Guitars can last a long time in the right hands. These instruments, although fragile, are built to last. Every part is built to be fixed, repaired, and maintained for long-term use. Some of the oldest guitars date back to the 15th century and can still be played, which is proof of their longevity. However, despite its durable nature, this musical instrument is no match for extreme climatic conditions and high temperatures, two things that can ruin a guitar irreparably.
The first indication of damage to a guitar can be heard in its sound. But most of the time, when a guitar sounds out of tune, damage to individual parts may be the reason behind it. This is not something to worry about unless the damaged part is expensive to fix or replace. Most guitar parts can be replaced and repaired, even when they are broken or cracked. All you have to do is take it to the store or find a good guitar craftsman, also called a luthier, to get it fixed.
But, if a guitar ever goes bad in a way that no amount of fixing and fussing restores its original tone, it is usually because it has undergone some kind of structural damage. Any damage that has affected the wooden parts of the guitar, especially the body and the neck, can be considered structural damage. This is commonly caused by extreme weather conditions or changes in temperature, and it can ruin your guitar in a matter of days. Depending on the severity, this is usually the only type of damage that cannot be reversed, and you may have to set your guitar aside for good.
The Importance of Wood in a Guitar
Every guitar has a unique sound, and this is called the ‘tone’ of the guitar. The type of wood used to build the instrument decides the tone of a guitar. It is often referred to as ‘tonewood’. Many different kinds of trees are used for tonewood, and most guitars are bought specifically for their tone. The fascinating thing about tone is that no two guitars will ever sound the same. It is like a fingerprint – every guitar has its own unique sound signature.
Even if a batch of guitars were built from the same block of wood, the tone would still sound different. This is because every tree is exposed to different climates, altitudes, handling, and various other conditions. Furthermore, one sheet of wood may have been cut from the interior part of the block and may not have been directly exposed to the kind of conditions as another that was cut from the outer part of the block, which is closer to the bark. Every little detail like this changes the tone of a guitar. And since your guitar was once a tree, the wood still interacts with the climate of its surroundings.
The porous nature of wood, along with the fact that only thin slices of wood are used to build a guitar, causes it to react quickly to temperature changes and weather transitions. Despite the fact that guitars come with a protective layer of finishing on the wood, it may not be enough to save a guitar when it is exposed to extreme climatic conditions or temperature for a long duration. However, your instrument can be restored to its normal state if the signs and symptoms of damage are caught early and taken care of immediately.
The Impact of Weather and Temperature
Damage from rapid fluctuations in temperature and unstable weather conditions can deform any wooden instrument like the guitar permanently, changing its tone forever. This can be an issue as the tone of the guitar is an important aspect of the instrument. In fact, musicians give it serious consideration before buying a guitar and even retire or trade an instrument if the original tone is lost.
The various changes that a guitar undergoes when faced with extreme weather or temperature conditions are listed below:
- Excessive heat expands the wood and melts the glue that holds the joints together. It is common for parts such as the bridge, neck, or seams of a guitar to come undone when the guitar is exposed to high temperatures.
- Extreme cold shrinks the wood, to the point that the neck of the guitar starts to wrap and twist. Damage due to cold weather can also show up as cracks in the finishing.
- High humidity can result in the wood absorbing the moisture in the air. This expands the wood and adds water weight to the guitar, making it heavier. Wood can swell when there is too much moisture, and this can ruin the tone of your guitar. The tone can sound dull and flat despite being tuned.
- Low humidity can sink the top of the guitar and this can cause the strings to become loose. Dry air can also shrink the wood, which can lead to cracking. The glue may begin to fail and snap the bridge off of the guitar’s body completely.
Did You Know?
Acoustic guitars are more susceptible to weather damage compared to electric guitars. Most of the parts on an acoustic guitar are glued on, and they are built with less wood and thus have thinner bodies. They are significantly impacted by hot and cold weather.
The Right Care to Prevent Damage
There are several options and methods to protect your guitar from such damage. All it takes is a little bit of time and effort to understand how weather and temperature can harm your instrument. With devices such as hydrometers and humidifiers, which are designed to protect guitars from such damage, it is easy to extend the life of your guitar.
Knowing how to take care of your guitar should be an essential part of your music journey. Here are some ways to protect your guitar and prevent damage:
· It is best to store your guitar in a hard case to protect it from the natural elements and any mishaps due to mishandling.
· It helps to understand and stay informed about the weather in your region and how it can impact your guitar. You can also monitor the humidity in your guitar case with a digital hydrometer.
· Ideally, guitars are safest at 45–55 percent relative humidity.1 Use humidifiers to maintain temperature levels. These can be placed inside the guitar case. Some two-way devices available today can both add and remove moisture from the case.
· If exposed to harsh weather, let your guitar sit in its case for a while so that it can adjust to room temperature. This will allow the glue to regain its normal adhesive quality.
About BYJU’S FutureSchool
BYJU’S FutureSchool’s music curriculum was developed to empower the next generation of guitar players. It introduces children to the wondrous world of music and instills them with a passion that lasts a lifetime. Kids learn through research-based teaching methods that range from live sessions to one-to-one challenges with interactive projects that unleash their musical creativity in a fun and nurturing environment.
- Symptoms of a wet guitar [Internet]. Taylor Guitars. [cited 2022Mar9]. Available from: https://www.taylorguitars.com/support/maintenance/symptoms-wet-guitar#%3A~%3Atext%3DThe%20ideal%20humidity%20range%20for%2Cguitars%20to%20become%20too%20wet. – “The ideal humidity range for your guitar is 45-55% relative humidity (RH).”