventional wisdom, both mountain and hammered dulcimers are box zithers, which means the strings are stretched over a box (with no neck.).  The fretboard of a mountain dulcimer is on top of the box; the bridges on the hammered dulcimer are on top of the box.  While there is a (quite literally) a ton of pressure from the strings of a hammered dulcimer, because there is no joint vulnerability, it is actually better to leave your instrument in tune, because the bridges, like on a violin/fiddle or mandolin are NOT glued down.  If you de-tune your instrument, you are liable to arrive at your destination with a hammered dulcimer kit in your case that you will need to re-assemble before you can EVER retune and actually play it.  (Feel free to ask Steve how he knows this.)

  • Watch out for humidity. Try to store your dulcimer at room temperature as much as you can, keeping it away from heat sources – especially in the winter. When a furnace is running, the air becomes dry (less humid), this tends to dry out the natural moisture content in the wood of the dulcimer. 

  • Going on a plane? Pack your instrument in a protective, hardshell case in case you're asked to check the instrument instead of keeping it on board with you. 

Here’s a good way to think of it. Just think of your guitar like your pet. If it’s too hot or too cold to leave your dog, don’t leave your dulcimer there either. Protect your instrument as you would protect your beloved puppy. It’s as simple as that.


1 comment

sbt net

Linda, an immediate response to "Would they fit?" was ...

Of course, that's why they are called lap dulcimers.

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