Whether you’re a serious collector or have a few prized instruments in your collection, it’s crucial to understand the importance of keeping them safe when they aren’t in use. Keeping your instrument inside a case, on a stand, or hanging on your wall will protect it from most physical damage. Still, there’s another critical aspect to instrument storage that is often overlooked: proper humidification.
On top of that, exposure to extreme temperatures can introduce its own host of problems, often occurring more suddenly and violently. And when it comes to visual aesthetics, the most common storage solutions do little to protect your instruments from dust and other environmental elements. Not to mention, you have to figure out how to incorporate the piece into your room in a visually appealing way.
Your instruments are works of art. To keep them looking and sounding as beautiful as the day they left the factory, they need to be protected from intense fluctuations in moisture and temperature. Whether it’s a vintage acoustic guitar, a modern electric guitar, a violin, mandolin, or any other string instrument, American Music Furniture can provide a storage solution that will save space, keep your instruments protected, and fit beautifully into the aesthetic of your room.
Read on to learn more about storing your instruments properly and how our cabinets and cases can help keep your instruments healthy and sounding gorgeous for years to come.
The effects of temperature and humidity on string instruments
Regardless of the age, construction, or finish of the instrument, temperature extremes and humidity, or lack thereof, can wreak havoc on its sound and appearance.
Wood expands and contracts as the moisture content changes. What makes this a particular problem in a wooden musical instrument is that the wood doesn’t expand and contract evenly. Wood shrinks much more across the grain of the wood than along the length of the grain.
While wood expands and contracts rapidly in response to environmental changes, the metal of your fret wires, strings, tuners, and electronic components are not as flexible. When instruments are stored improperly, the pressure of the wood pushing and pulling against these rigid metal pieces can cause cracks, warping and separation of parts. Experienced luthiers and repair shops have seen countless cases of instruments needing dramatic repairs or being rendered nearly unplayable by these effects.
Seasonality also plays a role in how to store your instruments.
Generally, air conditioning removes enough humidity in the summer to keep your home, office or studio below 60% relative humidity. However, if you live without air conditioning, too much moisture can cause just as much damage as too little. You’ll also find that your guitars simply sound better at around 45% humidity, and your air conditioning just can’t remove enough water from the air to get to that level. In that case, we offer an ionic membrane dehumidification system. The ionic membrane will reduce the humidity in the cabinet by breaking H2O down into hydrogen and oxygen and will then push the hydrogen out of the cabinet. As a result of this waterless dehumidification system, there is no tank to empty.
Furthermore, during the warmer months, it is absolutely crucial that instruments are not left in a hot car for any length of time, regardless of whether they’re inside a case. Research shows that on a sunny 90-degree day, the inside of a typical passenger car or truck can exceed temperatures of 138°F! This heat level can be lethal for a stringed instrument, and one should always plan very carefully when traveling with their instruments during the summer.
Cold air holds much less moisture than warm air, so it is vital to keep your instruments at a relative humidity level between 45%-50% at room temperature. Now depending on the instrument builder, you will find that all of them recommend a humidity level in this range, but they would all agree that going below 40% or above 60% at typical room temperatures will start to cause damage that most manufacturers do not cover in their warranties. Most humidity-related damage occurs by the instruments drying out during winter months at very low relative humidity levels.
As the humidity levels change and drop, the instrument’s top will shrink and start to sink into its body. This will cause bracing in the instrument to come loose and often cause splits in the top of your guitar. In addition to loose braces and cracks, you may notice that fret wires will protrude past the neck in winter because the neck wood shrinks. You’ll feel the sharp edges of the frets when you run your hand down the neck. Other humidity related damage might be cracks on the back or sides of the instrument.
Common Options for Humidifying Instruments
Sound hole humidification
Sound hole humidification is the least expensive and most common way of humidifying an instrument. A small sponge is enclosed in a plastic container that fits in the instrument’s sound hole; the instrument is then stored in its case. The low expense makes it more accessible. However, this method also requires constant monitoring as the sponge can drip or dry out, and it provides no means of actually monitoring your instrument’s humidity level.
Chemical humidification is a standard upgrade from water-based sound hole humidification. It replaces the sponge with a chemical pack that maintains a predetermined humidity level. Like sound hole humidifiers, it provides a more budget-friendly option, but also lasts longer. However, it still requires frequent attention and provides little indication of your instruments’ actual humidity level. Additionally, since these packs typically rest on your strings, they can cause tuning issues.
Automatic room humidifiers are a popular solution for those with a large number of instruments. They are a more effective solution for humidifying multiple instruments and can regulate humidity, unlike cheaper options. However, their key downfall is in the resources required to use one. You’d need to dedicate a room of your house to storage, create moisture barriers to prevent mold growth, incorporate stands and hangers for each instrument and supply the humidifier with up to 4 gallons of water each day.
Guitar Display & Storage
We hear from every customer that they play their instruments more when they are not stored in their guitar case. If they are on display in a cabinet they are quickly available when you want one. As our client Derek Trucks said in a recent article “When you walk past a cabinet that’s lit up and a few guitars are staring back at you, it’s hard not to stop and say hi for a bit.” We do recognize that there are times you want to use a stand or wall hanger. They are good temporary solutions for holding a guitar that is in active use, but not a good idea for permanent display.
Without a doubt, the most common option for displaying guitars is in the form of floor-mounted standalone racks and stands. Many companies make these, and they’re available in various shapes, sizes, and configurations, making them an accessible and budget-friendly option. Keep an eye out. It’s easy to come across many that are built cheaply, and their design is often uninspiring. For the player and collector looking to pursue a more budget-conscious storage option that doesn’t compromise on the build quality and aesthetics that American Music Furniture is known for, check out our line of guitar stands.
If you’ve ever been to a guitar store, you’re no doubt familiar with the sight of a plethora of instruments hanging from the wall, waiting for their new owner to claim them. Wall hanging saves space and helps turn your guitar into even more of a work of art in itself, not to mention the ease of access it provides. However, without constant care, this solution is prone to dust-gathering and has minimal protection from the elements. If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, American Music Furniture’s Nashville Guitar Habitat® could be the perfect solution.
Other display cases
We often hear from guitarists who want to build their own humidified cabinet or convert an old armoire to be a humidity-controlled environment for their guitars. When we began building humidified cabinets, we quickly discovered that putting humidity inside a wooden cabinet that will sit in a room with 15% or less relative humidity in the ambient winter air would destroy the wooden cabinet because of the same issues with wood expansion and contraction that cause guitar damage.
Normal furniture and furniture building techniques don’t need to worry about keeping two humidity levels separated from each other. We’ve developed some very non-traditional techniques that avoid the warping, cracking and splitting of cabinet wood and doors. In fact, our door design is so unique it was awarded a patent. Don’t ruin a beautiful old cabinet by putting a humidifier in it.
American Music Furniture cabinets
Hand built-to-order from our factory in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, American Music Furniture’s range of humidified instrument cases and cabinets provide collectors of all scale with the ultimate answer to safe, functional, visually pleasing instrument storage. Unlike the temporary or room-consuming options, our products stand the test of time, fit neatly and beautifully into your home, and are given the attention to detail and specification that guarantee to keep your instruments safe in the long-term.
Our models include:
Nashville Guitar Habitat® – Wall-mounted solution for giving one or two of your most prized guitars a spotlight all to themselves
Guitar Habitat® – Full-size cabinets for storage and safe keeping of up to 25 guitars
Guitar Estates™ – The ultimate luxury for your instruments: a gorgeous cabinet for up to 25 instruments that includes expanded storage and accessory options
String Habitat® – Cabinets designed specifically to house smaller stringed instruments, such as mandolins, ukuleles and mandolas.
Custom and Built-in Guitar Displays – Built to your exact specifications to be truly integrated into the shape and design of your room, or to fit unusually-proportioned spaces. We often work with architects and designers to build in a custom unit unique to your space.
Violin Habitat – Gorgeous, compact storage cabinets for the display and humidification of up to two of your prized violins or violas.
Every one of our cabinets comes with a built-in humidifier and an optional dehumidifier to ensure that your instrument’s wood stays healthy year-round. Because the humidification environment is contained solely within the cabinet’s space, the unit requires much less frequent refills and wick changes than other contemporary solutions. Our products’ superb craftsmanship and careful engineering also ensure that moisture will not seep out and produce undesirable effects in the room where your cabinet resides.
Our cabinets are equipped with standard LED lighting to give each of your displayed instruments the spotlight it deserves. Instruments in your collection that might otherwise stay hidden away inside a case can now become a display feature as they are kept in the safely humidified grasp of the cabinet.
Storage and convenience
Putting your collection into individual cases is not only inadequate to protect them from the elements, but ungainly and space-consuming. Additional, the Guitar Habitat and Guitar Estate models include integrated storage for your tools, literature, spare wicks and accessories. Additional storage options and configurations available on Guitar Estate models, including side-open doors and amplifier trays.
A variety of gorgeous, natural wood finishes for the interior and exterior of your cabinet
Extra storage options and alternate shelving configurations for storage compartments on Guitar Estate models
Enhanced Lighting™ option to provide additional LED lighting from different angles, further showcasing the beauty of your instruments
Superior Interior™ option that includes additional figured hardwood and contrasting bullnose trims
Neck-Tie™ Neck Rest option to provide further security of instruments within the cabinet
Ready to give your prized instruments the care and showcase that they deserve? Check out our products and if you’ve got any questions or would like to discuss customized options, contact us today or give us a call at 267-272-2460