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Things to consider for maintaining your stringed instrument in good condition.

Your instrument needs proper care to stay in good, stable and playable condition. How you treat it and the environment in which it "lives" have a big impact on its well being. Below are a number of best practices and some underlying information which should help to explain the "whys".


Fine instruments are made primarily of wood that is glued or otherwise joined together. Wood is a material that "moves" as a result of changes in it's moisture content. As it gains moisture, it expands and as it looses moisture it shrinks. The moisture content is affected by humidity and temperature. I have a reference table here which shows the woods "equivalent moisture content" as it relates to the relative humidity and temperature of the surrounding air. For example in New England a winter day in a heated house my be 60 degrees and 25% relative humidity. A summer day may be 95 degrees and 75% relative humidity. Looking at the table you will find that the moisure content of the wood will vary from 5.4% to 13.9%. You can look up values for your area. As you can see though the change can be dramatic and this has a damaging affect on your intrument. So it is important to limit this as much as possible.

Things you can do; Maintain a proper environment for your instrument.

  • Keep your instrument in its case when not in use. Humidity is easier to control in a smaller space. Case humidifiers can be found for little money. If using a humidifier which installs in contact on/in the instrument, you should make sure that it does not directly wet any surface as damage may result.
  • Adjust your home environment as necessary. Use a hygrometer/thermometer to monitor the relative humidity and temperature. A humidity level of 45-55% is prefered. Plants and humidifiers add moisture in dry winter months. Air conditioning controls humidity in the hot, muggy summer months.
  • Avoid storing your guitar near sources of hot, dry air (such as forced hot air ducts, or radiators), or cold, damp areas (garages, basements, closets with outside walls).


As you can see temperature has an affect on humidity and moisture content of the wood. There are other reasons as well to be concerned about temperature. Rapid changed of temperature as well as exposure to extreme temperatures can cause problems as well. Many glues are weakened by heat, especially while moisture is present. This can result in joints that "creep" or move as well as joint failure. Having one joint fail can at times transfer stress (such as those from string tension) to other joints setting up a chain reaction of failures. In the worst case the wood itself could be warped or cracked as a result. When subjected to extreme cold, cracks or "crazing" of the finsh can result. Either extreme in temperature is bad and rapid change from one extreme to the other is worse.

Things you can do; Avoid temperature extremes.

  • Do not store or transport your instrument in a car trunk. The conditions there are extreme and not at all friendly to your instruments well being.
  • Even traveling in the passenger compartment can expose your instrument to temperatures more extreme than is desired. When bringing and instrument into a warm area after being cold, allow it to warm up gradually inside the case before taking it out.
  • People debate if loosening strings is needed. When you expect the instrument to be unavoidably exposed to hot or cold it may help (and certainly does not hurt) to loosen the strings a half or full step.
  • When traveling and hot and cold exposure can not be avoided you can also try to insulate the instrument from the extremes. If your case is loose fitting an additional wrap of towels or other soft light material can serve to insulate. Also there are commercially made outer "cases" resembling an oversized "gig" bag, made of a quilted and insulated fabric which covers the entire case. Sometimes these have a metalic outer layer that reflects heat.

Finish Care

The best way to maintain the finish of your guitar is to keep it clean. Wipe off perspiration and fingerprints with a soft, damp (not wet) cloth. Old, cotton baby diapers make very good guitar cleaning cloths. A very lightly dampened rag with plain tap water and thoroughly wrung out will remove most dirt. Then buff with dry clean cloth. Use caution if you use commercial products. Many contain solvents, silicones or abrasives and should not be used. Solvents can damage the finish. Silicones contaminate the finish making repairs very difficult. Abrasives in polishes although very fine, remove finish along with dirt.