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Humidity and Electric Guitars: What You Need To Know
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The guitar is a unique instrument, largely constructed of wood. The wood plays a vital role in the guitar’s tone, resonance, and sonic character. As a natural material, the wood in your guitar is affected by changes in humidity. Humidifying your guitar is a simple step you can take to prevent future problems and costly repairs.
Should you humidify your guitar? In short, yes. When the moisture content in the air is too low, the wood in your guitar will dry out, causing both superficial and structural cracks. Conversely, if the humidity is too high, the wood will absorb too much moisture and expand. This affects the guitar’s playability and tone, and can loosen glued joints. By monitoring the humidity in the room or guitar case, and using a case humidifier, you can create an ideal environment for your guitar.
With a little care and maintenance, your guitar will last a lifetime. Maintaining a consistent humidity level is one step you can take to keep your guitar playing at its best.
How Does Humidity Affect Electric Guitars?
You might think that humidity issues only impact acoustic guitars. Acoustic guitars are more susceptible to problems caused by low or high humidity due to their open body and delicate construction. But electric guitars are also made out of wood and can be affected by changes in humidity as well.
Hollow and semi-hollow body electric guitars will be more prone to issues caused by too little or too much humidity. These guitar bodies have areas open to the air and share some construction details with acoustic guitars.
It’s true that a solid-body electric guitar may be a little less affected by changes in humidity than its hollow-body siblings. Even so, managing humidity is still something you should consider as part of your regular maintenance and guitar care.
The Ideal Humidity Range
Wood is a strong material that will naturally dry out over time. Being porous, it will also absorb moisture from the air. Experts suggest the ideal humidity level for guitars is between 40 and 50%. Keeping your guitar in this range will ensure that the wood absorbs some moisture from the air to avoid cracking while not absorbing so much that it begins to swell.
When the wood in a guitar dries out, cracks may begin to show in the finish. And more importantly, cracks can occur in structural areas of the guitar. These structural cracks are expensive to fix and can ruin an otherwise great guitar. Using a humidification system will help prevent the low humidity conditions that contribute to cracks and other damage.
As wood absorbs water, it expands. In a guitar, this will affect the tone of the instrument, and may loosen glued joints. In damp environments, mold might develop in hard to clean areas such as under truss rod covers and in tremolo and body cavities.
Use a guitar case, and avoid storing your guitar in a damp environment such as a basement. A case humidification system will help remove excess moisture.
Symptoms of Humidity Issues
One thing that occurs on a seasonal basis is “fret sprout.” This happens in the winter months when the indoor environment is typically much drier than the summer. The fretboard will dry out, and the fret ends will protrude from the sides. You’ll notice the sharp fret ends as you move your hand along the neck.
This can happen when a guitar is shipped in dry weather as well, or if it was stored in a dry environment prior to shipping. I received a Squier in January that had this issue. After a short period of time in a stable environment, the issue resolved itself.
Depending on how bad it is, you may need a luthier to file the fret ends to make it more comfortable to play. Or just humidifying your guitar might be enough to resolve it.
Cracks in the guitar finish might be a sign of too little humidity. You may see this in an old instrument that has been subjected to different environments along the way. On acoustic guitars, you might see cracks in the bridge.
If cracks are appearing in your guitar, you should check the humidity where you are storing it and consider humidifying your guitar.
String Action and Playability
On the dry side of the humidity spectrum, the string action may start to lower causing fret buzz. Conversely, the action may get too high with excess humidity. This has to do with the wood drying out and contracting, or absorbing too much moisture and expanding. Either way, the guitar can become unplayable.
Glued joints sometimes loosen with excess moisture. Other components can also loosen as the wood changes due to variable humidity. If you start to notice the neck or other joints loosening, have your guitar evaluated by a luthier.
Tuning and Intonation Issues
If you have done your best to set up your guitar properly and you are still experiencing tuning or intonation problems, it could be the sign of humidity issues. The neck can change shape and warp with changes in humidity. This throws off the intonation, making it impossible to keep things in tune.
How Do I Humidify My Electric Guitar?
There are a few tips you can follow to keep your guitar at the ideal humidity level. If you live in a home with central air conditioning, you probably have a humidity indicator on the thermostat. Check that as a starting point.
Use a hygrometer in the room where you keep your guitar or in the guitar case to measure the humidity. This is recommended since the measurement will either be in the guitar case itself or the immediate vicinity. You will have a more accurate measurement this way.
Once you have the measurements, the next step is to maintain a consistent humidity level. Use a case humidification system to achieve this. These are small packets designed to be placed in the guitar case. They will absorb excess moisture, or add moisture if the environment is dry.
Some air conditioners have an extra humidification system to manage the home’s humidity. If your house has this, set the target humidity level for the entire house. You should also consider a room humidifier where your guitar is stored, especially in drier months.
Keep It In The Case
You might keep your guitar out in a guitar stand or leaned against your amp to encourage playing. That’s perfectly fine, especially if the room humidity level is consistent and in the 40-50% recommended zone. But the safest place for your guitar is in a case with a humidification system.
Maintaining an ideal humidity range for your guitar is relatively straightforward. Your home’s indoor humidity level may already be good. But bear in mind that indoor humidity levels will vary by season.
To keep your guitar in the best possible condition, consider using a hygrometer and case humidification system. A room humidifier can help with dry climates or during cold and dry winter months.
A high-quality guitar can last a lifetime with regular care and maintenance. Variations in humidity might cause problems, but a little prevention will help keep your guitar in excellent condition for years to come.