By Greg Olwell
Violins have never been safer than they are right now. Manufacturers employ an abundance of luxurious materials to swaddle your beloved violin, while shaping rugged shells to shield your delicate instrument from a destructive world.
And now, more than ever, case makers are doing it with style. There’s a long history of protective and flashy violin cases, but never before has there been such a harvest of color, contours, texture, and features for violinists of any budget who want a secure case that also makes a fashion statement.
Finding the right case for your violin can be a big decision and the number of options buyers face is enough to make your head spin. But, there’s hope! Once you spend a little time thinking about your needs, and how a violin case can best protect your instrument and bow considering the demands of your own musical life, you should be well on your way.
Here’s a look at some of the characteristics of cases that you might want to consider when shopping for your own violin case.
The number and variety of cases is a clue that one case definitely does not fit all, but you will need to balance your priorities between weight, security, and features.
But, not always.
As their use in automobiles show, lighter, high-tech composite materials continue to challenge the old idea of weight equaling protection. Violin cases increasingly rely on ABS plastic (which is used in such applications as car bumpers, laptop covers, and bulletproof vests), fiberglass, and foam shells to reduce weight without sacrificing protection, though plywood remains a favorite for many case makers and players thanks to its proven durability and protection.
A Variety of Shapes
Different shapes affect the case’s weight and storage ability in different ways, and manufacturers constantly develop new variations on the classic three silhouettes for violin cases (shaped, half-moon, and oblong), striking a balance between weight and storage without reducing protection. Oblong cases offer players the most amount of storage, inside and outside the case, and some feel, the most security. Given their size, they also tend to be heavier, which is why smaller half-moon and shaped cases are an option for players willing to give up some storage capacity for something lighter.
Suspension & Protection
Suspension is one feature that now seems so obviously necessary that most take it for granted, like automobile seatbelts. You can credit case maker LeRoy Weber for coming up with the idea to use interior padding, usually injected foam, to lift and cradle a violin, so that the violin’s body seems to float inside the shell, with the scroll safely away from the bottom of the case where a bump could break it or pop the neck off.
There’s no reason to not have suspension and every reason imaginable to have it. It’s available on almost every case, from the most inexpensive cases on up.
Suspension also brings up another issue: fit. Since even full-size violins are made in different sizes, try to have your fiddle with you when looking at a case. Some cases use a suspension system that has more wiggle room for a violin, while others can be snug, or even a little tight, for violins with a slightly longer body.
Weatherproofing is another way that your case protects a violin.
Many hard-shell cases rely on a tight-fitting rubber grommet to seal the shell’s two composite halves, while the foam- and plywood-core cases typically utilize a zippered abrasion-resistant nylon cover with rain flaps to protect against rain and snow. This weather sealing also helps to maintain a constant humidity inside your case.
Much like most people, every violin is at its happiest around a constant temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 35 to 50 percent. Part of your case’s function is to help maintain this ideal climate when storing and transporting your violin through dry winters and soupy summers. That’s why every case needs a device to measure relative humidity: a hygrometer. Many players invest in a digital version, and some of these have the capability to link to your phone, keeping you informed without ever having to open your case.
For some, a case humidifier can also be an important feature. Stability is the key to a happy fiddle, so consider the possibility that transferring your violin from a perfectly humidified case to a dry performance space might be worse than a violin that’s been kept at a constant hydration level.
Built to Last
Those are the necessities—now consider the details of the case that can help make your decision feel like the right one. One characteristic of high-end cases that can sell for thousands of dollars is the vault-like fit of every piece. When you close the top, the different pieces—latches, locks, and so on—connect with the kind of effortless precision that distinguishes a good violinist from a great one. The higher-end case is closing, just like a lower-end case, but it does it better and makes it look easier.
Handles and the interior and exterior hardware can be a hallmark of quality and attention to detail. Pieces like latches, hinges, locks, and D-rings need to live up to the task. When examining a case, ask yourself if the zippers and latches feel like they’ll withstand thousands of case closings and openings. Are the handles securely attached to the case? Handles riveted into a foam case or a cloth cover can strip out, so look for a case with all handles screwed into the case’s core material for strength and peace of mind.
Inside the case, you’ll want to look beyond the soft materials and support system, to such parts as bow spinners and compartment covers that should feel sturdy and durable. Spinners that engage with a firm “click” when you twist them inspire confidence that your bow will be securely held. (Cases often come with extra spinners in case you break one.)
Even if you use a blanket, which many cases include, you don’t want it coming loose and dropping your bow on your violin’s top. And, nobody has ever regretted storage compartments that use long-lasting piano hinges in place of fabric and elastic.
Beyond knowing what to look for in a secure, protective case, be honest with yourself about how you’re going to use your case. Some players fill their case with everything he or she might need (shoulder rest, every possible piece of sheet music, cell phone, and snacks), while others prefer a case with a stripped-down approach. Each has a benefit, so consider your preferences. Bring your shoulder rest along with your violin and bow when auditioning cases. It’s surprising how many cases won’t fit a standard, nonfolding shoulder rest.
Colors! Colors! Colors!
Though there are probably some cases that you wouldn’t be seen dead carrying, the case’s appearance is the last thing to worry about. Still, appearances are important, and many case models come in several finish options.
You can probably find the case that meets all the features you need and want, with a look that speaks to you.
Looking for more in-depth information about buying an instrument? Try Strings’ Your Dream Instrument.