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INSTRUMENT CARE
This page is dedicated to stringed instrument care. Stringed instruments--especially higher grade ones--may be highly susceptible to damage that can be caused by the way they are handled or stored. If care is not taken to avoid these enemies to your instruments, you could end up throwing a lot of money away--not to mention the heartbreak of losing a loved instrument. For the purpose of this web page I am going to speak specifically about guitars. However, the threats I'll discuss on this page apply to the well-being of most all wood stringed instruments.
C.F. Martin Guitars maintains a technical support site where they discuss these things at length. Most Martin guitars are made of solid woods. Many other manufacturers who make their guitars from solid woods (that is, solid tops and solid back and side woods) know of these dangers, but Martin actually carries information on their web site about proper storage. Some guitars are more susceptible than others, and oddly, many of the more expensive and well-made ones may be the ones most at risk. Once you've read this page, my hope is that you'll understand why.
TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY
I keep my guitars, mandolins, dulcimers, and violin in a climate controlled area. I've learned that temperature and humidity--especially changes in these--are a fine wood instrument's worst enemies. Martin's web site contains a "Technical Information" link where they discuss many aspects of owning fine guitars. The following paragraphs are from their web site at http://martinguitar.com/guitars/technical/humidity.html.
"Your guitar is made of thin wood which is easily affected by temperature and humidity. This combination is the most important single part of your guitar’s surroundings. Martin keeps the factory at a constant 45-55 percent humidity and 72-77 degrees Fahrenheit. If either humidity or temperature get far away from these factory conditions, your guitar is in danger. A rapid change in temperature or exposure to cold can cause small cracks in the finish. These are lacquer checks. We recommend the use of a hygrometer/ thermometer to measure the relative humidity and temperature surrounding your guitar.
As humidity increases, moisture content of wood goes up rapidly, causing it to expand and swell. A gradual increase in humidity won’t generally do permanent damage to your instrument. When very high humidity is combined with high temperature, glue joints could possibly become weakened and may even open slightly. If your guitar is exposed to high temperature or humidity for any length of time, the glue under the bridge could weaken causing the bridge to pull off."
Although this information was written by Martin for their own brand of guitars, there can be severe consequences to an owner who ignores these precautions. Most homes with central air conditioning and a basement provide a perfect environment for wood stringed instruments. My own are kept in just such a place. My basement has a finished room where I keep them hanging from the wall. I have a hygrometer (measures temperature and humidity) that monitors the conditions in the room, and it is fairly constant at around 72 degrees F and 55% humidity year round. One mistake that some owners make is to think that it is better to have a humid area to store the instruments. However, as Martin's experts suggest, there is an ideal humidity. Placing a humidifier in a room of instruments is an action that should be well-thought out. It should not be placed near the instruments. In the same room is adequate, but far enough away so that the moist air coming from the humidifier doesn't blow directly on any of the instruments.
LONG TERM STORAGE
Observing the above is not all there is to maintaining the health of a guitar. Any guitar that is not going to be played for more than 30 days (this is not a firm fixed time--but a good measure to use) should have the strings loosened to avoid the constant pull on the neck and bridge. This constant strain--especially when combined with varying humidity and temperature, can warp the neck, or pull the body of the guitar under the bridge upward--eventually resulting in unrepairable neck warp or "bellying" of the soundboard area at the bridge.
MORE TO COME...