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.

How to pack a guitar for travel

Travelling with a guitar comes with its inherent problems. The instruments are fragile, easily damaged and susceptible to temperature fluctuations. Sometimes, it’s tempting to just leave them at home, but that’s not always an option. If you need to take your guitar with you, whether for work or pleasure, there are a few simple precautions that can help it survive the journey.

5 steps to pack your guitar for safe travel

1. Invest in a quality case.

OK, so that seems like an obvious one, but a lot of people don’t. If you’re not intending to travel when you first purchase your guitar, it’s tempting to go for the minimum expense. And that’s fine for about the home, but less so when your instrument has to face the rigours of air, sea, or even road travel. Either a solid case with a soft inner, or a soft case with structured inner is a really great option.

2. Prepare the instrument.

Loosen the strings so that changes in pressure don’t snap the neck. This is one of the most important steps you can take if flying. You might also want to consider purchasing a travel guitar/folding guitar so that you’re able to take your instrument on as hand luggage to avoid the potential threats that come with stowing in the hold. In theory, you should be able to take your regular instrument as hand luggage] . In practice, it’s not always that easy. A folding guitar can remove this problem.

3. Use bubble wrap.

Bubble wrap has become ubiquitous in the postal industry for a very good reason: it’s an excellent shock absorber and it’s cheap. For your purposes, it’s also pretty thin, so it can create an air pocket around your guitar without substantially increasing the required case size. Just line the case with a layer of the wrap and place your guitar on top. Leave a little space, as if the guitar fits too snuggly it will come under undue pressure. Cover the top of the guitar with a further layer of bubble wrap – it’s often easier to use one large sheet – and tape the sides together.

4. Further protect fragile areas.

The neck and headstock of your guitar are the areas most prone to damage, so wrap an additional layer of bubbles around them. The side of your guitar can also be vulnerable, so if there’s room, place another layer of bubble wrap down the sides.

5. Keep accessories separate.

While it’s tempting to lump everything in together, the more you have in your case, the greater the chance that your instrument will be damaged. So, unless your case has an integrated accessory store, keep your spare strings, picks, and especially your capo, in a separate bag.  

And that’s it. A little bit of prep can save you a whole heap of heartache, helping you to finish your journey with your guitar intact.  

Carry on carrying on: Your guitar CAN be taken as hand luggage

Anyone who travels regularly with their guitar would have read – with mild horror – the experiences of Dave Davies (he of Kinks fame) last December.

This is a man who has very successfully made his living playing guitar. Millions of people know his name. Millions more know his music. And yet in December ’17, BA insisted that he stow his guitar in the hold.

Oh, horror of horrors.

It’s the thing that every guitar player dreads when booking a flight, and few of us mortal folk are in the position to purchase an additional seat for our beloved instruments – even should the airline allow this. It’s a cause of so much angst.

So, you might be surprised to know that airlines are actually obliged to allow musicians to carry their instruments as hand luggage.

Uh, what now?

Well, exactly. According to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that’s the case. Read it for yourself.

SEC. 403. MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.
(a) IN GENERAL—Subchapter I of chapter 417 is amended by adding at the end the following:
‘‘§ 41724. Musical instruments
‘‘(a) IN GENERAL—
‘‘(1) SMALL INSTRUMENTS AS CARRY-ON BAGGAGE.—An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage, if—

‘‘(A) the instrument can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or under a passenger seat, in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator; and

‘‘(B) there is space for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.

Doesn’t that make life happier?

Unfortunately, not always. There’s still much confusion and some airlines are intractable because that “if–“ allows for a huge number of caveats. Which is why dozens of people less famous than Mr Davies are forced to endure sphincter-clenching flights, in dread of carousel crushing, on a daily basis.

Travel Guitars

Travelling safely with a guitar is possible. There are things that you can do to better protect your instrument. But there’s no denying that hold storage is a bad idea for your guitar, and is best avoided if possible.

Quite aside from the fact that it could easily be smashed to smithereens en route, the air pressure and temperature fluctuations do terrible things to body and strings. That’s one of the reasons we’ve put such a lot of effort into creating folding guitars.

If you’ve not used a folding guitar (AKA travel guitar), it’s easy to be sceptical. How could a guitar that folds in half hope to have the integrity of a solid instrument? How can the neck not move around under pressure? Well, if you really want to know, it’s because we’re very, very clever.

Need more info than that? Tch! Alright then.

Essentially, it all comes down to a cleverly placed screw, which allows the neck to be straightened or bent. With the strings tucked safely inside the body and the neck bent forward, the travel guitar becomes small enough to fit in a hand-luggage sized backpack. When you’re ready to play, it takes just 30 seconds to unpack and restore the neck to its rightful position, tighten the screw and check the tuning – as you would before any session. In most cases, the strings are as tuneful as you left them. Tonally excellent, the guitar feels as solid and sturdy as anything you’ve ever played.

Quick, simple, problem solved.

If you fly with your instrument on a regular basis, a travel guitar is seriously worth considering. It saves stress, logistical nightmares, and an abundance of luggage…

Or, you could just keep on begging, pleading, bribing, picking fights with flight attendants, and developing ulcers every time you fly. Both are worthy options.

Have Guitar, Will Travel

Ah, travelling the world with a guitar strapped to your back. The life of a roaming minstrel seems such a romantic one… But it also seems totally out of the question these days. Travel is expensive; opportunities are few. So, what do you do if you’re not [yet] famous? Grab your funky folding guitar and read on, dear friends, read on…

6 ways your guitar could pay for you to travel

Bar Work

Any venue in possession of a live music license is always on the lookout for acts. Learn a few crowd-pleasers, or learn something unique; if you can play well, you’ll find work on your travels. Approach with politeness, be prepared to do a demo and play to the venue’s vibe. If they like you, you’ll probably be invited back for more during your stay in the area. If not, just try the pub further down the road.

Teaching

So, this might seem improbable. If you want to make a living from teaching guitar you need to build up a client base, right? You need to have a fixed address and somewhere to hold your lessons. What you need are facilities. Well, yeah, if you want to do things the traditional way, but e-learning is becoming increasingly popular across a range of disciplines, making it possible to teach on the go. As long as you have a decent smart phone or laptop and can find a strong Wi-Fi signal, you can teach guitar – or music theory – anywhere. Skype and FaceTime have opened up a huge range of opportunities. And this means that not only can you teach from anywhere around the world, but you also have a potentially global client base.

Busking

Standing on a street corner with a hat sprinkled with pennies and the local authorities looming? OK, so may be busking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be a big deal with a potentially huge revenue stream. And backpackers everywhere have been switching on to this. If you can play your guitar well enough to draw a crowd – and you have a guitar that will easily travel – then busking is a great way to fund your adventures, particularly in Asia. Not every country requires you to obtain a busking license, but check first.

Song Writing

If there is one thing you will never lack while travelling, it’s inspiration. If you’re the creative type, good at picking out your own tunes and handy with a lyric, then song writing can be lucrative. And there is always a market. With your travel guitar to hand, you can do it at any time – no plane, train or bus ride need ever be wasted again. And the work will always follow you.

Cruising

For anyone with an ounce of cool, becoming a cruise liner entertainer is seen as the epitome of naff. But, but, BUT… If you want to travel the world and get paid for playing guitar, then it’s a solid gold solution. Cruises are no longer solely the domain of the moneyed geriatric. A lot of the companies are now appealing to the younger generations, which means that the entertainment remit has broadened. While we can’t guarantee that you won’t be spending your days playing the greatest his of Max Bygraves and Brotherhood of Man, it’s definitely not a given.

Sideman

If you know your instrument well, you can sell your services as a sideman – a professional guitar player for hire. For most of the time, this might mean performing in churches and local events. If you’re lucky, it could mean being picked up as emergency back-up for a band, show, or some other kind of tour. That’s where the money really comes in.

5 important tips for travelling with a guitar

Once upon a time, travelling with a guitar was a relatively straightforward process.

Regardless of your mode of transport, your guitar would pass as carry-on luggage. You could cosset it and care for it in whatever way felt right for you; no need to worry about luggage wreckers handlers doing their thing, or adverse conditions in the hold.

Now, however, things aren’t quite so simple. The travel industry has a different dynamic. With security precautions, limited space and ever-increasing prices, we’ve all had to get used to a new world-order… Which for anyone who’s even remotely serious about their guitar can only mean one thing: palpitations.

As frustrating as all this can seem, it needn’t be a deterrent from travelling with your guitar. It’s just a case of doing things differently.

1. Pack it tight and loosen up

One of the major issues of travelling with your guitar is that it’s a delicate instrument. It doesn’t take much to crack the guitar body or break its elegant neck, so packing well is essential. Investing in a good, sturdy case is an obvious starting point, but you need to go further. Tuck it into bed with extra padding – t-shirts, socks and pants will do the job without taking you over your luggage allowance. In packing all the nooks you’re reducing movement, which means there’s less room for damage if it’s not handled with care. Equally important is loosening the strings, especially if you’re flying. Changes in air pressure can seriously tighten your strings, creating enough strain to snap the instrument’s neck.

2. Prepare for your destination

Wooden guitars hate humidity. But they also don’t like it when the air is too dry. Too wet and it will swell. Too dry and it will crack. Neither is good news. And that’s before you get to glue failure, warping, shrinking frets and tuning problems. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take your guitar anywhere with a climate different to your home country, but you do need to research and be prepared. Mini de/humidifiers and moisture packets can save a lot of heart ache. Strategic use of air-con can help. A travel hygro-thermometer will let you know when things are right and when you should take care. And following on…

3. Think of Goldilocks

Guitars like everything to be ‘just right’, so try to protect it from extremes. If you’re on the road, don’t leave it in a hot car. The glue can melt, leaving the taut strings to pull the bridge out of place. If it’s too cold, the components can expand and contract at different rates, leading to separation. Don’t leave it in direct sunlight or in a draught, to prevent the wood and strings from drying out. Aim for the middle ground and keep old Goldie happy.

4. Buy a travel guitar

Travel guitars used to be slightly laughable novelties. No self-respecting muso would own one, other than maybe as a joke. But then people started realising that having a guitar which could easily travel was actually quite a good idea.

We think of Snap Dragon guitars as artisan. A huge amount of craftsmanship has gone into producing instruments that sound as good as traditional full-size models. Pros use them without flinching. They provide an alternative to traditional instruments and can easily make it through as hand luggage in all but the smallest of aircraft, providing flexibility and practicality.

5. Be polite, stay calm and play dumb

Of course, the best way to make sure that your guitar stays safe while travelling is to keep it with you. And for that to happen, you need to turn on the charm. Some airlines simply have a no-go policy. Others rely on attendant discretion. So, research first. In the latter scenario, the nicer you are, the better your chances. Explain that you’re happy for the guitar to be stored anywhere in the cabin. Explain why you need it there – with a smile. Don’t lose your cool if someone says ‘no’. And fall back on ‘they said it was OK at the check-in desk’. Boarding early and hiding your guitar behind other passenger’s hand luggage can also help!