Author: Campbell, Bruce

Winterizing Your Instruments

(Editor’s Note: Bruce Campbell, the rat, is bobbing on a luxury liner somewhere in the tropics this morning. What better of his Welcomes to resurrect than a piece on winterizing instruments. We have it on good authority that our friend will be back here shivering by our side come next Wednesday.)

Since the Bluegrass festival season is winding down, and the weather’s cooling off, it seems like this is the time to prepare our musical instruments for the cold off-season. For hints and tips on this process, I consulted with Martha Stewart, who introduced me to noted mad scientist and bluegrass aficionado Dr. Lex Luthier, and his suggestions are shown below. [Editor’s note: The CBA does not endorse these methods, has no knowledge of any “Dr. Lex Luthier”, and has serious doubts about the efficacy of these techniques.]

According to Dr. Luthier, fiddles are easy to winterize, and since they’re so little and fragile, it’s very important to protect the fiddle from the ravages of winter. This can easily be done by carefully coating the fiddle in a thick layer of hot spicy mustard, then rolling the instrument in coarsely ground peppercorns. As the mustard hardens, it forms an impermeable barrier to the elements, and the pepper acts as a pest repellent besides. When spring comes, carefully chip the peppercrust away, and you’re ready begin yet another season of fiddlin’!

Dr. Luthier advises that mandolins share many of the same characteristics of fiddles, and indeed, A-style mandolins may be winterized via the same method shown above for fiddles. However, F-style mandolins, due to their odd shape, don’t coat well with the coarse peppercorn mix, so a different tack is called for here. For F-style mandos, the most effective method of winterization is to dredge the instrument in an egg/milk mix, and then carefully sift cornmeal over the entire mandolin, being certain to get complete coverage. Next, using a pair of tongs, (wear safety glasses), you dip the mandolin into a pot of hot peanut oil, deep enough to cover the instrument, for 15 seconds. This will flash-fry the cornmeal, and the fried crust will protect the mandolin during the winter. Because it smells so good, Dr. Luthier recommends adding a couple of mothballs (paradichorobenzene) to the hot oil, prior to dipping, although Dr. Luthier cautions this may cause your home to fill with a highly toxic gas. When Spring comes, the cornmeal may be easily removed with witch hazel or boiled linseed oil.

Guitars, due to their size, and the easy access to the innards through the sound hole, are a breeze to winterize, and the method is simple and very organic. Chinchillas are furry, warm little rodents, and they hibernate during the winter. Dr. Luthier suggests filling the body of your guitar with hibernating chinchillas, which will keep the temperature and humidity constant during the winter months. These torpid little fellows can be purchased en masse from your local pet store (typically, it will cost about $37 to fill a Martin D-18). The chinchillas do not need any food or water, because they sleep all winter. After filling the guitar, simply wrap the entire guitar loosely with butcher paper and store in a quiet place. When the Spring comes, the chinchillas will all wake up, exit the guitar via the sound hole, chew through the butcher paper and flee your house. Theoretically.

Who cares? Leave ‘em in the backyard, on the roof – whatever.
Posted:  1/6/2010

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