Electric guitars are complex instruments. These guitars marry wood and metal, as well as electronics and electromagnetic fields. These instruments are unique among string instruments, and they must be maintained well to keep them in good playing condition. Part of maintaining an electric guitar is keeping it in an environment with the right humidity, but what is the right humidity for these guitars?
The perfect humidity for electric guitars is 45% – 55% relative humidity. Electric guitars can be exposed to more or less humidity for short periods but must be kept within these parameters as much as possible to prevent rust on hardware and the wood from drying out or swelling.
Understanding why electric guitars require specific environmental conditions is complex, but the most important aspects of keeping a guitar stored safely and kept playable are the humidity and the temperature at which the instrument is stored. Let’s explore electric guitars and the humidity levels they require to help you keep your guitars in the best possible condition.
What Is The Ideal humidity For Electric Guitars?
Electric guitars are very complicated instruments. These guitars are made from a combination of various kinds of wood and metals that are either glued, screwed, or bolted together to form the instrument.
Electric guitars also have magnetic pickups and electrical wiring and sometimes include batteries and other complicated circuitry and components.
This means that maintaining an electric guitar well can be a significant challenge. Part of maintaining these instruments is keeping the humidity levels around the guitar within the optimum range to keep the instrument playable and prevent the guitar from being ravaged by the elements.
High humidity and very low humidity can both be extremely detrimental to electric guitars in many ways. This leads electric guitarists to wonder what the perfect humidity level for electric guitars is.
The simple answer is that 45% – 55% relative humidity is the ideal range for electric guitars. This humidity will keep the guitar from swelling, and it will prevent the instrument from drying out as well.
The relative humidity is not overall environmental humidity, but it is the level of moisture in the air in the immediate vicinity of the instrument. This usually means within the guitar’s case or bag.
A guitar that is taken out of optimal humidity conditions for a short while will not sustain damage, but a guitar that is left in an environment that is too dry or too moist will sustain significant damage over time.
This means that it is more important to manage the humidity levels within your guitar case or bag rather than trying to regulate the humidity in the room where the guitar is kept.
Be sure that your guitar I kept at a relative humidity between 45% and 55%, and the instrument will last a very long time, even in storage, without suffering any damage due to air conditions.
How To Maintain Perfect Humidity For Electric Guitars
We have established the ideal humidity levels for electric guitars, but we have not yet explored the ways to keep a guitar in such conditions. How do you keep an electric guitar within ideal humidity conditions?
There are several ways to keep a guitar’s relative humidity within ideal parameters. The trick is knowing what the relative humidity is, having the right tools, and using the right methods to either raise or lower these levels to where they should be to maintain the instrument well.
The best way to determine the humidity in the environment that the guitar is kept in is to use a hygrometer or a well-made digital humidity meter. These devices are inexpensive and simple to use.
Once you have established what the relative humidity near your guitar is, you can make a decision on how to alter it to bring it into the correct parameters.
If the humidity must be slightly increased, a very simple way to do so is to leave an open glass or bowl of water near the instrument where sunlight can reach it. This will increase the relative humidity fractionally, and it can be the difference between optimal and sub-optimal humidity conditions.
If the humidity must be significantly raised, using a guitar humidifier is the best option. These are small devices that fit within the bag or case of the guitar. They contain small sponges or other absorbent materials and are designed to limit the release of moisture into the air depending on how much moisture the air already contains.
Using a guitar humidifier will bring the humidity within your guitar case or bag up to optimum levels quickly, and it will help you to maintain these levels consistently.
Alternatively, if the humidity must be reduced rather than increased, dehumidifiers made for guitars are available as well. These devices contain substances such as silica gel, which draw moisture from the air. Using simple silica gel packets is another good option if the humidity does not need to be drastically reduced.
Always monitor the humidity levels within the case if you use a humidifier or a dehumidifier of any kind, as it is very easy to increase or decrease the humidity levels too much, causing damage to the instrument very quickly.
Why Is Humidity So Important For Electric Guitars?
We have learned the best humidity levels for electric guitars, and we have learned how to monitor and maintain these optimum humidity levels, but why is humidity so important for electric guitars? Why is it bad if an electric guitar experiences too much or too little relative humidity?
The reason why humidity control is so important for electric guitars is simply due to the materials that these instruments are made from. Electric guitars are predominantly made from wood, and wood is highly sensitive to humidity.
If the wood is exposed to too much moisture, it will swell as it draws moisture in from its environment. When the wood swells, it will become misshapen, and there is no way to reform the wood into the shape it should be. This means the guitar will not function well, it will not stay in tune, and the hardware fitted to the instrument will no longer work well at all.
If the wood is left in an environment that is too dry, moisture from within the wood will be drawn out by the dry air, leaving the wood without any moisture at all. If the wood loses its own moisture, it will dry out and crack, causing serious structural damage to the instrument.
The metallic components of electric guitars are also susceptible to damage from humidity. Rust build-up is likely on guitar hardware such as frets, saddles, bridges, and tuners and is perpetuated by high levels of humidity. Rust can quickly ruin an electric guitar and make it entirely unplayable.
For these reasons, electric guitars must be kept in an environment with a stable humidity that does not exceed 55% and does not drop below 45% for extended periods. Guitars can be exposed to more or less humidity for short periods, but they must be stored at humidity within these parameters as much as possible.
Should All Electric Guitars Be Kept At The Same Humidity?
An important question here is whether all electric guitars should be treated in the same way regarding humidity. Do all electric guitars need to be kept within 44% and 55% relative humidity, or can some guitars manage to remain outside of these conditions without harm?
The truth is that there are some guitars that are less sensitive to humidity and humidity changes than others. There are some electric guitars that are specifically built for high humidity conditions and some that are built to withstand very low humidity as well.
Electric guitars made with very dry woods, very thin woods, or woods that are not very absorbent will fare much better in high-humidity environments and will not require as much maintenance as guitars that are not designed for these conditions. However, a guitar like this will become very brittle and unstable in a low-humidity environment.
Some electric guitars are made with specific treatments and sealants that prevent the wood from drawing in any moisture and that keep the wood from losing any moisture. These very thick finishes can negatively affect the tone of the instrument, but it does protect the guitar from high and low humidity, keeping the guitar playable and stable regardless of the environment it is in.
These guitars are best for those guitarists who live in very humid or very dry regions and are very low-maintenance instruments. They do not need to be specifically kept within the optimal humidity parameters, but they are also not the best quality guitars available.
Guitars are very high-maintenance instruments. The materials that these instruments are made from require specific humidity levels to remain in optimal condition, and it is something that every guitar player must learn how to manage, especially if they have a larger guitar collection.
Learn how to manage the humidity levels of your guitars, and they will last far longer, remain playable for much longer, require fewer setups and string changes, and they will sustain far less overall damage. Looking after your guitars well is always a worthwhile investment of time and effort.