Humidity. It’s not something that tends to loom at the forefront of your mind, in regards to ukulele – especially when you’re rippin’ it up hardcore or kickin a smooth, tasty lick on your most prized wooden possession. And because historically, the instrument has tended to inhabit coastal or near-coastal-lying areas, the idea of even needing a humidifier on the inside of one’s ukulele case is often dangerously overlooked.
Today, with the help and support of international shipping and widespread exposure due to the internet, ukuleles have migrated to practically every inhabitable space on the globe. Unfortunately, many of those places often times experience relative humidity below the optimal 47%.
Right Now: Go to your favorite weather-information-providing-website now and check your city’s current relative humidity.
If it’s within the 35-45% range or lower – and you don’t have a humidifier in your ukulele case – you’re absolutely FU**- … um, DOOMED.
Just playin’. If you do, however, find yourself in the above-said arid state of doomed-ness, you should definitely take certain immediate actions:
1. Get an instrument humidifier.
2. Load it with purified water, according to the directions.
3. Insert the humidifier properly into your instrument / case.
4. Relax. Everything’s gonna be alright.
This sequence of actions might seem simple and relatively inexpensive, but in the long run, it may end up saving you much of your precious time and money. Here’s why:
Low humidity can quickly dry out the wood that your instrument is made of. This may cause the wood to shrink, slightly warping it from its original shape. Natural wood does not have uniform density, so the wood of your ukulele will shrink and warp in some areas more than others.
What does this all mean? It means that too much shrinkage is bad. Shrinkage increases the tension on your wood and the glue that holds it together. This may cause your instrument to ‘feel’ differently or render it dysfunctional.
Common problems associated with low relative humidity are string buzz, warped back and top, and cracking or bowing of the instrument.
To prevent these problems, get a humidifier and use it. Humidifiers typically sell for anywhere between $5 and $20. They all basically do the same thing, so if you’re thinking of paying more than that, shop around some more. Here are the basic styles of humidifier:
Sound Hole Humidifiers: This type of humidifier fits snugly between the strings of your ukulele and into the sound hole where it is suspended within the instrument to provide humidity from the inside out. They are typically the most effective of the humidifier types, though it may be hard to find ukulele-sized ones. Drawbacks to some of these include dripping on the inside of your instrument, if the humidifier is oversaturated with water.
Instrument Case Humidifiers: These humidifiers are usually a little cheaper and just sit inside the ukulele case or attach to the case lid or sides. They tend to be less of a hassle in comparison to the sound hole humidifiers, although they are somewhat less effective and (especially in ukulele cases that are molded to fit a specific ukulele) are somewhat bulkier as they take up more room in the ukulele case.
Tip: If you can’t find a small enough humidifier to fit in the case or sound hole of your ukulele at your local guitar shops, check out shops that sell mandolins, violins, or violas.
For the most part, the cost or style of your humidifier won’t matter too much – as long as you have a humidifier and use it properly (don’t forget to add water every week-or-so – see your manufacturer’s instructions for more details) you should be alright.
And if you spent all your money on buying your ukulele in the first place and don’t have any left over to buy a humidifier, Make Your Own!*
*Ukulele Underground is not liable for any damages incurred to instruments and/or users as a result of users making their own humidifiers. Please use caution and common sense.