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Only humidify when your guitar needs it. Not all the time. Too much moisture can be equally damaging.
Only humidify when you need to
Drop in the humidifier when the action gets too low, and remove it when that sweet action returns.
If you keep your guitar in a case, monitor the humidity inside the sound hole. When it drops below 45% RH you will know it is time to humidify, and when it exceeds 55% RH you will know it’s time to stop.
Finally, don’t be fooled by the outdoor humidity. Relative Humidity is temperature dependent. As such, heated indoor air is often much drier than the air outside.
Feel the Action
In severe cases you can see a dry or swollen guitar just by looking at the profile. But long before you see it, you will feel it when you play.
Too much Moisture Content will cause the bridge to lift, resulting in high action making it much harder to play, while too little, will cause the bridge to sink, lowering the action and causing fret buzz.
The sound of the guitar is also another little tell-tale sign, albeit less obvious. A guitar with the right moisture content will have a fuller sound than one that is overly dry.
What you need to know about RH (Relative Humidity) and MC (Moisture Content)
Why should I humidify?
The wood your guitar is made from is a living, breathing material. It slowly absorbs moisture from the air when it is humid, and slowly releases it when it is dry. This causes it to expand and contract, which affects the action (playability), structural integrity and resonance of your guitar, which is why you need to humidify.
How does humidity affect my guitar?
When it is humid, the body slowly swells as it absorbs moisture from the air. Conversely, when it is dry, the body slowly shrinks as it loses moisture to the air. The amount of moisture in the wood is known as moisture content (MC).
What do humidifiers do?
Humidifiers work through the diffusion of water vapor with the air. Lower vapor pressure in the air causes water to evaporate from the humidifier and be absorbed by the air, balancing the vapor pressure throughout. This is known as the process of equilibration. Similarly, wood gains or loses moisture by equilibrating with the air around it, but at a much slower rate. This is good because it means that you don’t need to supplement the humidity all the time – you should only humidify when your guitar needs it.
What is the ideal humidity?
Most manufacturers use tone wood that has been equilibrated to a 50% Relative Humidity (RH) environment. Hence the ideal humidity is 50% RH. However, it is the Moisture Content (MC) of the wood we are more concerned about, not necessarily the humidity of the air. Luckily, wood is slow to equilibrate, making it immune to daily fluctuations of high and low humidity.
As such, it is a myth that you must maintain an absolute 50% RH continuously. Instead your aim should be to maintain a long term average of 45-55% – nominally 50%.
Does temperature affect humidity?
Completely and all the time. Humidity is relative to the capacity of the air to absorb moisture – in vapor form. Altitude also affects the capacity for air to absorb moisture, as well as locations that have low water levels in the land mass, such as deserts. Conversely cold air has less capacity to absorb water vapor which is why as you heat your home in winter, the air volume increases, but the Relative Humidity drops to dangerous levels for wooden instruments.
What if I don’t humidify?
If you don’t humidify, you may be playing a game of Russian roulette with your guitar. Changes in MC will affect the action (playability) of your guitar, the resonance of the soundboard, and can even result in structural failures such as failed glue joints, as well as cracks in the body.
If I live in a humid climate
do I still need to humidify?
It really depends. Heating and air conditioning can significantly affect indoor humidity, so you cannot always rely on outdoor humidity as your guide. Ideally you should measure the humidity in the room your guitars live in before making a decision.
Should I humidify all the time?
Only humidify when your guitar needs it. If you humidify all the time you risk adding too much moisture to the wood, which can be as bad as being too dry. Think of it in the same way as heating your home. The furnace only runs when it needs to, not all the time.
How should I humidify?
It depends. If you keep your guitar out, play often, and it was set up professionally, then we’d recommend using the action (playability) of your guitar as your guide of when to humidify and when to stop. Be warned that if you keep your guitar entombed in a case, you must use a fully functional hygrometer and monitor it daily to prevent over humidification.