As campaigns go, it’s not exactly up there with saving the rainforests, ending global warming or squishing malaria mosquitoes, but the attempt, proposed by some guitar manufacturers, to force music stores to standardize their temperature and humidity levels is important. At least to musicians.
When manufacturers create their instruments, they stick to pretty strict humidity and temperature levels. Even though running their air conditioning units at the same level day and night throughout the year will mean increasing their costs, they understand that they have little choice. If they want to make quality instruments, they need control over the temperature and humidity of the air the wood they use in the manufacturing process is breathing.
The alternative is to create an instrument that’s damaged before it even leaves the factory.
So they invest large sums in costly air conditioners and they absorb some of those costs and pass the rest on to the customer. And then the guitar or the cello or whatever instrument they’ve created is delivered to the store where it sits until someone buys it.
Hopefully, that will happen quickly, but that’s not always the case. Small stores, in particular, might keep a guitar in a rack for months until a customer pulls it off, tries it out… then puts it back because the frets are protruding too much, or the wood is cracked or the tops have shrunk. The customer comes to associate the brand of guitar with poor workmanship and turns their nose up next time they see it. The instrument they end up buying won’t have been made better, but it might have been sitting in dry or damp air for less time.
Warm Store, Dry Guitar
And that can happen. Heat a music store up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and you reduce relative humidity to as low as 15 percent.
The solution is for music stores to show the same amount of care for their instruments as the people who cut and dried the wood, glued the pieces, and applied the varnish. They should be investing in good air conditioning and they should be willing to maintain an even temperature and 50 percent relative humidity, even in a cold New York winter when the store is closed for the Christmas holidays and snow is piling up outside.
In the past manufacturers pressured stores to maintain their instruments properly, but they failed to enforce their demand. Many do — but not all.
If we want the stores to give our instruments the same respect that the manufacturers give them, then, of course, we have to give them that respect too. When we’re not strumming the guitar or playing the violin, we should be storing our instruments carefully, thinking about their humidity levels and making sure that the air doesn’t become so dry that the wood cracks or the frets protrude or so damp that the wood swells and the sound is muffled.
All campaigns demand that someone else do something for the benefit of everyone, but all good campaigns start with our own actions. That includes looking after your instrument.
Read our 4 tips and tricks to save you guitar