Protecting Your Guitar from Humidity

Where do you keep your guitar? Most likely, it is tucked up in the corner of the room, or popped away in a cupboard, safely stored and out of the way, but in easy reach for when you need it. What many of us fail to realise is that the way we store our guitar can have an enormous impact on the way it looks and plays. Wood is a living, breathing material and can be seriously affected by changes in humidity.
Ultimately, moisture can cause irreparable damage, rendering your pride and joy completely unplayable, and dryness can be equally, or sometimes even more damaging. Even in less extreme cases, it can have a noticeable impact on its appearance and tone. A simple solution is to invest in a guitar humidifier to make sure it looks and sounds as good as the day you bought it for years to come. Let’s find out more about the effects of humidity on your guitar and the best way to protect it.

The science bit

We’ll keep this simple, but it is important to understand the concept of relative humidity. Essentially, the clue is in the word “relative” – humidity changes with temperature, so if, for example, it is 10C and 50% relative humidity outside, you probably have the heating on in your home. That air comes in from outside, is heated to, let’s say, 20C and the relative humidity plummets. This is because the moisture present has not changed, but the warmer air is capable of holding more water, thus the drop in relative humidity.

In short, the thing you need to take home is that by heating the air, you can cause a dramatic drop in relative humidity.

The effects of variations in humidity

Bob Taylor runs a small guitar manufacturing business over on the West Coast of the USA, but he started out by repairing other people’s guitars. Bob commented that at one stage, about three quarters of the guitar repairs he carried out were to put right the effects of humidity. And all could have been avoided if the guitars had been properly looked after.

As mentioned earlier, both moisture and dryness can cause serious damage to a guitar, but it is probably the latter that can wreak the greatest damage. Without getting too scientific again, we all understand that as wood dries out, it shrinks. What you might not realise is that in the case of a guitar, that can mean it shrinks by as much as an eighth of an inch. To add to the problem, different parts will be affected to varying extents – for example, the body will shrink more than the fretboard. You can imagine the stresses that puts on the different parts of the guitar and, for example, the frets can start to protrude or even come away.

Of course, too much humidity can also cause big problems. If yours is exposed to humidity levels higher than 60 percent or so for prolonged periods of time, it can start to quite literally take on water, causing the wood to swell.

The ideal conditions

Ideally, you should try to keep your guitar in an environment close to 50 percent humidity. Of course, your instrument will be played in all sorts of different places and exposed to different levels, but the point to keep in mind is that it’s prolonged exposure that can cause the damage.

In general, the more expensive your guitar, the more sensitive it is likely to be, as the better quality guitars are made from thinner wood and are primarily constructed using glue.

Preventing problems

There are some simple steps you can take to maintain the optimal conditions and keep your guitar in tip top condition:

Use a guitar humidifier. You don’t have to use it all the time, but just a week of each month with the humidifier on in the case will keep things just right.
Let your guitar acclimatise in the case for a few days if you go from a very dry to a very humid environment, or vice versa.
Pop a digital hygrometer in the case to monitor humidity. You can pick one up online for less than £10.

Managing humidity around your guitar is not as complicated as it might initially sound, and it can ultimately save you a whole lot of heartache and expense.

Courtesy of Sally Phillips

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