What's The Problem?
Many of the most common and popular musical instruments are delicate devices made of natural wood. Instrument builders use wood for its pleasing resonance, but all varieties of wood expand and contract when the amount of moisture in the air goes up and down. That can cause damage to the instrument when internal stresses caused by the expansion or contraction cause glue joints or the wood itself to rupture.
There are steps you can take to avoid damage to your instrument. In general, you want to keep the wood from expanding and contracting, and you do this by providing a stable amount of environmental moisture. That means you add moisture when the air is dry, and remove moisture when the air is damp.
To protect our many solid-wood guitars, The Minor Chord showroom is equipped with a built-in industrial-strength humidification unit. That system is able to keep the showroom humidity at 40 percent year-round. But unless you've invested in a system like that, you'll want to use individual humidifiers during the heating season.
A note of caution, however: Adding too much moisture can be as bad or worse than not having enough. So you must be very careful when using a humidifying device that you're not over-doing it.
You can avoid some damage with simple common sense --
- Don't leave your instrument in a damp cellar during the summer months.
- Don't store your instrument in an unfinished or uninsulated attic, where temperature and humidity changes are extreme.
- Don't leave your instrument in a car where extreme heat or cold can damage it.
Don't let this happen to your instrument!
Even with common sense, there are circumstances where it's difficult for you to monitor or control the temperature and humidity swings that occur around you. Here are some products available that can help protect your instrument.
There are products in the marketplace that can help with the problems of too much and too little humidity. To increase humidity in a dry environment, you use a humidifier. To decrease humidity in a moist environment, you use a de-humidifier. Both of these kinds of devices are available in all sizes, shapes, and capabilities. We won't describe the larger ones that are used to stablize humidity in a room or building. Instead we'll suggest a couple small, affordable devices that you can use on or in your instrument to change its local humidity.
Oasis™ Digital Hygrometer
The first step in humidity control is to determine the humidity environment that surrounds your instrument. We try to keep our showroom at around 40% relative humidity, especially during the coldest winter months.
We have sold the excellent Oasis humidifiers (see below) for several years. At our customers' request, we now also carry Oasis digital hygrometers. These instruments accurately measure the humidity around your guitar so you can be sure the humidifier is doing its job and your valuable instrument is safe from damage.
OH-1 Humidifier filled
OH-1 Humidifier empty
We highly recommend the Oasis OH-1 Humidifier. This is a clever little humidifier that hangs from the strings of your guitar and rests within the sound hole. Once the humidifier is installed you can turn the guitar in any direction; the humidifier will not fall out and water will not spill.
This humidifier consists of a small cylinder filled with water-absorbent granules. You put inexpensive distilled water into the cylinder and it is absorbed by the granules, which then release the moisture gradually over time. This design has several advantages: First, the moist humidifier cannot touch the body of your guitar; second, there's no need to buy expensive proprietary refills - just use plain distilled water; and finally, the humidifer clearly indicates that it needs to be refilled by dramatically shrivelling.
Most players find that refilling the OH-1 humidifier once each week and keeping the instrument in its case will keep it sufficiently humidified during cold winter months.
The Oasis humidifier is available in several styles to fit into guitar soundholes, mandolins, ukuleles, and the cases of other stringed instruments.
You can learn even more about guitars and the effects of humidity in this Premier Guitar article.