Guitars are commonly manufactured in climate controlled plants, usually somewhere around 47%-54% relative humidity. This is where your guitar likes to be. This is where it was made to be and live out its life. If you change that, you can kill it! Alberta Winters are VERY dry.
This article is obviously more centered on acoustic guitars, but even electrics show signs of stress due to low humidity. Electric guitars being mostly finished are therefore ‘mostly’ protected from environmental conditions like humidity. Where they get it bad is in the fretboard & the neck, where as an acoustic guitar takes it is everywhere.
What is relative Humidity?
It is basically the amount of humidity in the air.
What is Alberta’s relative humidity?
It’s always fluctuating but you can count on it being nowhere near 45%. In the house it’s often much worse, because of heating/cooling systems, the forced air is even dryer than outside in many cases. Even where there is a built in humidifier, your house climate control is probably putting your guitar through the ringer.
What happens to the wood of your guitar?
Wood expands and contracts, twists, shifts, and contorts long long after it has been cut and dried for use. Wood being a once living fiber is as unique in its structure as any creation of nature, therefore each guitar will behave differently, even when coming from the same manufacturer (and each manufacturer treats their wood differently). You ever play a guitar that just feels alive? It’s because it has soul! It’s how the wood is handled from day one. Anyways enough of that…
Common symptoms of a dry guitar:
“Oh no, my guitar has some of these symptoms! Is it a lost cause?”
Not at all! Depending on severity and how long it’s been dry, often a guitar can be brought back to its original condition by simply humidifying it properly. Other times, it is a combination of humidifying and readjustments. Extreme cases are specific to the individual guitar and best to have it looked at by a pro.
How can I prevent it?
Use a humidifier if you own an acoustic guitar! Some guitars are hardier than others so if your guitar is worth anything to you, go buy a $12 humidifier from your local guitar store and keep it in the case with your guitar. Easy. On expensive guitars, in the winter, I’d pass along the suggestion on Taylor Guitar’s website and use 2 humidifiers of the damp-it variety (the Planet Waves work well too). Place one in the sound hole, one near the headstock, and keep the guitar in its case when not in use.
Electrics with sharp fret ends? Get them filed off. High frets? Get them popped back in to place (and glued). Any competent repair person can do this. Having your fret ends filed will give you back the smooth feel of the neck as it had when it was new, or should have had when it was new. It’s common for new guitars to be a little distressed, as there is a settling period after manufacture that can continue on after once you’ve taken it home.
What about guitars that have been neglected for years and are all bent out of shape or cracked up? Can it be fixed? Quite likely although each case is different and it’s best to take it to your guitar technician for a thorough evaluation.