Why do I Need to Humidify My Guitar?
The winter months can be a dangerous time for your prized instruments. The thin solid wood top that makes fine acoustic guitars sound so beautiful is particularly vulnerable. Here in the northeast, the colder months always keep my shop extra busy repairing warped necks, closing cracks, re-gluing loose bridges and support braces, and humidifying overly dry guitars. Most of these problems could be avoided if more players would educate themselves on the effects of humidity (water vapor), or lack there of, on their instrument.
The primary danger of winter weather comes not from the cold directly, but from the low humidity that comes with it. Cold air holds less moisture than warm air. To make matters worse, the heating systems we use to keep our houses warm and toasty, remove even more humidity from the air as a byproduct. This lack of humidity is the same reason we get dry skin and chapped lips. Dry air has a similarly negative effect on the wood used to craft musical instruments.
Our guitars and basses need a certain amount of moisture in order to remain healthy. Instruments are the most stable when maintained at between 40-50% relative humidity (RH). In a heated household, it is not uncommon for the relative humidity to drop below 20%. This dryness can utterly destroy wooden instruments, rendering them unplayable.
Sudden changes in string height, bowed or warped necks, sharp fret ends, distorted or cracked acoustic soundboards, lifted bridges, cracked of rippled finishes, separated binding, corroded frets / hardware / electronics, etc. are all largely preventable issues that you and your guitars need not experience.
How To Protect Your Guitar or Bass From Humidity Damage
Are You Doing Enough To Keep Your Instruments Humidity Healthy?
Below are some of my favorite solutions to help to keep your guitars playing and sounding great for years to come. They are all designed to work in conjunction with your instruments
hard shell guitar case; Another instrument accessory that we strongly recommend. All of these goods are available for purchase from G.R.L.I. at competitive prices. Checkout our parts and accessories page for more info on the brands we carry. Even if you aren’t going to buy them from us, please be sure to pick some of these gadgets up somewhere ASAP. This is definitely one of those situations where “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”
- – purchase and use a humidity sensor
- – purchase and use a humidification device.
- – keep your guitar in a case (preferably hardshell) when it is not in use.
- – Travel with your instrument in the climate controlled cabin of the vehicle. Instruments should never go in the trunk.
- – bring your guitar to a qualified tech. at least once during the course of the winter season in order to confirm that your instrument is not showing signs of dryness.
Things to avoid
- – Don’t keep instruments near a radiator even for a short period of time.
- – Do not leave your instrument in the car longer then the time it takes to get to your destination.
- – Don’t wait until you notice a problem to deal with humidity issues
Tools For Humidity Maintenance
Temperature and Humidity Gauges:
You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know its there. Here are some of our favorite tools for getting an accurate humidity reading.
D’Addario Humiditrak – Bluetooth Humidity and Temperature Sensor
You can protect your investment by simply placing D’Addario’s Humiditrak inside your instrument case. Humiditrak uses a patent-pending Bluetooth sensor to provide a constant stream of temperature, humidity, and impact data to the free smart phone app to alert you of hazardous conditions.
When Humiditrak detects danger, push notifications are sent to your device allowing you to take corrective action before damage occurs. Cataloging and monitoring a collection of instruments is so easy and convenient, you’ll want one for every instrument you own! Retail price: $49.99
OASIS OH-2 DIGITAL HYGROMETER
The Oasis Digital Hygrometer accurately measures relative humidity and can help you decide when to use your Oasis Guitar Humidifier. Because relative humidity varies greatly, even inside your home, we recommend that you keep your hygrometer close to your guitar, or any other stringed musical instrument made of wood.
With the convenient case clip, it is now possible to measure the relative humidity inside your guitar case so you see when it’s necessary to humidify the instrument. The clip attaches to the back of the OH-2 hygrometer and is mounted on the flap of the supply box inside your guitar case. Retail Price: $29.99
Our Favorite products to add or maintain moisture inside the case. These are great for players with only a handful of guitars to maintain.
OASIS OH-1 Guitar Humidifier
Unlike other humidifiers, the Oasis uses Humigel, super-absorbent polymer crystals, which is less likely to leak inside your precious instrument. Humigel holds up to 500 times its weight in water. The Oasis guitar humidifier is made from a special fabric that allows water vapor, but not water, to pass through it. As more humidity is needed, the Humigel crystals release it, creating a vacuum that shrinks the humidifier. This lets you easily see when it needs to be refilled.
The Oasis hangs down from your guitar strings, thanks to a polyurethane stabilizing bar. This ensures that the humidifier won’t touch the back or sides of the guitar, potentially causing damage. Retail price: $19.99
Humidipak is the only maintenance free, two-way humidity control system for guitar. It automatically maintains the optimal 45- 50% relative humidity level within your instrument case. Unlike refillable humidifiers, this system provides true “two- way” purified humidity control by adding and removing moisture on demand. No more manual adjustments based on seasonal changes, geographic locations, temperature, or other factors.
Humidipak comes with 3 packets and a
soft mesh pouch that will not harm your
instrument’s finish. These packets last
between 2 and 6 months and should always be kept in a sealed environment like a hard-shell case. Once the packets become firm, discard and replace using the 3 refills that come in the Humidipak Replacement Pack. Retail Price: $24.99
Approved by Taylor Guitars to protect against high humidity environments
Ever Bamboo Guitar Dehumidifer Set
If you live where the humidity is very high all year round, or spikes during the summer months, this is a simple and effective way to combat the negative effects of high humidity. Ever Bamboo products have been used and tested to effectively aid in the process of keeping your solid wood instrument at the proper acceptable humidity range.
It offers both protection from becoming over-humidified, as well as aiding
in de-humidifying an instrument that has already seen the effects of prolonged humidity variables. Retail price: $12.99
Tips For Humidifying A Larger Guitar Collection
For the collector with many guitars, or those that choose to display your guitars on hooks and stands, individual humidifiers can become a bit impractical. Under these circumstances I recommend a whole room humidifier such as you would find available at Target or Walmart.
These devices are plugged into the wall and can be used to humidify the air of the room your instruments are stored in rather than trying to isolate the instruments from it inside of a case. (Get one for your bedroom too! Your skin will thank you.) To use one, you just set the dial on the humidifier to the appropriate level, place an external sensor in the room to be certain that you are getting the proper moisture level, and refill as needed.
There are several different types and sizes of humidifiers available in stores. The one you choose will depend on your budget, the size of room to be humidified, and if you would prefer a filtered or unfiltered device. In shop we currently use a filterless, “cool mist”, “ultrasonic” style, with a Gallon and a half tank. It is made by Holmes. We like them because they are quiet, produce a visible mist that leaves no doubt as to if it is working, and are quite effective at restoring humidity to the air of a medium sized room. As far as required maintenance: we refill the reservoir once every day or two and empty and clean the device once every week or two. Its a small price to pay for the benefits it produces.
What To Do If Your Guitar Is Already Dried Out:
Here in shop, we routinely encounter dry guitars during the winter months. Before any setup or repair work can be done, we must return them to a proper humidity level. To re-humidify a dry guitar, we use the same tools and procedures outlined above. This process takes time and it is important not to move too quickly. Depending on the instrument, it can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to return the instrument to ideal conditions.
Is It Possible To Over Humidify An Instrument?
Yes, it is absolutely possible to over humidify an instrument. In fact, over humidification can cause many similar issues as under humidification. Fortunately, here on Long Island, this seems to be less of an issue than in some other parts of the country. It does get quite humid here in the summer months. Fortunately, most homes are quipped with air conditioners. Air conditioners pull humidity out of the air as part of the cooling process. However, if an instrument is stored in a damp basement or attic, or some other overly humid environment, problems may occur.
My Other Guitars Are Fine. This One Must Be Defective
After learning about the humidity issues impacting their instrument, many a frustrated client has professed that the humidity damaged guitar must surely be defective. They reason that since the guitar in question is stored in the same location as others that are not showing the same symptoms, something must surely be defective with the instrument. Simply put, this is flawed logic.
Though the other instruments may not be showing identical issues, in all likelihood they are in fact showing some of the symptoms of dryness listed above. The signs often go unnoticed until one has learned to identify them. Furthermore, it is important to remember that guitars are constructed many different ways: Surprisingly, cheaply made acoustics with Laminate tops are often more resistant to humidity damage than finer ones made with solid wood. Thin satin finishes and thickly coated polyester finishes will behave differently. Hollow bodied instruments don’t react the same way solid bodies do. etc. etc. etc. Its also worth noting that new guitars are typically much more temperamental than older ones. They take time to settle in.
Lastly, its important to note that guitars are not homogeneous. Even two models made right next to each other in the same factory will not be identical. Much like people, no two pieces of wood are the same. Allow me to use an analogy: Many people all around the world smoke cigarettes for years and years without succumbing to a disease such as lung cancer or emphysema. Some even smoke their whole lives without issue. However, it is now generally recognized that if you smoke, you are bound to encounter complications sooner or later. Though the consequences may be far less dire, the same can be said for instruments that are not properly cared for.
The above information should give you the knowledge you need to protect your investment in your musical instrument. The cost of repairing damage caused by humidity, or replacing a guitar destroyed by it, is far greater then the price you pay to maintain it. If you have any questions about any of the information provided, or if you think your guitar might already have some humidity issues, please contact us to see how we can help.
About Guitar Repair Long Island:
Guitar Repair Long Island is the area’s premier destination for fretted musical instrument care and maintenance. We fix all fretted instruments, including: guitars, basses, banjos, mandolins, and ukuleles. Conveniently located in Ronkonkoma NY, the shop is dedicated to providing quick, honest, and reliable service. Our vast experience in all aspects of instrument repair ensures that we can help with whatever your needs are. Contact us or book your appointment today