Pick up an acoustic guitar and you can’t help but notice how fragile it feels. While an electric guitar might have a solid body that looks it can take a few knocks, an acoustic guitar is all fragile wood, thin lacquer and impossibly subtle joins. Knock too hard on the soundboard and you can imagine the wood splitting and the guitar dying. An acoustic guitar is something that needs care.
That care, though, doesn’t just mean not tossing it across the room when a string breaks in mid-session and avoiding setting fire to it on stage. It also means avoiding the dangers you can’t see, including rapid changes in heat and humidity.
Guitars made at the Martin & Co. factory are produced at a temperature that varies only from 72-77 degrees Fahrenheit and at humidity levels that range between 45 percent and 55 percent. The company states that outside those ranges the acoustic guitar is “in danger.” That’s likely to happen quite a lot and if it happens quickly, you can see the damage fairly quickly too. When temperature and humidity change fast — when you move from an air-conditioned room to a sultry New York street, for example — the finish can start to crack. A quick lacquer check for fine cracks on the surface of your guitar should help to tell you whether you’re caring for your acoustic guitar properly.
While My Guitar Gently Toasts
The real problem is that many of those dangers occur when you’re likely to be using your acoustic guitar the most. Jobbing musicians might spend a lot of their time traveling from one air-conditioned studio to the next and for keen amateurs the best time to pull out a guitar is when the fire is roaring, the marshmallows are toasting and stars are calling out for a song. While they’re singing, the back of their acoustic guitar is quietly cooking.
Even when the instrument isn’t being played it can be in danger. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to store your guitar next to the radiator, but even hanging it on an outside wall can be a bad idea. The difference between the temperature of the wall and the temperature of the air can be all that’s needed to build those cracks and, swell the fretboard with excess moisture and damage your instrument. In very high humidity, you might even find that the glue in the joins weakens and opens. You reach for your guitar and, because the glue under the bridge has worn away, the bridge falls off completely.
When you pick up your acoustic guitar you might marvel at the fragility of the wood and the joins, and you might be amazed at the difference between that fragility and the strength of the sound you’re about to produce. But that strength can only happen if you take care of your acoustic guitar. Think about temperature. Store it carefully in its case and make sure that humidity is controlled and levels maintained. And don’t toss it across the room when the string breaks.
Read our 4 tips and tricks to save you guitar