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Humidity vs. an acoustic bass?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Jack Clark, Apr 20, 2010.

  1. For you guys with acoustic basses: What precautions do you take, if any, to avoid problems from dry air?

    Over on the DB side, maintaining 40-50% humidity is a big issue. But then, they have BIG instruments. My guitarrón is more like a large acoustic BG, I think, for purposes of humidity discussion. It has a 26" scale and is made of thin wood in roughly the shape of a blowfish. It's strung pretty tautly with GHS short-scale flatwounds that are tuned up to a pitch that is a fourth higher than intended. I live at 5800 feet on a mountain surrounded by southern California desert. Very dry.

    Thanks very much for any suggestions or comments.

    Jack Clark
    Idyllwild, CA
  2. Cy_Miles


    Feb 3, 2005
    I own several nice aucoustic instruments so I have read up on this and talked to a number of people.

    It seems what you most want to avoid is rapid changes in temperature and especially humidity.

    In my house (and I think most homes) the humidity is around 40 to 55%, most all the time. When we have rainstorms come through the outdoor humidity will go up to about 80%, when we have freezing storms it will drop to about 30%. I keep an eye on the inside humidity, and when it drops to 30% I boil a pot of water or two a day and the humidity comes back up to about 45%.

    I also keep an in Arion incase humidifier in my cases. They absorb moisture when there is too much and release moisture when it is too dry.

    I went to one of the local guitar stores during a frozen winter storm one time. They had every one of their nicer guitars off the wall and in their cases, and the were running a power humidifier. They said that it was during the times when the humidity rapidlly dropped that they were most likely to have problems.

    Keep it away from heat sources, or vents, and away from windows where hot sun and/or cold winds can unevely heat/cool the instrument.

    Just think that any time the instrument shrinks or swells due to temp/humidity, you want it to change slowly and evenly. If one part swells or shrinks faster then the other parts, that is when cracks/splits will develop.

    (Edit: you can build an inexpensive humidfier with a sponge and a sandwich baggy)
  3. I live right next to you a few hills away (Anza) and I have noticed that one of my cheapest guitars (Carlos) is dying on the low humidity and especially the rapid and vast changes in air temps /moisture here.

    This Winter was cold-warm-wet-dry-snow-windy, etc.

    It is even snowing tonight, tomorrow and the next day they say and it's April 20th! It was near 80ºF today too. Time for sunshine and yard BBQ gigs!

    Anyway - the Carlos - which is a cheap rotten guitar that has problems when the sun goes down - has cracked and split in places where I didn't know it had places. It's poorly constructed of old pressed cardboard that looks like wood and the weather's killed it.

    It isn't even any good for a weapon in a bar fight. So I know that my other acoustics are suffering too - what with the wood stove fired up and the kettle on it steaming and all - but it still doesn't compensate.

    Maybe I should build a humidified room just for them and for playing them there. Then I'm going to go to the moon and check it out for the next day or so. Uh huh!

    I don't mind too much as the Carlos was a poor guitar in the first place - but I feel a certain loss anyway.
  4. Yeah, SJoe, I was afraid we'd have big swings in humidity up here. It's sure been an El Niño winter. You might sometimes be even drier than I am over here. Dunno. You have more desert around you, but I'm higher, which figures to be drier with the thinner air, so . . . ?

    I have only a cheap, wall hygrometer right now, but I checked it when I got home tonight and it's showing 45%, which I think is supposed to be perfect. I'll have to watch it from now on to see if it changes or if it's even working at all. Not sure how I'd know. Maybe I'll put a wet sponge behind it to see if it reacts. After all the modifications I put into my guitarrón, I sure don't want it to go the way of your Carlos. Sorry about it.

    Cy, thanks for your suggestions. I think I'll spring for a good hygrometer to see what I'm dealing with here, and go from there. I'll probably end up with a room humidifier in the "music" room, anyway. I don't gig, even amateurly, so I don't have sudden changes to deal with.
  5. When's the next big citywide swapmeet? You might find a 'sling-hygrometer' or 'psychrometer' in one of the yards.


    From The Wiki:
    They are the most accurate tools for relative humidity testing - used by meteorologists for accurate analysis.
  6. That's a very cool idea and I'll look for one. But, "city-wide swap meet"? What "city"? Idyllwild only has about 3K folks who each have their own yard sales from time to time. For a "city-wide swap meet" we'd have to go to the nearest swarming metropolis . . . like Anza, maybe. ;)
  7. Aren't there two weekends a year set up for the community yard sales?

    I think one is on Memorial Day (May 28-30th) weekend and another on Labor Day (Sept 4-6th) weekend.

    My neighbor is double checking the community calendar for the second weekend date though, but she's sure the first one this year is on Memorial Day weekend.

    Anza wouldn't know where to put a traffic signal - if it could afford to buy one, that is. We is very small here too.
  8. grifff


    Jan 5, 2009
    Towson, Maryland
    What about with a solidbody bass? I have a dehumidifier and a hygrometer that I like to keep right at 40% but I turn the dehumidifier off during the day and the humidity sometimes gets up to 55% or 60%. I turn it off to reduce the risk of a fire.

    Should I just keep the dehumidifier on all day or is a 20% swing in humidity every day not going to hurt a solid instrument?
  9. Yeah, that's right. I thought you meant some community location where folks all came and put their stuff up together--like a flea market. Memorial Day and Labor Day are big individual yard sale weekends. You just have to drive all around the place to cover them all.

    You're more spread out in Anza. But I've gone to flea markets on your town hall property--don't you still have flea markets there? Idylwilld doesn't have an open public place that's large enough for that anymore.

    How long you been retired, Joe? I see we're the same age. I don't get to retire for another 12 weeks. It's coming as slowly as Christmas when I was ten.
  10. Sadly - although that doesn't ring right to me - I will be in San Diego for the first big weekend. I hope to make the second one this year though.

    Flea markets in Anza? Nah - we sold all our fleas to San Jacinto. I try to make the Anza confab when it happens.

    I've been retired since 2004, Aug 11th. That's the day my boss told me to go home and play with the grand kids. I was getting seriously hurt at work and it was the right thing to do until the SSD came in. When you need Vicadin just to work, you can seriously injure yourself by not knowing your pain limits. I could do the Fiji Firewalk with enough Vicadin.

    So - I decided to get back into bass playing for fun and excitement. I still trout fish - at Lake Hemet when/if they ever find money to put fish in it again.

    Hiking for High Sierra trout, however has become a distant memory - bone degeneration is taking a big toll on my standing/walking. Gonna 'do' Convict and The Loop soon though if I die trying.

    You get anyone to play with over there on your side of the mountain?
  11. Actually, I know lots of jazz, bluegrass, and folk-type musicians in Idyllwild, many of whom I can call "friends." But they're all pros or at least semi-pros, and I wouldn't ask to jam with them even years from now. But it wouldn't be hard to pass the word that I'm looking for other amateurs to jam with, when I get good enough for that. Not there yet, though.

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