Coffee Time #2 – Temperature vs. Guitars

This particular ‘Coffee Time’ is inspired by a students guitar that in the space of a week suffered a massive neck twist, thanks to temperature. The guitar in question is a an 90’s Korean built Yamaha RGX 121 DM (maple neck and fingerboard with basswood body,) that I did a full set-up on before he purchased it. It played very well with its wide fretboard and thin neck which somehow supported an insanely low action with minimal buzz. I played it for a week or so myself and was contemplating keeping it.

Fast forward a week since he had it from me and the top three strings didn’t just buzz but they weren’t registering below the 5th fret. Initial diagnosis was a back-bow in the neck. Wait the necks fine? Perhaps the action has lowered or just needs raising? But it has the same clearance as last week? Had that sinking feeling setting in so I lifted the guitar to sight down the neck and sure enough it had seriously twisted clock-wise. I had never seen a neck twist so pronounced,you could see it in playing position.

I then thought, “where was it stored, the oven?” The student answer was in close proximity of a very hot radiator. That will be it then. Continuing to inspect the neck reveals the neck has gotten so warm it has in fact shrunk revealing protruding fret-ends and the twist was pushing the frets out of the board itself. I could have cried the guitar as was great to play. After a week stored in a cool room the neck has stabilized but not returned, time will tell. After some research the only proven treatments are reshaping the now twisted fretboard (which requires a luthier and a re-fret), a less supported heat treatment to twist the neck back (the tools are insanely expensive) or the Leo Fender method, replace the neck. None of which are cheap enough for a students budget.

Lesson Time

In the past I have always applied the rule “Don’t store the guitar anywhere you would feel uncomfortable” which seems to work for me. But for those that are aware of being hot or cold blooded please adjust this accordingly otherwise you could find yourself with an unnecessary repair bill.

Also avoid dramatic temperature and humidity changes, this is easy for amateurs who can reasonably keep their guitars in a set space but for professionals it’s tricky. On an average day my working guitars go from indoors to outdoors about four times.Things I’ve found that help are:

  • Gig Bag – Leaving the gig bag slightly open all the time so it gradually adjusts to different climates.
  • Silica Gel – Just leave some in the pocket during humid months.
  • Truss Rod adjustment – One of the reasons for Martin Acoustics development of the truss rod was to compensate for the temperature changes on the road. Occasionally it will need a tweak, usually at the beginning of each season or sudden temperature changes.
  • Different Bridges – With acoustic guitars, many players have different bridges or shims for the summer and winter seasons. This is to compensate for amount of moisture an acoustic guitar can absorb. I personally don’t, more due to laziness then anything else.

Hopefully this will give you some food for thought, it sounds obvious but guitars are made wood. Look after your wood.

Antony

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