Shop Talk

How to monitor and control humidity to keep your guitar healthy.

Every year I spend many hours discussing guitar humidification. Here in Wisconsin we have a naturally humid season in the summer, but things dry out in the winter. That dryness can cause problems for your guitar. In this article, I will discuss when and how to help protect your guitar from damage related to dry conditions.


A Good Gauge

First things first: You should have at least one, maybe two good hydrometers. One should be placed in the room your guitar is kept. This eliminates guessing about the general humidity levels. A second one could go directly in the case. This will serve two purposes. The obvious advantage is to give a site-specific reading for the guitar. The other benefit is in having a second gauge to cross reference. I find there can be some variation of readings between gauges. offers good gauges. I use their ‘traceable’ model for my shop.

Ideal humidity

The general environmental conditions for building guitars is a temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit and 45 percent relative humidity. This is considered a middle ground for the real world the guitar will be exposed to. Here in Wisconsin, the range can easily be 15 to 20 percent up to 65 to 75 percent. That a wide range to expect a guitar, made of thin fragile wood, to hold together and perform well.

When to Humidify

My guidelines are fairly simple. Start humidifying (and checking your levels) when you turn your heat on in the fall. In Wisconsin, that’s late September to early October. You may stop humidifying in spring when you finally turn the heat off. Again, in Wisconsin that’s somewhere around late May to mid-June. For clarification, it’s the home heat (any kind) that dries the humidity out of the air.

Signs of Problems

There are many signs of potential humidity troubles with a guitar, but here are four common ones:
1) Sharp fret ends. Fingerboards can dry out, exposing the sharp ends of the metal frets.
2) Wavy grain in spruce or cedar top wood. Sight across the top and if you can see sunk-in wood between the grain lines, your top is too dry.
3) Low action/fret buzzing in the winter. This is caused by a dry guitar top that has lost its healthy arch and has flattened out.
4) Cracks. There are two common reasons for wood cracking—damage, or dryness.

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