Why Should Guitarists Care About Air Humidity

Avoid Damages And Keep Your Guitar In Tune

Ideally, a guitar wants to stay in the same air humidity where it was built. The humidity can change a great deal across the year depending on where your guitar lives. The basic rule of the thumb is that the safest range for guitars is between 40-60% of relative humidity in the air. My luthier says that if a guitar is kept below 35% for any time then it will be damaged for sure. On the other hand, humidity over 60% isn’t good either.

Problems caused by dryness are more serious. I live in a place where the air temperature can go as low as -20 C (occasionally more). It means that people heat their houses and it dries the air. So what can happen?

If the wood dries, it shrinks and many places get very tense. Sometimes the soundboard can crack. String action goes very low, glue can surrender somewhere. Everything shrinks but the metal. That means that the frets remain the same but you will start feeling their ends. If that happens then this is the last call to do something to save your guitar. You can use a special air humidifier or keep your instrument its case and put small humidifier in the sound hole. The simple solution is to put plastic bottles with water behind your radiators. Cut their neck so the water can get out more easily. Or better, buy a serious air humidifier. It’s a lot cheaper than your guitar and you know it’s not only the guitar – you will feel the difference too.

Most often you will have problems with solid wood instruments. Laminated wood is more stable. That’s one of the few upsides of cheap instruments. Of the two main materials of a soundboard – the cedar – is more risky than spruce. A crack in the soundboard is not the end of the guitar but there is no need to let things that far. By the way, most of the problems that are caused by the lack of humidity will not go away when the air normalizes. See the picture above if you don’t believe. This is a living example from the last winter. Also, it should remind us why we don’t put metal strings to our classical guitars.

Air Humidity And Guitar Tuning

While change in air humidity can have long term consequences, it also has an instant effect that you can witness every time when you unpack your instrument in a new location. For example, when I have a concert in an old church where the humidity is around 75% then it takes a while until my instrument stabilizes so I can tune it. The effect can be bigger or smaller depending on the material of your strings. Synthetic strings are much practical than good old gut strings in that sense. While I like the sound of gut strings very much, I will refuse to use them in old stone buildings. I value the time of my colleagues and the audience more than the 10% better or worse sound.

Measure it

Buy a simple hygrometer and be aware of the humidity. There are many of those around and it does not have to be a specific one for music instruments. Any hygrometer is better than none. When I arrive to my concert venue, I always open the lid of my instrument case and see what the humidity is. Then I will decide what to do – start tuning right away or wait.

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