Fluctuations in Humidity Can Damage Fine String Instruments

Whether you’re an advanced guitar player or just a beginner, playing a stringed musical instrument can be entertaining and fun, as well as a challenge. Musicians, who play some kind of acoustic stringed instrument know the importance humidity plays not only in the production of their high quality instruments, but also in their care and maintenance. Climatic changes, both in your home and in the factory where these stringed instruments are produced, can wreak havoc on these delicately built, volume-rich instruments. Both high humidity and naturally dry air from furnaces and fireplaces can be dangerous to the health of your instrument.

Violin and Guitar Production

Higher-quality stringed instruments such as Gibson guitars or a violin made by a luthier (craftspeople who make or repair stringed instruments) need special precautions. It is true that a musician must protect his investment, but the reality is that high quality stringed instruments need expert care to maintain that rich sound and full tonal range.

In production, the tops and backs of guitars are made from thin, quarter-sawn wood, and their internal bracing is shaved as thin as possible as to not impede vibration. The lacquer or varnish that is applied as finish to the guitar is spread as delicately as possible so that the sound is not hampered.

Most stringed musical instruments are dried to a level of 7-10% moisture content (MC); however, humidity will always pass through the instrument’s structure. Wood continually loses or gains moisture until the amount it contains is in balance with the relative humidity (RH) and temperature of its surrounding environment. The amount of moisture at this point of balance is called the equilibrium moisture content (EMC).

How Gibson Guitars Keeps Wood Moisture Content Stable

Most instrument makers strive to keep their production areas at 45% RH, which is compatible with the 12% EMC of instrument wood. One notable and popular guitar manufacturer, Gibson USA, starts the MC measurement early in its production. From its start at the rough mill, the maple and mahogany is tested. If the MC is too high, the maple and mahogany is then slow- dried in on-site kilns. If the MC is far too low for production, the wood goes into another kiln where the wood readily absorbs the moisture from other wetter wood. Once the wood has reached the optimal level, it is then cut down into bite-sized billets. Above the heads of the mill workers and on the factory floor is an overhead sprinkler system that regularly spritzes water into the atmosphere to keep the building’s interior at a 45% RH. This reliable system actively preserves the quality of the wood that creates that clear and rich resonance so many musicians rely upon.

How to Prevent Damp Conditions from Damaging your Stringed Instruments

If you’ve invested major time and money in your stringed instrument, you may want to also invest in a hard case to prevent possible bumps and other accidents. In addition, if you live in colder climates, you may also want to purchase a thermal case cover to reduce the dangerous effects of artificial heat. For issues of dryness, an instrument humidifier can help, and they are very affordable. Instrument humidifiers come in different sizes, depending upon whether you play a violin, banjo or guitar. Placed inside the case, these dehumidifiers have a plastic housing that contains a sponge. Musicians can moisten the sponge, ensuring to thoroughly wring the water from it, and then insert it inside the housing.

Since the cost of instrument humidifiers is minimal, it’s a very inexpensive purchase when compared to the cost of your initial investment in the instrument and protection for the years of enjoyment you’ll receive. If you follow these simple rules, your stringed instrument will continue to be an invaluable asset for as long as you own it.

Sources:

Burgess Violins

http://www.burgessviolins.com/humidity.html

The Making of a Gibson USA Guitar http://www2.gibson.com/news-lifestyle/features/en-us/309-gibson-usa.aspx Acoustic Instruments and Winter Care

http://www.desertrosebanjo.com/wintercare.html

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