It has often been said, “‘Tis a privilege to live in Colorado”. However true this may be, unfortunately, there are some drawbacks for instrument owners. The main problem we deal with in our dry climate is trying to keep our instruments properly humidified.
Wooden instruments, especially all solid wood instruments (i.e. expensive) are susceptible to problems from temperature and humidity changes. Even more stable instruments, like guitars with laminate backs and sides, can show signs of excessive drying in Colorado.
Wooden instruments are meant to “breathe”. There is no finish on the inside of a guitar, mandolin, fiddle, etc. As a result, they will take in and give off moisture from the surrounding environment.
In the dry climate of Colorado this usually means that the wood cells of the instrument are trying to take moisture out of the surrounding air because they are dry. If they can’t get the moisture then the wood cells start to shrink. This can lead to lower action, finish problems, and ultimately, cracking of the wood.
You May Be Dry If…
Your first (and best) line of defense to problems caused by excessive drying are to recognize the various signs of a dry instrument.
One of the first symptoms of a dry instrument that most players notice are buzzy strings. They might start hearing some buzzing on certain frets that was not there a week or two ago. This can be caused by the wood cells in the top of the instrument shrinking. The result is that the top will sink under the pressure of the strings and this lowers the strings enough to allow the strings to vibrate against the upper frets and the fingerboard.
Another symptom that players often notice is sharp fret ends. They will pick up their instrument to play and notice that the fingerboard along the edges feels rough and prickly. This is due to the fact that the wood in the fingerboard is shrinking but, of course, the frets aren’t. The result is that the fret ends will stick out just a little bit but, this is certainly enough to make for some uncomfortable playing.
The Solution is Simple
All these problems are reversible with proper humidification. There is a very good article covering these symptoms on the Taylor Guitar website.
What should you do with a dry guitar, mandolin, ukulele, etc.? HUMIDIFY! You can use a soundhole humidifier, a case humidifier, a room humidifier or a combination of any of these. In an upcoming blog posting we will explore these various solutions in more depth. In the meantime, if you have specific questions about your instrument, feel free to bring it by the store and we will be happy to look at it.