Temperature, Humidity and your Guitar
There is arguably nothing more important, for the maintenance of your guitar, than the conditions in which it is stored.
In fact at one time, over 70% of all reported guitar damages were due to temperature and humidity. However, bad news, these aren’t covered with warrantees!
This is something you NEED to learn about before it’s too late...
Now, when I was younger and first started to get my hands on a guitar, people would often say -
“Don’t lean it against that radiator!” “Don’t put it in the attic!”
“Don’t take it outside!”
“Don’t take it to the bathroom!”
- But just how much of this is true?
In 2018 my colleague Jack and I were invited to travel to Amsterdam to visit Taylor Guitars. We were not just going to learn about the brand though. Taylor were keen to educate us about the general maintenance and upkeep of our beloved instruments, as well as the process of their distribution centre and repair team for the EU.
Before this trip I can’t say I was an avid researcher in the field of humidity. I’d have to admit, this was not the part of the trip I was most ‘excited’ about. However, it was absolutely eye opening and inspired me to return home and pass on this knowledge to my colleagues and as many customers as I could.
So, lets get into it!
Firstly, all of this information is going to apply to both the Electric Guitar and the Acoustic Guitar.
As we all know, Guitars are relatively simple. They are, ‘Wood and Steel’. The wood of the body, neck and headstock, and the ‘steel’ of the hardware and strings. If one of these components is compromised, your guitar is going to suffer!
Secondly, when I mention humidity I am referring to water vapour in the air. Typically invisible to the naked eye, but ever present!
Too Much Humidity
Wood as we know can and will shift under different conditions. For example, have you ever seen somebody use a wood steamer? This a process where wood is exposed to steam to make it more pliable. Heat and moisture from steam can soften wood fibres enough so that they can be bent and stretched. When cooled, they will hold their new shape. This is of course an extreme example. However, under the wrong conditions you can expect your guitar woods to move in a similar fashion.
Lets say you decide to give the performance of a lifetime in the bathroom with your guitar - you’ve got the shower running and the room is filling with moisture and steam - the wood upon your guitar will start taking that water on board, causing it to swell! This will of course eventually lead to cracks, splits, the bridge lifting or coming away from the body, all sorts of trouble basically! So, best to avoid performing in the bathroom for now... (An important thing to mention is that most of us reading this will possibly live in the UK or EU. These aren’t particularly humid places so we don’t have to worry too much about this particular issue day-to-day. But, if you travel to Singapore or New Orleans this is a major factor as the humidity is typically over 85%).
Not Enough Humidity
A similar effect to the guitar becoming too humid, is the guitar becoming too dry. This is something we need to think about often.
During the winter months we tend to run the heating in our house, this is typically a dry heat and not always spread evenly around the home. In particular, the attic is usually the danger zone! It can be both the coldest, hottest and driest space in our homes. It frequently fluctuates between the extremes. By far the worst condition for your guitar, which is craving some stability in temperature and humidity.
The same can be said for the conservatory too. In this room there is a new factor, a lot of sunlight. (I don’t want
to cause unnecessary fear of the sun - feel free to play your guitar in your lovely conservatory - just don’t store it in there!) The direct sunlight can get very hot, and at night these rooms can get very cold too! (Not to mention the bleaching effect of the sun, which can over time fade those colours that drew you to the guitar in the first place).
Radiators can also be your worst enemy, your guitar won’t last long leaning up in-front of one of those!
But why? It’s simple really, the extreme heats will be too much for the wood, drying them out quickly and that lack of moisture will in-turn cause the wood to contract, move, split and crack, causing irrevocable damage.
So, we know now that our instruments don’t want to be bathed, and they don’t want to be left in the sun to be frazzled... So where should we keep them?
The answer is, somewhere in the middle. If your home has a room with a stable temperature and isn’t exposed to excessive moisture, pop it in there.
If not, you can create a ‘Closed Climate’ - what I mean by this is... Keep it in its case! Simple.
But how do you know if the conditions are right, definitively?
You can know for sure by taking readings of the humidity and temperature and that’s really easy to do.
There are a number of useful gadgets to let you know
you’re on the right track these days.
My favourite is the Digital Hygrometer - a handy little gizmo that will measure the humidity and temperature in the air, letting you know if your guitar is within the right parameters. These are generally between £5 - £15. You can spend more, but there’s not much need to.
Another crucial bit of kit is a Humidification System. Typically designed to sit within the guitar case and stabilise the humidity of your instrument. There are many branded versions of this product. Not all humidify the whole guitar, so bear this in mind when making your decision.
One I like a lot and recommend frequently is the D’addario Two-Way Humidification System’. It is pre- formulated to maintain the entire guitars humidity level to 45-50 percent, making it a perfect low maintenance solution. These products cost between £20 - £30.
The Ideal Parameters
The ideal humidity range for a guitar is 45 - 55 percent. However, 40 - 60 is generally acceptable.
The ideal Temperature range for a guitar is 21 - 25 degree celsius.
So there we have it, hopefully you’ve learnt something today by reading this - if not, I can only apologise. But I’m grateful you’ve made it to the end!
Look after your gear, and it will look after you!
- Raff Evans January 2021