Guitar Neck Shrinkage | Prevention and Repair

Keeping a guitar in a well conditioned environment is very important. Humidity, temperature and cleanliness need to be maintained in order to keep a guitar in optimal condition. When any of these things are overlooked, the guitar will then react to the environment in a negative way.

Humidity level is a very important thing to think about when storing a guitar. Should the environment get too dry, the wood will get smaller. Guitar neck shrinkage is all too common and can end up making the instrument unplayable.

Most players don’t realize this is happening until it is too late and they end up cutting their hands on frets. As the neck shrinks, they begin to get larger as the neck gets smaller. Metal does not retract like wood and so sharp frets are a result.

Guitar Neck Shrinkage

Do Guitar Necks Shrink?

Yes, your guitar will shrink if it gets too dry. Because wood responds to moisture, it is very possible for it to expand and retract. Guitar necks are primarily made from wood and hold other wood parts. The fretboard, and neck wood types are different.

Because they are both made from wood, the way they expand and retract are similar. But this can put stress on the adhesives used to keep the two parts together. Guitar neck shrinkage can be damaging!

Another thing that happens when the neck gets smaller, is fret sprout. The metal frets don’t shrink with the wood and end up protruding. This can end up in cut hands or an unplayable instrument. Your neck will also change in how it holds the tension of the strings.

This usually means the action gets worse and becomes harder to play. The list goes on! As you can see it is very important to keep your guitar from drying out.

How Long Does it Take for a Neck to Dry Out?

Most players that live in climates that have hot summers and really cold winters know how their guitars are affected. Really cold winters usually mean shrinking guitars! Some regions of the world get so cold that the humidity can go down to 10% and under. These are very dry conditions for a person, but even worse for a guitar.

It can take 1 – 2 months with environmental humidity at 10% or lower for a guitar to dry out and shrink. Sometimes even less depending on where it is stored. You will notice this by the sharp ends at first, and then the action.

As humidity levels increase, so will the time it takes for a guitar neck to dry out. Anything under 25% humidity will resort in a somewhat quick dry out.

Humidifiers For Guitars

Humidifiers are the very best way to prevent guitars from drying out. Most guitar techs will suggest that a player maintains humidity levels in their homes above 40% to prevent their instruments from drying out. This is only really necessary for those who live in dry climates and for some is a seasonal hurdle that needs proper planning.

The shrinking and expansion that happens during seasonal changes is bad for your guitar. Any adhesives, threaded screw holes and even the inlays can be damaged if the wood is allowed to fluctuate in size. So it is very important to make sure your guitar does not shrink.

One way to measure the humidity in your home is to use a hygrometer. This device will tell you when the room needs to be supported by a humidifier. When selecting a humidifier, make sure that it is adequate to raise the level in the room. Some units are not big enough to humidify certain rooms, and so make sure to get one made for the room size it will work in.

You will also want to make sure you get the right humidifier for your health. Some units use filters that can eventually produce mold. And so it’s important to do some due diligence before making the purchase.

Can You Over Humidify a Guitar?

Yes it is possible to have a guitar absorb too much moisture. Because wood is a hygroscopic material, the size will change depending on the moisture levels it is exposed to. And as we looked at above, the changes that happen to the wood during these times of expansion and retraction can be detrimental to many parts.

And so if you live in an environment that is very humid, it is best to work at lowering the levels. It is suggested that a guitar will be comfortable between 45 and 55% humidity. Very high levels should be dealt with by using a dehumidifier in the room that a guitar is stored in.

Is It Better To Keep My Guitar In Its Case?

While it will benefit your guitar more to keep it in the case, it will only slow the rate at which it dries out. However if you do not have access to a humidifier, there are things you can use to keep the inside of the case prepared for storage.

D’addario makes a system that uses humidipaks that can be placed in a guitar case. These packs then raise the humidity to levels that are much better for the wood of your guitar.

Can My Guitar Neck Warp if It Dries Out?

One of the contributing factors to wood warp is a dry neck. Constant changes over time can lead the guitar’s neck to warp. This is another reason why it is so important to monitor the humidity levels in your guitar rooms and prevent changes.

Doing so is fairly inexpensive and can keep your guitar in great shape for many years. If you have guitars that are worth a lot of money or are vintage, it is in your best interest to make sure they are stored correctly! Otherwise they might be damaged as time goes by.

Guitar Neck Shrinkage Prevention Is Key

So as you can see, preventing guitar neck shrinkage is super important. Not only can it cause expensive damage down the road, but it can ruin a guitar completely! It will be a big benefit to run a humidifier in the winter or keep it stored in the case with the right system.

This way you will have no issues and can focus on practice and performing. And if you keep them hung from a wall, take all precautions you can!

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!