As I pen this blog, the entire eastern
half of the nation is in an icy, snowy deepfreeze. Everywhere I look I see downed trees, and the
news is full of the snow and ice-induced carnage of collapsed roofs and
interstate pile-ups. Okay, so I think we
all agree that this type of weather sort of sucks … but the question every
GUITAR PLAYER should be asking themselves is this: How does this affect my
guitar? Let’s talk about that! Hint, if you want to go straight to the “what
to do” check-list, feel free to skip ahead to the end.
My first lesson in how sub-freezing
temps affect a guitars finish came back in about 1987. I was playing on the road with then country
super-star Tom T. Hall. It was one of my
first “buss gigs”, and for the most part the gear rode in the unheated bays
below the bus. I was REALLY green and
didn’t think to bring my acoustic up into the buss as we headed into the
north-east states for a Christmas tour.
You guessed it, the guitar that went into the bay perfect came out with
a finished cracked to pieces. Today, I
guess we’d call it “reliced”, but in 1987 it was just called UGLY. The lesson learned: guitar finishes can crack
when frozen hard. Now, it’s true that
certain finishes will crack worse than others, with acoustics being particularly
prone to cracking, but given a hard enough freeze, nearly all guitar finishes
can be susceptible. The problem is that
the finish shrinks at an entirely different rate than the wood it’s on; the
result is cracks, baby!
Which brings me to neck warping and
bridge pull-away. Once again, the steel
strings will shrink at an entirely different rate than the wood of your guitar. This can cause neck warping and
twisting. Also, as the air gets not only
colder, but drier as well, the glue holding an acoustic together loses much strength,
which, combined with tightened strings, can lead to bridge pull-away on
And last, speaking of dry air, even if
your guitars are never anywhere near sub-freezing temps; they are almost undoubtedly
exposed to much, much drier air in the cold winter months. Very dry air wreaks havoc upon ALL guitars, not
just acoustics. ALL guitars can end up
with the fret ends extending uncomfortably beyond the edges of the finger-board
due to the wood shrinking up. You can
also expect ANY guitar to need a little truss-rod tweaking in the cold and dry
months (which will again need attention in the hot and humid months). When guitars get very dry, the wood shrinks
and cracks, and the glue that holds them together shrinks and fails. Not good! Your guitar may in fact get SO DRY
that is takes some drastic re-humidification to even get it acceptably playable
again. The following list is from Taylor
dry guitar can exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:
Low action. Strings are very close to the fret-board.
Hump on fretboard where neck joins body.
On NT necks, a slight gap around the fretboard extension.
Sunken top across the soundboard between bridge and fingerboard.
Back of guitar looks very flat when it is dried out.
Sharp fret ends extend beyond the edge of fret-board.
The plane of the neck angle on a dry guitar hits above the top of the bridge.