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The Importance of Humidifying Wood Acoustic Instruments

The single most important thing you can do to protect your wood instruments is to learn about humidity control. Have you ever felt sharp fret ends or low, buzzing action on your acoustic guitar? If so, you may be experiencing the effects of low humidity.

Every guitar is different. Finishes are different, woods are different, glue is different, and the list goes on. You may have 2 identical guitars both made from Rosewood but that Rosewood is most likely cut from different trees, so they may not react the same to humidity. Every guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukelele, etc will react relatively different to humidity and temperature. That’s why it’s very important to keep a hygrometer inside your case. If you over humidify your instrument that can cause it to swell up and warp as the wood expands, which can cause it to lose volume and tone. When the humidity is too high it can also cause finish discoloration and even allow mold to grow on the inside of the guitar and perhaps the inside of the case depending on what material it is made of. If your humidity is too low or (gasp) non-existent, your have a lot more problems than the cracks that will start to appear. When the cracks show up, the beautiful tone and structure of your instrument hit the road and the party’s over. Take that frown and turn it upside down because it is possible to repair damage caused by over or under humidifying your instruments. It’s typically expensive and it will also depend on how much damage has been done, so make sure to keep your beloved beauty properly humidified to prevent tears from running down your face.

Dave Doll from Martin Guitars tells us that you will need to keep a close eye on a new guitar for the first 4 or 5 years. Why, you might ask? Because a lot of new guitars usually move a lot within the first 5 years before they get acclimated to the environment that they’re in.

While it’s important to keep your entire instrument humidified, the most important part is the body. There’s a great product recommended by both Martin and Taylor called “Dampit” which is a humidifier for acoustic guitars. It looks like a pool noodle or a snake and the purpose of it’s shape and structure is so it can humidify as much of the inside of your guitar/ukulele as possible. 

So, what can you do to keep her in shape?

1. Store your instrument in its case. The case will shelter your instrument through many extreme conditions. We know it looks rockin’ hanging on a stand by your fireplace or hung up on the wall next to an autographed shirt from your favorite performer. BUT…unless you’ve got your entire house at a constant 45-55 percent humidity, you’ll regret it.

2. Use a humidifier in your instrument case during the cold winter season or at all times if you live in a dry climate. You don’t have to go crazy about it, because like we mentioned before, it is possible to over humidify your instrument. Keep an eye on it. Some instruments are thirstier than others and will require more refills. There’s a number of different products you can purchase to keep your instrument humidified but if you’re strapped for cash you can always use a wet (not drenched) sponge in a Tupperware container with some holes on the lid. Just make sure your lunch isn’t inside.

3. Keep a digital hygrometer enclosed in your case and look for 45–55% readings. Digital hygrometers seem to be the most reliable, as some have said that the analog ones that come with a barometer don’t work.

4. Premier Guitar recommends that “if you choose not to store your guitar in its case, at least put it there for one week a month with a humidifier. Think of it as a week at the spa. It will thank you”.

Premier Guitar also provides some great information regarding low humidity levels and what will happen to your instrument.

Below 35 percent humidity:
• Action (string height) changes.
• The top flattens out.
• Fret ends feel a little sharp.

Below 25 percent humidity:
• Fret ends become very sharp.
• There are drastic changes in the playability.
• Seams begin to separate.
• There’s a slight separation between the bridge and top.
• The finish starts to sink.

Below 15 percent humidity:
• Cracks appear in the top and body.
• The bridge and fretboard crack.
• The glue joints in the neck, bridge, and braces begin to separate.

Acoustic Vibes Music Sells a nice selection of humidifiers and humidity control products. Stop in and we can show you the best way to take care of your guitar!

*Disclaimer: Acoustic Vibes Music, Inc does not own any of these photographs. All information in this blog was found on the internet, at premierguitar.com and at guitar.com*

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