Symptoms Of a Dry Guitar | Hydration 101

Dry guitars are a common occurrence in areas of low humidity, and can exhibit a variety of symptoms that can adversely affect the instrument. This is quite common during the wintertime in some areas of the world.

Guitars are made of wood and need to be kept in a humid environment if this is the case. When the humidity is low, guitars can suffer from symptoms such as cracking, warping, and shrinking among other things. These can vary depending on how dry it is in your area, but there are some things you should look out for when determining if your instrument needs more moisture or not.

In this article, we will discuss the symptoms of a dry guitar in detail, and how it can impact the overall sound and play ability of the instrument.

symptoms of a dry guitar

Symptoms of a Dry Guitar

Living in a dry area can hurt your guitar. When the humidity is low, the wood in your instrument can shrink, which can cause a variety of problems. Some symptoms of a dry guitar include:

  • Uncomfortable action
  • A hump on the fretboard
  • A sunken top
  • Back looks flat
  • Protruding fret ends

If you live in a dry area, it’s important to take steps to protect your guitar from the air. You can do this by using a humidifier, or by keeping it in a case that’s specifically designed to keep moisture in.

In addition, you should avoid exposing your guitar to direct sunlight or heat, as this can also cause the wood to dry out.

When a guitar is made at the factory, the wood is dried out ahead of time. This is done so that when it arrives at its new home, the changes will be minimal depending on the humidity levels.

This is called “seasoning” the wood. Dryness or even a more moist environment can alter the wood in undesirable ways.

Action

One of the symptoms of a dry guitar is low action. When the humidity is low, the strings could be very close to the fretboard, which can make it difficult to play the instrument.

In some cases, the strings may even touch the fretboard, which can cause them to create fret buzz and tuning issues. Some might consider a truss rod adjustment, but this is only going to need to be reversed when the guitar re-hydrates.

Hump on Fretboard

Another symptom of a dry guitar is a hump on the fretboard where the neck meets the body. This is caused by the neck shrinking, which can cause it to warp and curve.

This can make it difficult to play certain notes on the fretboard, and can also affect the overall intonation of the guitar. You might also find there is some buzzing as the strings make contact on the now raised frets.

Sunken Top

Another symptom of a dry guitar is a sunken top. When the wood dries out, it can cause the top of the instrument to sink in between the bridge and fingerboard.

This can affect the sound of the instrument, and can also make it difficult to play certain notes. This can also cause glue joints to separate and crack. Loose fasteners are also an issue when the body shrinks.

Back Looks Flat

When a guitar dries out, one of the most noticeable symptoms is that the back will look very flat. This is because the wood will shrink, which can cause it to warp. When it’s viewed from the back, you may be able to see a contrast between the areas that are warped and those that are not.

Protruding Ends

Another symptom of a dry guitar is protruding fret ends. When the neck shrinks, it can cause the ends to stick out. This can make it difficult to play the instrument, as well as cause cuts or pain to your fingers.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a sign that your guitar needs more moisture. You can combat this by using a humidifier, or by storing it in a case that’s specifically designed to keep moisture in.

In addition, you should avoid exposing your guitar to direct sunlight or heat, as this can also cause the wood to dry out.

How to Tell if Your Guitar is too Dry

As you can see, the symptoms of a dry guitar can be very severe. If your instrument starts to crack, it could mean the end. And if it’s a very expensive model, it may never play or sound the same again.

You may wonder how to tell if it’s too dry. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, your guitar may need a humidifier:

  • Does the wood look shrunken in any way?
  • Is the action lower than it previously was?
  • Do you see a hump on the fretboard where the neck meets the body?
  • Is the top sunken in between the bridge and fingerboard?
  • Did the back of the guitar look flat when you looked at it from behind?
  • Do the fret ends stick out?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, your guitar may be too dry. To protect your instrument, it’s important to take steps to increase the humidity levels in your environment.

You can do this by using a humidifier, or by storing it in a case that’s specifically designed to keep moisture in.

And if you’re ever experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it’s important to take action right away. By doing so, you can help protect your guitar from further damage and keep it playable for years to come.

One device that can help you test the humidity in the room is a hygrometer. This unit will measure the humidity and room temperature to tell you if the air is dry or comfortable.

How to Re-hydrate a Guitar

If your guitar is in need of moisture, there are a few methods you can use to re-hydrate it.

The most common way is to use a case humidifier. This is a device that sits in your guitar’s case and emits moisture into the air.

Sometimes also called a humidipak. This will help to replenish the moisture that’s been lost, and can help prevent further damage to the instrument.

Another way to re-hydrate an instrument is by using a guitar humidifier. This is a device that you place in your sound hole, and it will release moisture into the air. This is a good option if you don’t have access to a case humidifier.

No matter which method you choose, it’s important to keep your guitar humidity levels within the recommended range. You may also consider adding a humidifier to the room they are stored in.

No better way to prevent dryness than to add moisture to the air in the room. Depending on how dry your environment is, this could also be good for you as well!

Safe Humidity Levels

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the ideal humidity levels for a guitar will vary depending on the climate, environment, and wood type. However, a good rule of thumb is to keep the humidity levels in your guitar’s case between 40% to 50%.

You can also use a hygrometer to test the levels in your environment, and take steps to adjust them if necessary.

On the other hand, anything over 60% humidity could have the opposite effect. If the environment is too humid, the instrument might begin to absorb the moisture.

If this is the case, the symptoms will look similar, but somewhat opposite. Adjustments will begin to move out of tolerance, but the guitar might start to sound different, in a very poor way.

By keeping your guitar’s humidity levels within this range, you can help protect it from shrinkage or expansion. And by doing so, you can ensure that your instrument will stay playable whenever you want to use it.

Get Help if You are Not Sure

If you think you might have a dry guitar but are not sure what to do, it’s always good to consult a professional. Technicians see this all the time and are your best bet if you don’t know what to do.

Some repairs will need to be done if the instrument has suffered any damage, and this can be overwhelming for some people. 

Acoustics require more attention than an electric guitar, and so watch for the signs. If you are not sure, then seek out a good guitar tech and let them help you through the steps to re-hydration.

Summary

Glue joints separating, tops or sides cracking, warping, and playing issues, are all possible issues with a guitar kept in a low humidity environment.

It isn’t always as severe as this, sometimes it’s simply fret ends becoming sharp. But once you recognize these symptoms of a dry guitar, act fast, you don’t want anything worse to happen.

FAQs

There are many scenarios and questions around them that players might have. We have answered a few that can potentially help you keep your guitar in good condition.

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

It takes a guitar anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to dry out, depending on how parched the environment is.

Guitars can become extremely dry in low humidity environments, which can lead to a number of symptoms from glue joints separating or even worse, cracking!

By taking steps to increase the humidity levels in your environment, you can help protect your instrument from further damage. If you hang your guitars from the wall, this is crucial!

What Temperature is too hot for a Guitar?

Too much heat can warp or crack the wood, discolor varnish, and damage glue joints holding pieces together. There’s also a risk that excessive heat could cause sensitive materials like animal hide glue to loosen up. Stickers on your guitar might also come off!

Your guitar can tolerate a wide range of temperature fluctuations, but there is a safe limit. When it comes to the absolute hottest a guitar should be exposed to for long periods, 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) is the max.

This might be extreme for certain models, and is not in direct sunlight. A more comfortable top level will be around 70 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit (21 – 24 Celsius) for all models.

Is it OK to Leave a Guitar out of the Case?

Leaving a guitar out of its case can cause it to become dry or even too wet. This can lead to all the symptoms we touched on above. It’s important to keep the humidity levels in your guitar’s case within the recommended range to protect it from damage.

It’s even more important to keep the room levels in check if the instrument will be left out of the case.

Your best bet is to measure the humidity levels in the room and then decide on either adding moisture or taking it out of the air. This way, if you leave a guitar on a stand out of the case, the environment won’t hurt it.

Just make sure it’s in the suggested range of 40% – 55%, and you should be fine.

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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!