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Climate, heating and fretting up

TommasinoTommasino Alexandria, VANew
Help!

I live in Northern VA, and the sudden wave of cold weather (it is 14 degrees!) has caused me to crank up the heating in my town-home.

Suddenly, my Du Pont MD 50 is fretting up really badly, not to mention my early-music instruments (virginal and fortepiano) that have become utterly unplayable in a matter of a couple days.

Here's my questions:

1 - I've been given different opinions about the effects of humidty and dryness. Is it that one is bad and the other good on instruments (if so, which is which?) or is it that the sudden transition from one to the other is disruptive to the stability of wood?

2 - Should I just lay off my Du Pont until spring or adjust the truss-rod accordingly until the climate changes again?

3 - Is this normal or would it be best for me to have some additional form of humidity (or climate) control, and if so, which do you recommend?

Please help, I am really heartbroken about this (and right at the time when Improvisation #2 was starting to sound swell!)....

Thanks in advance,

Tom

Comments

  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    Hi Tom,

    Wood generally responds well to reasonable temperature and heat change until it gets glued to other materials - celluloid - woods of different densities that absorb and disburse water and heat at different rates. All of a sudden, the wood is not free to adjust itself to the conditions and can crack or etc.. as it expands and contracts without the ability to move naturally.

    The wood in your instruments is shrinking because the "bound" water (within the cells) is reduced and the cells contract. Most quality guitars are made in controlled conditions between 38 to 55 percent humidity. Larrivee says "42 percent" is the magic number if I recall correctly. At any rate - that is likely where your guitar is most comfortable. I think that's pretty close to the humidity that they store the Stradivari & Guarneri at the Uffizi in Italy. It was something like that - I remember the temperature being held pretty much in the mid 60's and humidity in the mid 40s.... beautiful exhibit - I highly recommend it if you get a chance.

    With all instruments of wood - you want to keep them away from outer walls where temperature changes happen more quickly. If you're really getting down there in the 20% to low 30% humidity range... you may want to humidify. You can buy humidifiers - a short term alternative is to put a pan of water on the stove and boil it (watch to not boil it dry) For your guitar - if it is a big issue, get a humidifier for it and store it in the case with the humidifier when it is not in use.

    You can get wall clocks that also have humidity guages on them at most woodworking stores as humidity is fairly critical to woodworking. I think I paid $30 for mine - they're not expensive. I've been crying in my beer these last few days as I've been too busy to glue the braces on a guitar I'm building and the humidity has been a near ideal 40+ percent... arrgh. I hope it doesn't rain before I get a chance to do some guitar work!

    Good luck.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • KcoxKcox Montreal, QCNew
    Posts: 110
    Another low-tech solution to humidity is one my mother taught me: take a few empty soup cans and fill them with water, then place them on your heater (only works if you actually have heaters/radiators).
  • nwilkinsnwilkins New
    Posts: 431
    it's worth shelling out $60 for a good humidifier that regulates humidity in the room in which you keep your guitars. You want to try not to let the humidity fall below 50% ideally. There isn't much need to worry about too much humidity.
  • TommasinoTommasino Alexandria, VANew
    Posts: 30
    Thank you, guys, these are the good-quality opinions I was hoping to receive, because this problem is driving me absolutely insane. I even have an antique-book collection that in the winter becomes so dry that the leather covers get as tight as drums (and a couple have even developed splits).

    The heating I have is, unfortunately, not based on radiators. It is the convenient but dreadful heating/A.C. vent unit.

    As far as room humidifiers, do you have any knowledge of a good brand or model you can recommend? I keep most of my instruments in a music-room, and a single unit can probably take care of all of them. Also, is there one that does BOTH - i.e. acts as a humidifier when it's dry and a de-humidifier when it's damp? Virginia in the summer is like a Finnish sauna.

    Bob, thanks for the technical explanation - I now understand what's happening to the wood and why. I agree with you that a good guitar-case humidifier is pretty much indispensable in my environment.

    Thanks again for the help.
  • mitch251mitch251 marylandNew
    Posts: 70
    Hi
    Another quick fix is to take a sponge and wet it (not dripping just damp)
    Place it in a open sandwich bag in your case . I also would recommend
    keeping your guitar in the case when your not playing. My Dell Arte
    got a bunch of finish cracks and a structural crack in it from getting too
    dried out. So dont underestimate this humidity thing. Also a room
    humidifier works well but they are a pain to keep up with.
    Best
    Tom
  • SoulShadeSoulShade NW Ohio, USANew
    Posts: 56
    Bob Holo has it right. I would also just add that adjusting your truss rod 2-3 times a year can be pretty normal depending on where you live. Adjust it! You can't go wrong as long as you do it properly...generally Dan Erlewine has a lot to say when it comes to that, and his Guitar Player Repair Guide is a good one to start with. Merry Christmas! -s
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