It was a day I'll never forget-high school graduation. After the ceremony the whole family gathered for a picnic in a local park. With a great flourish, my father produced my graduation present-a beautiful Yamaha classical guitar. I had been playing for four years already on a much cheaper model and had actually picked this new one out a month before. At least once a week I had returned to the store where it was reserved to play and fondle it. But I hadn't seen the case. Nestled in the case's plush interior, my new love was truly resplendent in the June sun.
I played a piece I'd been practicing diligently for weeks. The whole family applauded-even my little sister, who normally had only unkind things to say about my playing. I was in heaven. In the afternoon we all went to see Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Afraid for the security of my new guitar, I locked it in the trunk of the car. Bad move. The hot Florida sun was still blasting the car when we emerged from the theater. It wasn't until we got back home that I pulled my new treasure out of the case. My heart sank. The once-perfect finish was cracked in a thousand places-long, uneven lines running the full length of the body. I actually cried.
Think about it
That was the first and the last time I ever exposed a guitar to that kind of abuse. I was reminded of my foolishness every day of college when I pulled my Yamaha out to practice. But in the years since-as a classical guitar instructor-I've seen the results of worse acts of neglect, and many more bad results from unnoticeably subtle forms of mistreatment.
I teach in New Mexico now, where the altitude and weather patterns make the air very dry. Most luthiers operate in shops where the humidity is maintained at about 50%. The average afternoon humidity in Albuquerque is closer to 29%. In the winter, the cold air doesn't hold much moisture to start with; forced air heating systems take out even more moisture. The result is that many of my students have kept their guitars in what from a guitar's point of view is really harsh weather. This excessive dryness can lead to fretboard shrinkage, neck warpage, glue cracking, and even the cracking of body wood and braces.
Extreme temperatures can also damage a guitar, witness the debacle with my graduation present. On the other end of the temperature spectrum, I knew a band in Colorado who went traveling together in December and had their heat cut off while they were gone. They got home late at night and one of the guys nearly broke his back when he flopped down on a frozen-solid waterbed. There were four guitars in the house, and every one of them had a warped neck after this event. I never knew whether the damage was from heating up too quickly, being too dried out in the cold, or just plain freezing. It is not uncommon for a student to screw up a guitar by letting it get too cold at the bus stop or in the car on the way to school, then whipping it out of the case before it's had a chance to warm up slowly.
In sum, though your guitar may not be a sentient creature, it is a sensitive one. If you have a good guitar feel the edge of the fretboard-if your frets seem to be hanging too far out from the wood, there's a good chance your guitar is too dry and the fretboard wood has shrunk. A warping neck or top may indicate too-radical temperature changes as well as humidity issues. If you notice any of these problems, or if you live in a climate that gets extreme part of the year, you should check out HumiCase's systems for keeping your guitar in the pink.
Mini Digital Hygro-thermometer
An obvious first step toward assuring that your guitar is not suffering from exposure is to measure the actual humidity and temperature your guitar lives in. For this Humicase, has provided a very accurate little instrument that is small enough to fit anywhere in your guitar case. Measuring just 2" x 1-1/2" x 1/2", the Mini-Digital Hygro-Thermometer can be stored in the accessory compartment of your case. Or, for the most accurate readings, you can mount it on the lid of the case near the guitar's headstock with the included double-sided adhesive tape. (You probably don't want to travel with the unit mounted this way since it could come loose and bump around in the case.)
Hygro-Thermometer provides accurate readings of the current Fahrenheit temperature and
relative humidity, both visible at the same time. With the touch of a
button it also displays the low and high values of both temperature and
humidity since the last time the unit was reset. This is a very handy
feature if you want to find out how cold/hot/wet/dry it actually gets
inside your guitar case when you're not around. Find out what extremes
that closet goes to. Or if you leave your instrument in a practice room at
school, you can find out how cold it gets at night. This is also quite
useful if you're a parent who wants to see how your kid is treating his or
her instrument when you're not watching.
Overall, you're looking for a relative humidity between 40% and 70% with the ideal at 55%. If the humidity in your house is very high, you may need to add some desiccant packs to your guitar case. More likely, you will need some humidification.
Guitar Humidifier Case
While the Hygro-Thermometer can tell you if your guitar's environment is unsuitable, you may need help to solve a humidity problem if you find one. That's where the HumiCase's Humidifier Case comes in. This is a sturdy, molded composite case with a rigid foam lining that supports, protects, and insulates your guitar. The plush inner lining protects your guitar's finish (and also looks cool) while full-length neck support, protective bumpers, and heat-repellent, light-colored shell protect the instrument structurally. Aluminum valances and reinforced latches with backplates mean the Humidifier Case will withstand years of regular use. It's also lightweight and fitted with chrome feet on the side and rubber feet on the bottom end.
But all of that is just the icing, the real cake is this case's simple and effective humidifier system. Two rigid pods containing specially treated foam sponges mount on Velcro strips in custom recesses in the lid over the soundhole and behind the headstock. You soak the sponges with the included special solution that activates the compound with which each sponge is impregnated during manufacture. The advantage to this special sponge is that it releases water into the air at a very slow rate, keeping the humidity constant without increasing it beyond a desirable level. If you have wisely already purchased a Mini-Digital Hygro-Thermometer, just keep it in the case to monitor your humidity levels. When they begin to drop off, it's time to recharge the pods. After you've used all the activation solution, simply use distilled water to keep the humidifier pods charged.
In-case Humidity Control Pack
If you've already invested a lot in a premium case, this little package is a great way to make it friendlier to your guitar. It comes complete with two humidifying pods, an 8-oz. bottle of activation solution, and the Mini-Digital Hygro-Thermometer. Just place the humidifying pods in your case in such a manner that they won't be touching the guitar, and you've converted your case to a self-contained, monitored humidifying system.
I highly recommend the HumiCase products for the long-term maintenance of any guitar. HumiCase has definitely done their R&D to produce affordable and reliable means of keeping your guitar in the best possible environment for its long-term preservation.