…and That Goes for Any Wood Instrument
Whichever kind of wooden instrument you play, there’s always a special place to play it. Acoustic guitars might sound great on stage, but they fit so much better at the edge of a fire on the beach or on a rocking chair on the porch. Violins might be more usually thought of as instruments to be discovered in the orchestra pit, but they really come to life in in the corner of an Irish pub when the Guinness is flowing and bow is flying. The reeds of clarinets and oboes always bring them to the edge of lakes, at least figuratively, and even pianos, despite their weight and complexity, feel warmer between wooden walls.
Unlike the brass section or modern electric instruments, wooden instruments sound natural, feel natural and give the player a unique link to nature. They’re made of material that used to live — and like the tree the wood came from, that material continues to change and develop in response to the atmosphere around it.
Just as you would expect a tree’s branches, leaves and trunk to change in hot, dry weather and to shift again in cool, humid weather, so you would expect the wood taken from that tree to respond in a similar way, even after that wood has been cut and treated and turned into a musical instrument.
That doesn’t just affect the way a wooden instrument feels. It also affects how it sounds — and how long it lasts.
Your Instrument Continues To Breathe — and Drink
The wood in a guitar that’s stored in a dry environment will shrink. The top of a guitar can drop by as much as an eighth of an inch as it dries out. That doesn’t just mean that a summer hitchhiking with your guitar through Texas will give you less guitar than you started with. It also means that you’ll have a worse guitar than you started with. The fretboard might shrink less than the top, but even a contraction of one-sixty-fourth of an inch will cause the frets to protrude a noticeable — and uncomfortable — amount.
High humidity is just as bad. Instead of shrinkage, you’ll get bloatage. The wood absorbs more liquid, as you’d expect it do, storing most of it in the back, especially if it’s made of rosewood or some other hard wood. As the wood expands, it puts pressure on the braces and on the glues that hold the different parts of the instrument together. In the worst cases, that can result in the guitar falling apart.
Forget about playing your guitar badly; you won’t playing it at all.
It’s not just guitars that suffer from changing humidity levels, though. Any device that’s made of a natural material, that’s constructed of wood that once breathed, absorbed moisture and turned sunlight into cellulose will continue to respond to the environment around it even after it’s been turned into a musical instrument.
Your guitar — or oboe, violin or clarinet — might sound perfect played in the open air on a summer’s evening, but that perfect fit to nature comes with a price.
The solution? A simple and effective humidity control system to maintain the right humidity level…for wood.