Do you sometimes finger a fret on your guitar and hear a buzzing sound or even no sound? If you answered yes then your instrument may be seriously, even irreversibly dehydrated and possibly headed for the graveyard.
This is the story of how I saved the life of my severely dehydrated guitar.
My Sad Story
Last Winter I remember grabbing my guitar for a typical daily goof around …ah… I mean, serious practice session and found that my B string made an annoying buzzing sound from frets 4 – 9. I wondered why it was suddenly doing this when just a few days before it was fine. I decided to ignore the problem and hope that it would disappear on its own.
In just a few more days the B string stopped buzzing but frets 4-9 now wouldn’t play anything. To make matters worse the G string had now started to buzz.
Initially I thought that some of my frets were coming loose and needed to be repaired. Then an awful thought hit me. Had my guitar become warped because of the extremely low humidity produced by the typical winter weather? Was my precious instrument now ruined?
I also wondered that if it was possible to re-hydrate it and would this reverse the damage? Fortunately, in my case, the answer was yes. It had not yet reached the point of no return. It was indeed possible to restore the sound that I had grown to love. The following describes are the steps I took:
Measuring The Humidity Of My Home
With a little research I learned that most acoustic guitars need an environment that has a relative humidity level of 45% to 55%. An inexpensive, non-digital, device called a hygrometer was purchased at my local hardware store for under $10 dollars (USD).
For reasonable accuracy, I mounted it on a wall that did not have an exposure to the outside cold. I also avoided wall locations that were too near the common humid air blasts of the bathroom and kitchen.
After mounting the hygrometer and letting it acclimate for 24 hours, I discovered that my guitar had been constantly exposed, un-cased, to a relative humidity of only 24%. Now that I had confirmed that it was indeed dried out, it was time to find a way to return the lost moisture.
How I Re-Humidified My Guitar
I purchased a humidifier that was designed specifically for a guitar. It had a ½” diameter, foot long, green rubber tube with about 100 small holes poked along its length. Inside the tube was a yellow sponge material. Both ends of the tube contained black plastic plugs with one end attached to a string. The other end of the string was attached to a black plastic disc that was large enough to cover the sound hole.
The idea was to cover the sound hole with the disc then dangle the water soaked tube inside the body of the guitar. As the moisture inside the tube evaporates it would re-hydrate the wood causing it to return to its previously un-warped shape. The plastic disc was designed to prevent the evaporating moisture from escaping the inside of the body of the guitar.
So That’s The Theory Anyway But How Did It Work in Reality?
In about 24 hours, a simple visual inspection of my guitar revealed that the partial re-hydrating of my guitar caused the wood to begin to move back to its pre-warped state. The bridge, the device holds the ends of the strings near the sound hole, had rotated in such a way that it raised them slightly higher off the frets and therefore began to eliminate the buzzing or dead sounds at certain frets.
After 2 days I noticed that the sound of the B and G strings had continued to improve. After a total of 4 days of checking and remoistening the humidifier’s sponge, it had improved even more but, the buzz still had not completely gone away. At this point I wondered if the tube-in-the-body method was too slow and didn’t allow the entire guitar to properly re-hydrate.
Bringing Out The Big Guns: Satisfying The Need For More Moisture
I decided to use a standard table top room humidifier to increase the relative humidity in the entire living room. I bought a Sunbeam Ultrasonic Model 705 at a local Pharmacy. Its capacity was about 5 quarts of distilled water which turned out to be just about the amount of cool, distilled water vapor that it could dissipate in 24 hours.
It took about 4 days to increase the room’s relative humidity from 24% to 43%. During this time I propped the guitar on a stand outside of its case in the same room. I had also removed the tube humidifier from inside the guitar. At the end of these 4 days the buzzing and dead fret sounds had completely gone away.
The Bottom Line For Protecting Your Guitar From Dry Environments
1. Don’t expose your guitar to extremely dry environments for extended periods. This includes the trunk of your car during extreme cold or extreme hot weather. While a hard shell case or a gig bag can offer some protection they cannot prevent damage in extreme conditions.
2. If your guitar is primarily stored and used in one room of your home then humidify the entire room in the driest seasons. Monitor the room’s humidity using an inexpensive hygrometer available at most hardware stores. Target 45% to 55% relative humidity.
3. If you cannot control the relative humidity of your home then make sure to keep your guitar in its case a much as possible. Use an in-guitar or in-guitar-case type of humidifier.
Think prevention. Don’t wait until it is in trouble before you start to worry about humidity control. It is possible to dry it out to the point where it cannot be fixed.