How badly can an upright be damaged by humidity in the air?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Blackbird, Apr 10, 2001.

  1. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    I consider myself very lucky living near the ocean. Unfortunately, I get worried that living in such a humid area will have a bad effect on my plywood upright. I keep thinking of the Jaco story in which the humidity in Florida made Jaco's upright fall to pieces. Is my bass in any sort of risk? what can I do to protect it? I tend to keep my bass out of its cover. Thanks.

    Will C.:cool:
  2. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    I'm definitely no expert, but from all I've read, an all-plywood is the best bass to own in that situation..especially if you do outdoor gigs a lot.
  3. Bob Gollihur

    Bob Gollihur

    Mar 22, 2000
    New Joisey Shore
    Big Cheese Emeritus: Gollihur Music
    I'm near the ocean, too, along the Joisey Shore -- can I assume that you also have air conditioning, and your bass and you typically live in that environment??

    Extremes of dryness or humidity can be a threat to carved basses, and while I don't know the details of the Jaco story, I'd be willing to bet we're talking about a carved instrument.

    I'd keep an eye on the seams of your instrument if you and your bass actually live in the high humidity, or if your air conditioning system makes the house bone-dry (living next to and in direct aim of a heat/ac air vent is not a good place) --- but unless you don't notice a problem starting, it is highly unlikely that you'll have a catastrophic failure. If you see a seam start to separate (which can happen no matter what) or the neck joint move, etc., get it taken care of promptly. If it's a condition that is made worse by the pressure of the strings, loosen them immediately.

    But don't let it keep you awake nights. Unless it's a poor quality instrument to begin with or is in general ill health, it's not something to worry about.
  4. My bass is all plywood and I live in a pretty humid area (SW Ohio river basin).

    My question is more towards the bass's bridge:
    Will humidity affect it? I have an adjustable bridge set all the way down. I regularly oil the finger board and tailpiece, do I need to give the bridge a quick dab of lemon oil as well, or will that kill the bridge?
  5. Humidity will affect it, but IMO, Oiling the bridge will do more harm than good. The wood is porous, after all and it will just soak it up, and two things could happen: It could become more pliable and warp even more than if you left it alone, and/or It will make your overall sound less responsive because it it is saturated with oil . Also the added moisture is just a magnet for rosin dust (if you are playing arco)

    And Wheelie, I know your bass is plywood, and is less susceptible to cracks, but just the same, I would get a hygrometer to measure the humidity level in the house,( they aren't expensive, I got mine for $15 at radio shack) and if it is uncomfortably high (over 60%) you should think about a dehumidifier, because eveven though the body may not crack, the neck or fingerboard can still warp.
  6. Bob is correct about high or low humidity affecting a carved bass but it should be added that it is the rapid change in humidity over short span of time, i.e. from high to low humidity that you get when you start heating your home in the fall, that causes the plates to crack and seams to seperate.

    A correctly assembled bass has a "lite" application of water soluable hyde glue between the plates and the sides. I would assume that in areas of continual high humidity, the glue releases when it reaches it moisture saturation point.
  7. __________________________________________

    DON'T PUT OIL ON THE BRIDGE!!!!! It will die a horrid and unseemly death by warping and snapping in two. Besides, it smells bad.

    Why in the world would you oil your fingerboard and tail piece? Did some player with gut strings tell you to do it?

    I've never had a luthier put oil on my bass or say to do it and I don't know anybody that does or would. If all you want to do is clean your bass then use a dry towel. Oil is for funiture and wood porches. Basses aren't furniture.

    If you must oil something then put a small drop on your tuning machines or fry chicken.

  8. Very dry air is more dangerous than humid air. Excessively dry wood spontaneously cracks under stress. The same with glue. A wet bass simply sounds like a wet bass. The only time I had water damage was not from the air, but from literally being soaked when a canvas cover absorbed water from a leaking pipe.
    The way Arnold Schnitzer fixed that problem was hysterical.
    I guess by now, you got the message: leave the bridge alone.
  9. BassDude24


    Sep 12, 2000
    Yeah, I am with most of the other guys on this one, you should be fine. So long as you don't keep your bass outside like on the porch. If it is in a room, not right next to an air vent and out of the sunlight you should be fine. I have a little cardboard humidity indicator next to my bass, and there are indicators on how far in or out I should have my de-humidifiers in the bass, if you don't have de-humidifiers, you might want to get some, they are about 12" long and look like green hoses with holes in them with rings on the ends to keep them from falling into your bass.

    A little on the extreem side, but the college I am looking at going to has environmental controls just for their bass storage room, they can control the temperature of the room and the humidity by turning a switch.

    BTW, keeping your bass out of the case would probobaly be a good idea so moisture doesn't get trapped in there.
  10. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Actually, I have no air conditioning. This part of the San Francisco Bay Area is pretty cool and I hate air conditioning.

    Thanks for the repies so far, and Bob, I'll be getting in touch with you about getting a pickup for my bass pretty soon. Any TalkBass Specials? ;)

    Will C.:cool:
  11. Thanks all for your advice. I will leave the oil off the bridge. I was told long ago that any rosewood or ebony fingerboard likes a bit of light lemon oil (Homer Formby or similar), this was from an old fiddle player.
  12. Yes, but your Bridge is not made of rosewood or Ebony, is it? :)
  13. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Thank you for all your replies. Any other observations would be welcome.

    Will C.:cool:
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Like FF, I'm also in the Ohio river valley, and we get some pretty serious humidity changes here. My piano tech told me that it's best to keep the humidity levels between 45-55%, which I take great pains to do, esp since I keep my basses in the same room. It can be very difficult, and a hygrometer is a must. The most difficult part is isolating the room where the instruments are stored. I think everyone is agreed that low humidity is more dangerous than high, but (at least in this area) it's a hell of a lot easier to humidify the air than dehumidify it. I use a dehumidifier when needed, but it's a pain because you have to close the room off for it to work, and it heats the room a good deal. Air conditioning takes care of the problem much better for me - but then again, down here if you didn't have AC you'd die in the summer.

    Good luck.
  15. forrestjams


    May 21, 2009
    I'm also concerned about controlling humidity levels around my bass. Is placing my bass in a case much better than storing it a bag?
  16. if you are in the bay area, you probably have nothing to worry about. you've got a pretty ideal climate with minimal seasonal change going on there.
  17. forrestjams


    May 21, 2009
    Unfortunately, I'm in the midwest. Thus, I'm thinking about getting a hardcase to better seal in or out the humidity. Just not sure if that works.

  18. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Placing the bass in a hard case is not going to help unless you control the humidity properly in that mini-environment. If you're in the mid-west, it would seem that A/C during the summer and an evaporative humidifier (with hygrometer) in the winter would be all you need. When the bass is in a case, it's more difficult to just go over and play it. :)
  19. forrestjams


    May 21, 2009
    Thank you drubr! It makes sense that the humidity will eventually get into the case. Too bad I can't get a ziplock that big. ;)

    I was also planning a long road trip and figured the hard wood case would at least slow down the humidity. But perhaps not....
  20. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    "The way Arnold Schnitzer fixed that problem was hysterical."

    You put it out there-now you have to tell.