Winter can be a dangerous time for guitars, especially acoustic guitars. Many heating systems in houses and apartments reduce humidity to very low levels. The problem gets worse as the temperature drops outside and your furnace runs more. Most acoustic guitars should be kept in an environment of about 45% humidity. If the air is less humid the guitar will gradually (sometimes quickly) dry out.
TIP: If the air seems uncomfortably dry to you, it’s too dry for your guitar as well.
The drying causes the wooden parts of the guitar to shrink, with the different parts of the guitar shrinking different amounts. Often this causes the top of the guitar around the bridge to sink down while the fingerboard bulges up near the neck joint. This can make the strings so low the guitar gets really “buzzy” or even completely unplayable. It can cause cracks in the top or braces to come loose inside the guitar causing internal “buzzes.” If you’ve noticed that the action on your guitar has started getting lower since you turned on the heat or you’re noticing more string buzz you may have this problem.
Also as the neck shrinks the frets begin to stick out of the edge which can be very unpleasant (and painful) when you slide your hand up and down the neck.
Every February we have people bringing in guitars with these symptoms. Technically these problems are not covered by warranty because letting a guitar dry out is considered abuse, and the symptoms are usually pretty clear. Sometimes we can help re-humidify the guitar that isn’t too far gone, but it may never play quite as well again without more expensive repair.
The problem happens on good guitars and less expensive guitars, but not equally on all guitars. You may have had 5 guitars before that never had this problem but your new one is more sensitive to the humidity change. Or maybe it’s a little colder outside this year and your heat is running a little more so the air is a little drier. If you have your guitar sitting out near a heat register or a window the air flow may cause the guitar to dry out faster. …a closed window can create a draft as the air next to it cools down and drops to the floor. Hanging a guitar on an “outside wall” is not recommended for the same reason.
The good news is that protecting your guitar is not that difficult. The Planet Waves GH humidifier is easy to use and only costs $10. Just slip it between the strings and store the guitar in its case or bag during the winter months (or at least during cold spells) and you save yourself a lot of potential grief. We try to keep plenty of them in stock at Hometown throughout the year. Other solutions are available from us and other stores, but please don’t overlook the importance of this issue.
Taylor Guitar has been doing much of the work in helping to spread the word about the importance of keeping guitars safe from humidity problems. More information from them is available here.
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