Handling humidity when travelling with your guitar

Hoorah! You have purchased a travel guitar! Never again will you know the painful anxiety of leaving one of your limbs in the hold while you fly. The hours inflight, fearing the worst while hoping that your meticulous packing will save you from opening a case full of matchsticks when you reach your destination. Just when you thought that it was safe to get back on the aeroplane a new menace emerges: humidity.

Keeping your guitar with you when travelling will indeed help reduce the perils of temperature fluctuation on your journey. But, as hard as it might be to believe at this time of year, other countries are martyrs to humidity year-round. And if you’re travelling to one such destination, it can mean bad things for your instrument.

What does humidity do to a guitar?

We all need some degree of humidity to survive, otherwise we’d all be desiccated, and our homes would be deserts. But changes in humidity can cause us problems.

  • High humidity means that there is more water vapor there in the air. This can mean that the wood of your guitar may swell and warp.
  • Low humidity is when water vapor is depleted, usually by extremely high temperatures – as found in a desert. This can lead to your guitar drying out to the point of cracking.

Experts recommend that guitars are kept at a humidity level of 45-55%. While this might not always be possible, it’s the fluctuations between temperate and high or low humidity that are most damaging for guitars. This can cause a range of problems from swollen frets and glue failure to tuning problems and buzzing action.

Using a travel guitar can help with this, as you have more control over where your guitar goes – no sitting in freezing/baking loading bays before/after hours in an icy hold. But there are other things that you can do once you’ve reached your destination.

How to protect your guitar against humidity

 

The key word in that subheading there is ‘protect’. The more exposed your instrument is, the more susceptible it is to damage. So:

  • When you’re not using your guitar, keep it in a case – the best you can afford.
  • Use a guitar humidifier. There are loads of different brands and types available, but they’re all compact, easy to use and generally affordable. It’ll basically help to keep your instrument comfy. Buy don’t be tempted to overdo it, as you could cause the reverse problem.
  • When travelling somewhere with high humidity, pack some packets of silica gel in your guitar case to absorb any excess moisture.
  • If you’re travelling somewhere particularly dry and cold or hot and wet, or are planning a trip that will involve both, buy a digital hygrometer. It’ll read the humidity levels in your case and tell you when your guitar needs some TLC (any time that humidity is outside of the 45-55% range).
  • Don’t store your instrument by a heating duct, air vent, air conditioner or open window.
  • If you’re travelling by car, never leave your guitar in the boot. Cars can be subject to extreme temperature changes when not in use, frying or freezing anything left inside them. If you wouldn’t leave a puppy in it, don’t leave your guitar!

Guitars handle no end of wear and tear. It’s a sign that they’re used and loved. But humidity can cause lasting and irretrievable damage, so it only makes sense to take precautions before it becomes a problem.

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