Have you ever wondered why your guitar plays great one day, yet feels completely different on another?
Have you ever wondered why your guitar plays great one day, yet feels completely different on another? Suddenly the fret edges are sharp or the action has shifted and the guitar won’t play in tune anymore. These changes can happen overnight, especially in the winter. Cold, dry weather brings low humidity and that causes cracked guitars. Winter is my busiest time of year for structural repairs, and most of these repairs are preventable with an inexpensive humidifier. I’ve been preaching this message for more than two decades: Preventive measures are the key to keeping your guitar in top condition.
Dealing with humidity.
Humidity is the amount of moisture or water vapor in the air. The more moisture in the air, the higher the humidity. Lesser amounts of moisture results in lower humidity.
There’s a popular myth that a guitar sounds better when it dries out. Actually, it just cracks and then I get to charge a fortune to repair it. This myth is often confused with a guitar’s natural aging process. When a guitar ages, cells in its wood begin to crystallize and harden, causing the guitar to get louder and more dynamic. But if it’s not properly humidified, the wood will crack. (Did I mention structural repairs are very expensive?)
But you can have too much of a good thing: When a guitar is over humidified, it swells up and loses volume and tone. (Think of a tub of lard with strings.) High humidity can also cause finish discoloration and even allow mold to grow inside the guitar.
The way to avoid these problems is to maintain a consistent humidity level for your instrument—particularly an acoustic hollowbody. This will prevent a host of ailments and costly repairs.
Symptoms of low humidity.
One of the common telltale signs of a dry guitar is sharp fret ends. When a guitar dries out, the fretboard shrinks and the frets protrude beyond the wood. Correcting this problem requires re-humidification, conditioning, and fret filing. If your guitar is showing signs of low humidity (sharp fret ends, cracks, or separated glue joints), you need to have it evaluated by a reputable luthier.
This is what happens to a dry guitar in various levels of low humidity.
LEFT: Fig. 1. This top cracked from lack of humidity. MIDDLE: Fig. 2. Fretboards can also crack as a result of low humidity. RIGHT: Fig. 3. The Humidipak guitar humidifier system.
Photo courtesy of Planet Waves
Below 35 percent humidity:
- Action (string height) changes.
- The top flattens out.
- Fret ends feel a little sharp.
Below 25 percent humidity:
- Fret ends become very sharp.
- There are drastic changes in the playability.
- Seams begin to separate.
- There’s a slight separation between the bridge and top.
- The finish starts to sink.
Below 15 percent humidity:
- Cracks appear in the top and body (Fig. 1).
- The bridge and fretboard crack (Fig. 2).
- The glue joints in the neck, bridge, and braces begin to separate.
What is the best humidity level for my guitar?
Most experts say 40-50 percent. At this level, a guitar will sound and play its best. A great way to control humidity is to use a humidifier. Think of it as an inexpensive insurance policy to protect you from very expensive repairs.
A guitar humidifier is easy to use and very effective. Some guitar humidifiers are suspended between the 3rd and 4th strings and contain a damp sponge that needs remoistened every two or three days. This type of product works okay, but it’s not consistent. The humidity will spike at first, then slowly diminish as the sponge dries out.
The more modern guitar humidifiers use a gel that not only emits humidity, but also absorbs it if the humidity gets too high. This technology was first developed for cigar humidors, and now it’s available for guitars. Planet Waves makes a great humidity control system called the Humidipak that uses this technology (Fig. 3.). I’d also recommend using a hygrometer to measure the humidity.
LEFT: Fig. 4. A room humidifier in action. MIDDLE:Fig. 5. Thanks to heat exposure, this bridge separated from the top leaving a gap big enough to slide in a seam separation knife blade. RIGHT:Fig. 6. Use a wood conditioner to protect your rosewood or ebony fretboard.
Another great way to control humidity is to use a room humidifier. This is a great idea if you have multiple guitars in one room. Humidifiers come in all shapes and sizes, but be very selective, as some work much better than others. I use a programmable humidifier that utilizes both “warm mist” and “ultrasonic technology.” It also has a built-in hygrometer and a UV light to help purify the water. This type of humidifier is much healthier than the “cool mist” types that require a filter.
What guitars need to be humidified?
All guitars should be humidified, even electric solidbodies. Newer guitars generally need more moisture because the wood is kiln-dried, as opposed to a vintage guitar made from air-dried wood. The difference between kiln and air-dried wood is dramatic. Kiln-dried wood uses heat to dry the wood to accelerate the aging process. However, these guitars require more moisture to prevent warping and cracking. Air-dried wood is more stable, especially in vintage guitars, because the wood was generally aged over a decade before being made into a guitar. As a result, the cracked wood was removed from the pile and used for something else. Guitars made from air-dried wood still need humidity to sound best, but they retain moisture better than their modern counterparts.
Too hot to handle!
Heat exposure can also have destructive effects on a guitar. When a guitar is left in the trunk of a car—especially on a sunny day—the glue joints can fail. Imagine the shock of opening your case and finding a pile of wood where your guitar used to be. Once again, I get to charge a fortune for repairing heat-damaged guitars, so be vigilant.
A frigid nightmare.
Cold is also an enemy. When a guitar is exposed to low temperatures and then brought into a warm environment, the finish can develop checking. Checking creates tiny hairline cracks in the finish—like someone laid a spider web over the finish— and you can’t polish this out. Finish checking is permanent and can only be repaired by refinishing (not something I would recommend). Finish checking is basically the result of the finish changing from one temperature extreme to the other. This causes the finish to expand and contract too fast, and that makes it crack. To minimize this, when you bring your guitar in from the cold, don’t open the case until the outside of the case is at room temperature. Even then, there’s no guarantee the finish won’t check, but it will lessen the odds.
Okay, let’s review—here’s how to prevent damage to your beloved guitar:
- Buy a guitar humidifier.
- Keep your guitar at between 40–50 percent humidity.
- Use a hygrometer.
- Keep your guitar in a consistent environment (one that’s comfortable for you).
- Keep it out of direct sunlight and out of the car trunk.
These simple steps can save you hundreds of dollars in repairs.
- Acoustic Soundboard: Humidity—Friend and Foe - Premier Guitar ›
- Acoustic Soundboard: Just Say No to Cracks - Premier Guitar ›
- Tools for the Task: Guitar Humidifiers - Premier Guitar ›
- Guitar Shop 101: Using Super Glue in Guitar Repair - Premier Guitar ›
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.