• Temperature and humidity

    Most of us usually takes good care of acoustic guitars but electrics also needs attention when it comes to controlling temperature and humidity. Slight changes can do serious harm and reduce your guitar to a useless piece of wood.

    Most of us live in a country with seasons that change dramatically. In Norway, where I live, the summer temperatures reach 30-35c while the winter goes well below -20c. Although the temperatures are more constant inside the house the summer will still be hotter and more humid while the winter will be colder and drier. Keep in mind too that in the winter, your house or at least some of the rooms are usually much colder at night than during the day when your fire is lit and all the ovens are on.

    So what does this do to your guitar? Although the summer can get too hot and humid for a guitar the winter is much worse. Basically everything but the metal dries up. Although the thick lacquer makes electric guitars less exposed than acoustics the wood will dry up. You can easily recognize this during the spring months after a long winter by running your hand up and down the neck and feel how the frets are sticking out.

    The neck curvage can also change dramatically for the worse. Poly lacquer can reveal tiny cranks and what looks like bubbles. I’ve also seen nitro finishes that cracks like glass almost comes off in sheets. A trained eye may not see it but I’m sure you’ve experienced that the string action suddenly gets too high or that the neck feels slow and hard to play.

    The best maintenance is to keep the guitar stored in an environment that’s about the same as where it was produced. The ideal storage should be a room with a constant temperature around 75f or 22c and humidity between 45-55%, which probably isn’t a problem during the summer months but during the winter you should at least have a thermometer and a hygrometer to see what’s going on. In extreme cases, like here in Norway, I recommend that you keep a radiator and a humidifier in the storage room during the winter. A small investment that will save you a lot of trouble.

    DON’T leave the guitar in a hot car, in direct sunlight, in the attic or near a stove of heater. Also, be careful with placing the guitar too near a wall if your house has problems with draft. The temerature in the corner near the floor might be several degrees lower than in the middle of the room.

    If you travel a lot remember to ALWAYS take your precious guitar with you on the plane. A single flight with the guitar in the storage room where the temperature drops dramatically within minutes can totally ruin it. It gets even worse when you place the guitar on a stage in front of a 1000w light just a few hours later. Some political regimes consider this an effective way of torture.

    If you don’t play that much or go away for a longer period of time I recommend that you store your guitar in its case (ideally a hardcase or flight). Release the tension from the strings (but not too much) and have some silica gel packs in the case if you live in a particularly humid environment.

    Neck maintenance is also very important. While maple necks usually have a thick layer of lacquer rosewood and ebony necks needs a good rub of lemon oil at least twice a year and I recommend that you do this during a restring late autumn and early spring. The reason for this is that the lemon oil will help keeping the neck moist and it’s vital that you do this before you start shaving off any frets that might be sticking out. Add a generous layer of lemon oil and wait until it dries. A healthy neck should dry within 30-60mins but if the neck is dry after a couple of minutes you need a second coating. Restring and let the neck settle for a day before you adjust the truss rod.

    Don’t do this too often though because the acids in the lemon oil can dry out the natural oils in the neck. Another good tip is to always wash your hands before playing and if you do sweat a lot it’s a good idea to wipe off the strings when you put down the guitar. Sweaty and dirty palms are like acid on the neck and besides – your guitar should always look clean and pristine.

    Is all this necessary? Naturally I’d be more concerned if the guitar is a vintage heriloom or above average expensive. A humidifier for well under $100 is a small investment but perhaps not needed if your guitar is within the budget range or considered a working horse that’s gone through a lot of beating already but it’s wise to at least acknowledge that changes in the temperature and humidity will affect your guitar and small measures like using lemon oil on your rosewood neck and not exposing the guitar to unnecessary changes will prolong its life and save you a lot of agony and money.

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31 Responsesso far.

  1. David Du says:

    hi, just read this post again! and learn a lot.
    and I have a question re “If you don’t play that much or go away for a longer period …Release the tension from the strings (but not too much) “, how much should I release, like from E to flat E? or from E to D?

  2. C. Kevin says:

    Thank you. My temperature has a one degree variable and the humidity has a five percent variable. Is this variable fine?

      • JR Bondy says:

        Well I need to chime in here, I don’t have any issues with temp or humidity but I just picked up a brand spanking new Fender Standard Strat. It has a Maple neck and it has the poly finish that looks like it was POURED on, over the frets and all, if you know what I mean. Is this good? The tone of this guitar isn’t anything like another one I have that is just a plain maple neck with what looks like a light varnish finish. I got a good deal on the new one or else I prob wouldn’t of bought it for this reason. Do you think it would do anything if I stripped the poly off at least the frets and see the difference and then maybe even the fret board itself. I was wondering about what effect on the tone it might have? It sounds really bright & chimmy now apposed to a more warm, mellow tone, I’m talking acoustically.

        • Bjorn says:

          Hi there! I’m no expert on this so I can’t give you a good answer and I guess I would have to see your guitar first, so be able to tell how severe the “issue” might be. Type and amount of laquer do matter but the thickness of the neck, the wood used for the body and the quality of the tremolo system usually has more to say acoustically. I’d ask around on the more specialized forums for some tips.

  3. C. Kevin says:

    Bjorn, I just moved to Florida and my office/studio is 76.6 degrees F and 45% humidity. Is this borderline or is it ok? I have a D’Angelico archtop and wondered if it is alright if I leave my guitar out of the case?

    • Bjorn says:

      What’s important is that you have a constant, within reasonable margins, humidity therough the year. What guitars, or wood, doesn’t like, is the sudden drops or increases, like when you heat your living room in the winter, and humidity drops instantly. If your climate isn’t stable throughout the year, then I recommend that you keep the guitar stored in its case and that you also use a humidifier.

  4. Marcel Costoya says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    how can I get rid off the rust on the pole pieces of my pickups? What can I do to prevent them of getting rusty again?

    Best regards,

    Marcel.

  5. Franklin B says:

    Arggg! A friend of my daughter offered to give me her dad”s old(gulp ) LP SG if she can “find it up in the attic”. Suppose that’ll be a lost cause. I live in central Fla.

  6. Sebastien says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    I’ve read many articles about “Using lemon oil VS Don’t do that…”, for Rosewood and ebony “unfinished fretboards”.

    What is sure is that you don’t have to overdo it. Once in a year is enough, with small quantities left on the fretboard.

    I’d like to know If you’ve tried the Dr. Duck’s Axe WAx product, which seeems to be the Holy Grail of Fretboard conditionners, with no additives (unlike in lemon oil,….)?

    Have you also tried the Planet waves HYDRATE?

    Best regards,

    Sebastien

    • Bjorn says:

      I haven’t tried either of them. I use the Dunlop Lemon Oil and yes, you should be careful with the use. Once or perhaps twice, if needed, per year. You shouldn’t use it if the next doesn’t need it and too much can cause the neck to dry out rather than staying moist.

  7. carlos-Brazil says:

    The problem of moisture/humidity is very common in my case, ’cause I live in Brazil, right in front of the beach. The wooden parts usually “work” a lot with temperature changes and adjustments in the instruments are frequent. The strings are also another big problem. I give preference to brands that supply strings vacuum packed (as the Ernie Ball ones). The brand GHS boomers with the signing of David Gilmour (who just come in paper envelopes…), for instance, even NEW usually come from the factory with rust points … unfortunately.

  8. Ignacio says:

    Hello friend:

    i oiled (jim dunlop lemon oil) my les paul futura rosewood neck and it got obscured quite a lot, loosing brown color. What would you recomend? apply very little amount? i did let it soak, so i think i overdid it.
    Thanks a lot, great tips .
    Ignacio
    Mexico

    [I haven’t experienced that myself but a good tip is to clean the neck first, with a slightly damp cloth. Then apply enough oil to moist the neck but not soak it. Try to polish the neck using a dry piece of cloth. If that doesn’t help I’d take the guitar to a tech and have him look at it. – Bjorn]

  9. John Chafe says:

    hi its winter here in northern Canada and I have just purchased a programmable thermostat for my home. Heating cost and electric are very expensive — as for the lights I’ve gone all LED with motion active or timers.
    My question that I need help on is I plan to set my thermostat for when no one is home to 65 F or 18 D. Then I want to set it to come on to 74.3F or 23.5 a half hour before anyone arrives then bring it back down to 70.7F or 21.5 D. After everyone is asleep have it drop to 64.5F or 18 D until a half hour before waking where it will come on at 74.3F or 23.5D and then drop while there is no one home to 64.5 or 18D… this will be a seven day schedule with no daily changes.
    I have a acoustic guitar one roommate has a Bass the other has 2 electric in their rooms. One guy is being anal crying like a spoiled brat saying he doesn’t want the temp in the house to change because off possibly damage to his babies — he’s a magazine guitar nut and can play anything on it — he’s a heavy metal fan and still can play that — the other night he couldn’t even strum or change chords to “knocking on heavens door”. So I don’t think he’s even close to the guitar God that he thinks he is–added note they rent rooms in my home for work purposes — they pay board and nothing else – no splits on the heating cost – electric – Wi-Fi – Cable …….ect!!! by now you might not think I like him at all but no he’s a good buddy except when he starts yak yak yaking about his babies… Can someone with experience please write a short email to me his name is Jack and explain that his babies are not going to be damaged with those brief Temp changes on a daily basis– please if you respond make it out too Dear Jack…if there is any truth to his temp story please let me know — he’ll have to suck it up or pay 5 times the rent he does here…. Thanks guys..

  10. Alessandro says:

    Hi, Bjorn.

    I follow many of your posts, as an addict to the best (possible) guitar tone, and something has happened that brought me to this topic. I live in conditions that are more or less the opposite from what you experience in Norway. I live in São Paulo, Brazil, which is a pretty humid place to live. In my home studio – where I keep my guitars, also – even in winter, as now, the average air relative humidity goes from 80% to 65% (it rarely goes below this level). Temperatures are more stable throughout the year, going from 16C-21C in winter to 26-32C in the summer. The studio itself provides a good insulation from heat, but the humidity is really annoying (I don’t use air conditioning as of now). I have a 1990 classical acoustic that had its bridge torn apart from the top because of the swelling/loss of gluing that happened because (I believe) of some rainy days that sent overall RH up to 85%. I have bought a pair of small-sized dehumidifiers and a thermo-hygrometer, and right now the conditions are 21C temp/65% RH. Are they good for both electrics and acoustics?

    Best regards,
    Alessandro Martins РṢo Paulo, SP, Brazil

    [I’ve never tried using humidifiers on electrics but I guess as long as they can provide a steady level you might drop one in the case or bag. – Bjorn]

  11. Stephen says:

    Hello. Not sure if you’re still updating this site. I was wondering about neck woods and stability. I’m looking for a new neck for my guitar that is more stable against changes in humidity. My current one is cocobolo with an ebony fretboard. i thought these were very hard and stable woods, but turns out they change dramatically with humidity. I live in a climate where humidity is around 70% in summer and around 15% in winter. I was thinking about maybe mahogany or black limba for a new neck?

    [I would assume that all wood types reacts to humidity and temperature changes. Some more than others perhaps but there will be need to adjust them a couple of times a years. It’s a compromise between which neck you’re most comfortable with and which is the most stable one. Obviously, it also depends on the qualities of the specific piece of wood. I’d ask a luthier and what his experiences are. – Bjorn]

  12. Sebastien says:

    Hello Bjron, what would you recommand as a humidification system:

    – Planet Waves Humidifier? System with the sponge inside, that you have to put in the flightcase with the guitar

    – Oasis guitar humidifier?

    – Grover humidifier?

    I want something that will stay inside the flightcase, in which I’ve put a hydrometer (indicating temperature and humidity level).

    Regards,
    And thanks for your fine work as ussual!
    Sebastien

    [I’ve only used the Panet Waves and it works fine. – Bjorn]

  13. John says:

    I moved into a new house in New Hampshire, USA and during the first winter there I noticed that the necks on two of my guitars were shrinking and the edges of the frets were starting to stick out. That’s when I got hip to humidity problems. There was obviously less humidity in my new place so I bought a gauge and a humidifier. The humidity was around 20% in the room where I keep my equipment so I invested in a good humidifier and started keeping the room at 50%. I was told to hold out on getting the fret work done and, sure enough, about four months later they both corrected themselves and the sides of my finger boars were smooth again. I never would have believed that it would correct itself if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.

    A ray of hope for those with a similar problem perhaps…… Thanks for the fine work Bjorn, John

    [Great tip. Most of these problems are solved by adjusting the environment for the instrument. – Bjorn]

  14. Giles says:

    I sometimes wonder how guitars are shipped from factory to store / buyer… or second hand transactions from person to person, especially international. I don’t think freight companies have a special section in the cargo hold of an airplane for guitars…. and what about warehouses / hubs where items are temp stored during transport…

    [I’m not sure I want to even think about it… :) I would assume though that when Fender, Gibson etc are shipping their stuff around the world they’re doing what they can to reduce the impact of the hostile conditions but usually when you buy person to person or like EBay stores the guitars are just shipped in their box or flight, which isn’t built for flight conditions. – Bjorn]

  15. Pete says:

    Bjørn,

    I`ve noticed that the frets are sticking out a bit on the sides on my maple neck strat.
    I think the frets pop out due to humidity problems.

    Is the neck forever “damaged” or will the neck repair itself
    if it gets in the right humidity condistions?

    Is there anything I can do at all if the damage already done?

    [The neck is probably fine but take your guitar to a luthier or repairman and let him look at it. Filing the fret edges is an easy job. – Bjorn]

  16. Gary says:

    Great topic, Bjorn!

    Funny that here in Western Nevada, USA, we have an average humidity of something like 8% (except when it’s 100%, during rare rainstorms). We only get about 25 cm of precipitation per year – which is why our Yucca Mountain has been considered for use as a nuclear waste repository…

    I have also seen night-to-day temperature changes of 60 deg.F (~33 deg.C) – usually during our Summers. These swings are VERY conducive to good soaring conditions (any glider pilots out there?), but perhaps not as good for our guitars, now that I think about it… Thanks for the food for thought!

    cheers,
    =gary=

    [It’s easy to just frown over this and think that it doesn’t matter and although one shouldn’t loose one’s sleep over it it pays off at least being aware that dramatic changes can and will affect your instrument. The question is perhaps how valuable your guitar is and how good you are fixing any problems that might occur. – Bjorn]

  17. Giorgio says:

    Interesting point about the weather. I live in Melbourne and temperature changes can be quite extreme here too but in a different way than Norway. There’s a famous song by Crowded House “Four Seasons in a Day’ inspired by the weather of this city. Things change drastically in very short time, one day is over 40c and the day after can be 20-15c. No kidding. It makes it hard to be prepared though, you can’t keep adjusting the truss rod every six hours! :D
    Anyway, I was wondering about the effect of weather on effect pedals. Is that true that some pedals can be effected by it? One day they sound great, the next they’re dull …?

    [The point is that by controling the temperature and humidity in the room you keep your guitars you shouldn’t have to adjust the truss rod every six hours :) The seasons can change as much as they want and your guitar will feel that’s in a luxurious spa resort :)
    Some germanium transistor based pedals like a fuzz can sound considerably harsher in cold temperatures. I’ve also experienced that tube based pedals sounds a bit flat in cold weather but it might be my imagination. I would imagine though that high humidity could cause corrodation inside pedals and the amp and non alkaline batteries doesn’t like high humidity either but this is usually not a huge problem unless you live in the middle of a rain forrest. – Bjorn]

  18. Allan says:

    Cheers Bjorn, point taken :D

    I know what you mean about that steady temperature around the equator.

    I was wearing flower shorts and shades in june, and I had four layers on when december 1st brought about -22 d/c and 6 inches of snow.

    Makes you wonder about trading those lochs for a sandy oasis…

    [Ah yes… It’s not just our guitars that suffer :) – Bjorn]

  19. Rob says:

    “Some political regimes consider this an effective way of torture.”

    LOL

    I believe it. That is a sure fire way to make someone crack and give up national secrets… :-)

    Rob

    [LOL! – Bjorn]

  20. bernhard says:

    great article, bjorn, very useful indeed, have to remind myself of these things time and again.

    since we’re talking lemon oil/ballistol here, I want to add, regarding good polish for the body, my luthier always sonax car polish, to be precise “metal ultra glossy” (poor translation I reckon, metall hochglanz in german), its without silicon so it won’t smear and leave funny marks. use cotton wool to rub it in, and (the other side, or a fresh piece) to polish it up. works on pretty much all parts of a guitar except a rosewood or other non laqeur fretboard…

    cheers, bernhard

    [Good tip! – Bjorn]

  21. Gabriel says:

    Wow! I would´t image that winter is the bad guy in this matter. I always thought that heat and humidity can be a killer for a guitar.

    Another good tip! Thanks Bjorn! I love these “Tips of the week”

    Cheers!

    [Depends on where you live really. People around the equator has a much more stable climate than people in the north or south. However, your guitar doesn’t like temperatures and humidity that’s too high either. – Bjorn]

  22. Alex says:

    Check out Ballistol (instead of Lemon Oil). It’s not acid and I have seen luthiers using it (at least one particular one), as well as stores that deal with used guitars :) It’s a little cheaper, too.

    http://www.ballistol-shop.de/Wood-care/Ballistol-Universal-Oil_B_S_43_225.html

    [Thanks for the tip! – Bjorn]

  23. Allan says:

    This is so weird Bjorn. I’ve been thinking about temperature changes in conjunction with my maple neck 50’s strat, and also general upkeep and the likes for the past month or so.

    I really want to take care of the guitar as it’s the first itemor value (besides the ps3 but we won’t count that lol) I’ve really bought for myself since I grew up.

    How would you clean your maple neck? My guitar tutor says general wood polish works just fine, but I’m not sure. I’m planning a restring and clean up this weekend.

    Great article again :)

    [I’d be careful with polish and stuff like that because they can include acids and oils that might affect the laquer on the neck. I’d just use a damp cloth. – Bjorn]

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