The ongoing heatwave isn’t just draining people’s energy; it’s also affecting musicians and their stringed instruments. While we have the luxury of staying hydrated with fluids and electrolytes, many bedroom ‘musicians’ in Dhaka face a struggle. Whether or not you’ve noticed, the heat and humidity can be massively detrimental to stringed instruments; and none more so than for guitars.

Guitars have the highest string tension among all stringed instruments commonly available in Bangladeshi markets, owned by both casual and professional players. That’s what makes guitars all the more vulnerable than your sitars, tanpuras or ukuleles.  

To get the best guitar maintenance advice for this heatwave, we consulted with professional musicians and guitar nerds, all experts in their fields, who shared their top tips and tricks for keeping your six strings in good shape in this humidity.

While my guitar gently wipes

Sometimes, the simplest and the most basic methods can work wonders. When we reached out to guitar virtuoso Oni Hasan, the only piece of advice he had for us was to wipe the strings after each play.

“Just make sure you get rid of that sweat, because it will leave all sorts of gunk if you’re not wiping them,” he said.

Guitar strings, especially the steel-core wires wrapped with nickel or copper plating used in electric guitars, typically tarnish before they rust.

This tarnishing, caused mainly by moisture from humidity or finger sweat and oils, affects the sound quality, reducing clarity and increasing the likelihood of breakage, eventually leading to rust. 

Moisture gets trapped in the wire wrapping the core, forming crusts of stains and dirt over time. Rusting strings are a significant concern for guitarists, particularly in humid climates, as the conditions speed up the rusting process. 

Humidity vs Temperature

Guitars, primarily made of wood, are sensitive to temperature and humidity, which can cause the wood to shift and change, impacting the sound and shape. The ideal conditions are 19-25 degrees Celsius and 40-50% humidity. 

In Dhaka, during May, temperatures have been around 40 degrees Celsius with humidity averaging 65%, occasionally exceeding 80%.

“It’s more the humidity than the temperature that gets you,” said Saadi Muktafi, a guitar teacher with over 25 years of experience. 

Having owned over 150 guitars in his lifetime, Saadi sure knows a thing or two about maintaining the instrument.

“Ideally for stringed instruments, the most important aspect is to keep them in consistent humidity rather than temperature. It’s the guitar neck which is most vulnerable; the bodies are mostly coated or coloured, which add layers of protection,” said Saadi.

Although temperature changes usually have minimal effect on guitars, sudden shifts can significantly impact the instrument. This often occurs when moving guitars from a temperature-controlled studio or room to a venue with a higher temperature.

The guitar neck can twist and develop an ‘up-bow,’ causing the string height to rise to an uncomfortable level. If this occurs, playability won’t be the only concern, as it can lead to irreversible damage to the guitar.

“You could use dehumidifiers on your air conditioners to keep the levels consistent. Also, when transporting, try using a guitar case rather than a gig bag. It helps with maintaining the conditions,” suggested Saadi.

Acoustic vs Electric

Saadi believes that acoustic guitars are more vulnerable than electric guitars. This is not only because of the body or the type of wood used in electric guitars, which actually makes them more resilient in unfavourable conditions. The primary reason is the truss rod.
 
“In layman terms, the truss rod’s job is to counteract a guitar neck’s natural bowing. If it’s not properly adjusted, you’ll hear fret buzzes and deadnotes,” said Taawkir Tajammul Nisshobdo, a musician and audio engineer who has played alongside many big names in the Bangladeshi music industry.

An adjustable truss rod is a steel rod in the guitar neck, with one end threaded for adjustment. It can be accessed at the peghead or soundhole. Single-action rods counter string tension and upbow, while double-action rods also correct back bow. Adjusting the nut alters the neck’s tension, correcting upbow or back bow as needed.

“Truss rods on electrics are very responsive, that’s not the case when it comes to acoustic guitars, unless you own really expensive ones,” added Saadi.

Drop tuning

For a long time there has been this myth that drop tuning helps to maintain guitar stability. Although the myth does have its merit, the jury is divided on this one.

“I actually find standard tuning to be the best setup for guitars. I’ve played in D and E Flat for many years but guitars sound best in E. I don’t think there’s much weight to the myth of drop tuning guitars,” said Oni.

Saadi also added that there’s no need for drop tuning if the specific guitars are being played every day. At best, he suggested we could tune the instrument down half a step, to decrease the string and bridge tension on the guitar.

 





Source link