Symptoms Of a Dry Guitar: Hydration 101

Dry guitars are a common occurrence in areas of low humidity. They 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. Low humidity can cause issues. Guitars can suffer from symptoms such as cracking, warping, and shrinking. These can vary depending on how dry it is in your area. There are signs you should look for when considering if your guitar needs more moisture.

In this article, we will discuss the symptoms of a dry guitar. We will explore how it can impact the sound and playability of the instrument.

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. This can cause a variety of problems.

Symptoms of a dry guitar include:

  • Low guitar action that renders the instrument unplayable.
  • A hump on the fretboard where the neck and body meet.
  • A sunken soundboard top.
  • The back of the guitar becomes very flat and looses the arch.
  • Fret ends protrude from the edges of the fretboard and are sharp.
  • Visible cracks appear in the wood or lacquer.

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

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. This can make it difficult to play the instrument.

In some cases, the strings may even touch the fretboard. This 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.

Learn more about guitar action here!

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. It can also affect the overall intonation of the guitar. You might also find there is some buzzing as the strings make contact with the now-raised frets.

symptoms of a dry guitar

Sunken Top

Another thing to watch for 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

Protruding fret ends are a symptom. 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 good humidifier, or by storing it in a case that’s designed to keep moisture inside.

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:

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

It’s important to take steps to increase the humidity levels in your environment. Using the right humidifier, or keeping it stored in the proper case, can help. Experiencing any of the symptoms listed above? Then it’s important to take action right away to protect the guitar.

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.

Learn about how cold a guitar can get here.

How to Hydrate a Guitar

If your guitar is in need of moisture, there are a few methods you can use to rehydrate 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. It can help prevent further damage to the instrument.

Another way to rehydrate 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.

It’s important to keep your guitar humidity levels within the recommended range. No matter how you decide to do it. You may also consider adding a humidifier to the room they are stored in. There is 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. The ideal humidity levels for a guitar will vary depending on the climate. As well as the environment, and wood type. Yet, 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. But, anything over 60% humidity could have the opposite effect. If the environment is too humid, the instrument might begin to absorb 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. Your case might also start to smell like mildew.

Keep 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. This can be overwhelming for some people. Acoustics need 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 rehydration.

Conclusion

Glue joints separating, tops or sides cracking, warping, and playing issues. These are all possible issues with a guitar kept in a dry environment. It isn’t always as severe as this, sometimes it’s fret ends that become sharp. But once you recognize these symptoms of a dry guitar, act fast, you don’t want anything worse to happen.

FAQs

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. This can lead to many symptoms from glue joints separating or even worse, cracking! Take 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. There’s also a risk that excessive heat could cause materials like animal hide glue to loosen. Stickers on your guitar might also come off!

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

This might be extreme for certain models and is not in direct sunlight. A more comfortable top level will be around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 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 in your guitar’s case within the recommended range.

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. 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 to 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!