Caring for your Instrument as the Weather Changes

By Josh Kossman, Guitar/Bass/Mandolin/Ukulele Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Josh Kossman, Guitar/Bass/Mandolin/Ukulele Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Josh Kossman

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably noticed vast and sudden changes in our beautiful Boulder weather lately. What most of us probably haven’t noticed, however, is the effect the changing climate has had on our instruments, specifically our acoustic stringed instruments. Even slight changes in temperature can cause our strings to go out of tune but 30 degree swings, like the ones we’ve had the last few weeks, can do considerable damage to our instruments. Luckily, there are steps we can take to prevent such damage from occurring.

The first and most important step to your instrument protection is keeping it stored in a climate controlled area, NOT in your garage or car. Again, even slight temperature variations can cause your strings to go out of tune, but varying temperature extremes (for example, leaving your guitar in the cold car all day and then suddenly bringing it into an 80 degree house) can actually cause the wood to warp and possibly even crack. Instead, store your instrument at home, where the temperature won’t be changing so drastically. And if you have to bring it along with you to work, don’t leave it in your car. Instead, bring it into the office to store for the day. That way, when you bring it into The Lesson Studio’s heated facility it won’t crack or warp.

The second step in instrument protection is maintaining good humidity. This is especially important in Boulder’s dry air. All instruments, but especially acoustic stringed instruments (mandolins, guitars, ukuleles, violins, violas, cellos, etc…) need a healthy amount of humidity where there stored so that their wood doesn’t dry up and crack or split at the seams. Some of us have humidity controls in our heating devices at home, but for the rest of us we need a different solution. The best thing for the instrument would be to buy what is called a Damp-It®. A Damp-It® is a holed rubber tube with sponges inside that you would insert into the sound hole of your instrument. It is outfitted with a nifty clip so that it won’t fall all the way in. When wetted the Damp-It® will moisturize and greatly extend the life of your instrument. If you cannot get a hold of a Damp-It®, you can poke holes in a 35mm film canister, fill it with a wetted sponge and keep it in your case. This works, but is not as effective as a proper product manufactured to moisturize your instrument.

The third thing we can do, and by far the simplest, is to just keep an eye on our instruments. Every day you should check the wood on your instrument. Look for warps, bends, cracks, or splits. Hold your instrument so you can look straight down the neck and check if the angle is true. Play a bit and listen for buzzes or anything that sounds odd. If you do find something that troubles you, bring it into The Lesson Studio for your teacher to look at, and hopefully it will be something simple we can fix.

I hope this blog has shed light on some basic instrument maintenance techniques. As musicians, it’s extremely important we keep our tools-of-the-trade in good functionality and tone. It makes it easier to play and easier to listen to. So, enjoy the changing weather, but be wary as well. Keep a steady eye and an ear on your instruments and treat them with the love and care you would yourself.

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