Preparing Instrument for Travel

As you prepare for the trip for your summer at Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory, it is important to think about protecting your instrument, both during the trip itself and during your time in Steamboat Springs. The unusually low humidity in Steamboat means your instrument must acclimate to the dry environment.


Following are simple suggestions to help prevent needless damage to your stringed instrument.

how to pack your instrument

  • Lower the strings by about one whole step. As the temperature rises and the humidity drops, great stresses are placed on the instrument and the pitch can rise, thus creating the risk of cracking.
  • Wrap or pack the instrument in the case. There should a minimum of free play, but the instrument should not be so tightly wrapped so as to produce pressure when the case is closed. Never use any type of polyurethane bubble pack, plastic foam or plastic sponge material. These materials can bond to the instrument, or the imprint can come off on the varnish.

how to travel with your instrument

ground travel

  • If you are driving in the hot sun, the entire case should be covered with a Mylar emergency “space blanket.”  This material can be purchased for about five dollars at camping or sporting goods stores and is the best possible protection available.
  • It is acceptable to keep a well-wrapped instrument in the trunk when the car is moving, but never for more than a few minutes when the car is stopped.

air travel

If shipping a cello in an airplane baggage compartment, pad the area under the fingerboard with clothes or towels.

  • Wrap the tailpiece and tuners thoroughly to guard against damage should the instrument be bumped and cause the bridge and/or fingerboard to fall off.


when in steamboat

use a dampit

  • Once in Steamboat, your instrument will begin to react to the loss of humidity. It is generally recommended that instruments be kept at about 50% relative humidity. In most humid climates, like New York or St Louis, relative humidity is about 80%. In Steamboat, the average humidity is only 25%. Consequently, your instrument will need to be humidified in order to prevent cracking, warping and glue failure. The best way to properly humidify your instrument is to use a Dampit. Dampits must be used properly in order to be effective – they must be checked regularly and filled diligently – in Steamboat this could mean twice a day. Dampits are ineffective if permitted to remain dry for periods of time; the instrument is placed at far greater risk of damage if not humidified at all. Also, if overfilled, water can seep into the instrument, loosening the glue joints and ruining the label.

adjust the soundpost

  • If you have an older instrument, and are coming from a humid climate, have your sound post checked and/or adjusted. The body of the instrument will be shrinking slightly from loss of moisture; if the sound post is not adjusted, it can become too tight, and result in a sound post crack.