POLL: Do colder temps make your basses go sharp or flat?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by roller, Nov 13, 2018.

  1. They go sharp.

  2. They go flat.

  3. They don't change.

    0 vote(s)
  4. They grow carrots.

  1. roller

    roller Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2014
    With winter approaching the northern hemisphere, I'm just curious to read how the colder temps and lower humidity affects your wood-necked basses -- does it make the pitch of the strings go sharp or flat?

    I've had basses that go sharp... and I've had others that go flat. Even the graphite necks I've owned would move a little when the temps and humidity changed.

    OR... do yours stay about the same?
  2. thewildest

    thewildest Supporting Member

    May 25, 2011
    Florida, USA
    I’d strongly suggest some heating device in your house.
  3. cataract

    cataract Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2007
    Columbia SC
    I’ve sold all of the wooden basses I owned that were problematicly influenced by humidity and temperature- I recently moved into a place with central air but for the past few years had been living in older places in a historical district.. a real nightmare for keeping decent setups.
    Maybe I’ve gotten lazy in my old age but life’s too short for adjusting truss rods every two months! lol
    Right now my stable includes a solid aluminum build and a late 60’s Kalamazoo (which has a Masonite body.)
  4. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    Temperature and climate differences can affect the neck.

    A separate issue is strings being made of metal will expand when they get hotter and will contract when they get cooler.
  5. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2002
    Central Ohio
    I cast the vote for “flat” as an answer to the Poll Q; here’s why, and also why you may easily get misled.

    First, the OP Q itself is entirely different, somewhat not applicable, and thus misleading. To make the observation of direct temperature effect, you would need to be playing the bass at a lower temperature. Significant temperature changes are more than about 10 C. With such changes, the strings would try to contract at a relative rate of roughly 12 ppm/C, while the wood in the neck and body would generally contract at a rate of only 3 - 5 ppm/C. The body and neck are generally bigger; so, they win, and the strings would be stretched. Here is a table of coefficients of thermal expansion (CTE) for various materials. Wood is anisotropic, being a natural composite, and has a low CTE parallel to the grain.

    Coefficients of Linear Thermal Expansion

    Fine. But, here are some points to consider.

    First, we rarely play the instrument on a stage where the temperature was reduced by 10C (18F).That would be a stage temp of 50 F. I mean, I’ve done it. I remember playing an outdoors New Years Eve party in Michigan when it was 25 F one time. Not a good experience. But, thankfully that kind of gig is rare.

    Perhaps a more typical exposure for the instrument to lower temperatures is in the belly of the plane, if you checked it while traveling. There, the temperature decrease would be somewhat like my NYE gig. Even then, we are talking about maybe a half or whole step increase in string tension. Not a whole lot.

    Much more typically, the instrument is inside in a heated environment and does not get exposed to colder temps, except in transit. BUT, the other major player is humidity, which tends to bottom out when temps get cold. When that happens, the steel in the string has negligible response; but, the wood gets considerably smaller; though less so for truly older wood in vintage pieces. Also, roasted necks are less affected. When the humidity bottoms out, the strings respond by going flat. And, that response is far more noticeable than changes in temperature. Basses are great hygrometers.

    So, with all that going on, the answer to the OP Q is “sharp;” but, actual experience, and the answer to the Poll Q will normally be “flat.” Isn’t nature wonderful?;):D:thumbsup:
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2018
  6. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    get proper HVAC at home, find comfy settings for your unit(s), and never leave your house = problem solved, without a poll (i love polls).

    mine are fretlesses, too! :D
    pellomoco14 likes this.
  7. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    I have central air/heat in my house, and my basses aren't allowed out of it (as a general rule). So, I couldn't really say. I would imagine that being stuck out in the cold, the wooden necks would most likely shrink. So, the strings would just go slack. Would that count as sharp? Or would that be Flat? IMO, it would be neither...:eyebrow:
  8. Bodeanly


    Mar 20, 2015
    Cold with no humidity means that the wood shrinks, which means that the strings go flat. Chicago area here. All of my necks now have a bit more relief than in the summer months.
  9. Rib 13

    Rib 13 Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2006

    welllll...... a good bulk of gigs that I do are outdoor pavillions and tiki bar type of gigs (and, im in Florida)......im more often than not exposed to the elements....i know i can get mild tuning issues with damp cold -- not near as bad as the guitarist tho.......as far as heat humidity, i have that affect my strings at those gigs more than the neck: it doesnt happen often but Ive had heat/humidity kill several hours of life out of my strings, occasionally killing a random single string in a few hours
    wesonbass likes this.
  10. Killed_by_Death

    Killed_by_Death Snaggletooth Inactive

    Two different conditions we're talking about here:

    Mine go flat when they're COLD, but sharp when the humidity is below 35%, only it takes longer for the humidity to make that change.
  11. Pocket4

    Pocket4 Supporting Member

    Dec 9, 2013
    New Hampshire
    Just tune your bass, am I missing something? Otherwise, if it's an experiment then cold is contraction and strings are flat.
    Caca de Kick and lz4005 like this.

    MYLOWFREQ Supporting Member

    May 13, 2011
    I always have tools to adjust the neck with me. From my experience once the bass is set up well with the new strings on, only adjusting the truss rod fixes everything when needed. And again IME it's a pretty simple procedure.
  13. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Austin, TX
    NorCal has been cold and very dry. When I am at rehearsal, if we stop and take a break, my bass gets cold and goes flat during the break. I tune it up to play and a couple of songs in I am now sharp and have to retune. Higher humidity may have a different impact.
  14. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Some shift tuning more than others, but for me it seems they almost always go sharp.
  15. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru..........

    Apr 11, 2006
    Out there!
    lermgalieu likes this.
  16. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    I will keep collecting until I have 40 basses
    Cold temps makes your strings shrink and go sharp
    Warm temps make your strings expand and go flat
    High humidity makes wood expand and that will make your strings go sharp
    Low humidity makes wood shrink and that will make the strings go flat

    So the strings are effected by temperature because they are metal
    The neck is effected by humidity because it is wood

    So keep your bass in a room that is temperature and humidity controlled.

    Also very low humidity can damage the wood
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2018
    Mastermold and saltydude like this.
  17. DavC


    May 17, 2005
    Tallmadge , Ohio
    time to oil up that fret board - F-one has been my fav the last several years ...

    i run a humidifier when the heat is on ... also helps keep the house warmer as those tiny water droplets hold heat ...

    i just order a hygrometer / temp unit a couple days ago ... tired of guessing just how dry it might be ..!!

    usually , my wood just hides when it's cold .!
  18. AntiTreble


    Jun 24, 2012
  19. AntiTreble


    Jun 24, 2012
    You should bring your basses in at night. That, or cover the door to their house, be sure they have warm blankets and place a lightbulb in the house for added warmth. Finally, be sure to spay and neuter your basses. Remember: They're Man's Best Friend!
    wesonbass likes this.
  20. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Yeah. I mean, truss rod adjustments are one thing but tuning? You (meaning all of us) should be tuning the instrument every time you pick it up, so what does it matter?
    Blankandson likes this.