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basses and humidity

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by myrick, Jun 28, 2002.

  1. I live in a very humid place. (Cigars keep in my humidor very well, thank you, without ever adding water to the little humidifying thingy). 90%+ is common, and only rarely do we see humidity below 60%. When things get really bad in the house, we run de-humidifiers, but they make a lot of heat and noise, and are costly to run. Generally we just live with 70-80%.

    Several times I have passed on buying a bass I was otherwise very attracted to, because of age and/or extensive repair history, on the theory that high humidity is more likely to cause havoc with such an instrument. In particular, I have worried about buying such a bass in a dryer climate and relocating it to my soggier environs.

    However, more recently I have begun to believe that I may be mistaken in this concern. Based on reading and perhaps a little instinct, I am begining to think the real risk comes from sharp drops in humidity, leading to a bass drying out too fast, and not from high humidity per se.

    Wonder if anyone has experience or insights which can help me here. Particularly interested just now, as I will be travelling in the near future, and the temptation to look at and possibly acquire another bass is always there.

    Just can't forget a lovely no-name 100+ yr old five-string I once passed up a year ago over these concerns. Reasonably priced, big but very playable, strong, clear, rich tone across all strings, ppp to fff, and very quick response, but riddled with repairs. The work appeared well-done, but it worried me for this climate.
  2. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    While you are living in 90% humidity you are 100% correct in thinking that it is sudden drops that are most dangerous. I live a stones throw from the water and I have not had any problems. Well glued joints will not open and the wood will not generally crack. Usually the worst that can happen is some glue may exude from previously fixed cracks. Don't worry about this. Just keep things consistantt.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
  4. I can vouch for the rapid change in humidity and its effect on a double bass.

    Waaaaay back when I was in 8th grade, I played with the orchestra at my school. We got offered the chance to play at Carnegie Hall in New York. So most of us made the trip (from Hawaii). To make a long story short, most of our instruments were not in the same condition from when we left. The most noticable thing I noticed was the effect on the strings. If I remember correctly, I think one of the bridges collapsed on a cello.

    I'm sure there are some precautions we could have taken to avoid this, but we were young.
  5. Andrew_S.


    Jul 24, 2001
    Flagstaff, AZ
    I have a side question. Can a sudden drop in humidity cause such drastic shifting as to make a bridge pop?
    I played a gig two weeks ago and, wouldn't you know it, my bridge popped between sets.

    I took My bass directly from my house (in bag) and drove 8 blocks to the club. I'm guessing that the humidity was different as this was a club filled with dancing bodies. hence, I suppose that it was, perhaps, more humid the club. Luckily I had my slab with me so I got to finish the set.

    I guess I'm asking how drastic a climate change before one should start being worried but ill effects on one's upright?
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I played an outdoor gig tonight that (we found out as we pulled up) was right on the riverbank. My bass started sweating immediately, and never stopped. My fingers were sticking to the neck and strings. The action raised by about 9 inches between when we started and when we finished.

    It's times like this that I'm glad I don't play a 150 year old instrument.
  7. So, sounds like a degree of concensus here. How do people feel about the following as a summary rule of thumb ?

    Hyper-dry and hyper-damp are probably not good, especially hyper-dry. Otherwise, reasonably damp or dry is okay, as long as it remains pretty stable. Sudden, drastic, extended changes either way are risky, and damp to dry is probably riskiest.

    Agree ? Disagree? Ammend or augment?

    Also, any thoughts on whether some repairs, especially repairs to cracked/crunched plates are likely to be more vlunerable to humidity changes than orginal or repaired plate-to-rib glue joints?

    Just to challenge this theory a bit, today I got back from the luthier's (a cello shop, really; no bass specialists here), where I had a new soundpost done. Old one had become far too short when top/bottom plates morphed upon relocation to this climate from the dryer place the bass had lived before.

    Things had moved around so that the centre part of the top plate had depressed on the treble side. The little curlycue of wood inside the top curve of the treble F-hole (any arcane name for that bit?) was twisted down to below the level of the plate outside the hole by almost half a thickness of the plate. Ony a longer post could put it right.

    Also, seams had opened up in several places, all this in a newish, well-made bass (Rubner). So maybe dry to damp brings its challenges after all.
  8. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    The european orchestral bassists that I've met consider adjustable bridges bad news. They have summer and winter bridges, and summer and winter sound posts.

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