Have you ever wondered why your guitar plays great one day, yet feels completely different on another? Suddenly the fret edges are sharp or the action has shifted and the guitar won’t play in tune anymore. These changes can happen overnight, especially in the winter. Cold, dry weather brings low humidity and that causes cracked guitars. Winter is my busiest time of year for structural repairs, and most of these repairs are preventable with an inexpensive humidifier. I’ve been preaching this message for more than two decades: Preventive measures are the key to keeping your guitar in top condition.
Dealing with humidity. Humidity is the amount of moisture or water vapor in the air. The more moisture in the air, the higher the humidity. Lesser amounts of moisture results in lower humidity.
There’s a popular myth that a guitar sounds better when it dries out. Actually, it just cracks and then I get to charge a fortune to repair it. This myth is often confused with a guitar’s natural aging process. When a guitar ages, cells in its wood begin to crystallize and harden, causing the guitar to get louder and more dynamic. But if it’s not properly humidified, the wood will crack. (Did I mention structural repairs are very expensive?)
But you can have too much of a good thing: When a guitar is over humidified, it swells up and loses volume and tone. (Think of a tub of lard with strings.) High humidity can also cause finish discoloration and even allow mold to grow inside the guitar.
The way to avoid these problems is to maintain a consistent humidity level for your instrument—particularly an acoustic hollowbody. This will prevent a host of ailments and costly repairs.
Symptoms of low humidity.
One of the common telltale signs of a dry guitar is sharp fret ends. When a guitar dries out, the fretboard shrinks and the frets protrude beyond the wood. Correcting this problem requires re-humidification, conditioning, and fret filing. If your guitar is showing signs of low humidity (sharp fret ends, cracks, or separated glue joints), you need to have it evaluated by a reputable luthier.
This is what happens to a dry guitar in various levels of low humidity.
Below 35 percent humidity:
• Action (string height) changes.
• The top flattens out.
• Fret ends feel a little sharp.
Below 25 percent humidity:
• Fret ends become very sharp.
• There are drastic changes in the playability.
• Seams begin to separate.
• There’s a slight separation between the bridge and top.
• The finish starts to sink.
Below 15 percent humidity:
• Cracks appear in the top and body
• The bridge and fretboard crack
• The glue joints in the neck, bridge, and braces begin to separate.
All of these ailments will greatly lower the value of the instrument—not to mention your enjoyment of playing it—so be sure to maintain your guitar at the proper humidity level.
What is the best humidity level for my guitar?
Most experts say 40-50 percent. At this level, a guitar will sound and play its best. A great way to control humidity is to use a humidifier. Think of it as an inexpensive insurance policy to protect you from very expensive repairs.
A guitar humidifier is easy to use and very effective. Some guitar humidifiers are suspended between the 3rd and 4th strings and contain a damp sponge that needs remoistened every two or three days. This type of product works okay, but it’s not consistent. The humidity will spike at first, then slowly diminish as the sponge dries out.
The more modern guitar humidifiers use a gel that not only emits humidity, but also absorbs it if the humidity gets too high. This technology was first developed for cigar humidors, and now it’s available for guitars. Planet Waves makes a great humidity control system called the Humidipak that uses this technology. I’d also recommend using a hygrometer to measure the humidity.
Another great way to control humidity is to use a room humidifier. This is a great idea if you have multiple guitars in one room. Humidifiers come in all shapes and sizes, but be very selective, as some work much better than others. I use a programmable humidifier that utilizes both “warm mist” and “ultrasonic technology.” It also has a built-in hygrometer and a UV light to help purify the water. This type of humidifier is much healthier than the “cool mist” types that require a filter.
What guitars need to be humidified?
All guitars should be humidified, even electric solidbodies. Newer guitars generally need more moisture because the wood is kiln-dried, as opposed to a vintage guitar made from air-dried wood. The difference between kiln and air-dried wood is dramatic. Kiln-dried wood uses heat to dry the wood to accelerate the aging process. However, these guitars require more moisture to prevent warping and cracking. Air-dried wood is more stable, especially in vintage guitars, because the wood was generally aged over a decade before being made into a guitar. As a result, the cracked wood was removed from the pile and used for something else. Guitars made from air-dried wood still need humidity to sound best, but they retain moisture better than their modern counterparts.
Too hot to handle!
Heat exposure can also have destructive effects on a guitar. When a guitar is left in the trunk of a car—especially on a sunny day—the glue joints can fail. Imagine the shock of opening your case and finding a pile of wood where your guitar used to be. Once again, I get to charge a fortune for repairing heat-damaged guitars, so be vigilant.
A frigid nightmare.
Cold is also an enemy. When a guitar is exposed to low temperatures and then brought into a warm environment, the finish can develop checking. Checking creates tiny hairline cracks in the finish—like someone laid a spider web over the finish— and you can’t polish this out. Finish checking is permanent and can only be repaired by refinishing (not something I would recommend). Finish checking is basically the result of the finish changing from one temperature extreme to the other. This causes the finish to expand and contract too fast, and that makes it crack. To minimize this, when you bring your guitar in from the cold, don’t open the case until the outside of the case is at room temperature. Even then, there’s no guarantee the finish won’t check, but it will lessen the odds.
Okay, let’s review—here’s how to prevent damage to your beloved guitar:
• Buy a guitar humidifier.
• Keep your guitar at between 40–50 percent humidity.
• Use a hygrometer.
• Keep your guitar in a consistent environment (one that’s comfortable for you).
• Keep it out of direct sunlight and out of the car trunk.
These simple steps can save you hundreds of dollars in repairs.
*This article was plublished on Premier Guitar by John Levan*
John Levan Nashville guitar tech, has written five guitar repair books, all published by Mel Bay. His bestseller, Guitar Care, Setup & Maintenance, is a detailed guide with a forward by Bob Taylor. LeVan welcomes questions about his PG column or books. Drop an email to guitarservices@ aol.com or visit guitarservices.com for more info on his guitar repair workshops.
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I have been a student, aficionado, and advocate of the Guitar, Bass, Banjo, Ukulele, and Mandolin for many years. I have encouraged many a “wish-I-could –play” wannabes to set aside their excuses and apprehension about playing a stringed instrument and to simply, and fairly, give it try. To that pursuit I would like to debunk the most common three misconceptions that I have heard over the years.
#1 My fingers are too fat!
This one tops my list. I can tell you from experience that I know or have met musicians of every size and shape and certainly some were hefty souls, but I can also tell you that I haven’t met anyone handicapped by the size of their fingers. The novice needs to understand that after learning proper fretting technique that the size of their fingers will not impede their playing. Think about it, if it were true there would only be trim or skinny mandolin players. Check out Israel Kamakawiwo'ole on you tube with his tiny Ukulele, this should put this point in perspective for you.
#2 My fingers lack coordination
• 1. skill in performing tasks, especially with the hands: "her dexterity with chopsticks" synonyms: deftness, adeptness, adroitness, agility, nimbleness
You may have at one time or another tried to make a chord or play a simple melody on an instrument perhaps only to find that even though your brain was telling your fingers to move in a specific way, they just would not. This is because you have not developed the dexterity necessary to complete the task.
The good news is this is very easy to develop (yes for you too!)
Think of it like this, if you went to the Gym to lift weights for the first time, you would not expect yourself to start with heavy weights, your muscles would have to adapt to the task but soon you would be increasing the weight load as you built strength. The muscles in your hands are the same way; of course you can’t make the chords right now, but as you practice basic exercises (that you will be able to do right away), everything thing else will fall in place. So stop blaming your fingers!
Only the ignorance of technique can stop you!
Here is a good video for finger exercising
#3 I don’t have any musical ability
Maybe you don’t have any musical ability, maybe you do. But the truth is you don’t need much in the way of natural ability to master enough skill to accompany yourself as you sing or hum your favorite tunes. This is especially true of the ukulele. My main instrument is guitar and I have always considered my playing more about rhythm than anything else. In other words, if you can snap your fingers or stomp you foot to the beat of a song, you only have to turn that into a “flicking of your wrist” as you brush the strings (strumming). I do this pretty well and when the mood strikes me right I can play my guitar like I’m ringing a bell but sometimes I can’t tell you what key I’m in! As you develop and discover your musical self you may become a virtuoso or maybe only a hack but a least you didn’t let excuses keep you from trying! Good luck!
The late Steve Jobs had a famous phrase “Content is King.” , and while no one can disagree to that, as I was putting together my gig set the other night, it dawned on me. “How useful would this content be if I didn’t have it organized at all. Now by no means am I some crazy IBM database scientist, but I do want to share with you my system, and maybe after you’ve read, I can get some tips from you about yours.
So back to Jobs, er apple…. In my ITunes app I have a Playlist called “Band”, this where I keep the music file to every song I can ever remember playing with any band. In almost all cases I have a matching Backtrack file, often in the standard key and also a ½ step down version. When I click on the song file I get a lyrics tab, and you guessed it, I have a copy of the words and chord chart to those songs which are attached to the file. Now whenever I have to brush up on songs for a particular project, there is nothing to search for because everything is organized in one place. That library is forever growing.
I also use separate sub Lists that are specific to certain tasks. For instance, I have a friend named Al that always plays with the same guys and every once in a while I will have need of them or they of me, so I keep a list called “Al Band”. This list has every song I have ever played with them, usually they are going to ask for songs from this list so I am always ready, and if they hit me with a new tune I just add it to the list. Other example lists that compartmentalize my songs are “Country Band” “Jam Tracks” and a file for my current project called “My Band”. Because I have the original song and a back track minus lead guitar (my instrument) and Vocals (if I’m singing) for every song on my bands list, I can open the folder and run down the list and rehearse with my virtual band while preparing for my real one. Whenever I need the lyrics or chord charts for myself or other members, I print them right out of my playlist. In this way I find that I spend my time practicing instead of searching, surfing, clicking etc.
Reprinted with permission from Modtone effects.
You might have noticed that most inexpensive banjos have guitar type keys and most expensive banjos have planetary keys. And you may have wondered why. If so, read on…
I will first address the inexpensive banjo with guitar keys. This part is simple, inexpensive guitar keys are in abundant supply, Manufactures use these to keep the cost of the instrument low.
Your more expensive banjos with have planetary keys. Banjo players who seek to improve their tuning experience will often ask advice about swapping their banjo keys for high end guitar keys because of the higher gear ratio of the guitar keys.
My main instrument is guitar and I grew up with the distinct notion that the higher the gear ratio of your tuning keys, the better the keys. For novices, the gear ratio for a tuning key refers to the amount of full turns of the key that it takes for the string post to make 1 complete revolution. The more turns it takes, the more precisely you can tune. Therefore, in theory, a 12:1 gear ratio, common for Guitar, would be better than say a 4:1 gear ratio which is common for a planetary banjo key. So then, this knowledge may lead you to more questions like “why not put guitar keys on your banjo” and “if I did, is that an upgrade?”
First you should realize that it is not all about the Gear Ratio for all pickers. Banjo players, especially bluegrass players, are by nature a traditionalist lot. Most of them will agree , as my grandpa would say, “Planetary keys just look right on my banjo” this of course might simply be because banjo keys originated as friction pegs that stuck straight out the back just like Planetary keys do. But there is more to it than that. I think most banjo players would agree with my grandpa about a few other aspects were he here today. He once told me “I have no problem tuning fast and accurate with planetary keys” He explained that because he used many different tunings, he could switch tunings faster, which he could do in nano seconds it always seemed. The other thing he pointed out was that he frequently broke strings and the lower gear ratio of his keys also made it faster to change strings and get back in tune. All of these aspects were important to him.
You should realize that there is no “right/wrong’ scenario here. It is all a matter of personal preference and what is important to you. If you prefer guitar keys, by all means, use them, if you’re a traditionalist and or are happy with your keys, let them alone.
The mandocello is a unique and singular voiced instrument which originated in Europe and gained popularity during the early 20th century. The lowest voiced instrument in the immediate Mandolin family, It has eight strings in four paired courses and is tuned CC-GG-DD-AA (low to high). What the cello is to the violin, the mandocello is to the mandolin; with it’s deep rich resonant tone that many describe as having a certain piano like chime. As is typical of the mandolin family, mandocellos can be found with either a single oval soundhole or a pair of "F" soundholes. A good you tube demo see Joel Mcdermott
The Morgan Monroe Mandocello pictured above is built in the great tradition of classic archtop with F-hole construction. Mandocello opens up new sonic possibilities and is an instrument you won’t be able to put down!
Although usually associated with late 19th and early 20th century artists,the mandocello also has a role in modern folk music, such as bluegrass or Celtic music. Some contemporary artists who have used mandocello are listed below.
Rick Nielsen of the band Cheap Trick has a stringed instrument collection that includes electric mandocellos custom made by Hamer Guitars. Such an instrument was used for the title track from their LP Heaven Tonight, while their song "Mandocello", released on the band's debut album
Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora used a mandocello on the song "Lay Your Hands on Me" from their acoustic album This Left Feels Right.
Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood has been known to play a mandocello
Jaco Pastorius overdubbed a mandocello on the Weather Report hit "Birdland."
Mike Marshall played a mandocello on his collaboration album Uncommon Ritual with Edgar Meyer and Béla Fleck and plays it live occasionally (for example with Darol Anger on violin).
#1 Shapes and Sizes: Perhaps you have wondered why there are different shapes and sizes of acoustic guitars. Of course some are simply made small for kids and come in the following sizes, ½ / ¾ / 7/8 while some are sized for the purpose like Parlor, grand Auditorium or Dreadnought etc..
The body size will greatly affect the sound, the smaller the body the brighter the tone. Finger style players typically like smaller body guitars for their clarity of tone while players that strum tend to gravitate to larger guitars such as Dreadnought or Jumbos due to the greater bass response, fuller sound and more volume. Guitars with cutaways make access to the higher register of notes easier. Some have built in pickups, some don’t. There are of course differences in scale length, string tension and other defining factors. However, the novice only need know that they are all tuned and played the same way. Therefore as a first guitar, your choice should come down to what is comfortable for you to play, what sounds good to your ear and what you can afford.
#2 Materials: Guitars come in a wide variety of materials including composites (plastic). Most however are made of wood and are offered in the three following formats:
• All laminate meaning that the wood is manufactured rather than milled, and is made by applying thin layers of wood veneer held together with glue. This guitar will be the less expensive of the three but does come with some advantages. One advantage of course is price and the 2nd is durability. Laminated wood is less prone to cracking and warping that can come with solid woods. It will be less susceptible to harm in extreme heat or cold as well. The tone of the guitar will not improve with age like a solid wood guitar, but if it sounds good when you get it, it should sound good for years to come. If you are looking for a guitar that you can leave out of its case, play by the campfire or leave in the trunk of your car on cold nights, this one will work fine.
• Part laminate, Part solid wood guitars. Some guitars are offered with solid tops but have laminate back and sides. This is a great compromise between an all laminate and an all solid guitar because the most noticeable difference with be from the top or “Sound Board”. The back and sides are of less importance. The tone of most solid woods like Spruce (a commonly used guitar tone wood) will improve with age but will require more care than a laminate.
• All solid guitars will be the most expensive of the three and you will need to protect your investment from the elements by keeping it in your case when not in use, and making sure it is properly humidified to avoid drying and cracking etc.
#3 Most new guitars need to be adjusted. If you buy your guitar from a local music shop, ask them if they will adjust your guitar before you take it home. Most stores do this for free and if not, the charge should be minimal. If you buy your guitar on line don’t expect it to be fully adjusted. You might get lucky and receive a guitar that is ready to go but it is more likely that you won’t. Remember, your guitar is made of wood; it can swell and shrink causing problems as it does. As the seasons change, the wood can shift, making adjustments necessary. You made need a fret or two tapped back in place to avoid string buzz, or perhaps a neck or bridge adjustment. This makes a strong case for picking out your guitar by hand at your local store. With the exception of some nylon string and some children’s guitars, your new guitar should come with an adjustable truss rod. This is a threaded mechanism inside the neck that can be adjusted to correct any warping your guitar may experience due to climate conditions or abuse.
Follow these guidelines, trust your ear and enjoy your first guitar!
We will address the basic difference between the A-Style and F-style and the common question “which is best’’. When faced with a choice of which to buy, first understand that they are similar in tone when constructed of like materials. Also note that while one style may be more prevalent in one genre, they are tuned played the same. You will see many A-styles, commonly called “Tear Drop mandolins “ because of their shape, are widely used in Classical, Celtic and Folk music but you will also see F-Styles as well. Conversely, the F-Style, sometimes referred to as a “Florentine Mandolin” is the favorite among Bluegrass musicians and is common in Country and Americana Roots music as well. Again, you will also see both styles cross pollinating all genres. The term “Florentine” is a reference to a geographic area in Italy where a lot of mandolin characteristics evolved. Today’s mandolins are based on the Gibson mandolins of the early 1900s.
Generally most manufactures will offer similar models in both Styles with the A-Style being less expensive as it is easier to build. Consider the Morgan Monroe MM-550A A-style and the MM-550F F-style. The F-Style is more labor intensive because of the lavish scroll work and is usually more expensive. F-styles, are also more comfortable when playing seated as the point at the bottom will rest on your leg. While you should consider all of this information, ultimately you should play as many different mandolins of both styles in your price range until you find one that speaks to you personally.
For those of you who practice your instrument alone, or maybe don’t have time or the inclination to practice with a band, you should consider practicing with Backing Tracks. If you are learning Licks (and I use the term generically for all instruments) nothing will help you cement them into your repertoire like playing against a track. Another major benefit will be to your timing. If you are learning cover songs, Back Tracks are as good as a band, they really help you get into the DNA of the song. I might add to that as long as my computer boots up, the band members are never late and there is no baggage.
#1 Know where to get the tracks:
Finding tracks is easy, they sell them in most music stores Via CD hardcopies, ITunes has many ready to for you to download and there is an unlimited supply of pay for and FREE tracks for you on youtube. Here is an awesome site that is 100% free! http://www.guitarbackingtrack.com/
#2 Know your format choice in advance:
Some sites give you a choice to leave out vocals or certain instrumentation. I play guitar and sing so I want mine minus the lead guitar and lead vocals. When downloading, try many formats. My son plays bass, usually I get a version with bass and without for when he visits!
#3 Try some Karaoke Sites:
Sometimes the best tracks are available as Karaoke tracks. When I have to play a song in a different key I can’t always readily find a track in my key. Here is a site that will let you create your own mix, which instruments go, stay, etc and what key you want it in. http://www.karaoke-version.com/ Be aware that this one is a pay site but it’s very cool.
#4 Record yourself:
The best way to track your progress, especially if you are learning solos , is to record yourself with a back track. Listen today, then listen each week or so and compare your progress.
#5 Set yourself up for success:
Try to create a space where your instruments, computer, audio equipment etc is close at hand and hopefully in a place you won’t be distracted. My space is a bedroom at the opposite end of the hallway from my bedroom. As long as both bedrooms doors are closed my wife can’t hear it. For me that is important because I usually practice at 4:00AM before I go to the GYM. Remember the term “Wood Shedding?” Well if you got one…
Reprinted with permission from EddyFinn.com
Editors Note: This has been republished with knowledge from Banjo.com
By: Barry Waldrep
There’s something about the cheery twang of a banjo that makes it a fun instrument to hear and to play. The snappy notes that flow from a 5-string make us think of lively bluegrass music, and so many songs would not feel complete without it. However, not all banjos were created equal, so if you’re getting ready to invest in the ideal instrument for you, you may need to spend some time acquainting yourself with the differences between open-back and resonator banjos. Here are a few basic differences between these two varieties of the instrument:
Design – Open-back and resonator banjos are very similar in design. The main difference is that a resonator banjo has a wooden “bowl” mounted to the back of the sound chamber (the “pot”), which projects the sound toward an audience. The open-back banjo has no back; there’s nothing there to cover the sound chamber. With the extra wood on the back, the resonator banjo weighs a little more. Usually, the strings of an open-back banjo are positioned with a little more distance from the fretboard because of the way it’s played, clawhammer-style, without fingerpicks.
Sound – Resonator banjos are by far the preferred choice for bluegrass players, as the sound of the instrument is louder and twangier than the open-back banjo. When picked bluegrass-style with fingerpicks, the resonator banjo produces a very bright sound. The open-back produces a more mellow, softer sound, and since the sound chamber rests against the player, some of the sound is absorbed into his clothing, which lowers the banjo’s volume. Clawhammer-style on an open-back banjo is preferred in traditional and mountain music genres, where the sound does not need to compete with the volume of other instruments. For those who need higher volume, a pickup can be installed on almost any banjo and used with an amplifier.
Cost – Open back banjos are typically the less expensive of the two options due to their more simple design. However, any genre can be played on any 5-string banjo, so if you’re not sure which one is right for you, the resonator banjo may be the better choice because it provides more flexibility.