Ah, winter! The season of snow days, hot chocolate, flu season, cable-knit sweaters – and guitar repairs.
Perhaps more than any other time of year, winter is the season when your acoustic guitar – especially if it’s an acoustic guitar – needs extra special care. The beauty and hassle of guitars is that they are made of a “living” material: wood has natural moisture, making it react to changes in temperature and humidity.
How does winter affect your guitar?
It’s dry! Dry air draws moisture from wood. When your guitar dries out, the top and back can cave inward. Your neck might also "bow," which will make your strings buzz. The fingerboard might shrink inward, so the metal frets will jut out. If it gets really dry, you may see cracking in the surface.
It’s cold! Cold air makes elements contract. Cold can also warp the guitar and the bow. It will also change tuning, so the strings will play a little sharp.
The heater’s on! Dry air + direct heat + sudden temperature changes = warps and cracking.
Alright, so how can you save yourself repair money and care for your guitar during winter?
DO keep it in a consistent environment. You don’t need to obsess, but here are some guidelines:
- Temperature: 70 - 75˚ F (room temperature)
- Humidity: 45 – 50%
- Too dry: Below 40%
- Too moist: Above 60%
DO keep it in a hardshell case. Besides protecting it from bangs and dents, a hardshell case shelters it from environmental changes and makes it easier to control humidity.
DO allow time to adjust to temperature changes. If you’re rushing into your guitar lesson, you don’t really have time to do this. However, if you are playing a gig, it’s not a bad idea to give it a few hours to adjust to the venue’s conditions.
DO consider purchasing a humidifier. These help the guitar stay hydrated. In addition to room humidifiers, there are several kinds that actually fit in the guitar, including this one by Planet Waves. Make sure you’re not dripping water onto your guitar if you use one, though – and check with your guitar teacher before buying one! (I’d also be careful if you’ve got an acoustic-electric guitar.)
DON’T leave it near the heater. Again, dry air + direct heat + sudden temperature changes = yikes.
DON’T leave it in the car. I learned this lesson the hard way: I once left my guitar in the backseat for two months during the winter. Never, ever again! Talk about a warped neck. Talk about repairs – or, in the worst scenario, an unplayable guitar.
DON’T leave it sitting around all winter. Playing your guitar at least a few minutes a day helps offset some of the environmental stress. (There’s your motivation to practice!)
Your acoustic guitar feels the change in weather just like you do, so be sure to give it some TLC during the winter months to keep it playing its best!