Not just guitars, protecting any kind of musical instrument from humidity or extreme temperatures is imperative. When humidity is low, wooden musical instruments would experience some level of damage or the other over time. Maintaining optimal humidity levels helps prevent your guitar from cracking, warping, and shrinkage. Keep reading to learn more about how humidity affects your guitar, what you can do about it.
Are guitar humidifiers necessary? To understand how humidity affects the shape, form, and functionality of a guitar, it’s important to learn more than a thing or two about how a guitar actually works.
The top, bottom, and sides of a guitar are its key components. In acoustic guitars, there are various sizes and shapes of braces affixed to them. These braces are not only offering rigidity and strength to the guitar, but also holding the guitar in place.
The guitar body’s top works as the fastening point for important guitar parts, including the bridge at an electric or acoustic guitar’s lower part, which is usually found just under the sound hole. This lets the wooden pieces’ vibration to reflect the reverberation. This piece works in conjunction with the nut, which is found atop the fretboard and the guitar’s neck and holds the strings in place above the fretboard and guitar body. The guitar’s neck, which has been fastened to the body of the guitar, keeps the fretboard in place.
The fretboard on the majority of guitars come with a certain kind of roundness to its surface, which is referred to as ‘radius’. Though there are few guitars, including specially-manufactured guitars that come with a resonator or classical music guitars, which don’t have a rounded fretboard, the majority of electric and acoustic guitars tend to come with a marginal radius in their fretboard.
Once the strings have been strung from the guitar’s bridge across the fretboard and body of the guitar and are held in position by the guitar’s neck, there is enough space for the instrument’s strings to vibrate or move when strummed or plucked. The length of the string could be modified by pressing the string down against a fret, which would cut short the string amount that would vibrate and churn out a sound with a higher pitch. The effort needed for pressing the string downwards along with the now truncated ability of the strings to vibrate is referred to as its action.
When you look at how the body of a guitar reacts or responds to changes in humidity, you would start to notice and appreciate how crucial these different components are to the guitar in the larger scheme of things. Humidity determines how your guitar looks and performs. The problem with most people worried about guitar humidity is that they have little to no idea about how the weather impacts their instrument. They like to believe that a guitar is some non-living object that only needs basic dusting and cleaning to stay in top and usable condition. And this is the reason why there are so many guitarists – both amateurs and enthusiasts – thronging guitar repair shops very now and then with a wrecked instrument. These guitar humidity issues are easily preventable, only if they knew the preventive measures.
When a guitar is kept in a normal and optimal environment, the bridge’s position is correct, the action on display is proper, and the radius is normal as well. When a guitarist plays such a guitar or strikes its string, the desired sound comes from the instrument’s soundhole.
How Does Humidity Affect Guitars?
Humidity basically denotes the amount of water present in the guitar. If your guitar has low humidity or its water content is low, it would become dry, brittle, and weak. If its humidity is high, it would become dull, bloated, and also start growing mold if the humidity is not brought under control quickly enough. A proper balance of humidity in your guitar is, therefore, essential.
Guitars are invariably manufactured in a space that’s closely monitored and controlled for humidity. This is because the makers know that low levels of humidity would result in the guitar wood losing its natural moisture content. Even though a guitar’s sides, bottom, top, and neck are typically covered with a sealant, lacquer or even some plastic material, an electric or acoustic guitar has certain portions that are not covered by this lacquer.
A dry guitar is a fragile guitar. And when the guitar loses its integrity, its bridge could lift away from the base or body. This is due to string tension attacking the wobbly dry wood. Also, the neck could start pulling away from the guitar’s body, your acoustic’s sides and tops could crack, necks could encounter warping issues, etc. An overhydrated guitar would also have its fair share of problems. For instance, the acoustics’ tops would start bubbling out. The instrument would sound bloated and dull.
Most guitar players simply keep their guitars laying somewhere or hang them on the wall. The impact that such kind of storage has on a guitar would not be apparent or become clearly visible even after a year or more of continuing the practice. However, if that guitar is taken to a guitar shop or an expert guitarist examines it, they would be able to spot some level of deformation in the instrument. The part of the instrument that usually gets affected the most due to humidity issues in the neck.
This is particularly true in the case of electric guitars. An electric bass guitar or electric guitar is continually under tension. The guitar is fighting back against or encountering the strings, which explains the presence of a truss rod. The rod is there to help the guitar retain its form. But if the neck begins to give in too much or there is not enough humidity, even the truss rod won’t be able to offset the unfavorable situation. And such a damage once done would be tough or almost impossible to reverse.
Humidity won’t affect different types of guitars the same way, or with the same pace or intensity. For instance, an electric guitar will not undergo as much suffering at the hands of humidity as an acoustic guitar would. Having said that, any kind of guitar is prone to humidity-inflicted damage. Just because you have an electric guitar doesn’t mean you can care any less.
Long story short, every and any type of guitar must be stored in a place that has correct humidity levels.
Signs of a Dry Guitar
When a guitar is dry, it’s not that difficult to notice, provided you know where to look for the dryness in the first place. The fret’s ends would become sharp with the fretboard wood drying up. The fretboard wood’s top grain would become a lot more noticeable than normal, and the string height (or action) would be lower and could also buzz when played.
Coming to the guitar’s body, you could come across a concaving top since the braces are dried out and have become constricted. There could also be a certain level of looseness existing at the joint between the guitar body and the guitar’s neck. Moreover, the bridge would be loose, and some lose braces could also be found within the guitar.
As this loss of moisture increases or the guitar becomes drier, you could also come across cracks in the opening seams or the wood of the guitar. The opening seam is where the pieces of wood are pushed against other parts of the guitar, including the fret or the nut. The humidity loss and its dehydrating effects would not just result in a guitar that sounds bad, but it could also lead to some major or permanent damage, leaving the instrument useless.
Ideal Humidity for Guitar Storage
Humidity leads to multiple issues based on its existing levels. A guitar shouldn’t be stored in a very humid place. But you must also not subject it to extremely dry air. When your guitar’s humidity is in the prescribed range, it would sound and play the way the manufacturer intended it to. Once you let your guitar’s humidity push to the two extremes of the range or fall out of the range, you would slowly start to experience a range of issues.
As a general rule, the humidity levels of a guitar should fall in the 40 to 60 percent RH (relative humidity) range.
Should You Humidify Your Guitar?
The guitar is made of wood, and your guitar still thinks that it is a tree. It would react to its climate, which could affect how it feels, looks, and plays. Wood acts like a sponge – it can lose water and shrink when there is no moisture in the air, and it absorbs water from thin air when the air is fairly wet.
There’s a major reason why professionals advise amateur guitarists to store their guitars properly, which is in the guitar cases. If you hang your guitar on the wall, not only are you subjecting the instrument to the possibilities of it falling flat on the floor, but you are also subjecting it to open, non-controlled air. Moreover, the back of the guitar is constantly in contact with the wall, which acclimatizes the instrument to the wall’s temperature. All these things combined significantly impact the form and functionality of the guitar. If the damage is consistent and prolonged, you may end up with a guitar that’s completely unplayable.
The major issue with guitar humidity is the damage that’s not clearly visible to the untrained eye. Your guitar’s reaction to too humid or dry environments would be slow and not necessarily apparent. The reaction is subtle, and properly inspecting the instrument is the only method to keep the humidity under check. A lot of guitarists don’t do this, and they take notice of the guitar’s issues with humidity only after a good amount of damage has been already done.
Probably, the biggest reason why you should care so much about humidifying your guitar is a damaged guitar could cost you money, practice time, psychological torture, and a successful performance if you are a professional. The best thing about a guitar with a cracked back or soundboard is that once repaired and restored to its original condition, it would start playing as it used to before. But that would cost you serious money and time. The repair and restoration process can be stressful if humidity has caused some significant damage.
How Do You Control Humidity on a Guitar?
There are different ways to control how humid your guitar is or the level of humidity it is subjected to in an enclosed space. The best way is to constantly check its humidity and top up or reduce humidity using specific tools. There are quite a few handy gadgets or tools that help you stay on top of your guitar’s humidity and make amends as and when there are variances.
Guitar Case Humidifiers
To regulate humidity when your guitar is inside its case, you can use a guitar case humidification system. Since your guitar spends most of its time inside the case, it’s imperative you have arrangements in place to keep the guitar’s humidity levels locked in when it’s not at work. Guitar case humidifiers are probably the most inexpensive and also the most effective humidifying solution since it’s burdened with the responsibility to regulate humidity levels of a small, tightly sealed space. The case’s inside would also absorb moisture from the case humidifier and would act as a massive moisture repository for your instrument while it’s inside. When you have taken your guitar out of the case, make sure you close the case’s lid properly with the humidifier inside it. My recommendation would be this on available on Amazon.
Guitar Humidity Gauges
Guitar humidity gauges help you cut the guesswork out and take actions based on empirical data. For instance, the hygrometer can gauge a room’s RH level. There are also variants that are made to stay inside your guitar case and constantly monitor humidity. If the humidity within the case breaches dangerous levels, it would send notifications to your smartphone. These hygrometers also offer in-case temperature readings and notify you when your case temperature has dropped, or the case has experienced sharp physical movements or impact.
Room Humidifiers for Guitar Rooms
If your guitar room’s humidity level is too low, a room humidifier would help remedy the problem. A room humidifier is an easy-to-use, low-cost way to ensure optimal humidity levels in a room. Some of these humidifiers come built with humidistats, which help ensure perfect humidity level without you having to manually alter your device’s moisture output rate.
When choosing a humidifier, a few things must be looked into. Certain humidifiers are made to suit rooms of a specific size. To choose the correct size humidifier, first ascertain your guitar room’s square footage. There are also ultrasonic humidifiers that ensure the humidifying mist is extremely clean and no particulate matter gets accumulated on your guitar. If you have multiple guitars in different rooms in your house or studio space, you would find a whole-house humidifier more beneficial than installing humidifiers in each room.
Guitar Humidifier Cabinets
If you look up options to humidify your guitar, you would come across guitar humidifier cabinets along with the options mentioned above. Unlike regular cabinets, these guitar humidifier cabinets are purpose-designed and dimensioned to store your guitar and keep their humidity levels intact. They come with humidification systems built into them. In other words, these cabinets would keep the humidity of your guitar within the 40 to 60 percent RH range. These cabinets are also easy to install, and their maintenance requirements are fairly minimal too. They should come good for years together. However, that’s subject to the kind of humidity in the air in your region and how frequently it fluctuates.
You can buy a humidifier cabinet premade from a reputed manufacturer (like this one which is excellent) or make one yourself if you’re good with building things. If you want to take the middle route, you may hire a skilled craftsman and get a humidifier cabinet designed as per your specific requirements. However, such custom humidifier cabinets would cost you more than premade cabinets or if you end up making a cabinet yourself. Once the cabinet has been made, you can install a humidifier of your choice within the cabinet. A cabinet is a great option if you play your guitar sporadically and want a storage space that’s a lot more rigid and stable than a typical guitar case.
Regardless of the kind of humidifier you use, the objective should be to restore the entire guitar’s moisture content and not resort to spot-fixing. Also, make sure the humidifier is filled with fluid always and the seal is adequate.
A guitar is a tool that needs proper care and upkeep. And controlling humidity is an important aspect of its maintenance. Using humidifiers for controlling indoor humidity is just one aspect of safeguarding your guitar against humidity. There are some other things you must do to make sure your guitar is sufficiently humid to play to its true potential. Playing the guitar every now and then is one of the other things you could do.