The Dangers of Climate Change: Keeping Your Stringed Instruments Healthy with a Humidifier
By Marty Paule
Wooden instruments, especially guitars, mandolins, and orchestral strings with hollow bodies, are at risk when temperatures and humidity change quickly. Sudden decreases in humidity and temperature are especially dangerous. Rapid drops cause the wood to contract, creating a risk of cracks developing in the body or top. When your instrument’s top shrinks it can cause the bridge to subtly curl. Fretboard shrinkage can lead to exposed fret ends. Such damage can happen in a matter of hours. Your instrument is especially at risk when you take it out of your home where conditions are pretty stable. In most northern climates, winter with its low temperatures and very dry, low-humidity conditions poses the greatest danger to your investment.
So how do you keep your treasured guitars or other stringed instruments safe? The solution is quite simple: get a humidifier and a hygrometer—a gauge that measures relative humidity. Stringed instruments do best when relative humidity remains in the 30-60 percent range. By keeping a humidifier in your instrument case and having a hygrometer on hand, you can ensure that humidity stays in the safe zone.
Some instrument humidifiers come with simple humidity indicators while others include more sophisticated and precise digital hygrometers that often also include a thermometer that records high/low temperatures. These hygrometers can also be purchased separately. Even during warmer, more humid weather when a humidifier isn’t needed, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on humidity by keeping the hygrometer in your case.
The Oasis OH1 & OH2 Guitar Humidifier comes with a precision digital hygrometer/thermometer.
Check out Musician’s Friend’s extensive selection of humidifiers for fretted instruments.
All humidifiers essentially do the same thing: emit a fine water-based vapor that adds humidity back into overly dry air. Humidifiers accomplish this in various ways. Many designs intended for fretted instruments such as guitars consist of a water reservoir that has a special fabric or sponge-like material attached or enclosed to slowly emit vapor. They are usually suspended from the instrument’s strings over the soundhole or f-hole so no moisture makes direct contact with the instrument body. Many include provisions to secure the humidifier so that it remains in position in the case.
Many orchestral string humidifiers are instrument-specific with models available for violins, violas, cellos, and basses. The Stretto line of humidifiers uses replaceable humidifier bags that are placed inside a special vapor-emitting container that eliminates any possibility of water making contact with the instrument.
The inexpensive Dampit Cello Humidifier includes a humidity indicator.
Shop Musician’s Friend selection of humidifiers for orchestral strings.
Apart from using a humidifier and monitoring climate conditions, common sense steps include:
- Keep your instrument in its case or gig bag whenever you’re not playing it.
- At all costs, avoid leaving your valuable instrument in an unheated car, trunk, or luggage hold.(High temperatures and/or humidity can also wreak havoc.)
- If your home becomes really dry in winter due to exterior freezing temperatures and forced-air or woodstove heating, consider buying a humidifier for your home. Your nasal passages and skin will be big beneficiaries too!
When you consider the value of your instruments and the potential cost to repair climate-induced damage, the price of a humidifier is tiny. To cite the old maxim: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.