This brief article pertains to what “you” can do to properly care for your instrument. As a Classical Guitar Dealer and the largest classical guitar shop in the country, it’s important to me and to the luthiers who work with me that you understand your guitar and how to care for her.
Wood and Humidity, Sunlight and Temperature
First and foremost, these are wood instruments. Think about it. Most times, there are numerous woods melded together to create your beautiful classical guitar. Different woods react differently and at varying rates to temperature and humidity changes. You may have 3 or 4 different woods (including bindings) reacting simultaneously to your conditions. OK…so what does wood need?
– They need a certain amount of humidity in the air or in the case!
– 40 – 60% relative humidity should be sufficient. Adding humidity to a room or a guitar is only necessary in DRY conditions. A good rule of thumb is “if the heat is on, moisture needs to be added to your environment”.
– Get a small hygrometer and put it in the case so you can see, at a glance, what the humidity is in the case.
– Get a digital and a good German analog hygrometer for your room. Always know your conditions.
– Electric Humidifiers are relatively inexpensive, quiet and can give you peace of mind. My favorite of late is the Vornado Evap40 4-Gallon Evaporative Humidifier – runs a long time and adds loads of moisture to the air.
– This is important. It is wholly unnecessary to use an “in guitar” humidifier if your playing environment is properly humidified and monitored. This is not always possible, I suppose, but it is simply healthier for the room, you and all of your instruments if the room is environmentally correct.
– Keep the guitar in the case when you’re not playing it. Especially if your home is dry. I can not emphasize this more. Keeping the guitar in its case is its best defense against environmental conditions.
– Keep it out of sunlight. Even within its case, the guitar will take in heat, burning the finish, and starting to warp the guitar.
– Please DO NOT humidify your guitar in the summer or if humidity is above 60%. Take the Oasis humidifier out of the guitar and case! Your guitar does not need MORE humidity. Too much is as bad as too little.
– An instrument’s worst enemy is sudden change. Too humid to dry conditions or vice versa and or sudden temperature changes will crack your baby. Guaranteed.
– Do not store your guitar and case in the trunk of your car or in your car period. Bring it inside with you wherever you are as laziness is not an option when it comes to your precious guitar.
– Cold days to warm inside temperatures…CRACK. Hot days in the sun to your Air conditioned home or office…CRACK. The guitar will find the weakest seams and crack. You have to see it to believe it. I’d rather you didn’t see it. 🙂
Wipe the guitar down after you play it. Body oil, sweat, etc. and the fine finish on your guitar don’t mix well. Especially French polished guitars. A soft shammy cloth (or the polishing cloth I provide you) wipe down is necessary to preserve this finish. Don’t forget to wipe the fingerboard and strings down also. This will minimize buildup of oil and sweat on the strings and frets. Hey….Don’t be lazy. 🙂
Never use oils on your guitar that contain silicone. Use natural wood oil polish. DO NOT use Pledge…for chrissakes!
An Important Note: Changing strings
How many guitars do I see coming to my studio that have a string ding behind the bridge. Usually at the E or B treble side? Too many, is the answer. This is really easy to avoid.
This generally happens because of a lack of tension on the treble strings (or any of the strings) when hand tightening for tuning, while stringing them up.
First – Cut a piece of thin cardboard, a Priority Mail envelope or something, with a cutout for the bridge. Slide this underneath the strings, around the bridge, protecting both side of the top around the bridge. it should look like a big square U with a 2″ or so cutout for YOUR Bridge.
Second – loosen the strings to a dead slack when it comes time to change them.
Third – cut them with a pair of good wire cutters about 2 inches or so away from the bridge. Then cut them at the nut, about 1 or 2 inches away, somewhere around the 1st fret. Voila..your soundboard has so far, not been whacked.
- At the bridge, pull the loop away from the tie block, and carefully remove the string from the butt side of the bridge.
- Cut the excess string from the machines, carefully, to ease removal of the entire string from the machine post tie hole.
Fourth – You are now ready to wipe down your fretboard, rejuvenating it with some Music Nomad Fretboard F-One Oil, cleaning your frets, the crowns on either side of the fret (where the frets meet the ebony fretboard). You can use 0000 steel wool to wipe the oil on and lightly scrub the frets and crowns across the fretboard, and then, when finished, to lightly scrub from the 1st fret to the 20th fret, up and down the board, with the grain, removing any of your light up and down strokes. Wipe her down with a clean rag (the fretboard) and you are now ready for strings. While you’re at it, wipe down the soundboard with a microfibre cloth or polishing cloth. A little Bee’s Wax goes a long way here, to rejuvenate the woods and the finish, picking up the dust, etc.
Fifth – Use good strings. Obvious, no? You’d be surprised. In general, I use Nylon Strings, my own brand Savage Classical Guitar Strings in Low (80lbs), Mid (85lbs) and High Tension (90lbs) manufactured right here in the USA. Almost every guitar in my gallery is strung with these strings. I use nylon strings as a baseline for every guitar. Carbon strings and other variants may enhance a guitars voice or power, but that is not in MY interest. I need to evaluate guitars from an objective point of view. It really is as simple as that.
OK, big secret. There’s usually a floppy end to the Bass E string, A string, and sometimes the D string. See that floppy end?? Keep it the heck away from the bridge. That floppy end goes through the tuning machine tie hole. Got it? I mean it…OK..moving on. Tie your E Bass String, the way you normally do, whether standard tie block or 12 hole tie block.
- In a 12 hole, the lower hole is used for the string break over the saddle. In other words, you begin with the string end going over the saddle toward the bridge tie hole. That string end goes thru the lower hole. You come up and over the bridge, and back in the same direction as the lower hole, through the upper hole. You then take your string end, put through the loop that was created by the lower hole, hold the bridge down gently, and pull the whole thing nice and tight. No movement, or very little.
Sixth – Please note that this whole time you are still using your thin cardboard insert. Something goes snap, it hits the cardboard, not your soundboard. Jeez…
Seventh – Put your string into the tie hole of the tuning machine. Pull fairly tight for almost zero slack. Put the Bass string around and back underneath the pull thru the tie hole. Start turning, guiding the string (generally speaking) toward the gear side of the machine head, not toward the middle of the headstock. Tighten to tuning tension, maybe a 1/4 tone higher to initiate stretching. The trebles you can put thru the tie hole twice, and then wrap underneath the string where you went thru the tie hole. Same thing, attempt to guide the string wrap toward the machine.
Note on the trebles, whether with a 6 hole or 12 hole tie block, tie a knot in the strings so that they come up behind the tie block. That knot makes it impossible for the string to come loose! It has to break at the saddle, if it will snap, leaving your soundboard beautiful and intact, no impact, no ding, no worries!
Eighth – Trim using a good set of small wire cutters. I use a great set with a little spring that opens them up automatically. I have a matching needle nose set of pliers that allows me to grab an unruly string that just doesn’t want to come to me. Same with the bridge side excess. Again, using your cardboard insert to protect the guitar!!!
Extra Notes – one of the things that I do, especially with 12 hole tie blocks is to pull the treble strings all the way thru, getting the butt end of the string as far away and turned away from the guitar as possible. I then burn the end of the string, creating a ball. Easier may be to just tie a knot in the end of the string, and then string up as normal. This will prevent any slipping off of the bridge tie block anytime during the stringing process and or playing time. You can do this with a standard 6 hole tie block, as I mentioned earlier, as well. Nice! 🙂
If, after this detailed explanation, you still whack your soundboard, well, holy string ding, I can’t help you. LOL
Every year, or when you sense a problem with the frets, a bit of buzz, or just something that doesn’t feel or sound right, get the guitar looked at right away by a luthier repair person.
See our Luthier Repair & Service Page for those in the Long Island NY area.
– Again, these are fine instruments. They all require care, just as a violin, viola or cello require care and maintenance. No guitar is going to stay perfect over the course of a year or two. Get over it! Get your instrument looked at and taken care of, always!
To summarize….keep the guitar clean, keep the guitar in its case, try to keep the guitar in a uniform environment, let it acclimate to a new one before opening it and please…keep the guitar maintained. Don’t be lazy and have fun. PS…reread the part about changing strings.
All the best,
Richard F. Sayage
Savage Classical Guitar