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master violin and viola case maker


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Testing, standards, achievements, and procedures



In 1983, the testing of Mr. Musafia's cases was rather empiric. Dropping a case from the second-floor balcony, or releasing a case onto a roadway from a speeding Porsche, and then noting what breakage occurred and how to avoid it happening again. (For the record, the latter case survived intact, requiring only replacement of the cover).


With time, testing methods became more scientific, although not for that reason less spectacular. For example, to determine how valid the new waterproofing technique was, a case was floated out into Alamitos Bay in Southern California for a predetermined period of time and then checked for damage (below, left). In a weatherproofing test, a case was anchored onto a rooftop in Southern California - for a full year - to see what damage would be caused by the extremely high temperatures, corrosive salt air, and gusty winter storms (below, right). This particular test proved significant as it led to the development of PressurePorts, the novel system to reduce the buildup of moisture inside the case in high temperature conditions. 


But let's take a step back. You might not know that the word for "case" in Italian is custodia. This term derives from the verb custodire, or "to take care of". The aim of Mr. Musafia is therefore to take care of your instrument - literally.

Mr. Musafia's design philosophy and research follow the principle of basic load resistance, controlled deformation in order to absorb kinetic energy once the primary load resistance has been surpassed, and limitation of the movement of the content. This is an adaptation of the theories first developed by the Hungarian auto engineer Bela Barenyi starting in 1951 for Mercedes-Benz which, following the introduction of the Mercedes 220 in 1959, in the following decades became the passive safety standard adopted world-wide.

To work best in the event of impact, the structure of a musical instrument case must function in three ways: passive resistance against impact (i.e. strength), impact absorbtion (to dissipate kinetic energy), and instrument restraint (i.e. suspension pads and neck ties, which act like seatbelts and airbags in an automobile). This of course means that since true instrument safety lies within an equilibrium of these three aspects, the case must be conceived as a system.

Musafia cases undergo continuous testing in order to develop better products. In this image, taken several years ago, three cases are being subjected to a solar radiation test - in 96°F heat - in order to better understand the overheating of the interior of the case in this set of circumstances. Note how the sunlight is at a 45% angle, and thus is heating both the lid and the handle side of the case, to best recreate a real-life situation. Data gathered by eletronic probes is entered into a computer for analysis. 



1 - PASSIVE SAFETY STANDARD. During his research Mr. Musafia learned that one of the most frequent causes of damage of the instrument within the case is caused when someone slips and falls upon it, his or her weight crushing the case and the instrument within. Therefore, Musafia violin cases were designed to withstand the weight of at least 80 kg., or 176 lbs., representing the weight of the average owner, applied on top, on the sides, and on the ends. This strength can easily be exceeded, and indeed certain models can withstand up to 100 kg. (220 lbs.) or more of pressure on the lid, but it isn't practical to design higher resistance on other models due to their shape and size because it must be taken into consideration that many people want a light-weight case. That of course doesn't rule out anything: if a customer wants a case that will support, say, 200 kg. (440 lbs.) on the lid, all he or she has to do is ask. Mr. Musafia and his assistants know how to do it, whatever model, size, or format it may be.


2 - DEFINING RESISTANCE. The definition of resistance to a certain pressure used in case design means that the case can be loaded up to that weight (say 100 kg.) and the case will continue to be protective inasmuch as no part of it will be exercising unsustainable pressure against the instrument to provoke breakage. This doesn't rule out flexibility: indeed, a little flexibility is useful in order to help dissipate the kinetic energy generated by an impact. However, too much flexibility isn't good because, assuming of course that the instrument doesn't get crushed when the structure "gives", such a case will bounce if dropped, subjecting the instrument inside to greater acceleration and therefore greater risk. This is why Musafia cases don't make use of unbreakable but too-flexible materials such as carbon fiber, fiberglass, or other high-technology materials.    


3 - TOLERANCES AND FURTHER COMMENTS. On this website may be stated that a certain model is designed to support a certain load: 80 kg., 100 kg., or more, depending on the model. However since Musafia cases are made from wood laminate, and wood is a natural material, one can expect a variation of +/-10% of the values indicated from one case to another. In addition, these pressure resistance values are intended as a guideline only to be able to compare different case models measured by the same standard. Lesser weight applied to the case by means differing from those used in our standard, for example concentrated in a certain area or applied with a pointed object, could result in damage to an eventual instrument inside much sooner. Unless otherwise noted, load resistance values indicated refer to cases for violin only. Viola and double cases in general have lower resistance due to their larger surfaces. Lastly, if you have a special request that a given case model be resistant to a higher degree, your request can be satisfied.


4 - IMPACT ABSORBTION /1. Once a force or impact has been received that exceeds the designed pressure resistance (or load-bearing capability) of the case, the structure will begin to lose it's original form. It is imperative that when this happens, this excess energy is absorbed before it is transmitted to the instrument through the monolithical impact absorbing structure. Musafia Cremona Italy cases in fact use high-density foam filler which is cemented to both the bottom and side panels to absorb this damage, while most other manufacturers glue the foam filler (usually of inferior density to save weight) solidly only to the sides. This means that the Musafia Cremona Italy case will be able to absorb a strong blow which exceeds the tensile strength of the frame while maintaining the area surrounding the instrument unchanged, thus saving the instrument. On the contrary, in a case not manufactured to this standard (i.e. most of them) the foam filler will move laterally and can crush the instrument.



CRASH TEST: This Salvatore Accardo by Musafia case was subjected to a severe impact, great enough to crack the frame on both right and left sides, tear out both cross-bars and made the bottom collapse inwards by over 2 cm. Yet, as can be seen in the photo on the right, the padded area which holds the instrument was not deformed by the impact: indeed, despite the case being damaged beyond repair, the violin still fits perfectly with all the proper clearances. It's useful to have such a margin of safety!   


5 - IMPACT ABSORBTION /2. A little-known but serious risk to the instrument in case of impact is constituted by the accessory box lids being hinged to non-structural or non-reinforced partitions. In case of impact, the lid will in fact act as a guillotine and force the partition into contact with the scroll.



CRASH TEST: In the Hill-model case to the left, during an impact absorbed longitudinally against the accessory box, the structure collapsed and the accessory box lid was pushed backwards, detaching the partition to the point of it coming into contact with the scroll of the instrument, as the marks on the velvet show. The image on the right shows how this can't happen in this Musafia Cremona Italy case: the partition is not only structural (i.e. cemented to the bottom and sides of the case) but it is also backed by impact-absorbing filler, making it's contact with the instrument under these circumstances almost impossible.



While some case designs such as the Luxury Ultralight cases don't have the foam filler behind the wood partition, additional laminate side panels (A and B) act as pillars to support the crosswise partition in case of impact, completing what can be defined as a "safety frame" around the scroll of the instrument.


6 - INSTRUMENT RESTRAINT. To complete the safety of the instrument from the purely mechanical point of view, it must be suspended between the bottom and lid of the case, and restrained from movement in any direction that could harm it. This restraint however must not be rigid, as that could result in breakage under certain conditions. Rather, the instrument must be able to move in a limited circle, enough to dampen a blow but not enough to allow excessive acceleration. For this reason, all Musafia Cremona Italy cases use the thickest lateral padding of any case maker, have 4-point suspension (not just 3 or 2), and an elastically-mounted neck support restraint positioned to check fore-and-aft movement. In other words, all that plushness is truly useful, not just aesthetically pleasing!

Four-point instrument suspension is highly recommended by many restorers to safeguard string instruments.


7 - WHY A WOOD LAMINATE SHELL AND NOT SOMETHING MORE MODERN? When Mr. Musafia began making cases in 1983, that was indeed his first question. With the assistance of an experienced boatbuilder, over a few years the first Musafia cases were made of a wide variety of materials: honeycomb PVC with steel joinery, fiberglass in simple and sandwich section, carbon fiber, Kevlar, and other technologically advanced materials. Over 120 cases were made with the so-called "high tech" plastics. However, testing the finished product soon proved beyond a doubt that a violin case is not a boat or a windmill, and that these materials simply are not suitable to offer the type of protection that a violin requires. In the end, Mr. Musafia "returned" to wood, albeit a particularly refined multi-ply laminate specially milled for his cases.   


8 - OTHER MUSAFIA PROGRESS. Below are other examples of features which were first employed on Musafia cases. 


Musafia introduced the first truly effective hygrometer-humidifier system in 1988, which became standard on all Musafia cases.

The distinctive Musafia wick-style humidifier (left, shown in it's original form) has proven far superior to the other case humidifiers (vapor bottles, etc.), because it offers a greater effective area with respect to the air mass contained within the case. When humidification is needed, it works quicker (generally two hours is enough to reach a safe 50% RH), and in addition, the greater water capacity allows long-range use. This explains why the wick-style humidifier is now considered by many to be preferable. 


Instruments can be damaged within the case when the bow falls off the bow holder. Some manufacturers try to partially resolve this problem by putting the accessory compartment to the right of the instrument. Musafia cases have bow holders with a spring-loaded mechanism (left) that keeps the bows firmly locked into place.

More than one case company has dispensed with the lock entirely, relying on the zippers alone to keep the case closed. Only Musafia cases have the Sekur™ double-action safety lock (right). The advantages of this lock are numerous: accidental opening of the case is almost impossible, the "pull down" system promotes a watertight closing of the case shell, the lock itself lasts almost forever.


Through-bolted zinc-plated steel reinforcements on Aeternum, Master Series, Enigma, and all viola and double models are essential in creating a strong, long-lasting structure.

Most manufacturers simply rivet their handles to the case. Musafia uses a specially-made handle, oversized to facilitate carrying the case while wearing gloves, which is through-bolted with four 4mm solid brass bolts. It is designed to be easily replaced when worn out, thus conserving your investment.



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