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Old 15-08-2012, 11:08   #1
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Musical Instruments Afloat

My Dad's wedding present to Mum was a handcrafted Spinet.....kind of a Harpsichord (a piano with strings that are plucked rather than hammered).

The change from Germany's mild climate and more substaital buildings to Brisbane's sub-tropical heat & moisture did the instrument no good at all.

As a keen musician (flute, psaltery, zither, bagpipe....yes, these are all considered musical, by some), I was curious as to how musician cruisers keep their instruments healthy....or is there no hope but to go synthetic rather than natural materials?

Main problem for me would be the psaltery and zither.....other folks might have their acoustic guitars getting sick. Shellac soundboards naked on the back make for the nicest sound, but moisture is deadly to both sides.

Secondary would be the flute....I inherited some nice Kueng flutes and they have to be babied, but at least these are already in contact with moist breath. Permanent proximity to saltwater going too far? I have synthetic flutes as well that are waterproof, but there's nothing like wood for woodwind.

Tertiary problem would be the pipes....main worry I have there are
bugs eating them (or a philistine customs heinie thinking they were some sort of deadly weapon and impounding them). Any sailing pipers? How do the pipes fare?

I doubt there are many cruisers with pianos, organs, concert harps or drumkits, but you never know.....love to hear from them too, about keeping their gear working. Or simply finding space aboard to stow it.....
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Old 15-08-2012, 11:13   #2
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

I always took a guitar that I could live without if it deteriorated. A lot of damp environment for sure. If you had room maybe big plastic bins would help....
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Old 15-08-2012, 11:21   #3
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

My chrome tenor pan did well for 12 years on board, just keeping it polished and waxed.
lately, I have been away from the boat six to eight months a year , and it has taken licks, rusting a few holes and loosing some sweetness.
Shame too , this is a "Guppy Brown" pan.
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Old 15-08-2012, 11:49   #4
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

Wow, now that's something. Is it beyond saving, or worth a try? I can point you to a method of keeping sensitive steel clean & unrusted in harsh environments:

Ballistol. A weapon oil developed for the Imperial German Army before WW1. White oil based, surgically pure, mildly alkaline, anti-fungal, low surface tension to permit penetration into crevices. Can be used to disinfect minor wounds, remove ticks, preserve leather and timber, lubricate fine machinery, remove corrosion and combustion deposits, neutralise acidic finger-oils, and forms a gel-like coating for long-term protection. Can even drink it to treat over-acid stomach or cure blockages lower down. Mebbe I should get shares in it. I wouldn't use it on wooden instruments, though....

Ballistol | Startpage
Ballistol - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 15-08-2012, 12:03   #5
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

Years ago Ovation started building an acoustic guitar with a fiberglass body. I think they are still around.

Martin has made a few models that were solid mahogany. Doesn't have the sound of their spruce body but supposed to tolerate heat and humidity a lot better. Friend of mine sold a mahogany Martin to Jimmy Buffet years back that he planned to keep on his boat.
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Old 16-08-2012, 15:44   #6
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

Ovations certainly are around these days and the mix of Lyrachord (fibreglass) body and (in some models) composite carbon fibre soundboard makes the bodies of the instruments very resistant to changes in humidity. The issue is the neck and more specifically the ebony or rosewood fingerboards. Some Ovation models have a K bar or Kaman bar neck which incorporates a substantial aluminium casting in the neck which prevents warping and provides an adjustable neck joint.

Ovations can be a good choice of on-board guitar, but the better ones are the more expensive models and they all have onboard electronics which may not fare so well in marine environments.

Windsong Guitars build a conventional looking instrument that is entirely made from composite materials I believe - once again, not a cheap instrument.

The other approach is to take a cheaper guitar that you won't cry a river about if it does develop some issues.
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Old 16-08-2012, 16:09   #7
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

Is the issue really heat and humidity? I'm not so sure it's all that much of a problem. People play plenty of wooden stringed instruments outdoors, day and night, summer and winter in Mexico. And yet they don't seem to have problems with warped instruments. Except when they do it on purpose, of course... Houston, Miami, New Orleans....lots of outdoor acoustic music. In temperatures that changes tremendously. near zero in the winter to over 100 six months later, and humidity that varies by 40 or 50%. Weather fronts come through Texas that crack window glass with atmospheric changes. And yet there are plenty of guitars in Austin.

When I was playing around with joinery in New England, I always had to remember to design in the ability for wooden components to expand in the summer and contract in the winter. I built a fair bit of stuff without using metal, just joinery.

Wood, especially fine wood, is not so much affected by heat and humidity, as it is changes in heat and humidity. It absorbs moisture. swells up. Drys out, shrinks.

I don't really know that much about the luthiers craft, but I don't recall seeing any obvious concessions to wood expansion in fine instruments. That tells me that they are good for a world wide market as is. Huge variations in conditions from SE Asia to Tierra del Fuego.

I've been observing wood movement here in the tropics now for 7 years.. We are situated on a bluff overlooking the Caicos Bank, directly into the trade winds. The temperature varies only about 20-25 degrees stop to stop, year round. The humidity is fairly constant. I've built several tables with planks pegged or splined together. They don't shrink or expand year to year. It's hot and humid by northern european standards, but it's consistent.

Are you having problems with wooden instruments? I mean, ,grand pianos and such I would expect to suffer from the movement. Big instruments are not really built to continuously move through three axis. I bet they develop squeaks.

I've had a fiddle here now for four years. I just brought it with me from Jacksonville to Providenciales, on a sailboat, over a period of six weeks. I tuned it with one of those electronic clamp on tuners in Florida, and checked it a couple of times throughout the trip. It didn't go out of tune, more than the pretty much standard slow drift toward the flat side for the tighter strings.

I've also got an electric six string, and of course the moisture doesn't bother it. But I've noticed that steel strings will rust here pretty quick if you don't use them regularly. They stay pretty clean if you play them.
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Old 16-08-2012, 16:43   #8
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

Certainly it is the moisture and heat I'm concerned about, the salt as well, and the spectre of rot. All the bugbears of wooden boats, just affecting a different kind of construction. In some ways, a sailboat is a stringed woodwind instrument, isn't it?

The problems with Mum's lovely Spinet in Brisbane's heat and humidity and the salt air where we lived on the Cleveland waterfront were stability of tuning, timbre, and finish on the exposed untreated timber, but thankfully no critters or tiny plants consuming it...we watched out for those but couldn't deal with the rest short of a dedicated temp and humidity controlled room beyond our budget.

So far I'm grateful and impressed with the responses from the musical sailors about their experiences; and thinking about it a bit more based on that info perhaps my fears are justified but also a bit exaggerated, as usual. As I said, my inherited wooden flutes are already little primadonnas that have to be pampered, and that is just in very mild and temperate Germany with central heating, substantal insulation, double glazing, and a lot less instrument-wrecking bugs. My also-inherited Zither is showing her age and the neglect of the PO, but is still viable and has character but I am thinking that she would not survive sea voyaging. I haven't any pipes at the moment, for which the locals should be grateful, and I'd like to hear from some sailing pipers if there are any here. The Psaltery, also shellac/virgin wood, is much younger than the Zither and also better made and cared for, though the strings and pegs as you said need attention to stay healthy. Any tips for forestalling the enemies of instruments that are over and above land-based ones, and specifically ones from sailors? There are limits to instruments and fine timber, and they were built for land, not sealevel.
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Old 16-08-2012, 16:52   #9
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

A vexing question!

Personal experience: Martin D-18S on board for 25 years, SF to the South Pacific. Pick guard and bridge came loose after about 10 years. Repaired for free by the Martin rep in Brisbane Australia. No further problems. Use gold plated strings, and they seem to last just fine.

OTOH, a friend who is a serious violinist had a somewhat antique instrument on board their BCC, and it fell apart several times. She took it to a chap here in Oz who revived it each time (for a price) and now they are living ashore in Seattle where the instrument seems happy.

It does have it's risks!

Cheers,

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Old 16-08-2012, 17:15   #10
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

My husband is a piper. He is loathe to bring his pipes aboard because of his pipes having sentimental value. I think we are going to have my friend EJ make him a set of small pipes- take up less room, depending on the mounts you choose not too terribly spendy, easier to travel with and without the HUGE sound of the great pipes (to avoid annoying the neighbors. EJ is literally, a world class piper and you can speak to him directly to discuss your needs here: Tidy Cottage Smallpipes | EJ Jones

We might be getting a cheap set of student great pipes just to have them and if they become mildewed, so what. I'm going to be getting a cheap violin. The sound won't be good but if it needs replacing, no big deal. I'm leaving my flute behind as the humidity would have me replacing pads far too often.

I'm not worried about customs and the wood. If they got to persnickety about wood no boats with teak would be allowed in!
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Old 16-08-2012, 18:26   #11
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

As a classically trained guitarist, I could not take my LoPrinzi Spanish Grand Concert Guitar along when we lived aboard for ten years. My LoPrinzi is a solid cedar guitar, back and sides,ebony fingerboard, Honduras Mahogany neck, bone and nut saddle and Gotoh tuners. To destroy a quality seasoned instrument would be nothing short of sacrilege. The reason being that it is not the moisture that will ultimately damage the instrument but the ingress of salt encrustation that will loosen the glue joints, warp the bracing and neck and degrade the tuners. In a fresh water environment, moisture can be controlled by the use of a hydrometer which measures humidity levels and is available for reasonable prices at any music chandlery. However, the salt cannot and therefore it would be inadvisable to take any quality instrument aboard. The solution that I used was to buy an inexpensive laminate guitar (top and back) that with reasonable care will last many years and when it is finally dead musically from the elements, throw it away. These instruments can be purchased for about $500., have a reasonably good sound, but you must tweak the bridge and the nut since the action of the strings is usually high and inconsistent. It you don't have the mechanical skills, a luthier would probably charge around $50-60. for the service. I bought a Yamaha, but Rodriguez, Esteve and others make similar guitars. It is important after playing to wipe your guitar with a damp clean cloth with distilled water and use alcohol or a string potion they sell in the chandleries to keep them clean of oils from your hands and the salt air. You can have your cake and it it too, but you just won't get the concert sound you might be accustomed to hearing. But, then again, if you're into Metal, Acid Rock or
Waylon Jennings it really won't matter.
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Old 24-08-2012, 20:41   #12
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Cool Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

The Ovation is still around and would be a good option. I have a Martin composite body acoustic electric. When purchasing, I was surprised at the quality sound. However, the neck is rosewood so moisture may be an issue. get a good solid hardcase to keep protected.
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Originally Posted by skipmac View Post
Years ago Ovation started building an acoustic guitar with a fiberglass body. I think they are still around.

Martin has made a few models that were solid mahogany. Doesn't have the sound of their spruce body but supposed to tolerate heat and humidity a lot better. Friend of mine sold a mahogany Martin to Jimmy Buffet years back that he planned to keep on his boat.
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Old 24-08-2012, 20:43   #13
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

I posted this reply on a message below:
The Ovation is still around and would be a good option. I have a Martin composite body acoustic electric. When purchasing, I was surprised at the quality sound. However, the neck is rosewood so moisture may be an issue. get a good solid hardcase to keep protected.
So, investigate the possibility of composite and contact manufacturer.
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Old 24-08-2012, 21:00   #14
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

i kept my bagpipes on board with no problem. they were standard great highland pipes, all leather and wood and cane. as a piper you may have discovered that they actually play better in a damp environment. there's nothing like getting out the pipes in the early evening and playing 'amazing grace' as the sun goes down; i was sometimes the hit of the anchorage.

the newer pipes are heavily plastic and probably are unaffected by dampness...
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Old 24-08-2012, 22:19   #15
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Re: Musical Instruments Afloat

I had my PRS Santana guitar on board for 3 months...it was a joy to play BUT over that time a lot of the metal hardware started to corrode, particularly the screws holding the pickguard, the pickup mounting screws and the strings...even though it was kept in a good hard case and the neck wrapped in a slightly olive-oiled wrag...
I took it home and left it there.
I can't imagine what the marine environment would do to a fine handcrafted wooden instrument like a spinet.
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