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Thread: Instruments on a Road Trip

  1. #1

    Default Instruments on a Road Trip

    I'm planning a long road trip in the month of October (possibly into November). I'd like to bring a mandolin and ukulele with me, but I'll be camping most of the trip, so I'm concerned about storing them in the car.

    Early in the trip, I'll mostly be up north (northern Michigan, slowly making my way over to Montana), so temperatures should be low. They will likely stay above freezing, but definitely could drop below.

    Later in the trip (late October/early November), I'll be in the southwest (Utah, Arizona). This time of year, temperatures shouldn't be too high, but you never know and could easily end up with a 90 degree day. Plus, even when it's cool, a sunny day can mean a very hot car, which could then lead to damage to the instruments.

    So, I'm wondering if anybody has any tips. Should I not be worried about it? Are there precautions I can take to protect the instruments? Or should I just suck up the fact that I won't get to play music for a month?

  2. #2
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    No real good answer. We travel about 260 days a year in our RV. This is a well insulated trailer (as RVs go) and I take precautions such as case covers and blanket wraps to eliminate extremes and rapid changes. High humidity often requires air conditioning or running a dehumidifier.
    Times of the year and locations of travel dictate risk factor. If the trips risk factor is too high I travel with lesser favored or less expensive instruments. Take a $ 150.00 Rogue and have fun.
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  3. #3
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    I wouldn't be worried, but I'd be cautious. Above-freezing low temps aren't likely to be damaging. You should avoid rapid temperature changes, though, because wood and finishes can expand or contract at rates different enough to "break" the finish from the wood, producing the fine finish cracks we call "lacquer checking." I got a real lesson in this when I had a guitar in my car in below-zero weather and brought it into my warm house. Even though I left it in the case overnight, hoping it would warm up gradually, I found quite a bit of checking when I opened the case the next day.

    Heat's another matter. In temperatures around the high 90's, woods like mahogany can become very pliable, and string tension can put a warp into a neck. Also, glue can soften, and bridges pull loose. The best strategy is to keep the instruments at a temperature you can stand. If you have a car with a trunk, wrapping a quilt around the cases, or a Mylar blanket, can reduce the amount of heat they absorb. Ninety degrees F won't generally damage instruments, but if it gets much warmer, you might want to take the instruments with you, keep 'em in the tent while you're in there, not leave them in the car.

    I've taken instruments around in cars for 50+ years, and have yet to get heat damage. When I was younger, I painted a bunch of my cases white, to reduce radiant heat absorption; still have a couple of those old white cases. But I have heard anecdotal evidence of instruments getting "baked" in cars, with subsequent damage.

    My ol' rule of thumb is, if it's not uncomfortably hot or cold for me, my instruments will be OK. My current vehicle is an SUV without a trunk; in the summer my instruments sit under the type of quilt movers use. So far it's worked, but I don't get to the real Death Valley vicinity, so I haven't exposed them to any real extremes.
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    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    At 90 degrees a car with the windows open can reach 120 degrees in a few minutes, and that is on the floor boards. While moving I had a thermometer on the floor of a car at less than that temp and it went to 120 degrees with the windows open in a matter of 20 minutes. As Allen says leave them in a tent if it is safe and not in the car. A trunk can be an oven so I wouldn't advise leaving them there even wrapped in blankets.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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  6. #5
    Registered User Murphy Slaw's Avatar
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    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    At 90 degrees a car with the windows open can reach 120 degrees in a few minutes,
    Not in Northern Michigan in October.

    Not very likely.

    Like Allen said, just be aware. Musicians always travel....
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    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    Quote Originally Posted by Murphy Slaw View Post
    Not in Northern Michigan in October.
    We ...
    Northern Michigan ( U P ) in October is more likely to have snow.
    Stiver A style (MAS has stopped here)
    Kentucky KM-950
    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
    Weber Gallatin A Mandola "D hole"
    Rogue 100A (current campfire tool)
    Harley Benton A style (grandchildren's learner)

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  10. #7
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    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    Yeah .... If you are uncomfortable so are your instruments. If memory serves 120'f is where glue bonds break down. Buy an extra blanket or two and / or an insulated case cover. Throw in a thermometer to keep active track. Likely you will have few "problems" . . . " but " as is said. Good luck and have a wonderful journey. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  11. #8
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    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    Quote Originally Posted by Murphy Slaw View Post
    Not in Northern Michigan in October.

    Not very likely.

    Like Allen said, just be aware. Musicians always travel....
    I was referring to when in Utah/Arizona where it would be 90 degrees as it says in the OP's post.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  12. #9
    Registered User Buck's Avatar
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    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    As far as damage goes, heat is your main enemy. It can get very hot, about 150 degrees or more inside a car sitting in the sun. That's hot enough to cause glue failure and catastrophic structural damage. Keeping it in the trunk will help slow that, but after long enough, it's the same temperature in the trunk. Those spaces are physically connected, but the passenger compartment heats much more quickly due to the glass.

    My solution (which isn't for everyone) is an F-150 with a locked/insulated fiberglass lid. I've done some testing and it never gets more than 10 degrees above ambient in the covered bed of my truck, so on a 95 degree day, it won't be more than 105 in the bed and that's not hot enough to cause damage. If you're in a typical passenger car or even SUV, I'd put the instruments out of direct sunlight, wrap them in a blanket or sleeping bag, and try to keep the car out of the sun as much as possible when you're not driving. By blankets I mean insulating blankets, not the emergency foil type. They only protect against radiant heat.

    You can also get a solar powered fan which attaches temporarily at the top of a window to ventilate the car when not in use. Believe it or not, that will lower the interior temperature of the car by 30 degrees or so.

    If it gets cold enough, well below freezing, you might have crazing issues with lacquer. IME it has to be more near zero than freezing for that to be a problem. Of course, that could diminish the resale value of the instrument but is highly unlikely to cause any functional damage.

    Personally, I like to have an instrument with me when I travel. It's worth the hassle to make that happen, but I do take precautions to lower the risk to something I'm willing to accept. I don't what to have my instrument structurally damaged by heat, and following the strategies above, that's never happened to me. I did have one instrument get some finish crazing, but I plan on that one being a lifetime guitar so it doesn't bother me.
    Todd Yates

  13. #10

    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    I have kept instruments in the trunk of my car under two heavy duty sleeping bags (rated to plus 20 degrees F) until about noon or 1PM even on a warm sunny day and when I take them out of the trunk the cases are still cool. I unzip the bags fully and carefully pack them over and around the cases so that they fill the trunk, light side facing up. I have not had the nerve to go much past 1 PM although I could probably safely leave them in a while longer. Finding a secure and cool place to store instruments at a summer bluegrass festival remains a challenge, but this approach gets me through part of most days.

  14. #11
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    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    ... Take a $ 150.00 Rogue and have fun.
    Fine idea! Better yet, a $65 Rogue blem/2nd. Yes, have fun!
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  15. #12
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Instruments on a Road Trip

    I travel with instruments a lot, fortunately no problems. Donít leave them to bake in a hot car, beware passive solar energy (sunlight through windows) as mentioned above re: temps.

    An accurate thermometer and humidity reader is a good investment, and cool it/humidify it as necessary, mostly common sense is all you need. No fears, no stress, just be mindful.
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