Acoustic guitars and humidity
April 7, 2008 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Acoustic Guitar Question: My Martin has a few dead frets, apparently because the guitar has dried out. Is this fixable by just using a humidifier?

I have a 1966 Martin 016NY (similar to this one). I usually just leave it out of the case on a stand. I moved to a new place about 5 months ago. When I moved in it played perfectly. Now it has a few frets that make that quacking noise. Most noticeably on the B string third fret. I guess the string is slightly touching the next fret when pushed down so it doesn't vibrate as it should.

I brought it to my repair guy. He looked at it for 5 seconds and said "It's dried out, put a humidifier in it and it'll be back to playing as it should in 2-3 weeks". Apparently the top is dried out so the guitar is out of whack and effecting the neck.

So, I've had it in the case with a humidifier for 5 weeks. Refilling the humidifier every few days. There has been no change. Its just as bad as it was 5 weeks ago.

Will the guitar ever go back to normal just by humidifying it? Or do I need something more drastic done?
posted by eightball to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you adjust the truss rod to make the action higher? That might help while the guitar does get rehumidified-- humidity can make a huge difference so it's quite possible that it's simply that.

What's the local humidity like around your area? Is the back of the guitar flat, or is it nicely curved.

I've heard Dampits are the best tool for the hydrating job.

You can also talk directly to Martin. I know Taylor will let you send your guitar in and they put it in a very controlled environment and it'll get it back to it's perfect condition (for a price).

Taylor's also got a few decent videos dealing with low humidity situations on their website, what might be especially useful is learning to 'read' the condition of your guitar-- if you learn to see the curve coming back to the front and back of your guitar (a long ruler will aid this) you'll be happier to confirm that the humidifier is gradually working.
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:30 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

You just need to adjust the truss rod.

Temperature and humidity changes will affect the amount of "bow" in the neck - it happens to all guitars and it's no big deal. If you're not comfortable doing it, take it back to your tech.

If you do want to have a go at doing it, in your case you need to loosen the truss rod so that the strings pull the neck into more of a bow. (Some people prefer a dead straight neck, but this isn't the place to go into that.)

Loosen the truss rod 1/4 turn, let the guitar settle for a while, see how it is. Hell, you can give the neck a bit of a gentle pull one way and the other to ease it into it's new position. If it's not enough, loosen another 1/4 turn. Repeat as necessary.

Warning: If the truss rod is very tight and won't move, take it to your tech.
posted by TiredStarling at 12:42 PM on April 7, 2008

Beautiful guitar!

It probably doesn't have an adjustable truss rod. Most of the old martins (IIRC) just have a sold reinforcing bar, but it's non-adjustable.
If the humidifying's not working, the next step is probably re-dressing (or replacing) the frets, and adjusting the action at the nut and saddle.

A new bone nut and saddle, a fret re-dress and a brand spanking new set-up shouldn't be all that expensive ($200-300?) and you'd have it playing like a dream again.
posted by dan g. at 1:10 PM on April 7, 2008

a guitar like that should see an expert, they'll fix it up for not all that much, as dan said
posted by Salvatorparadise at 1:14 PM on April 7, 2008

Actually, reading a bit more closely, if you are really only having problems with one or two frets you'd probably be able to get by just slightly filing and redressing those few problem frets, and wouldn't even have to touch the nut or saddle.
Much cheaper job that way, though never underestimate the power of a precision set-up by a knowledgeable luthier.
posted by dan g. at 1:15 PM on April 7, 2008

Martins didn't have truss rods until sometime in the eighties.

You should take your guitar to the best Martin-experienced luthier you can find.
posted by timeistight at 1:17 PM on April 7, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, it doesn't have an adjustable truss rod.

For the record, the guy I took it to is a very good, experienced repair guy. I believed him when he said to just humidify. But now after 5 weeks and no improvements, I'm wondering if the humidifying process will just take longer (months?), or if i do need fretwork and other adjustments.
posted by eightball at 1:28 PM on April 7, 2008

I don't know much about guitars, but I have fiddles what are affected by the humidity. I always know when spring comes, because my fiddles' pegs stop slipping. I put a couple of small damp sponges in the case, on a soft cloth so that it's not actually on the fiddle itself. If I rehydrate them every day, after I practice, I find the pegs work smoothly and efficiently. In the winter, if I miss even one day the sponges dry out, and the fiddles show it.

I tried dampits, but fiddle dampits go into the f-holes, which are just about the size of the dampit itself. I was afraid that I would damage the instrument taking them in out out, and the Luthier suggested the sponges.

I've also heard people suggest apples or potatoes. These would be especially good if you needed to leave it for a while and couldn't rehydrate the hydration system.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 2:30 PM on April 7, 2008

Keep doing what you are doing. When I got a buzz on my acoustic it was in the exact same spot. It slowly got better.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:54 PM on April 7, 2008

Second (or third) the dampits. Don't do anything drastic until you've given the guitar ample opportunity to rehumidify, and geebus, given the guitar, leave the drastic stuff (if at all necessary) for a pro.
posted by deCadmus at 9:08 PM on April 7, 2008

I had a similar problem. After getting a pro to resetup my guitar I started to use a Planet Waves Humidifier and haven't had any problems since. I like the Planet Wave better than the DampIts because it is really easy to use.
posted by cuando at 12:23 PM on April 8, 2008

I like the Planet Waves humidifiers too - they kept my new Takamine acoustic in good shape through a Utah winter.

If it hasn't had an effect after 5 weeks, I'd try increasing the amount of humidity in the case. Add another humidifier. (A wet sponge in some kind of plastic box with holes in the top will suffice.) If that doesn't work, take it back to the luthier...
posted by mmoncur at 6:28 PM on April 8, 2008

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