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Taking care of a bass in dry air

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by potatotattoo, Nov 2, 2013.

  1. potatotattoo


    Nov 2, 2013
    Hey everyone, over the summer I bought my first upright bass, a Shen 150. I love it, and with the coming winter (I live in Massachusetts) I'm worried about what the dry air will do to it. I've been reading around and I know that dry air can wreak havoc on a bass in the worst of conditions, and while I don't expect it to just fall apart I'm still thinking the wood and glue might suffer some damage. I have a humidifier, but I'm also afraid of overdoing it, as I did a couple days ago and found the ceiling above the humidifier dripping when I woke up in the morning.

    So, after all that exposition, my questions are these: how much damage can be caused by dry air, what are some signs that the wood is getting dry, and what are the best ways you've found to counteract this? Thank you!
  2. potatotattoo


    Nov 2, 2013
    This is only somewhat related to above, but I keep my bass in my bedroom and in nice weather I like to leave the windows open. Will doing this hurt the bass?
  3. If the humidity falls below 40 percent, or gets REALLY high in the summer with no air circulation, you could have a problem. Sudden humidity changes are bad too. Buy a decent digital hygrometer and keep relative humidity at a steady 50% or so.

    That Shen hybrid is a pretty stable bass. The whole idea of a hybrid is that, in a fully carved bass, the maple sides and back move a lot more than the soft spruce top and force it to crack. The plywood back and ribs should be nearly inert. Hide glue is pretty stable except in very hot and humid conditions.

    I live in New York and owned a 150 from April well into the winter heating season. No problems whatsoever.
  4. Hqubed

    Hqubed Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2009
    Columbus, Ohio
  5. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Good info KungFu, but 50% is high for the winter months. 35-40% is a better range. That's because if you take a bass used to 50% into a forced air heated environment (school, concert hall, nightclub, etc.) it is likely to encounter 15-20% and the moisture in the wood will migrate quickly into the surrounding air. That might cause warpage, cracks and/or open seams. Better to wean it down into the 35% range or so, and that way it will be better able to handle lower RH environments.
  6. I recommend a furnace humidifier. I've been in my home for 7yrs and no issues with any of my basses. Keeps the humidity in the low 40's.
    It's good for your basses, any wood floors, and good for your health.

  7. Tater, listen to Mr. Schnitzer before you listen to me. He's forgotten more about the subject at hand than I'll know in this lifetime.

    My carved basses don't leave the house during the heating season unless I have to go into a recording studio. The winter gig bass is a good EUB which is as close to dead stable as it gets.
  8. My house has knotty pine cathedral ceilings in every room and maple floors throughout most of the house. We burn wood for heat and leave a cast-iron pot of water on top of the stove to keep the aid from getting too dry. I've been averaging around 57% after having the stove running near full blast throughout the evening.
  9. Have you tested to see how much humidity your steam pot is adding?


  10. Not with a meter. You feel the difference in your nose and throat if I forget to keep the pot filled so it's probably significant. Moving four basses downstairs to the shop to protect them during an experiment like this seems like kind of a PITA.
  11. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I grow organic carrots and they are not for sale
    Humidifier ...

    get one,

    use it.

    Get a humidistat.

    Keep the humidity levels above 20%

    35% to 50% would be optimal.
  12. C'mon man its for science!
    Just kidding but the funny thing is winter is the time of year I mostly my old german carved.
    The hybrid is used for the outside gigs in the summer.

  13. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    This thread really belongs over in Setup & Repair. The Oasis humidifier looks like a clever improvement upon the dangerous dampits. Still, as I have mentioned many times, when you use such devices, the bass really should be enclosed in a case. Think about it. If the bass is in a dry room and you have the Oasis humidifiers in it, the humidity will likely travel down the gradient to the dry air in the room. The air in the bass is in "communication" with the air in the room. Now, one might argue that the f-holes are small enough so that the relatively humidity of interior of the bass will remain substantially higher than the room. I don't think so.

    If you want to humidify effectively, then you have to humidify the environment in which the bass lives. If it's in a room, then humidify the room. If it's in a case, then humidify the case (effectively done via devices such as the Oasis).

    We've been down this road many times before. My advice is to get a decent, but not necessarily expensive, room humidifier and one of the devices I mentioned in this post. I use these in combination with a whole-house humidifier in the winter.
  14. potatotattoo


    Nov 2, 2013
    Thanks for all your help. I'm definitely going to go out and buy a hygrometer. Kungfu and mr. schnitzer, thanks for the info on the ranges, and Hqubed for staying away from dampits. I saw someone talking about them somewhere but felt pretty skeptical about how well they would actually work. And drurb, sorry about posting something that has already been discussed. I did a search of talkbass to see if this had been talked about before, but all I found on the subject was a post about too much humidity, rather than too little. The one you linked never came up.
  15. My meter was made by the Long Beach Music Co. It measures temperature and humidity and cost $10 or $15. When I lived in a house with forced air oil heat, before I bought my house, I ran a cheap cool mist humidifier in the music room and kept the door closed.

    I don't think Dampits are inherently destructive. Mine, which I use as a failsafe, get thoroughly wrung out and wiped down. When they dry out, get them wet again. No batteries required!
  16. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    One more data point - if you have an indoor humidifier that takes care of your entire house - as we do - you have to be mindful of creating condensation on the inside of your house. You often can't see it, but it can lead to big-time mold problems. We mind the windows - if they're looking foggy on the inside, it means we have to dial back the humidity in the house, much as we might like not to.

    My understanding is that it is changes in humidity that can damage wooden instruments like a bass or, for that matter, a classical guitar. If you can keep the humidity relatively constant, and have only relatively slow changes to it and not too many, you increase the potential life of your instrument. It's also worth mentioning that you'll need to tune your piano (a wooden instrument) less often if you keep it in constant humidity as well. We have something called a damp chaser on ours and we literally cut our annual tunings in half when we added that. (I'm picky - we were at 4 tunings a year and now we're at 2.)

    Steve "full of hot, humid air" Freides
  17. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    Happy to offer the advice. I checked the link I posted and it works fine for me. If you do a search in the Setup & Repair section, you can find tons of information on recommended levels of humidity, how best to measure them, types of humidifiers, and on and on. Try typing any of these in the search box within that forum: "humidity", "humidifier", "relative humidity", dampit.

    You're right. At typical indoor and outdoor winter temperatures (at least, in the northeast), running a whole-house humidifier so as to produce about 40% RH is just fine. Our whole-house humidifier is part of our forced-air heating system and has its humidistat sensor in the return air duct. Essentially, set it and forget it. Because it only runs when the system is heating and the coverage is not completely uniform, my bass has it's own humidifier. Steve-- are you using one of those console humidifiers? I ask because so many of those humidifiers have humidistats that are quite poor. I'll put in yet another plug for this device. :)

    Actually, as pointed out in several of the earlier threads, it is both extremes and rapid swings in temperature and humidity that can produce damage.
  18. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ

    We have an old house with old heating - radiators,single pipe steam. There is a single place where the humidity comes out, which happens to be in the living room, which happens to be where the bass, the grand piano, and all the good guitars live. The plumber said that humidity travels, unlike heat - he's not right, of course. It may travel _more_ but our bedroom, upstairs, is still quite dry even when the living room is not, so we run a room humidifier for ourselves upstairs through the dead of winter.

    And, yes, I'm sure extremes of temperature and humidity are bad for wooden instruments. That goes without saying, which is why I didn't say it. :) :)

  19. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    Thanks for the info. Around here, I don't think it goes without saying. There are actually players who disagree with the notion that extremes of humidity are dangerous. They would claim that keeping a bass at 10% RH is just fine. I see you're not one of them. :)
  20. How do you like the Oasis? Do you use it in conjunction with a humidistat? I'm looking for a winter humidifying solution, and have been waffling between something like the Oasis (where I'd need to leave the bass (carved) in its case) and a smallish room cold mist humidifier. My "music room" is a corner of a fairly large finished basement that is receives about half the heat (or less) compared to the upstairs, and rarely get above the low 50s during the winter (yeah, it's chilly, but you warm up after playing for a while).


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