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Caring for Your Guitar

 

Using only premium solid tonewoods I strive to create an instrument with great rich tone, bright and beautiful.  It is also very important to me that my guitars will be played, and with just a reasonable amount of care and periodic maintenance, your guitar should deliver a lifetime of playing enjoyment. Understanding what affects your guitar’s well-being, both positively and negatively, will help you care for your investment.  

 

Humidity and Temperature

Because musical instruments are made from wood, they are directly affected by humidity and temperature.  Humidity is the amount of water vapor or moisture in the air. Temperature affects the amount of moisture that air can hold. Both of these factors affect wood because it naturally takes on and gives off water, which can present a challenge for a responsive instrument.  

 A guitar that absorbs too much moisture, through high humidity, expands and swells. This happens slowly, but over time it distorts the geometry of the guitar and, consequently, tone and playability. High temperature, and humidity can also weaken glue joints and even cause them to fail. With prolonged exposure to high heat, as one example, the glue under the bridge will weaken, allowing the bridge to separate or even pull off.  Conversely, a guitar that is subject to dry conditions over time will have other issues.  Most commonly the first thing that occurs is the top braces actually start to shrink longitudinally or shorten, and that causes the top to sink or flatten out.  This brings the strings closer to the fret board and the first noticeable issue is fret buzzing.  Left in a dry state for too long the instrument will eventually start to show signs of stress, the finish will fail and the back and top will commonly crack.  

High humidity (excess of 50%) can cause the following conditions

• Swollen top and high action...because the top swells moving the bridge and strings away from the fretboard

• Distorted back and sides

• "Tubby," muffled tone, low volume

• Finish cracks

• Bindings can separate as the instrument swells

Overly dry conditions, or lack of sufficient humidity, can be equally detrimental to your guitar, causing the wood to shrink and crack.  It can also cause poor tone and improper intonation as the geometry of the instrument can be distorted. In dry regions (mountainous or desert areas) or northern climates, where heated forced air furnaces are common in winter, simple guitar humidifiers may not be sufficient. Room or household humidifiers may also be necessary to maintain a proper environment for your investments. 

Dry conditions can cause the following problems

  • Lowered action...as a result of the top sinking. 

  • Fret buzzing and lifting

  • Fret ends sticking out from the fingerboard as the fret board shrinks. 

  • Dips or depressions in the top or back as the braces shrink the top will sink and the bracing pattern can show through.

  • Finish and/or wood cracks

My shop humidity, (and most commercial builders) is maintained right around 40%-45% relative humidity and a temperature of 70-75 degrees. So if you can keep your guitar pretty close to these ranges, when it is in the case, you should have no problems. The biggest dangers to solid wood, lightly built guitars is rapid swings in temperature and humidity or extended periods of dryness or very high humidity.  While you can’t control the weather, you can control your guitar’s environment to a great extent. Here are some simple pointers.

  • Guitar humidifiers that fit inside the soundhole or extend into the body can be very effective but must be used with great care to avoid water damage.  I include a fresh Daddario or Boveda humidipak system with each guitar.  I believe them to be the most effective system on the market today. These humidipaks introduce moisture or take out moisture as needed and help to maintain a constant appropriate humidity level inside the guitar case when used properly. The key is to keep the guitar in the case when it is not being played, with the humidipak installed and change the humidipak when it dries out and starts to crystalize before it becomes hard. The first set of packs generally will not last as long as subsequent packs. The reason is many guitar cases are made of wood that is quite dry and have significantly more wood than your guitar does. All of that wood will absorb moisture as well and needs to be humidified or seasoned.  This will take anywhere from two to four weeks and the result is that the first humidipak will tend to go bad faster.  Thinking this through, it makes sense to keep your case closed when you are playing your guitar as much as you can to help keep the case humidifed.  Think of your case as a large humidor for your guitar.   

  • Keep your guitar in its case when you’re not playing it. All of my guitars come with a high quality hardshell case.  It's a lot easier to control humidity in a smaller volume of air.  It is generally not a good idea to leave your guitar on a stand for extended periods of time or hang it on a wall, unless you have a climate controlled room.

  • Purchase a home hygrometer/thermometer to keep tabs on the relative humidity and temperature. Adjust your home environment as necessary if you can. Plants and humidifiers add moisture in dry winter months. Air conditioning controls humidity in the hot, muggy summer months.

  • Avoid storing your guitar near sources of hot, dry air (such as forced hot air heating ducts), or cold, damp areas (garages, damp or cold basements, closets with outside walls).

  • Never, transport your guitar in a car trunk. Temperatures inside car trunks are extreme in any kind of weather. It’s the quickest way to destroy a guitar. Even in the passenger compartment your guitar can be subjected to extreme temperatures if the vehicle is left unattended in the sun for example. If you are bringing a guitar in from being cold, you should always allow your instrument to warm up slowly before opening your case in a warm room.  Exposing a cold guitar to warm temperatures will usually cause finish crazing/cracking.

  • When traveling cross country, keep in mind changes in local humidity – and protect your guitar accordingly.

Finish Care

August guitars are finished with multiple coats of nitrocellulose lacquer designed for musical instruments. The finish is thin, durable and has been considered the gold standard for steel string acoustics for many years. I also finish some instruments with varnish.  The best way to preserve any finish is to keep it clean – wiping off perspiration and fingerprints with a soft, cloth.  A soft non-abrasive rag very slightly dampened with a non-abrasive commercially available guitar cleaner tap water will take care of most issues.  I would not recommend anything with solvents, silicones or abrasives. 

Treating the fingerboard and bridge with a small amount of linseed oil or lemon oil, once or twice a year should be all that is needed to maintain them and keep them from drying out.