Our guitars are also built to be played, and with just a reasonable amount of care and periodic maintenance, they’ll deliver a lifetime of playing enjoyment. Understanding what affects your guitar’s well-being, both positively and negatively, will help you to apply the proper care and feeding.
Fine guitars are made of thin pieces of solid wood that are glued together. They are directly affected by humidity and temperature.
Humidity is the amount of water vapor or moisture in the air. Temperature affects the amount of moisture that air can hold. Both of these factors affect wood because it is naturally "hygroscopic". This means that it takes on and gives off water. Therein lies the challenge.
A guitar that absorbs too much moisture, through high humidity, expands and swells. This distorts the geometry of the guitar and, consequently, its tone and playability. Add high temperature, and humidity can weaken glue joints and even cause them to fail. With prolonged exposure, the glue under the bridge will weaken, allowing the bridge to pull off. Telltale signs of a "wet" guitar:
• High action
• Swollen top
• Fret buzzing in the high registers (as fretboard rises with the top)
• Distorted back and sides
• "Tubby," muffled tone, low volume
• Finish cracks
• Bindings separated
Overly dry conditions, or lack of sufficient humidity, can be equally detrimental to your guitar, causing the wood to shrink and crack. It can also cause poor tone and improper intonation. In dry regions (mountainous or desert areas) or northern climates, where heated air is common in winter, simple guitar humidifiers may not be sufficient. Room or household humidifiers may be necessary to maintain a proper environment. Telltale signs of a "dry" guitar:
• Lowered action
• Fret buzzing and lifting
• Fret ends sticking out from the fingerboard
• Dips in the top or back
• Finish and/or wood cracks
Gradual changes in humidity and temperature will generally not harm a well-made guitar. At Collings, we build and acclimate our guitars in an environment of 49% relative humidity and a temperature of 75 degrees. So if you keep guitar pretty close to these ranges, you should have no problems.
The biggest danger caused by humidity and temperature is rapid or extreme changes. That’s because different parts of the guitar shrink and expand at different rates. For example, if your local humidity drops very rapidly, the guitar cannot acclimate itself uniformly, causing cracks or failure of glue joints in different portions of the guitar as it tries to "cope" with the drying situation. The same is true, in reverse, with high humidity.
Extreme temperatures can wreak havoc, too. Heat weakens glue. Cold "chills" lacquer causing finishes to crack or craze.
While you can’t control the weather, you can control your guitar’s environment to a great extent. Here are some simple pointers.
• Keep your guitar in its case when you’re not playing it. Collings guitar cases are virtually air tight – and it’s a lot easier to control humidity in a smaller volume of air.
• Purchase a home hygrometer/thermometer to keep tabs on the relative humidity and temperature. Adjust your home environment as necessary. Plants and humidifiers add moisture in dry winter months. Air conditioning controls humidity in the hot, muggy summer months.
• Avoid storing your guitar near sources of hot, dry air (such as forced hot air heating ducts), or cold, damp areas (garages, basements, closets with outside walls).
• Never, ever, transport your guitar in a car trunk. Temperatures inside car trunks are extreme in any kind of weather. It’s the quickest way to destroy a guitar. Even in the passenger compartment your guitar can be subjected to extreme temperatures. For example, please allow your instrument to warm up slowly before opening your case in a warm room after being transported in a cold vehicle. Abrupt changes in temperature can cause (ie: cold guitar to warm room) can cause finish crazing.
• When traveling cross country, keep in mind changes in local humidity – and protect your guitar accordingly.
• Guitar humidifiers that fit inside the soundhole or extend into the body can be very effective but must be used with great care to avoid water damage. Check with a qualified guitar repair person before using them.
Collings guitars are finished with multiple coats of high-grade lacquer, hand-sanded between applications to bring out a deep shine. The resultant finish is thin, durable and acoustically compatible. The best way to preserve this finish is to keep it clean – wiping off perspiration and fingerprints with a soft, damp (not wet) cloth. Old, soft cotton baby diapers make excellent guitar cleaning cloths. While there are many commercial guitar cleaners available, we feel that a rag slightly dampened with plain tap water and thoroughly wrung out will remove most dirt. Then buff with dry clean cloth. If you must use commercial products, avoid those with solvents, silicones or abrasives. Remember: polishing is not cleaning. Polishes remove finish along with dirt. Fingerboards can occasionally dry out, but require only a very small amount of boiled linseed oil (thoroughly buffed) to restore. Less is always best.
FOAM/RUBBER/VINYL WARNING: We would like to advise our players that many types of instrument stands and straps that employ petroleum-based foam, rubber or vinyl can cause damage over time when in contact with nitrocellulose lacquer finishes. Because of this, many stand manufacturers have developed stands that are "lacquer safe", however due to variations in finish constitution between various makers it is always safest to treat stands as temporary storage for your instrument. The safest way to avoid finish damage when using a stand is to cover the foam/rubber parts with a soft cotton cloth (guitar polish cloths work well). The safest long term storage for your instrument is in its case and we recommend always removing your strap after each use, no part of your strap should be in contact with your instrument when stored in your case.
Our guitars are adjusted at our shop with a medium string height. This height can be raised or lowered to suit individual playing preferences by shimming or sanding the bottom of the saddle. But be careful. It only takes a little adjustment at the bridge to greatly affect string height over the fingerboard. Guitar tops rise and fall with age and exposure to humidity. You might even notice a "bellying" or bulging of the top near the bridge when this occurs. This is perfectly normal; in fact, we build a certain amount of flex into the top to accommodate this movement. Our necks are also adjustable, by Allen wrench, through the sound hole behind the main top brace. This is an extremely sensitive operation, however, and should be undertaken with a great deal of caution. A little adjustment can go a long way. A qualified repairman can adjust your guitar to return it to a comfortable action. This neck adjustment affects the amount of "relief" or bow in the neck. This neck relief is one aspect of a guitar’s action. The other aspects are nut and saddle heights. All three must be taken into consideration when dealing with action.