How humidity levels and changing temperatures affect your guitar
Whether you have 1 guitar or 100, each one is going to be precious to you, so it makes sense to look after it as best you can. You’ve no doubt spent quite a lot of money on gig bags, hard cases and maybe even guitar polish and fret cleaner to keep your guitars safe and sound, and of course all those things do a great job, but have you thought about what certain temperatures can be doing to your guitar when you’re not looking? Lack of humidification and extreme changes in temperatures are the main causes of guitar damage and one of the most common culprits guitar techs will have to deal with when someone presents them a guitar to fix.
So in this blog, we’re going to look at safest temperatures to store guitars, how humidity can affect your guitars and how to spot the warning signs that your guitar is in danger in the hope you have a better understanding of how to store your guitars correctly and to increase the longevity of your guitar.
Best temperatures and humidity levels for guitars
All guitars are affected by changes in temperature and humidity, especially the higher end models, because as we all know, they’re basically just made of pieces of wood glued or bolted together – quality wood, of course, but wood nonetheless. So just like any other piece of wood, treated or untreated, changes in temperature and humidity will affect it due to the fact wood expands and contracts with the moisture and heat levels of the atmosphere they are in. With that said, the temperature of a room will have an impact on how much moisture the air can hold so it’s important to store your guitars in a controlled environment as much as possible.
Here in the UK for example, conditions can change rapidly with temperatures dropping and rising quite unpredictably. This constant changing of the weather can cause your guitars to dry out or even take on too much water from the atmosphere especially when we have to put heaters on or our houses can become damp due to the cold. SO this makes sense that experts strongly recommend that you should always store your guitar in the case when it’s not in use as this acts like a buffer from the outside environment. The same way you would be exposed to temperatures a lot more if you weren’t wearing clothes, a guitar is exposed to these temperatures when out of its case.
Experts have recommended that your guitar should remain in an environment with a humidity of 40-50% as your guitar will perform better if kept at this humidity level. If the humidity level is too high, this can cause your guitar to swell as it takes on more water from the atmosphere, and if it is too low, can often result in cracks appearing in the wood as the air is dry. In addition, high or low temperatures can have a negative effect on the guitar, with low temperatures causing frets to shrink and high temperatures warping the wood or melting the glue that keeps your guitar together – not ideal! The perfect temperature for your guitars are anywhere in the range of 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 – 24 degrees Celsius and anywhere above or below these temperatures should be avoided for any sustained period of time.
What happens to my guitar in a cold or hot atmosphere as well as a humid atmosphere?
As we mentioned, above, poor humidity levels or exposure to very low/very high temperature levels over an extended period of time will inevitably damage your guitar resulting in some seriously costly repair work. In addition, constantly or rapidly changing environments and exposure to continuously changing ambient temperatures will cause the guitar and its components to expand and contract at different speeds, which could mean the neck separates from the body or the fret board shrinks leaving the fret ends sticking out for example.
Signs your guitar is in distress:
- Buzzing action
- Swollen frets
- Shrinking frets
- Warping neck
- Glue failure
- Tuning and intonation problems
- Cracks in the neck/body/top/back/sides
- Sharp fret ends, due to shrinking neck
- Cracks on the finish of the guitar
How do I keep my guitar safe?
The best way to keep your guitar safe is to make sure you don’t expose it to any climate conditions that you would not want to be exposed to. For example, you would not want to sit in a cold room without any clothes on for days on end, would you? The same way you wouldn’t want to sit in the boot of a hot car all day! Guitars respond to their environment in a similar way humans will, so keep them in an environment that you would consider comfortable – ideally kept in a case when not in use. In the same sense, don’t take them out sunbathing with you and offer them Pina Coladas as they just won’t be able to take the heat!
If you’ve left your guitar in it’s case in a car or van and then brought it inside, it’s a good idea to leave it in the case until the case warms up/cools down to room temperature as opening it and exposing it to a cooler/warmer room quickly may cause the guitar some damage. Your guitar needs time to get used to its surroundings, which is why you’ll see guitar technicians and roadies leave guitars out of their cases at gigs in a rack hours before the show – it helps with tuning and keeps your guitars safe.
Here’s some tips on how to keep your guitars safe:
- Make sure you store your guitars in a case when not in use, with minimal airflow.
- If the room you’re storing guitars in is damp, or is particular hot/cold, use the likes of humidifiers, air conditioners and heaters to combat the effects.
- Keep guitars away from open windows, air ducts, air conditioners and heaters.
- Never store your guitars in the loft/attic as the temperature cannot be regulated, unless of course this is a room you use frequently.
- Don’t leave guitars in the boot/trunk of your car as they can overheat when it’s sunny and freeze up quite badly when it’s cold.
- Always use a hardcase if possible as these provide a much greater resistance to outside temperatures.
- Try and keep your guitars out of direct sunlight as this can bleach the finish of your guitars and in some cases even crack them if left too long.
- If there is a lot of moisture in the air, keep a few small packets of silica gel in the case as they will soak up any moisture and help to keep your guitar safe. Make sure you replace them though, as wet silica gel packets will have a negative effect on your guitar.
Products to help keep your guitars safe
We’ve talked about humidity and temperatures and how extreme highs and lows of each can cause damage to your guitar, but it’s near enough impossible to stay vigilant all the time as to your guitars needs. With this in mind, there are plenty of products out there that can do a great job of looking after your guitar 24/7 and even let you know when something is wrong without you having to worry all the time. Here’s a selection of our favourites.
Keeping a constant temperature
If you have an acoustic guitar the Planet Waves Two-Way Humidification system and the PW-HPCP-03 Humidification Packets are a perfect option to keep your guitar at a consistent level of humidity. This two way humidification system is almost completely maintenance free. Simply insert the packets into the guitar and the system will keep a consistent level of humidity between 45% and 50% at all times when its sat in your case. All you have to do is change the packets once every 2-3 months depending on the condition of your guitar and you can be safe in the knowledge that it’s working hard to prevent the likes of warping, cracking and bloating of your guitar due to adverse humidity levels. A very simple yet very effective way of looking after your acoustic guitar.
Fixing dried out guitars
If your guitar is buzzing quite a lot, starting to crack or the frets seem like they’re shrinking, there’s a good chance the guitar is too dry. The best way to combat this is to use a dedicated humidifier in the guitar case. One of the best options around is the Planet Waves GHP Guitar Humidifier Pro. This nifty little piece of kit has a sponge inside which hangs from the strings without ever touching the body and provides your guitar with a slow release of moisture to bring it back to life, preventing cracks, warped necks and shrinkage. This will really help you in the long run as dried out and cracked guitars can cost a fortune to repair. Simply leave it in the guitar case hanging from the strings and let it do its thing – easy!
Letting you know when something is wrong
Now it’s almost impossible to stay complete vigilant as to when the temperature is affecting your guitar right? Well, not with D’Addario’s newest invention, the Planet Waves PW-HTK-01 Humiditrak. This is the world’s first 24/7 climate-monitoring system for musical instruments using a Bluetooth sensor and an ideal product for those who have a lot of guitars as well as travelling musicians. The Humiditrak sits inside your guitar case and constantly monitors the humidity levels and temperature from within, sending you hourly updates via Bluetooth to your smartphone or tablet. If the Humidtrak detects that the temperature is too low or high, or if the humidity levels are unsuitable, it will send out an alert via push notifications to your phone or tablet allowing you to take the appropriate action before any damage can occur. The cool thing about this is that the battery can last up to two years and it will even alert you if the case has been dropped or has taken an impact on the road, logging the time at which it occurred too – perfect for those who take guitars on planes. Simply leave it in your guitar case and create a profile for your guitar on your iOS or Android device and it will keep you up to date, hourly, daily and monthly as to how the environmental conditions are affecting your guitar!
Hopefully this blog has let you in on a few tips on how to keep your guitar safe and how to protect your guitar from humidity damage.