One of the daunting concerns I know I have had and you probably have as well when caring for your guitar is the possibility of it getting damaged due to exposure to extreme and constantly changing humidity conditions.
Consequently you probably went out and got yourself a guitar humidifier and now you are left wondering when to use it. Accordingly the question continues to linger in your mind,
“When should I use a guitar humidifier?” In short, the ideal humidity level for a guitar is between 40 and 60 percent. Accordingly the best time to use a guitar humidifier is when humidity levels around a guitar drop below 40%. Guitar humidifiers should be used when inside a guitar case to optimally protect a guitar from humidity damage.
In fact, because they work best when enclosed in your guitar case, guitar humidifiers are actually fully referred to as guitar case humidifiers. Now, there are several different types of guitar humidifiers out there.
Some of these do not just add moisture but have a dual function and also absorb it. So in this case you can also use your guitar humidifier when your relative humidity shoots above 60%.
There are a couple more situations when you should and should not use a guitar humidifier and if you want more in depth information on this I share an in depth guide in the rest of this post. I also share some additional information on how to manage your guitar’s ambient humidity to keep it in its best possible shape
If you go through every part of this post I am certain in addition to knowing when to use your guitar humidifier, you will also know exactly how to provide your guitar with the level of humidity it needs to keep it looking and sounding beautiful. So for your guitar’s wellbeing, stick around and explore this post.
Why Use A Guitar Humidifier
As a guitar owner and lover, I found that knowing exactly why I should use a guitar humidifier helped me greatly understand and appreciate when I should actually use one. So before I jump into the when part of using a guitar humidifier let me first give you a walk through why you should use one.
Simply put, the only real reason you should actually be using a guitar humidifier in its actual sense is to prevent your guitar from getting damaged when your air is too dry. If your guitar is left in an environment where your humidity is too low you risk damaging it in all kinds of ways.
Moderate loss of moisture in your guitar due to low humidity may make it start to sound brittle or plinky. Then if it continues to lose moisture your guitar's wooden parts eventually start to shrink causing cracks in its body, warping of its neck and it's glued joints to come loose.
In extreme low humidity situations your guitar can get damaged beyond repair. The worst part is that this all happens unnoticed. To the untrained eye, you literally just wake up one day to play your guitar and it sounds, feels and looks unusual and a lot of the time by the time you realize something’s wrong it's too late to even get your guitar fixed.
Some people have gone as far as to say that low humidity is the silent killer of guitars. The same idea applies if your humidity is too high but more on this later.
In my experience with guitars I also found that all types of guitars, electric and acoustic, are affected by poor humidity conditions as long as some parts of their body is made of wood. That said, I have found that acoustic guitars are the type that are more prone to low humidity issues compared to electric guitars.
Ultimately, once the wooden parts of your guitar have completely dried out, there is simply no reviving your guitar. In view of how you could easily and unnoticeably lose such a prized possession just because of dry air, this is where a guitar humidifier becomes a very useful gadget.
A guitar humidifier is such a small investment but it can save you a fortune if you own a guitar and you live in or often find yourself in places with unfavorably low humidity conditions. With a guitar humidifier, within minutes you provide your guitar with the moisture it needs to stay in shape and to keep it sounding beautiful.
If you get a good guitar humidifier, you completely avoid all the damaging effects of dry air on your guitar I have just highlighted here and this is exactly why you should use a guitar humidifier.
A guitar humidifier is to a guitar as a screen protector and phone cover is to a phone. However, you have to know when and how to use a guitar humidifier or you could actually ruin your guitar using one.
Now that I have made it clear to you why you should use a guitar humidifier, let us take an extensive look at when you should actually use one.
When Should You Use A Guitar Humidifier?
The optimal humidity range for your guitar to remain in good condition is between 40 and 60 percent relative humidity (RH). As the use of most guitar humidifiers is to add moisture to your guitar, simply put you should use a guitar humidifier anytime the humidity in the place where you are going to keep your guitar for over a day falls below 40%.
Basically when humidity levels around your guitar fall below 40%, there is not enough moisture in the air to keep your guitar in good condition. Because the air is so dry, it starts to suck any available moisture around it and this includes moisture from your guitar’s wooden parts and this is when you need a guitar humidifier.
Your guitar humidifier raises the humidity level around your guitar to between 40 and 60 percent when your ambient air’s humidity is below 40% preventing any moisture loss from your guitar’s body and subsequent damage as I pointed out earlier in the previous section of this post.
Usually your home's humidity level drops below 40% in winter months especially when you are using a central heating system. Home heating systems are designed in a way that they circulate dry and warm air around your house causing your humidity levels to drop.
So winter is a time you really want to have your guitar humidifier ready to work, especially with your home's heating system running all day. As I have seen, it's the time of year when a lot of people’s guitars get badly dehydrated.
The other thing to note is that most guitar humidifiers are designed for use when you place your guitar inside a casing that lets minimal air seep in. Also, some guitar humidifiers can both add and remove moisture when being used in your guitar’s casing.
If you have this type of guitar humidifier, you can use it not only when your air gets too dry but also when your humidity rises above 60%.They will get rid of excess moisture around your guitar when your humidity is out of range and add back moisture when your humidity is too low.
These are all the situations and times I have come across of when you should use your guitar humidifier. However, knowing when to use a guitar humidifier is not enough, you also have to know when not to use one.
With the exception of guitar humidifiers that can both decrease and increase moisture, do not use your guitar humidifier when your ambient relative humidity is above 60%. You will over hydrate your guitar and this too damages your guitar as I have pointed out in the next section.
You also obviously do not want to use your guitar humidifier when your ambient humidity levels are within the 40 to 60 percent range or you will just end up taking the humidity level around your guitar out of range.
To add to this, in some parts of the world your humidity level stays in the 40 to 60 percent range and if you find yourself in these parts, you totally do not even need a guitar humidifier.
The only time I have seen you may ever need one is if you constantly have air conditioning on in the room where you keep your guitar as this dries out your air. Ohh and also if you decide to take your guitar on a trip to a part of the world that seasonally reaches humidity levels beyond your guitar’s comfort zone.
With all this in mind, I think I can safely say you now know pretty much every situation and time when you should use a guitar humidifier. If you were here just to find out when to use your guitar humidifier, you can stop reading this post here and carry on with your life.
However, if you want to take things to the next level and know how to maintain the optimal humidity level for your guitar, keep reading. I believe you will find the extra tips I am about to share very useful, especially if you are just getting started in managing your guitar's moisture.
How To Keep Humidity Optimal For Your Guitar
As you likely stumbled on this post due to concerns about your guitar getting dehydrated rather than too much moisture, to this point I have mainly focused on the effect of low humidity on your guitar. But for you to manage your guitar’s moisture well, you also need to know the adverse effects high humidity has on it.
There is a lot of information on this but in short, if your guitar is exposed to high humidity (above 60% RH) the excess moisture in the air gets absorbed by your guitar’s wooden parts causing the wood to expand. With enough moisture absorption, the glue on your guitars starts to deteriorate.
This means your guitar’s glue joints will start to come loose. Furthermore, a very common occurrence is for your guitar’s back to start bloating causing it to have a back bow. All this in turn causes your guitar to start sounding weird.
Your frets may start buzzing considerably and your guitar may start to sound soggy with a lifeless and dull tone. These are, in short, the damaging effects of high humidity on your guitar and the effects happen quite quickly after your guitar has been in a place with excess humidity for as little as a day.
Looking at the overall impact of humidity, surprisingly, lower quality plywood based guitars actually withstand extreme humidity conditions better than high quality solid or hard wood guitars.
So if you have the more expensive solid wood guitars you have to be extra paranoid about the impact of humidity on your guitar. Hard or solid wood guitars are more prone to humidity as this type of wood expands and shrinks with changing moisture levels more than plywood does.
Now that you know the adverse impact of both low and high humidity on your guitar let's get started with the first step of maintaining optimal humidity levels for your guitar.
1. Check Your Humidity Level With A Digital Hygrometer
Now when you suspect your guitar is succumbing to low or high moisture conditions either by changes in its tone or subtle changes you may have noticed in the way it looks and feels, before you rush out looking for a guitar humidifier, the first step I recommend you take is to get a digital hygrometer.
A hygrometer is a gauge that measures your relative humidity and it's best to get a digital one because they are the most accurate type. The reason I suggest you start with a hygrometer is because they will help you assess if your humidity is actually out of range for your guitar.
Once you have assessed your humidity level, if you find your humidity is consistently between 40 and 60 percent over a 5 day period, then you immediately know your guitar is getting damaged because of something other than your humidity level and there is no point in trying to manage your guitar’s moisture exposure.
On the other hand if your relative humidity is consistently out of the 40 to 60 percent range as you measure it over the course of a day then it's time to find a solution that will bring the moisture around your guitar back to the 40 to 60 percent RH range. This brings us to our next step.
2. Use An Appropriate Guitar Humidification System
The first point of call is your typical guitar humidifier but it's by no means the only solution. You can also use a room humidifier, and a couple of other options but let’s start by looking at how to effectively use guitar humidifiers.
When it comes to guitar humidifiers, you will get the most out of them if you use them with a guitar case that’s as airtight as possible and preferably a hard-shell guitar case. The whole idea behind guitar humidifiers is that it is much easier to control humidity in a small space like inside your guitar case than in a large room.
Accordingly guitar humidifiers are designed to work inside your guitar case and are not really helpful when placed next to your guitar in open air. They are small and inexpensive and I think they are the most effective way to manage your guitar's moisture cost wise and functionally.
Most of them simply add moisture in your guitar case to work against low humidity but I have also come across some that will also absorb excess moisture in addition to adding moisture. These types of guitar humidifiers are referred to as two-way guitar humidifiers.
Then you have small packs designed solely to absorb excess moisture you can place in your guitar case and these are technically referred to as dehumidifiers. Some common dehumidifiers used in guitar cases include silica gel packs and bamboo charcoal packs (#affiliate links to Amazon).
If your relative humidity is too high, store your guitar in its case with one of these packs and they will suck any excess moisture keeping your guitar case’s humidity in the goldilocks zone for your guitar.
As for the two-way humidifiers, I have not personally tried them but I have seen a lot of people highly recommend the Planet Waves Humidipaks and the D’Addario Two-Way Humidification System (#affiliate links to Amazon).
These humidifiers will release moisture or add moisture as needed in your guitar case to keep your guitar between the 40 to 60 percent relative humidity level. One thing to keep in mind with two-way humidifiers is that they take a couple of days to work, so give them a bit of time to reach a balance and within a week they should be working fine.
Both the dehumidifier packs and and two-way humidifiers should last you anywhere from 2 to 6 months depending on how often your ambient humidity is out of the 40 to 60 percent goldilocks zone.
Then for the common guitar humidifier, there a lot of good options out there but the Oasis Case Humidifier and MusicNomad’s Case Humitar (#affiliate link to Amazon) have time and again proven themselves in this department.
With the usual type of guitar humidifiers, whether you fit them on your guitar’s sound hole or just place them in your case, be sure to refill their water every 2 to 3 days. Make sure to seal the humidifier well so water doesn’t leak into your case and to also close your guitar case properly to avoid drying out your humidifier quickly.
Stick to what I have said here and you should be good to go with guitar humidifiers.
Guitar Humidifier Cabinets
The next humidification solution for your guitar are humidifier cabinets. These cabinets come fitted with a humidifier or both a humidifier and dehumidifier and are designed to maintain the humidity level inside them between the 40 to 60 percent range.
The cabinets are easy to set up and maintain and all you do is simply place your guitar inside. Similar to the cabinet I also stumbled on a plastic rectangular tent called a guitar humidor.
The tent has a water reservoir inside which keeps its enclosure's humidity level consistently at 50% RH. You can hang the tent on your ceiling, wall or in your closet and inside it you have space to hang about 3 guitars.
A good example of the instrument humidor tent on Amazon is the Musik Tent Guitar Humidor. A guitar humidifier cabinet or humidor tent is a great option if you play your guitar once in a while.
Room Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers
Finally on my list of humidification systems for guitar’s are room humidifiers. You can get either a whole house humidifier if you keep your guitar in multiple rooms or a normal portable room humidifier if you have a dedicated room for your guitars or your guitar simply spends the bulk of its life in a particular room in your home.
There are so many types of room humidifiers out there and I have written a whole other post about that here if you are trying to decide what type to get. But to keep things brief, whatever type of room humidifier you go for, the most important thing is to get the right size humidifier based on your room's square feet.
With the right size humidifier, you can consistently add enough moisture to maintain the required level of humidity for your guitar across the entire room. This principle also applies when using room dehumidifiers.
However with dehumidifiers you are instead looking to consistently remove moisture from your room’s air when your humidity is too high. My only problem with room and whole house humidifiers and dehumidifiers is that they are not a practical approach for managing your guitar’s moisture exposure year round.
This is especially true with dehumidifiers as they are heavy on electricity consumption. Where these systems become important is when you are going through extremely dry or humid seasons.
This makes sense because in these seasons you are likely to be running these appliances anyway for your personal comfort. In view of this if you have bad humidity all year round then you will be better served with either a guitar humidifier cabinet or a guitar case humidifier.
Whatever system you go for, just be sure to maintain a consistent level of humidity for your guitar and not to over humidify your guitar. If you put your guitar through constant cycles of low and high humidity you are essentially shrinking and expanding its wooden parts with every cycle and this can also cause structural and tone damage to your guitar.
3. Monitor Your Humidity Level With A Digital Hygrometer
Once you have found a good humidification solution, the final step in managing humidity levels for your guitar is to continuously monitor the humidity around your guitar. Whether it’s in your case, guitar cabinet or room you have to check at least on 3 separate days a week that your humidity levels are in the good range.
Fortunately you now have hygrometers that come with an app that allows you to monitor your humidity remotely as long as your phone and device has an internet connection. And on this note I can say you now know enough to ensure that your guitar does not get damaged because of humidity issues.
Extra Measures To Take When Using Guitar Humidifiers
Besides using hygrometers and a guitar humidification system, another measure to take is to control your temperature. This is because temperature has a direct effect on your ambient humidity. Accordingly the room temperature or storage temperature range you want to go for for your guitar is between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 25 degrees Celsius).
Another thing that will really help you keep things in check is to add dealing with your guitar's humidity to your weekly routine. Set reminders and just make it a part of your life if you are serious about keeping your guitar in good condition.
Reading through other user’s experience when using guitar humidifiers, I found that if you have one of those guitar case humidifiers that seals off your guitar's sound hole, it's a good idea to use it with an extra case humidifier that sits somewhere behind your peghead.
If you use the sound hole based humidifier on its own, you trap all the vapor it produces within your guitar’s body and little moisture goes to your guitar's neck leaving it at risk of warping.
There are a couple of other caveats I can share but let me end this post here. If you keep note of everything I have shared across this post you should be able to confidently control the humidity around your guitar to keep it in its best shape and accordingly stretch its useful life.
As always I hope you found this post helpful and feel free to ask in the comments section below if you have any questions.
Thank you for writing such an informative article! Every guitar builder will tell you that the best way to protect your investment and retain optimal playability is to maintain your precious instruments.