Humidity and acoustic guitars?
February 16, 2007 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to purchase a new acoustic guitar. How important is humidity?

I'm about to purchase a Taylor 110 to replace my old, beat-up Epiphone. Before I do, however, I want to make sure I know what I'm getting myself into. According to a co-worker, I should plan on buying a humidifier (for the winter months here in New England) and keep it in the case when not playing. During the summer, he suggests I run a dehumidifier in the room where it's stored.

Here's my problem - I have a nice wall hanger, and really enjoy just pulling it off the wall to play it a few minutes here and there. If I have to keep it in a case, with a humidifier, I don't think I'd play the guitar nearly as often. Also, I don't have a room where I can store it and run a dehumidifier during the summer.

If I drop $600 on a new Taylor 110 (which is a *huge* investment for me), will I have to choose between taking care of it or actually playing it? Will I ruin my guitar if I let the elements have their way with it? Is my co-worker exaggerating, or is he being realistic?
posted by tom_g to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I leave my Taylor in the case. I live in Vermont.

Obviously, I take it out when I play it! I leave it in the case because I have cats and I don't want it dinged up or scratched.

Humity affects wood, and New England has both extremes. I have nevered bothered with something that esoteric for a guitar, but I am sure that constant humidity levels will be good for it. I think you'll get as much good from keeping it in a case as from re-engineering your HVAC.

I think the co-worker is technically accurate, but practically it's probably overkill. Case is a really good idea, though.

Enjoy the Taylor. They rucking fock!
posted by FauxScot at 10:00 AM on February 16, 2007

In my experience, it's significant changes in humidity that are hard on guitars and other musical instruments. Since it's generally easier and cheaper to add a little moisture to air, than to remove it, and since there is a smaller volume of air in the case to humidify, a common practice for people in dry climates or places where heated winter indoor air becomes very dry, is to use one of those pumice stone soundhole humidifiers, and keep the guitar in the case. Together these practices are supposed to minimize the change in humidity the instrument experiences, preventing cracks and shrinkage.

Having lived in New England (Boston), I found that running a humidifier in my condo was pretty important for my own comfort in winter, but that it wasn't so easy to dehumidify air in the summer. Generally, I'm uncomfortable (itchy skin, dry nasal passages, cracked lips) if the relative humidity in my home drops below about 45%, so I concentrated on keeping myself comfortable, and that seemed to be fine for the guitars, too. In summer, my airconditioner was occasionally hard pressed to keep the humidity below 70%, but the ramp up to higher summer humidity occurs relatively slowly, over a month, and the guitars seemed to accomodate that pretty well. In fall, as cooler outdoor temperatures arrive, and I cut over to heating season, I started up the humidifier, or left a few wetted hand towels hanging out in various rooms. Later, I got a number of big, leafy plants in various rooms, and their contributions to room humidity took over most of the chore of keeping things humidified. I got a hygrometer to keep check on the indoor humidity, too.

It's really sudden, dramatic changes in humidity that are problematic. Keeping the guitar in the case protects it from other kinds of damage, such as sitting in sunlight for hours each day, but my Martins and Gibson lived for years in New England mostly on stage/floor stands, without ill effect.
posted by paulsc at 10:04 AM on February 16, 2007

Is my co-worker exaggerating, or is he being realistic?

I'd say a little of both. Read Martin's opinions on the subject, which advocate a strict approach but also give a scale of what issues are likely to cause the biggest problems.

Personally, my view is the instrument is to play. A $600 guitar, even if this is a lot of money for you right now, is not an heirloom to be passed down unto the seventh generation. You will get many years of happy playing from it if you take no special precautions with environmental conditions. There will also be a lot of superficial evidence of environmental damage (varnish crackling sort of stuff) before you get into serious, sound or basic structure damaging territory. So you can observe how bad/fast your conditions are affecting things and decide if it seems a big enough problem to start worrying about.
posted by nanojath at 10:06 AM on February 16, 2007

I remember when I got a buzz on a few frets on my old acoustic. I went into the shop and the first question the guy asked was if I kept it in the case or on a stand. Of course I was keeping it out on a stand. He tsk tsked me and explained that the guitar was drying out.

Don't put it on the wall hanger. It should stay in the case all of the time if you aren't playing it. The wood can warp if it gets too dry.

Humidifier is probably overkill.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:08 AM on February 16, 2007

I second both the humidifier and case comments, even though I leave mine out for stretches of time.

A trick I learned a long time ago (can't remember where), is if you leave it on a stand or leaning against the wall, put the face towards the stand or wall. That puts less stress on the neck, especially if you're just leaning it against the wall.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:19 AM on February 16, 2007

I live in South Louisiana, where anything under 80% humidity is positively arid. Everyone here panics because their instruments get too much humidity and are impossible to keep in tune. But even my 15 year old Harmony acoustic has held up perfectly well.

My guess is you're probably fine just keeping it in the case, with one of those soundhole humidifiers if you need one, in whichever room you spend the most time in. Chances are if it's comfortable enough for you to sit in for long periods of time, it's probably not extreme enough either way to really matter. Not to mention, it won't be stored away somewhere so you'll still remember to actually use it.
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 10:57 AM on February 16, 2007

Thanks for all of the comments.

Here in the Massachusetts, my house is extremely dry all winter. I suppose I can get a case and humidifier for the case. However, I guess I'm more concerned about the summer. We have months of super-humid weather, and we do not have air conditioning.

One thing I was thinking of is my basement. I do have a dehumidifier down there, so during the summer it stays around 45-50% humidity (if I can keep up with emptying the humidifier).

The whole think is a bit of a bummer to be honest. I have kids and very little time. The thought of having to go through a huge ordeal to get and put away the guitar is not very appealing.
posted by tom_g at 12:35 PM on February 16, 2007

Guitar Case Humidifier
posted by Satapher at 2:02 PM on February 16, 2007

I recently purchased a new guitar (A Martin D16gt) to "replace" my first acoustic, a Taylor "Big Baby." The Big Baby was also getting kind of beat up and there is a huge playability difference between the two guitars. I'm also worried about damaging my Martin by exposing it to the harsh cold/hot climate of Wisconsin, so I tend to keep it in it's case for extended periods of time and leave my Big Baby sitting around to fool around with. I find that if I keep both guitars in their cases I really do play them less for some odd reason.

If you want to keep your new guitar looking and playing nice, I would recommend leaving the epiphone on the wall hanger for easy access to fool around on, and leave the Taylor in it's case unless you plan on playing it for an extended period of time.

Also, invest in a hard shell case, they are way easier to open and close than the zipper soft cases and make access much easier.
posted by dujoducom at 2:54 PM on February 16, 2007

Honestly, were it my guitar I'd leave it on a stand or hanging so I can play it whenever I want without any fuss. Maybe it's not the best thing long term but obviously it's not such a critical issue or there'd be tons of horror stories about climate and humidity related damage. All the guitars and basses I play are always out. The ones kept in cases hardly ever get played.
posted by 6550 at 3:36 PM on February 16, 2007

I think overhumidification is generally much less of a problem. You want to guard against drying out of the wood, which causes cracks.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:54 PM on February 16, 2007

i live in the south, so humidity is never a problem - we have all we need, and more. what you may need to watch out for in the cold, cold north is where you place/lean your guitar case.
i leaned my precious guitar [in case] with the head against an exterior wall, and the incredible heat loss every night started to warp the neck.
long story short - keep your guitar in the most consistently climate controlled part of the house, and you should be fine. temp and/or humidity changes, not the amount, tend to be the problem...
posted by rubberfish at 5:45 PM on February 16, 2007

I wouldn't worry about either the humidifier or the case. The guitar you play most is going to be the one most readily at hand. This means you're going to continue playing your Epiphone, and your Taylor is going to sit in the case. As a matter of fact, that's what my Taylor does, while I play my Korean Fender.

Acoustic guitars really do need to be played in order to develop. Playing a guitar regularly will improve its tone, as well as adapt your hands to it, and this will outweigh any slight damage caused by humidity. It's not going to split into two or turn into a sponge because of the weather.

Also, congrats on the Taylor, they're amazing guitars.
posted by Nahum Tate at 5:59 PM on February 16, 2007

What you don't want is extreme and sudden change in heat and humidity conditions. The only guitar I've ever screwed up like this was an older Washburn accoustic. In that case I was travelling up and down the east coast in an unheated VW Bus during a very cold winter. The guitar was constantly going from hot bar to frozen van. It didn't get ruined or even warp per se, but it did change the tone and the fret action. My rule of thumb would be, don't expose your guitar to any conditions that you wouldn't expose a baby or puppy to. And good luck with your new guitar, I love Taylors too!
posted by snsranch at 6:36 PM on February 16, 2007

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